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October 21, 2014

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April 10, 2014

Boehner Hammers Obama Administration Over Benghazi, IRS (Video)

Speaker John A. Boehner had a few things to say Thursday morning.

During his weekly press conference, which lasted just over 6 minutes, Boehner criticized former director of the Exempt Organizations Division of the IRS, Lois G. Lerner, and knocked Democrats for playing politics rather than working with Republicans to create jobs. But Boehner most notably and vociferously went after the Obama administration for putting up roadblocks to answers on Benghazi, Fast and Furious and the IRS scandal.

The Ohio Republican also addressed the recent kissing controversy surrounding Louisiana Republican Vance McAllister, saying he had spoken to the freshman Congressman and expects all members to be held to the highest ethical standards.

Boehner said Republicans were “trying to build a consensus” on an Obamacare replacement bill, and were waiting for Democrats to offer an unemployment extension that was paid for and would address the economic problems in the United States.

Boehner’s press conference turned into an outburst, however, when he fielded a question from Fox News’s Chad Pergram regarding Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.’s intimation that he had been treated unfairly because of his race.

Watch the full press conference below:

February 11, 2014

The End of Debt Limit Brinkmanship? (Video)

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio took the podium Tuesday at a private Republican Conference meeting across the street from the Capitol, well aware that he was out of options.

His flock had once again left him, and so a bill suspending the nation’s borrowing cap until March 2015 would come to the floor without preconditions, he announced. Then, shunning questions, he hastily walked offstage to stunned silence.

A moment later, he reconsidered and returned.

“You’re not even going to clap for me for getting this monkey off of our backs?” he implored, drawing applause from many of his rank-and-file members, still loyal to the embattled House figurehead.

The debt ceiling has become more burden to Boehner than boon. The exchange, reiterated by several sources inside the room, points to a fundamental shift in dynamics in the debate over how to extend the nation’s borrowing authority. Boehner’s defeatist approach and the tepid, mixed reaction of his membership underscore a growing realization in the conference that the tactic of attaching legislative demands to a debt limit increase is simply unsustainable.

Full story

Military COLA Bill Passes House Easily (Updated)

Updated 3:27 p.m. | The House easily passed a bill restoring military pensions that were cut last year, but not before momentary drama over whether Democrats would back the measure.

Because Republicans put the bill on the suspension calendar, it required a two-thirds vote, giving Democrats the ability to block it if they chose to. Top Democratic leaders signaled their opposition, but the bill passed 326-90.

But while opposition to the bill came short, it was still heated.

At one point during the vote, Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., went over to Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and the two whips had a spirited discussion. They appeared to be shouting  at each other on the floor as a number of lawmakers looked on, including chief deputy whip Peter Roskam, R-Ill., Steve Southerland, R-Fla., and Patrick McHenry, R-N.C.  An aide later confirmed they were arguing about the COLA bill.

On Tuesday afternoon, Hoyer called the military cost-of-living adjustment bill, which would extend benefits that were recently cut under the budget by extending sequestration levels for Medicare, “phony.”

“I can tell you I’m going to vote ‘no,’ [Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi] is going to vote ‘no,’ but we haven’t whipped this bill,” Hoyer told CQ Roll Call. “You know, it violates so many principles.”

Hoyer said the offset would extend sequestration “ad nauseam.”

“Secondly,” the Maryland Democrat said, “it seems to break the firewall that everyone’s insisted in the Ryan-Murray agreement,” referring to the recently-passed budget agreement brokered by House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash.

“And thirdly, it’s going to take money from Medicare and senior’s health for military retirees,” Hoyer said. “We ought to not pit those against one another.”

A floor defeat would have been another embarrassment for a GOP leadership who, unable to wrangle enough Republican support to pass their debt ceiling proposal, had to give the floor to Democrats to pass a debt ceiling increase with as minimal Republican support as possible.

But blocking the the military COLA bill could have exposed Democrats to attacks, as the military retiree cutbacks have already become a political hot potato.

The Democratic Senate, meanwhile, is debating its own bill that doesn’t contain any offset.

The House bill would pay for the military retiree benefits by extending sequestration levels for Medicare into 2024. It also would take the additional money that offset would provide — $2.3 billion — and establish a fund to pay for changes to the sustainable growth rate, which is the Medicare physician payment formula.

