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September 8, 2014
With Congress back in town Monday after five weeks off, plenty of Republicans and Democrats have made it clear the session’s No. 1 priority is passing a spending bill to avoid a government shutdown.
There’s also a lot of bipartisan consensus, it turns out, on No. 2 — which can be summed up fairly neatly under the heading “Make the Other Guys Look Bad Ahead of the Elections.”
In a final, jam-packed sprint to Nov. 4 — the House is in session just 12 days, the Senate 15 — members in both chambers will be scrambling to check off those top two items, and a few others as well.
First Things First. No one wants another government shutdown. Federal funding runs out on Sept. 30, so Congress has to pass a short-term continuing resolution to keep agencies operational or risk a repeat of last year’s disaster that put congressional approval ratings at an all-time low. Leaders on both sides of the aisle and rotunda say they want a policy-rider free CR that runs through early December, but some Republicans could revolt over immigration executive orders or reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank.
Which Leads Us to … Reauthorizing the Ex-Im. Funding for the institution that underwrites sales of U.S. goods abroad will expire at the end of the month, and its future is shaky: Far-right lawmakers say the Export-Import Bank represents corporate welfare, while other Republicans say that dissolving the institution would be catastrophic for small businesses. There’s growing interest in extending the bank’s charter for just a few months to buy Congress more time to reach a long-term agreement, but aides to senior GOP lawmakers caution that a deal on how to proceed is still elusive.
War on ISIS. It’s not clear whether Congress will be compelled to act on legislation authorizing air strikes in the region following the execution by Islamic extremists of two American journalists. But calls are coming from both sides of the aisle for Congress to definitively authorize President Barack Obama to use force against ISIS, the group that controls parts of Syria and Iraq. For the time being, the only planned House response is in the form of committee hearings. In the Democratic-controlled Senate, an aide said that “we are many steps away from knowing whether this is going to be an issue to come to Congress or not.”
The GOP ‘Closing Argument.’ Republicans intend to pass a number of jobs and energy bills over the next few weeks in what Speaker John A. Boehner referred to recently as a “closing argument” before the midterms: The GOP is working for Americans, while “the leader of the dysfunctional, do-nothing Senate plans to spend the final legislative days before November talking about the Koch brothers.”
Spotlight on Benghazi. Along with taking already-passed bills and re-bundling them to send over to the Democratic Senate a second time, House Republicans will also remind voters that they are paying attention to national security concerns: South Carolina Republican Trey Gowdy, the chairman of the specially-created committee to probe the 2012 attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, will convene the panel’s first hearing this month.
Pelosi’s Aces: UI, Immigration. Democrats don’t control the legislative agenda in the House, but they have a couple of cards they can play to try and spare their party of some bloodletting this fall. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s troops will likely continue to support White House plans to use executive orders to grant more stays of deportation to undocumented immigrants in light of the GOP’s failure to act on comprehensive overhaul legislation. They will also undoubtedly focus on the GOP’s refusal to extend the emergency unemployment insurance program, nine months after funding lapsed.
Speaking of the Koch Brothers … In the Senate, Democrats will kick off their first day back by proceeding with a vote to cut off debate on a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court ruling allowing unlimited campaign spending by corporations and individuals. They are banking that Republicans filibuster the effort so they can spend their remaining weeks before the midterms reconsidering items from Majority Leader Harry Reid’s “fair shot” agenda, the first of which would be a bill to improve college affordability. A proposal to raise the federal minimum wage would follow.
Senate Republicans Playing It Safe. Reid’s Republican colleagues, anticipating a banner year at the polls in November, have not tipped their hands as to how they want to spend September. To thwart Reid’s wish to force politically loaded votes on the Senate floor, GOP leaders could urge members to allow debate on the campaign finance bill — the quintessential symbolic messaging measure that will never advance.
Humberto Sanchez and Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.
June 26, 2014
Speaker John A. Boehner again declined to commit to a reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank at his weekly news conference Wednesday, telling reporters “we’ll see” when asked if the House would “sort through” the issue prior to the Sept. 30 deadline to reauthorize the Bank’s lending authority.
