The House — often a third fiddle to the Senate and the White House — has a rare moment in the spotlight today as it reconvenes to clear a $26 billion state aid package intended to prevent layoffs of hundreds of thousands of teachers and other state and local government workers.
The extraordinary session in the midst of the summer recess has Members scrambling to attend but also gives both parties another chance to show off their strategies heading into November.
"I don't think we Democrats need to make this any more complicated. ... Democrats are coming back and protecting jobs and Republicans are trying to fire a whole bunch of people," a senior Democratic aide said.
But while Democrats will talk about their efforts to save jobs by closing a tax loophole they say helps companies ship jobs overseas, Republicans will charge Democrats with giving states another bailout paid for by a tax increase.
On Monday, they also attacked Democrats for a goof in the bill: The Senate-passed text gives the bill the title the " ____ Act of ____" rather than a proper title.
"Once again, the Democratic majority's rush to enact unpopular legislation with questionable objectives will result in sloppy lawmaking," said Rep. David Dreier (Calif.), the ranking member on the Rules Committee. "If they can't get the name of the bill right, what other problems might be lurking under the hood?"
Another legislative glitch appeared likely to sink chances for clearing a $600 million border security bill unexpectedly passed by the Senate last week.
House Democrats will probably start over with a new House bill today and send it back to the Senate because of constitutional concerns, according to a Democratic leadership aide.
The Constitution requires revenue measures to originate in the House. Sen. Charles Schumer's (D-N.Y.) border security bill, which would add 1,500 border guards plus equipment, was introduced just hours before it was attached as an amendment to a House appropriations bill and passed by unanimous consent.
The Senate goofed, the aide said, by attaching a revenue hike to an appropriations bill instead of using a House-passed tax measure. Schumer's bill is paid for largely with a higher fee on work visas.
The Obama administration has urged the House to clear the Senate-passed bill and send it to the president's desk. The House's initial bill passed by voice vote last month.
The Senate would then have the choice of returning early to clear the bill or waiting until its scheduled return in September.
Don't expect the Senate to cut short its break. "We expect to take up the legislation again, hopefully by unanimous consent, when we return in September," said a Senate Democratic leadership aide.
Either way, Democrats have taken heat from immigration reform advocates for giving in to a Republican priority without getting anything in return.
"Last week, by succumbing to crass political considerations, rather than sound policymaking, Senate Democrats succeeded in clumsily orchestrating an outrageous betrayal of immigrant, faith, law enforcement, border communities and Latino communities by rushing yet another symbolic border enforcement bill through the Senate that throws more enforcement dollars at an already broken immigration system," said Ali Noorani, chairman of the National Immigration Forum.
Democrats will also have to contend with a resolution from Rep. Tom Price (Ga.), chairman of the Republican Study Committee, that seeks to prevent any lame-duck session after the November elections unless there is a national emergency, for fear Democrats will use the period to ram through pieces of their agenda they could not complete earlier — like a cap-and-trade energy bill. "A lame-duck session should not be used as a post-election blitz to impose liberal programs that Americans do not support," Price said.
Democratic aides counter that Republicans are manufacturing a bogus controversy to feed their political base and are effectively pushing for a taxpayer-funded vacation instead of doing the work of the people. They argue that there is no grand plan to shove through a lame-duck partisan agenda. And even if there were, they still don't have the 60 votes they would need to stop filibusters in the Senate.
Meanwhile, House Democrats planned to ignore a request from Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) that they pass his legislation outlawing the automatic pay raises Members of Congress receive.
Feingold's bill passed the Senate unanimously in March 2009, but the House has not taken it up.
"No one doubts that if that bill came to the floor for a vote, it would pass overwhelmingly," Feingold said in a statement Monday. "All that stands between ending the current system of back-door congressional pay hikes is a few minutes of the House's time, and the president's signature."
But a senior House Democratic aide noted that Democrats already have frozen Members' pay for 2010 and 2011.
"There are no plans to take up measures that are not emergency priorities tomorrow," the aide said. "Clearly, since we've already frozen pay for 2011, this is decidedly not an emergency."