January 8, 2014

Anniversary of War on Poverty Splits GOP, Democrats

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Lee, second from left, gathered with other Democratic lawmakers and Robb, center, for an event to mark the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s declaration of the “war on poverty” on Wednesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Democrats may have taken up income inequality as their election-year campaign platform, but Republicans appear determined to not let their counterparts own the subject.

To the annoyance of some Democrats, six members of the conservative Republican Study Committee held a news conference Wednesday to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the “war on poverty” and to call for a different tactic to address indigence in this nation — one that is leaner on direct aid and more robust in job creation.

“While this war may have been launched with the best of intentions, it’s clear we’re now engaged in a battle of attrition that has left more Americans in poverty than at any other point in our nation’s history,” Rep. Steve Southerland II, R-Fla., said at the beginning of the news conference, noting that more than 46 million Americans live in poverty today. He did not point out, however, that even though the raw number of poverty-stricken people has increased, the percentage of poor Americans has fallen from 19 percent when President Lyndon B. Johnson announced his “unconditional war on poverty” in 1964 to about 15 percent today.

Southerland, the chairman of the RSC’s anti-poverty initiative, said that in the 50 years of the war on poverty, the government has spent more than $15 trillion on programs designed to combat those issues.

“Clearly, the big government ideas of the past need to be improved and aren’t working to the extent that they should,” Southerland said. ”We have a moral obligation to break the mold.”

Southerland said there were three pillars to fighting poverty: two-parent families, quality education and a stable job.

“Over the next year, we will be bringing interested members together to discuss conservative solutions that empower individuals and not the federal government,” he said. Full story

January 3, 2014

Cantor Lays Out January Legislative Agenda

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Cantor, center, outlined the House’s January legislative agenda on Friday. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The House will have a busy January judging by the lengthy legislative agenda Majority Leader Eric Cantor circulated among his colleagues on Friday.

The Virginia Republican’s memo, obtained by 218, lays out the obvious items of business: passing conference reports for the farm bill and for legislation funding the nation’s water programs, plus an appropriations bill for the remainder of fiscal 2014.

The GOP-run House will also continue to assail the president’s health care law, starting next week with a measure to address potential security breaches on HealthCare.gov. Cantor released a memo on that specific priority on Thursday.

Cantor also told lawmakers to familiarize themselves with other initiatives that could come to the floor in the weeks ahead, such as a possible Iran sanctions resolution that has been on the back-burner since late last year.

Full story

October 24, 2013

GOP Hawks Want Budget Conferees to Ditch Defense Cuts

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Armed Services Chairman McKeon has been pushing to avert defense sequestration. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee have a simple message for conferees starting to hash out a budget deal next week: Do something about automatic defense spending cuts.

As the House and Senate prepare for their first budget conference in four years, 30 of the 34 Republicans on the Armed Services panel wrote a letter decrying the effects of sequestration, saying, “The concern of a hollowing of the force is very real; indeed, the readiness of our forces has already eroded.”

“Continued sequestration would lead to the reduction of an additional 100,000 soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen from our Armed Forces, and cancellation of important programs providing key technologies and capabilities that allow our military to stay ahead of the threat,” the letter said.

Conspicuously missing from the Republican signatories are four lawmakers: Mike Coffman of Colorado, Walter B. Jones of North Carolina, Kristi Noem of South Dakota and Rich Nugent of Florida.

Requests for comment from those four Republicans were not immediately returned, but Claude Chafin, the communications director for the House Armed Services Committee, told CQ Roll Call he didn’t believe there was a “common objection.”

While the four Republicans may have differing reasons for not signing, the 30 Republicans who did sign the letter sent a strong message to House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Budget Chairman Patty Murray, D-Wash. Full story

October 22, 2013

Boehner Finds the Woman for the Job

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(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

When House Republicans set up a photo-op amid the shutdown of their people ready to sit down and negotiate with the Senate, eight men with rolled-up shirtsleeves sat at a long table before the cameras.

That striking image of an all-male negotiating team won’t repeat itself anytime soon, now that one of the four House Republicans selected to serve on the bicameral, bipartisan budget conference committee is a woman.

Second-term Rep. Diane Black was chosen last week to sit at the conference table alongside three senior lawmakers, a surprise pick that will catapult the Tennessee Republican into her highest-profile role yet.

In an interview with CQ Roll Call, Black said Speaker John A. Boehner called her early in the day on Oct. 16 to ask if she’d be interested in the position, but she didn’t know it was a done deal until later that night.