“There’s a big debate going on in our conference, and we’re just going to have to sort our way through this. My job is to help facilitate the sorting through of this so that we can get to an outcome.”
June 9, 2014
House Republicans made one thing clear Monday evening: They would not soon abandon calls for congressional oversight into the Obama administration’s decision to swap five Guantánamo Bay Taliban prisoners for U.S. prisoner of war Bowe Bergdahl.
Emerging from their first briefing from White House officials on the details of Army Sgt. Bergdahl’s May 31 release from Taliban custody, GOP lawmakers’ tempers were running high.
Rep. Walter B. Jones, R-N.C., said he was “not satisfied” by the information he received. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., scoffed at the premise that the briefing was “classified” because, she said, no new information was disseminated to members. And veteran Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., said the officials were “trying to put lipstick on a pig.”
Above all, members appeared to be most upset that no member of Congress in either chamber was consulted prior to the transfer of the Taliban prisoners for Bergdahl, arguing that President Barack Obama acted unilaterally and, perhaps, in violation of the law. Full story
May 28, 2014
RICHMOND, Va. — Political forces from the left and the right gathered at the Virginia state Capitol Wednesday with a shared objective: Ratchet up the immigration pressure on Eric Cantor.
On one side were the pro-immigration activists — led by an Illinois Democrat — calling for the House majority leader to at least allow legislation an up-or-down vote. On the other was a political rival all-too-ready to hang the word “amnesty” around the Virginia Republican’s neck.
In the middle of the debate, walking a political tightrope with less than two weeks to go before a closely-watched primary and as the clock steadily ticks down on the 113th Congress, is Cantor.
“We have come here to say … stop being an obstacle. Stop standing in the way,” said Luis V. Gutiérrez, D-Ill., a leader in the national fight to pass an immigration overhaul bill who was invited to speak at Wednesday’s event by the group CASA de Virginia. “Become a hero of our community and become someone who can help the tens of thousands of Virginians who need help because of this broken immigration system.”
Half an hour earlier, Cantor’s June 10 primary opponent David Brat held a brief outdoor news conference on the steps of the building, where he had a different perspective on Cantor.
“Eric Cantor has been the No. 1 cheerleader in Congress for amnesty,” Brat told a half-dozen reporters. “Eric Cantor has spearheaded the amnesty push in the House. … There is no Republican in this country who is more liberal on immigration than Eric Cantor.”
Conservatives’ biggest turncoat? Immigration’s most stubborn opponent?
It wouldn’t seem Cantor could be both, but the No. 2 Republican in the House has tripped alarms on both sides of the sprawling, complicated and emotional debate in recent weeks. Full story
May 22, 2014
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, has challenged three top Senate Democrats to a duel — but “not like Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton,” the lawmaker was quick to clarify.
Unlike the famous confrontation in 1804 wherein Burr, the sitting vice president, shot and killed the ex-Treasury secretary, King would prefer to sort out philosophical differences with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin and Charles E. Schumer “like many men do it today: Not duel with 50 paces and pistols, but … with microphones within arm’s reach.
“If we’re going to have some kind of rhetoric bouncing back between the House and Senate, let’s do it face to face,” King said. “Let’s do it eye to eye.”
May 16, 2014
Americans are still unhappy with John A. Boehner, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell, according to a Gallup poll that showed all four top leaders garnering net negative scores.
Pelosi, the House minority leader, remains the most polarizing and best-known leader, with the highest unfavorability — 49 percent — and favorability ratings — 33 percent. Only about 1 in 5 respondents said they had never heard of or had no opinion of her.
Boehner has recovered some favorability in the eyes of the electorate from his low during the end of last year, around the time of the partial government shutdown. His unfavorability came in at 45 percent, while 31 percent of respondents said they view him favorably. About 1 in 4 said they had never heard of or had no opinion on the speaker. Full story
February 27, 2014
The Rick Santelli rant heard ’round the world five years ago is credited with starting the tea party, and if you ask Republicans in Congress, the conservative movement has a mixed legacy.
