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“Five Days Of Togetherness”: Congress’ Holiday To-Do List Will Never Be Finished

The House of Representatives is back in session this week and facing a laundry list of issues that were not dealt with in the first 11 months of the year. The House plans to be in session for two weeks, sending members home for the rest of the year on Friday, Dec. 13. Friday the 13th; that seems like a bad omen. And it may, indeed, be a very unlucky day for the nation if the House really does adjourn for the year.

The Senate, on the other hand, is not back in session until Dec. 9 and plans to stay in town until Dec. 20. For everyone keeping track, that means the two chambers will only be in town at the same time for five “working” days.

If the Congress had been doing its job all year, this scheduling mismatch might not be such a problem. But it hasn’t. Not a single regular appropriations bill funding a government department or agency for the coming fiscal year has passed the Senate. The House has passed four of 12 required spending bills. Even if there was no other business to do, Congress could not complete the remaining work to fund government for the rest of fiscal year 2014 in a single week of “togetherness” in Washington.

And there is other business to do. The conference of the House and Senate Budget Committees, the result of the deal that ended the government shutdown, has apparently made progress in the last week, but hopes are not high for any real solution to the long-term budget problems facing the nation. A narrow agreement to set spending limits that will replace sequestration with other revenue or cuts for the next two years may be better than nothing … or it may not. The devil is always in the details and we don’t know the details yet. The deadline for those negotiations to conclude is also Friday the 13th, but that deadline has no real teeth since the current continuing resolution to keep the government funded doesn’t expire until Jan. 15 of next year.

The bill setting policy for the Department of Defense, a bill that has been successfully passed and signed into law every year for more than 50 years, has not been passed by the Senate. The House finished its work in June. This bill was on the Senate floor when Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., brought up the resolution that finally granted the Senate majority the so-called “nuclear option,” changing Senate procedure to allow most executive branch and judicial nominations to be resolved with a simple majority vote.

And speaking of confirmations, that brings up another deadline. The Senate needs to confirm a new chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System by Jan. 31, 2014, the expiration of Chairman Ben Bernanke’s term.

But that’s not all Congress has on its “must pass” list. The current farm bill extension expired on Sept. 30, but that doesn’t have much impact. Nutrition programs continue, crop insurance never expires. But on Jan. 1, taxpayers meet the dreaded “dairy cliff.” This is when the administration, because of 60-year old laws aggies refuse to repeal, will have to take us back to 1950s era dairy policy and guarantee milk producers artificially high prices resulting in as much as $8 per gallon milk on a grocery store shelf near you. (Of course, another alternative is that Congress could simply repeal the outdated law and allow the market to set milk prices. But we know that is too logical of an action for this Congress to take).

The fiscal cliff deal made a permanent fix for the encroaching alternative minimum tax, but another hardy perennial, the Medicare doctor payment fix, was left out. This would reduce the payments to doctors under Medicare. While it was adopted as a budget control measure, it’s been legislatively “fixed” each year. That issue looms.

Also, there’s the tax extenders package. That’s the cat and dog mix of various special interest tax breaks benefitting everyone from NASCAR track owners to liquor distillers that gets tacked on to moving pieces of legislation every year. Except this year there doesn’t seem to be moving legislation to hitch the caboose to.

Remember, the House and the Senate currently plan to be together in Washington for only five days in December. Perhaps they will have a burst of efficiency and effectiveness by Dec. 20, but I’m not holding my breath.

 

By: Ryan Alexander, U. S. News and World Report, December 3, 2013

December 9, 2013 Posted by | Congress | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Paranoid And Delusional”: Republicans Are Lost In Their Own Wilderness

Republicans shouldn’t worry that President Obama is trying to destroy the GOP. Why would he bother? The party’s leaders are doing a pretty good job of it themselves.

As they try to understand why the party lost an election it was confident of winning — and why it keeps losing budget showdowns in Congress — Republican grandees are asking the wrong questions. Predictably, they are also coming up with the wrong answers.

They prefer to focus on flawed tactics and ineffectual “messaging” rather than confront the essential problem, which is that voters don’t much care for the policies the GOP espouses.

In post-debacle speeches and interviews, Republicans sound — and there’s no kind way to put this — paranoid and delusional. House Speaker John Boehner said in a speech to the Ripon Society that the Obama administration is trying to “annihilate the Republican Party.” Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the party’s fiscal guru and failed vice presidential candidate, claimed Sunday on “Meet the Press” that Obama seeks “political conquest” of the GOP.

It is no secret that Obama is trying to advance a progressive agenda. He promised as much in his campaign speeches. Were Republicans not listening? Did they think he was just joshing?