Black couldn’t say why exactly the Ohio Republican chose her to serve on the prestigious panel tasked with producing a budget by Dec. 13. She speculated that it had something to do with her proven track record in the Tennessee state House and Senate, her training as a nurse and her experience in the business community.

“My past performances should indicate that I am someone who is willing to sit in a meeting and listen to the other side, and that I have been in positions before where I dealt with some very serious issues of setting budgets,” she said.

Rep. Renee Ellmers, chairwoman of the Republican Women’s Policy Committee, said Black’s appointment was in part because of the fallout over the image of the original men’s club of House GOP negotiators.

“It unfortunately played into the message that’s out there from the left that Republicans do not look at women’s issues as vital for America to move forward,” Ellmers told CQ Roll Call.

The North Carolina Republican said that the episode became a “teachable moment” for her party’s leaders. At a recent all-members meeting, Ellmers confronted them about the decision to put eight men but none of the 19 House Republican women in the media spotlight.

“[Boehner] literally got up and said, ‘You know what, Renee, that was a mistake,’” Ellmers recalled. “And I believe that it was just a very innocent mistake, and I don’t think they realized how that looked.

“I believe it is not a mistake that will be made again.”

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On Oct. 1, an all-male team of GOP negotiators sat across from an empty table for the cameras. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Aside from the woman factor, Ellmers called Black “an incredible voice for policy” whose grasp of fiscal matters and eye for detail will make her a strong player at the table.

And Black’s appointment might have been strategic on other fronts as well.

Boehner’s three other choices for budget conferees were obvious ones: Rep. Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin is chairman of the Budget Committee, Rep. Tom Price of Georgia is the vice chairman of the Budget Committee with strong ties to the party’s conservative wing, and Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma is an appropriator and a key Boehner ally.

Black hails from the iconoclastic class of 2010, whose members would have clamored for “one of their own” to serve on the budget conference. She’s also a team player who, like other mainstream House Republicans, wants to rewrite entitlement programs and exclude tax increases as part of any budget deal. Leadership can probably trust her not to stray too far from the party line.

Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said Black is the perfect marriage of all the right criteria: “As a member of both the Ways and Means and Budget committees — and part of the House GOP’s historic class of 2010 — Rep. Black brings a hard-nosed, common-sense perspective to this group.”

Ryan, in an emailed statement, called her a “key member” of the Budget Committee and a “leader for entitlement reform.”

“I know every member of the budget conference will benefit from her knowledge and dedication,” Ryan said.

Black has had a charmed professional life since arriving in Washington, D.C., in 2010. Her freshman colleagues picked her to serve as their representative on the Republican Policy Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee put her in charge of communication outreach, and leaders gave her plum committee slots.

Her appeal at the outset was due in large part to her status as a polished politician coming into office in a pool of political newcomers.

A 12-year veteran of the Tennessee state legislature, she ultimately climbed the ranks to be GOP caucus chairwoman of the state Senate. She uses her background as a nurse in her arguments against Obamacare and abortion. The founder of Aegis Sciences Corp. with her husband, she can talk the talk on jobs and the economy. She is No. 14 on Roll Call’s 50 Richest Members of Congress list, with a minimum net worth of nearly $25 million.

During the 2010 campaign, she doled out contributions to more than a dozen Republican candidates.

Speaking with CQ Roll Call, Black acknowledged that she has been given “incredible opportunities to be in places to be in important conversations.”

She also stressed that just because people outside the insular world of Capitol Hill hadn’t noticed her before, it doesn’t mean she wasn’t always there, clocking long hours and focusing on the tasks at hand.

“I do know there will be more recognition, and what I can say about that is I just plan on working as hard as I can,” Black said. “I just want to let folks know, it’s not my first time at the table.”

October 15, 2013

Cruz-Led Conservatives Put Boehner in Double Bind

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 11, 2013

House Centrists Emerging From the Shadows

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Dent is working with Democrats to attempt to get the two sides closer to a deal. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Late into the second week of the government shutdown, factions of House Democrats and Republicans were planting their flags all over Capitol Hill, holding noisy news conferences and staging elaborate demonstrations.

Drowned out from the warring rhetoric, however, were members of what Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., recently called “the political endangered species of Washington, D.C.”

