Rep. Jeff Flake, normally an outspoken anti-earmark crusader when appropriations bills are being debated on the floor, said he's instead been preoccupied by the debt limit debate. The Arizona Republican, who typically tries to shepherd several amendments to highlight what he deems wasteful spending during appropriations bill debates on the floor, was the recipient of a full-court leadership press last week that sought to persuade him to support Speaker John Boehner's debt limit plan. When he announced his support for the Ohio Republican's revised measure Friday, he acknowledged, "I've been thinking elsewhere."
"There's some things that are important and high-profile and have taken a back seat to this bigger debate," said Flake, noting his own language in the Interior bill on uranium mining that has drawn fire from the Democratic side.
Even President Barack Obama's bully pulpit couldn't prevent him from being distracted from his own announcement for new automobile fuel efficiency standards Friday. The issue typically drives heated partisan rhetoric and revs up the interest groups.
But before making his announcement at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in D.C., Obama made another live television address about the debt limit and encouraged constituents to call, write and tweet their Members of Congress on the pending issue.
"You can never in this place have all the focus on one issue you think is important," Flake said in a phrase that seemed to apply to just about everyone last week. "It is what it is."
Of course, the focus on the debt limit might have provided some cover to Members who didn't necessarily need attention, notably embattled Rep. David Wu (D-Ore.), who announced last week that he would resign amid allegations that he forced an "unwanted sexual encounter" with a teenage woman. For Wu, the debt limit debate was a distraction from fresh allegations he faced back home. Asked about her colleague's resignation last week, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) barely addressed the issue before declaring it "the least thing on my" list.
"Let me see how much lower I can fit," she said, pointing to the ground. "He's resigning from office. So, what we're trying to do is save the world from the Republican budget. We're trying to save life on this planet as we know it today. And I've said what I'm going to say about that; he's resigned."
Of course, Wu did say he would resign as soon as the debt limit debate was over. So it's anyone's guess when he'll really be leaving the Capitol complex.