In five of the past six presidential elections, Democrats have won the popular vote. Republicans have done well at the state level and, through redistricting, have made their majority in the House difficult to dislodge. But it’s not possible to lead the country from the speaker’s chair, as Boehner can attest. To have a chance at effecting transformative change, you have to win the White House.

And to win the White House, you have to convince voters that the policies you seek to enact are the right ones. This is what the GOP doesn’t seem to understand.

“We’ve got to stop being the stupid party,” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, one of the GOP’s brightest young stars, said in a much-anticipated speech last week at the party’s winter meeting. “We’ve got to stop insulting the intelligence of voters. We need to trust the smarts of the American people.”

That’s all well and good. But Jindal also warned that the party should not “moderate, equivocate or otherwise change our principles” on issues such as abortion, gay marriage, “government growth” and “higher taxes.”

On abortion, there is an uneasy consensus that the procedure should be legal but uncommon; the GOP wants to make abortion illegal, and the party’s loudest voices on the issue do not favor exceptions even for incest or rape. On gay marriage, public opinion is shifting dramatically toward acceptance; the Republican Party is adamantly opposed. On the size of government, Americans philosophically favor “small” — but, as a practical matter, demand services and programs that can only be delivered by “big.” And on taxes, voters agreed with Obama that the wealthy could and should pay a bit more.

“We must reject the notion that demography is destiny, the pathetic and simplistic notion that skin pigmentation dictates voter behavior,” Jindal said. These are noble and stirring words. But the GOP is insane if it does not at least ask why 93 percent of African Americans, 71 percent of Latinos and 73 percent of Asian Americans voted for Obama over Mitt Romney.

If minority voters continue to favor the Democratic Party to this extent, then demography will indeed prove to be destiny. What would be simplistic is to attribute the disparity to the fact that Obama is the first black president, or to the fact that Republicans have been perceived as so unsympathetic on issues concerning immigration. If they want to attract minority support, Republicans will have to take into account what these voters believe on a range of issues, from the proper relationship between government and the individual to the proper role of the United States in a rapidly changing world.

I have to wonder if the GOP is even getting the tactics-and-messaging part right. Michael Steele (now an MSNBC colleague of mine) served as party chairman when Republicans won a sweeping victory in 2010; he was promptly fired. Reince Priebus presided over the 2012 disaster; last week, he was rewarded with a new term as chairman.

But no matter who’s in charge, the GOP will have a tough time winning national elections until it has a better understanding of the nation. If Boehner is worried about being swept “into the dustbin of history,” he and other Republicans need to put down the broom.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, January 28, 2013

 

January 30, 2013 Posted by | GOP | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Efficient Metaphor For What’s Wrong With Congress

We know Congress isn’t getting along. But that’s no good  reason to spend less time together.

The House’s 2012 calendar is out, and it reflects some of  the  divisions the chamber is experiencing. Majority Leader Eric Canto has scheduled   just 109 days in session, a schedule he said will  make for a more streamlined legislative process while giving  lawmakers the  opportunity to spend time with their constituents. House  Democratic Whip Steny  Hoyer complained that the schedule is “more of  the same.” This year so far,  the House has conducted legislative  business for just 111 days, Hoyer noted,  nearly equal to the 104 days  spent in recess or in pro forma session.

Let’s be clear: when the House is back home, they are not  on  vacation. Their work schedules in the district are sometimes more  arduous  than those they have in Washington, since lawmakers are  expected to travel  around their districts, speaking to a myriad of  constituencies. They also have  to raise campaign cash during these  trips, a task that is becoming an  increasingly larger part of their  jobs.

Nor is Congress slacking off when they are not actually  on the floors  of the House and Senate. They have committee hearings, meetings  with  constituents, and (hopefully) negotiating sessions with fellow  lawmakers.

But spending less time in Washington is not going to heal  the  divisions in Congress. In fact, it’s likely to get worse. Especially in  the  House, with its 435 members, personal relationships are critical to  achieving  compromise. Lawmakers who barely see each other will never  get past the  party-identification barrier.

Further, the calendar (like this year’s) is out of synch  with the  Senate calendar. The two chambers take week-long recesses at different   times, making it harder for the House and Senate to reach the  compromises  necessary to pass legislation.

The 2012 calendar is campaign-friendly, however. After  October 5,  members are free until after the 2012 elections, giving them the  time  to keep their jobs, but not actually do their jobs. The new calendar is   indeed more efficient, as Cantor contends. But it’s an efficient  metaphor for  what has gone wrong with Congress.

By: Susan Milligan, U. S. News and World Report, October 28, 2011

October 31, 2011 Posted by | Conservatives, Elections, GOP | , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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