“There’s a reality that we have a president that is further left than any president we’ve ever had in history, and there’s a reality that Harry Reid is a compliant, willing accomplice of the president to accomplish his agenda,” Rep. Michele Bachmann told CQ Roll Call. “So knowing that, I think the tea party is doing as well as it can.”
The Minnesota Republican founded and is still serving as chairwoman of Congress’ Tea Party Caucus, but she is calling it quits this year instead of seeking re-election.
Bachmann identified the 2010 election as “clearly” the “high-water mark” for the movement: “The tea party was responsible for removing the gavel from Nancy Pelosi’s hands and putting it in John Boehner’s hand and making him speaker. That effectively put the brakes on the Obama agenda in a very forthright way.”
But five years in, the political movement is not easy to evaluate. Among the sentiments we heard from Republican lawmakers as we assessed the tea party over the past week were that it’s been successful, that it’s pushed legislative change on spending issues, that it’s still experiencing growing pains, and even that it’s “dangerous.”
November 21, 2013
Senate Democrats are on the brink of going “nuclear” to block GOP filibusters of judicial nominees, and the Congressional Black Caucus stands ready to help.
The CBC, made up entirely of House Democrats, will have that chance on Thursday afternoon, when Chairwoman Marcia L. Fudge of Ohio is expected to join with other supporters of changing filibuster rules to hear from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., “his thinking” on lowering the threshold for confirming judicial nominations — according to a memo obtained by CQ Roll Call.
That meeting comes on the heels of a CBC meeting on Wednesday, where members began to plot out how to confirm a whole roster of nominations to high-level executive and judicial branch posts — especially those who are African-American.
The Senate GOP has been voting down advancing those nominations, arguing that the candidates are ill-qualified or that the positions themselves are not necessary. Democrats counter that the “no” votes are aimed at hampering President Barack Obama’s authority; CBC members say there’s an underlying issue of race.
“There are more than 50 judicial nominations that are being held up by the Senate and certainly a large portion of them are minority people,” said Fudge in a brief interview with CQ Roll Call on Wednesday afternoon. “They’re women, they’re African-Americans, they’re Hispanic, they’re gay, so it kind of runs the gamut. And so we believe that it’s time for us to express our views publicly as to what is going on in the Senate and encourage Senator Reid to take whatever steps are necessary to get these people confirmed.”
The CBC is, in particular, still reeling from the blocked confirmation vote of African-American Judge Robert L. Wilkins to sit on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and the filibuster of Rep. Melvin Watt, D-N.C., also a member of the CBC, to serve as head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency.
Although Fudge did not get into specifics of the strategy, she suggested that approach will be two-pronged, with the CBC making “public statements” along with exerting pressure on the Senate.
“We want to make sure this stays on the front of everyone’s minds, make sure that until they do something to confirm these people that nobody forgets that these people have been languishing out here, some of them for almost a year or better,” Fudge said. “We’re gonna do everything in our power to let people know how obstructionist [Senate Republicans] are, how much they disrespect the president of the United States and how they don’t even want to comply with the constitution they say they support.”
Fudge also suggested that there would be efforts to get other congressional caucuses involved, such as the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the Asian Pacific American Caucus.
October 17, 2013
On Thursday morning, the four leading budget conferees ate breakfast together and told reporters afterward that they were committed to engaging in good-faith negotiations on a whole host of pressing fiscal concerns between now and mid-December.
The House’s two top Democrats, however, are already concerned that those crucial talks could be tainted by the fallout over the government shutdown and the near-missed deadline to raise the debt ceiling.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., both expressed consternation Thursday about the overwhelming House GOP opposition to the Senate’s compromise legislation to reopen government extend the debt ceiling until early next year: 144 Republicans voted “no.”
“Everyone described it as, ‘Oh, it’s just a few, it’s 30-some,’” Pelosi said at her Thursday press briefing, referring to the number of House Republicans who wanted to tie government funding to defunding Obamacare. “But 62 percent of their caucus voted to default on the full faith and credit of the United States.”