He was talking about moderates, the members of both parties who have been squeezed from the negotiating tables since the 2010 election cycle, which shifted Republicans farther to the right and wiped out the once-prominent contingent of centrist Democrats.

The result, Costa and others agree, has been the breakdown of bipartisanship — a virtue extolled by Democrats and Republicans alike, but one that is difficult to achieve in such a partisan political environment.

It doesn’t mean lawmakers aren’t trying, especially after finding themselves in the midst of government shutdown and looming default.

New Democrat Coalition Chairman Ron Kind of Wisconsin and leading GOP moderate Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania rallied roughly 35 Democrats and Republicans around a proposal to pass a six-month continuing resolution at sequester levels while repealing the medical device tax created by the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.

The fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition released a statement Wednesday calling on Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to “attack our nation’s larger debt and deficit problems head on.” Full story

October 9, 2013

Republicans Refocus From Obamacare to Spending

As the GOP searches for a way to save face with conservatives, climb out of the government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling, senior House Republicans are hoping to shift the focus from Obamacare to spending.

Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed from Rep. Paul D. Ryan titled “Here’s How We Can End This Stalemate,” and noticeably absent was the one word that prompted the shutdown chess match: Obamacare.

The Wisconsin Republican is advocating broad, long-term cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, calling those mandatory spending programs “the nation’s biggest challenge.”

He isn’t alone in that thought. Many senior Republicans have long felt the party would be better off fighting for a spending and entitlement overhaul than for a delay or repeal of parts of President Barack Obama’s signature health care law.

Ryan quickly received backing from more establishment members of the GOP who had panned the idea of a shutdown and default fight over Obamacare in the first place, such as Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, a key ally of Speaker John A. Boehner.

“At the end of the day, it’s now really a debt ceiling discussion,” said Cole, who endorsed Ryan’s op-ed during a C-SPAN appearance. “It’s not over Obamacare. It’s really a budget, classic taxes, entitlements, spending reform kind of debate.”

Aides said Ryan has been in constant contact with leadership. One aide said the Ryan proposal already has traction within the GOP, and several rank-and-file conservatives told CQ Roll Call the focus has shifted to reining in entitlements.

“That’s where we need to be,” said Rep. Ted Yoho of Florida as he came out of a Wednesday meeting with the Republican Study Committee. “I mean the mandatory spending is killing this country, and if we don’t get that under control, we’re not going to solve this problem.”

Yoho said the shift from Obamacare to fiscal issues “seems to be” common within the GOP conference — although he’s still not sure the debt limit needs to go up.

“I need to be schooled, or somebody needs to convince me, why we need to raise the debt ceiling,” Yoho said.

Ryan’s plan proposes replacing the sequester cuts with long-term, down-the-road cuts to entitlements and enacting tax code changes that would lower rates. In addition to the op-ed, Ryan also released a policy paper Wednesday further explaining his position.

“This is where we’ve been wanting to go all year long,” Ryan told CQ Roll Call Wednesday. “We’ve always known the debt limit is the way to get a budget agreement.”

Though Ryan said Republicans weren’t giving up on Obamacare — noting, “We’re bringing that to the table” — some tea party groups were peeved.

Jenny Beth Martin, the national coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots, released a statement Wednesday that said Ryan’s op-ed missed the mark.

“We must remember the reason we are fighting and remain united in our opposition to Obamacare,” Martin said.

Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, a former Republican Study Committee chairman, said Obamacare is “still a central part” of the CR and debt limit argument.

“Lots of ideas out there. We just keep making the argument that Obamacare is unfair the way it’s being implemented,” Jordan said.

Republican Study Committee Chairman Steve Scalise of Louisiana signaled that some aspect of Obamacare would need to be addressed to win the committee’s support.

He said there was no reason the so-called Vitter amendment — which would eliminate health care subsidies for members of Congress, staff and executive branch workers — should be a “deal-killer.” But Scalise said the committee is mainly focused on “Washington’s spending problem.”

Scalise also said the Republican Study Committee is focused on extracting concessions on the debt limit, even on just a short-term agreement.

“There’s still a lot of things that we can do to do short-term increases in the debt ceiling and actually address the spending problem at the same time,” Scalise said.

But others in the GOP conference are showing openness to raising the debt ceiling without concessions, at least temporarily, and keeping the fight on the CR.

That’s the position of Heritage Action for America CEO Michael Needham, who was a principle pusher of the defund-Obamacare-through-the-CR strategy. On Wednesday, Needham said his “tactic” for dismantling Obamacare “is to focus on the CR.”