“The significant majority of Republicans voted to keep government shut down and bypass [Oct.] 17th without fully paying our debts. I thought, ‘That’s not a good sign,’” Hoyer told CQ Roll Call in an interview.
“I was very disappointed that Paul Ryan voted against keeping the government open and paying our bills. It was a tough vote, but this time he took a hard-line path,” Hoyer said. “I hope after he goes into negotiations with [Senate Budget Chairwoman] Patty Murray and others in the conference, he will take a more constructive, positive solution.”
Pelosi agreed, adding that she was also bothered by the “no” vote of Senate Budget Committee ranking member Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., a leader on the budget conference as well.
“They did not vote for this bill that takes us to the table,” Pelosi said. “So, [it will be] interesting to see what that means, what is to be inferred.”
“To pay our bills today — and to make sure we can pay our bills tomorrow — we must make a down payment on the debt. Today’s legislation won’t help us reduce our fast-growing debt,” he continued. “In my judgment, this isn’t a breakthrough. We’re just kicking the can down the road.”
On Thursday, at the budget conference’s post-breakfast news conference, Ryan was asked to explain his reason for voting against the legislation, hashed out by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, R-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
“Look, we want to have smart deficit reduction. We want to grow the economy. We think the budget process is the way to do that,” Ryan said. “I put a statement out last night explaining exactly my concerns. That speaks for itself.”
He added, “I want to have a budget agreement that gets this debt and deficit under control. … And we’re going to try and figure out if we can find an agreement to do that.”
Of the four House Republicans who were appointed to serve on the budget conference, Ryan was not the only one to vote against the bill, despite GOP leadership’s encouragement to vote in favor. Conferees Diane Black of Tennessee and Tom Price of Georgia both voted “no,” while Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, an ally of Speaker John A. Boehner, backed the measure.
In an interview with CNN on Thursday morning, Cole appeared hopeful that a budget agreement was within reach.
“I actually think from a Republican standpoint, we’re on very strong ground here with the sequester being something honestly that both sides want to get rid of and with the president having put some entitlement reform in his budget. I can see the elements of a deal here and I hope we can keep working and find that deal,” he said.
October 15, 2013
Speaker John A. Boehner appears to be desperately trying to drag his Republican Conference toward a deal to reopen the government and extend the debt ceiling. But will Ted Cruz let him?
The freshman senator from Texas is leading a rump group of House tea party conservatives against Boehner and a good part of the House GOP conference, taking the U.S. government to the brink of default on its debts, now only days away according to Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew and other independent experts.
On Tuesday, Boehner presented a plan to his conference that looked similar to a bipartisan deal taking shape in the Senate. Like the Senate plan, it would have funded the government until Jan. 15 and raised the debt ceiling until Feb. 7, according to lawmakers and aides.
Boehner’s version also would have suspended the Obamacare medical device tax for two years, eliminated health care benefits for lawmakers and Cabinet officials, and scrapped a Senate provision to eliminate an Obamacare fee on reinsuring health plans.
But during the GOP’s weekly conference meeting Tuesday morning — which started with a rousing rendition of “Amazing Grace” led by former funeral director Steve Southerland II of Florida — the plan suffered its own kind of funeral. It became clear to leaders there wouldn’t be enough GOP votes to pass it without Democratic support, which looked fleeting.
The Cruz-led conservatives were the most obstinate obstacles. Later in the day, when leaders amended their proposal, it still wasn’t enough for conservatives. The House Rules Committee on Tuesday night had to postpone a meeting to ready the bill for the floor.
As a result, those lawmakers may be unintentionally teaming up with Democrats to prevent Boehner from having any say on the final compromise. GOP moderates are sick of it.
“These are not conservatives that do this,” Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., told CNN on Tuesday afternoon. “To be a conservative, you have to know how to count. And we started off in this without even counting the votes.”
Nunes said the Obamacare-defunding strategy was doomed from the start, calling it “lunacy, plain and simple.” He said the emerging deal in the Senate would show Americans “those that came here to actually govern and make law and actually do something with their voting card versus people who just want to vote ‘no.’”
If mutiny occurs, it will likely be said to have started in the basement of Tortilla Coast, a Capitol Hill eatery. That’s where Cruz and 15 to 20 House Republicans met Monday night to discuss “our strategy going forward,” according to Rep. Marlin Stutzman of Indiana, who was at the private dinner meeting.
The lawmakers who met with Cruz were a hodgepodge of Republican troublemakers who have often been thorns in the side of GOP leadership, including: Stutzman, Louie Gohmert of Texas, Steve King of Iowa, Jim Jordan of Ohio, Raúl R. Labrador of Idaho, Thomas Massie of Kentucky, Tim Huelskamp of Kansas and Justin Amash of Michigan.
Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters on Tuesday that by amending the Senate plan at all, Republicans were trying to “snatch confrontation from the jaws of reasonable agreement.”
The White House also ripped the new GOP plan, once again calling the proposal a “ransom” and saying it was “a partisan attempt to appease a small group of tea party Republicans who forced the government shutdown in the first place.”
But if Democrats didn’t like that plan, then they definitely aren’t going to like the GOP’s latest iteration: No medical device tax suspension, but a continuing resolution date of Dec. 15 and the original Vitter amendment, which would eliminate health care subsidies for congressional and executive staff as well as members and Cabinet officials.
That offer is so bad in the eyes of Democrats that even if it passed the House (in no way a certain outcome), the Senate appears ready to reject it outright. Instead, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., would probably use the procedural benefits of the House measure, amend it with the Senate language and send it back to the House.
That’s if he gets a bill at all. House leaders Tuesday evening still had not decided whether they would move ahead with their revised plan or just scrap it and wait for the Senate bill. If they move ahead, House members may be doing Reid a favor by giving him a vehicle and the procedural leverage to avoid dilatory tactics by Cruz and his main Senate ally, Mike Lee of Utah.
Then Boehner will face the same dilemma he has faced all along: Allow a vote on the CR-turned-debt-limit bill and face a conservative mutiny, or delay a vote and risk pinning the party with the blame for default.
Many think Boehner will cave, including Cruz and his House followers. They fear Boehner seems prepared to pass the deal with less than a majority of Republicans and a solid block of Democratic votes — perhaps all 200 of them, according to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who told Bloomberg News her caucus is united behind the Senate plan.
That eventuality will make many inside and outside the GOP conference wonder why Republicans withstood a government shutdown and a poll numbers lashing just to accept a plan endorsed by the opposition.
Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., who was a leader in a moderate blowback against the Cruz crowd, said everyone was a loser on this deal and this process.
“Nobody comes out of this a winner,” Dent said. “Everybody comes out losers. Just a matter of who loses more.”
Emma Dumain and Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.
October 14, 2013
House Republicans are mulling their next move as Senate leaders look to jam them with a watered-down package far weaker than the lofty concessions Republican leaders once demanded for raising the debt limit and reopening the government.
At the end of a huddle in Speaker John A. Boehner’s office Monday, most Republican leaders remained mum on details — although one ripped President Barack Obama for doing an end run around the House GOP.
“I would say that we believed that we could have worked with the president, and then the president dropped us like a hot potato, because our deal, he didn’t want to deal with,” said Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions R-Texas. “He wanted to deal with the senators, so that’s what he’s done.” Full story
October 7, 2013
If the rhetoric coming from House and Senate staffers is any indication, the government shutdown isn’t ending soon — and Republicans and Democrats are miles apart on raising the debt limit.
On Monday a top aide for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid sent around a statement questioning Speaker John A. Boehner’s candor, particularly his claim over the weekend that a “clean” continuing resolution could not pass the House.
“Speaker Boehner has a credibility problem,” said Adam Jentleson, the Nevada Democrat’s communications director. “From refusing to let the House vote on a bill that was his idea in the first place, to decrying health-care subsidies for members of Congress and staff that he worked for months to preserve, to stating that the House doesn’t have the votes to pass a clean CR at current spending levels, there is now a consistent pattern of Speaker Boehner saying things that fly in the face of the facts or stand at odds with his past actions.”