He’s not alone.

Conservative columnist Erick Erickson wrote an op-ed Monday that advised Republicans to raise the debt ceiling but keep the Obamacare fight going on the CR.

“I think there is a discussion of separating the two, maybe make sure we don’t default and continue to fight spending levels,” said Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga, a senior appropriator.

The push for an escape hatch could grow as polls show the party taking a beating over the shutdown and Wall Street gets nervous as a default gets closer. A new Gallup poll released Wednesday showed the Republican Party dipping to the lowest approval rating on record going back 20 years — 28 percent, down 10 points in a month.

Democrats and the White House say they are open to negotiations, provided the GOP opens the government and extends the debt ceiling in the meantime.

Budget Committee ranking member Chris Van Hollen of Maryland told reporters Wednesday that there could be agreement on a set of principles to guide lawmakers on a path to a negotiated fiscal 2014 budget.

“There may be room to find a sliver of hope,” he said.

There were small signals of movement Wednesday — and speculation about whether both parties could agree on a budget framework that would include at a minimum a short-term debt limit hike.

First, Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor met with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer. And the leaders seemed tight-lipped — a typical sign of progress.

President Barack Obama also invited the entire House Republican Conference to the White House Thursday. But Republicans were hopeful that a “smaller group of negotiators” would create a more fruitful discussion. Among the 18 Republicans headed to the White House? Ryan, the House Budget chairman.

Emma Dumain contributed to this report.

October 5, 2013

House Democrats Make GOP Leaders an Offer They Can Refuse

On day five of the government shutdown and Congress’s second consecutive Saturday session, House Democrats made more overtures to Republicans in an effort to keep the pressure on them and show the outside world that they are willing to negotiate.

Whether the GOP is prepared to bite, or whether Democrats are making the kind of concessions necessary to satisfy a small group of centrist Republicans who want very specific sweeteners as conditions of voting to reopen the government or raise the debt limit, remain to be seen.

Democrats announced Saturday that, in exchange for Republicans appointing conferees to hash out a long dormant budget resolution, they would forfeit their right to offer a “motion to instruct” the House conferees. That’s a tactic minority lawmakers are allowed to employ if a conference report hasn’t been filed within 20 days of appointing conferees. It’s also one of the few devices available to the minority party to break majority hegemony in the House.

A motion to instruct, while non-binding, would essentially tell conferees to take a certain position in the House-Senate conference negotiations. It’s often designed to put members on record on a politically loaded position.

Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, said last April that he was reluctant to appoint conferees because motions to instruct “become politically motivated bombs to throw up on the House floor.”

“We will give up that right,” said the Budget Committee’s ranking member, Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., on Saturday.

A conference on the budget would be a victory for House and Senate Democrats, who have been clamoring for the opportunity to negotiate with Republicans on a comprehensive spending blueprint before passing individual spending bills in their respective chambers.

The timing of finally convening a bicameral budget conference would also be significant given the current Oct. 17 deadline for Congress to agree on legislation to raise the debt limit. It’s becoming likely that the debt limit will be rolled into a package that also contains a government-funding continuing resolution along with some provisions on deficit reduction.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said she made Boehner aware on Saturday morning that Democrats were prepared to take the threat of a motion to instruct off the table if Republicans would go forward with appointing budget conferees. She said Boehner “knows it’s a good faith effort on our front.”

But the speaker remained unmoved.

“At this point, it’s Senate Democrats and the President who are blocking progress on reopening the government and providing the American people fairness under ObamaCare,” said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel in an email to CQ Roll Call.

Doug Heye, a spokesman for Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., was similarly oblique on what Republican leadership thinks of Pelosi’s offer: ”What Washington needs to do is come together and talk so we can re-open our government, and that is exactly the House Republicans’ focus.”

Almost 20 House Republicans have said they would support a “clean” CR, and they have expressed interest in creating a more hospitable environment for spending negotiations between the two parties. On Saturday, Democrats made sure to let those Republicans know they won’t be let off the hook for not engaging in the minority party’s efforts.

“We are holding [them] accountable,” said Steve Israel of New York, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “You cannot act like an independent pit bull at home and act like a tea party lapdog in Washington.”