Jentleson continued: “Americans across the country are suffering because Speaker Boehner refuses to come to grips with reality. Today, Speaker Boehner should stop the games and let the House vote on the Senate’s clean CR so that the entire federal government can re-open within twenty-four hours.”
But that did not sit well with the Ohio Republican’s spokesman, Michael Steel.
“Passing a spending bill at the level required by law* isn’t a ‘concession,’” Steel said in an email. “So it’s time for Senate Democrats to stow their faux outrage and deal with the problems at hand.”
Moreover, Steel argued that the Senate may have its own problems complying with President Barack Obama’s demand that Congress pass a debt limit increase without any extraneous riders. Full story
October 3, 2013
House Republicans continued with the piecemeal government funding approach Thursday, even as chatter turned to whether Speaker John A. Boehner could finally pull off a “grand bargain” on government spending and the debt limit.
On Wednesday, the Ohio Republican met with groups of GOP lawmakers who want to pass a clean CR to reopen the government. Boehner and the lawmakers discussed the possibility of a “grand bargain” — a new one that would raise the debt ceiling, fund the government, address the sequester and extract concessions on Obamacare.
But later Wednesday night, the speaker met with President Barack Obama, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell at the White House. And the negotiations — or lack thereof — seemed to have left a sour taste in the mouth of Republicans.
“The president reiterated one more time he will not negotiate,” Boehner said just after the White House meeting.
While it’s clear leaders were unable to immediately find a solution to reopen the government, the meeting, which lasted more than an hour, covered the CR and the debt limit, which expires Oct. 17. National Review’s Robert Costa also reported that Boehner brought up the idea of a “grand bargain” at the White House Wednesday evening.
Costa quoted a Democratic source as saying:
“Boehner raised the prospect of a grand bargain-type deal at the White House meeting and was laughed at because everyone feels like they’ve heard this song and dance before. The general feeling is, if he’s really ready to make some tough choices — read, revenue — then great. But the history of this from where we sit is Boehner talking a big game, then bailing as soon as he runs into the inevitable resistance from a certain faction in his caucus.”
Previous attempts by Boehner to craft a broad budget deal with the president have been swatted down by conservative elements of the House GOP. Full story
October 2, 2013
House Republicans on Wednesday night succeeded in passing three measures to reopen various parts of the government, following a failure to approve them on Tuesday.
GOP lawmakers also voted to override, 230-194, a Democratic attempt to force a vote on a “clean” short-term continuing resolution that would have put moderate Republicans on the record — and potentially would have proved that there were enough votes for a policy-rider-free CR to pass the chamber.
“You know if we had the vote tonight, it would pass,” shouted House Budget Ranking Member Chris Van Hollen in opposition to the ruling that the Maryland Democrat’s motion to recommit was out of order because it was not germane.
Though the bill to cover operations in the District of Columbia passed by voice vote, votes on a bill to fund the National Institutes of Health and one to fund national parks, monuments and museums fell mostly along party lines, passing 254-171 and 252-173, respectively.
On the national parks bill, Rep. Don Young of Alaska was the only Republican to vote against the measure, while 23 Democrats voted for it.
But Senate Democrats have indicated those proposals will not pass the upper chamber. House and Senate Democrats have been united around the idea that the House GOP’s mini-CR strategy is no substitute for a “clean” CR to fund the whole government, which has been shuttered since Tuesday. Full story
September 13, 2013
As House GOP leadership tries to tamp down a revolt over funding Obamacare, a quieter battle is being waged with Democrats and within the GOP: 967, 986 or 1,058. As in billion.
That’s the difference between next year’s sequester level, the funding level in leadership’s bill and next year’s pre-sequester level, respectively, and which number makes it into the short-term continuing resolution keeping the government open past Sept. 30 will set the table for the fall fiscal fights to follow. Full story