Earlier this week, Democrats began to circulate for signatures a letter calling on Boehner to bring a “clean,” short-term continuing resolution to the floor. They announced Saturday that they had garnered 200 Democratic signatures (195 excluding five non-voting delegates). No Republicans have signed on so far.

On Friday, Democrats offered a “discharge petition” to force a vote on a clean CR, which Republicans are also generally disinclined to support.

Currently, the only proposal which House Republicans will support on the record is one being spearheaded by leading GOP moderate Rep. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania and New Democrat Coalition Chairman Ron Kind of Wisconsin. That proposal calls for a six-month CR at sequester levels and a repeal of the medical device tax that funds parts of the health law. Dent said on Saturday that about 20 of his GOP colleagues were on board.

Democratic leadership isn’t excited about the idea, though, with Pelosi saying last week that she didn’t like a CR that maintained the sequester number for an extended length of time. Van Hollen reiterated that negotiations about issues such as taxes belong in the context of the budget, not a continuing resolution.

A handful of Republicans said Saturday that one impediment to moving this proposal forward lay in pressure from senior Democrats to members of their caucus not to endorse any solution to the fiscal impasse unless it involves a clean spending bill.

A Democratic leadership aide denied that any formal deterrents were taking place on the Dent-Kind initiative, and added that it made sense that it was the only proposal so far that would garner on-the-record support from significant number of Republicans.

“Of course Republicans like it best,” the aide said. “It repeals the medical device tax and it would hold their number longer.”

September 6, 2013

Cantor Sees Syria Vote Coming Within Two Weeks

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor told lawmakers Friday to expect a vote authorizing the use of force in Syria “in the next two weeks” to kick off a busy fall agenda.

“Understanding that there are differing opinions on both sides of the aisle, it is up to President Obama to make the case to Congress and to the American people that this is the right course of action,” the Virginia Republican wrote in the internal GOP memo. “Members should expect a robust debate and vote on an authorization of use of military force pertaining to Syria in the next two weeks.”

While the memo — which covers the need to fund the government past Sept. 30, the debt limit, Syria, a nutrition bill, Obamacare and immigration, among other topics —  is not an exhaustive or definitive list of topics to be addressed, it does give House Republicans, and the public, a sense of what to expect over the next two months.

The short answer: a lot.

Here’s the long answer (full memo follows): Full story

June 5, 2013

A House-Senate Budget Deal Isn’t Unthinkable, Price Says

Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., indicated Wednesday that a budget conference between the House and Senate is not out of the question, but that the House wants to set some ground rules before agreeing to make any formal moves.

In a wide-ranging discussion at the Christian Science Monitor’s recurring breakfast with policymakers, the five-term lawmaker, who sits on the powerful House Budget and Ways and Means committees, also provided his thoughts about the trajectory of an immigration overhaul and what the GOP might put on the table as part of a deal on raising the debt limit.

Here are the highlights from the hourlong discussion at a conference room in the St. Regis Hotel.

1. The Budget. Political watchers and frequent readers of our sister blog, #WGDB, are familiar by now with Democratic senators’ frequent unanimous consent requests to go to conference on the budgets both chambers passed earlier this year, but which Senate Republicans have blocked every time. The task of merging two very different budget frameworks is going to be a major challenge, and Price said on Wednesday that the delay can be traced to House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., and others, who are hoping to lay down some conference “ground rules” before opening up the process for “demagoguery.”

“It’s important for people to know that [Senate Budget Chairwoman and Washington Democrat Patty] Murray and Chairman Ryan are, indeed, meeting and talking with great regularity and trying to come to an agreement on the parameters of a budget conference,” Price said. “It’s important to develop that framework before we sit down … so it’s not a free-for-all … [with] partisan back and forth that won’t reach any solutions.

“Chairman Ryan is very wise in laying out the goal of defining those parameters,” he said.

2. The Debt Limit. Even though President Barack Obama has said he won’t negotiate with Republicans on raising the debt limit, Price said there were certain things he’d like to see that, while controversial, could provide some opportunity for bipartisan discussion and probably represents a more realistic sampling of what the majority of his colleagues would like to see come out of the looming negotiations.

“I think it’s important for us to put an array of options out there,” he said, and they included entitlement changes, embracing the dollar-for-dollar “Boehner rule,” and what Price called “pro-growth tax reform.”

He added that he suspects any debt limit deal would be a part of the budget conference report, if and when that happens.

3. Overhauling the tax code. After years of lawmakers bemoaning the state of the current code, Price says he thinks the time is finally right to draft and pass a substantive bill — by the end of the year, in fact.

The scandal with the IRS has provided an impetus for action, he said.

“I’m not one of those who believes this puts the kibosh on tax reform,” Price explained. “I think it gives us a greater opportunity and we embrace this greater opportunity. When all folks look at this issue, recognize it’s this huge monolith and frightening to many Americans and anything we can do to simplify the tax code and make the [IRS] less threatening … would be a good thing.”

4. Immigration overhaul. Price — like some of his House GOP colleagues, including Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va. — wants to see Congress take a piecemeal approach to overhauling the nation’s immigration system, while the Senate is on track to begin floor debate on a comprehensive bill next week.

This approach, Price suggested, would allow lawmakers to pass what would be tantamount to comprehensive immigration changes without letting one or two unpopular provisions sink the entire effort, though senators and most House Democrats would like to address many facets of a “broken” system in one go.

And in the event that a House bipartisan working group delivers such a bill to the Judiciary Committee, Price predicted on Wednesday that Goodlatte would just break down the bill into self-contained measures to pass separately.

“That’s not any internal knowledge, that’s just my sense of what would occur because that holds the greatest amount of promise for moving something forward,” Price offered by way of a caveat.

One area in which Price expressed considerable skepticism, however, was in Congress’ ability to pass, as any part of its immigration overhaul efforts, legislation providing pathways to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

“I think at this point that would be highly unlikely because I don’t think there is any trust,” he said, “and not just [of] of this administration, it’s been previous administrations as well. American people don’t trust Washington because they broke a promise that was made in 1986″ to allow undocumented immigrants to be naturalized while at the same time controlling the borders.

“The first step in regaining that trust is living up to the promise,” he said.

May 21, 2013

Peter King: Give Oklahoma Tornado Relief Without Offsets

Moderate House Republicans such as Rep. Peter T. King are ready for another intraparty fight over whether emergency disaster aid should be offset, after a tornado ravaged parts of Oklahoma on Monday.

The New York Republican said that if central Oklahoma needs supplemental aid, Congress should grant it immediately without talk of offsetting the spending elsewhere.

“I think they should get every penny they need. I’ve been through this. We can do the political games later on, the important thing is to get them the aid as quickly as they need it and not to make a political issue out of it,” King said Tuesday.

Full story

May 16, 2013

Boehner Wants Debt Limit Talks With Obama

Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, said Thursday that the White House should be prepared to negotiate with House Republicans on the debt limit – despite President Barack Obama’s insistence that he wants to extend it later this summer without strings attached.

“It’s easy to make a statement to that effect,” Boehner said of Obama at his Thursday morning news conference ,”but it’s just not reality.”

Of course, Boehner himself does not appear to have settled on exactly what he would be negotiating for, considering House GOP members emerged from Wednesday’s debt limit brainstorming session without a consensus on what to fight for.

Still, Boehner indicated that House Republicans would likely be seeking deeper spending cuts. “The fact is, that if the Treasury Department needs to pay the bills, the debt limit has to be dealt with, and should be dealt with in a responsible way,” he said. “[Obama] can’t continue to increase the debt limit without doing something about what’s driving the increase in the debt limit, and that is out of control spending.”

Boehner also took the opportunity to tout the House’s vote, set for later in the day, on a bill that would fully repeal Obamacare, the third of its kind since the GOP gained control of the chamber in 2011.

Standing beside the now-infamous, seven-foot “Red Tape Tower,” he gestured to the thousands of pages stacked on top of the other, tied with a red ribbon and balanced on a red hand-cart.

“These are the thousands and thousands of health care regulations,” Boehner explained. “And if we want jobs, we need to get rid of this, because this is getting in the way of employers hiring workers around the country.”

Boehner’s news conference also included mention of the two major scandals that have wreaked havoc on the Obama administration this week, namely revelations that the IRS inappropriately targeted conservative nonprofits seeking tax-exempt status and that the Justice Department seized records from Associated Press phone lines.

“Nothing dissolves the bonds between people and their government like the arrogance of power here in Washington,” Boehner said. “And that’s what the American people are seeing today from the Obama administration: remarkable arrogance.

“This house will stop at nothing to get to the American people the answers that they expect,” he continued. “But the best way to repair this damage is for the Obama administration to come forward with the truth — the whole truth — so that the American people will have all the facts.”

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