With wreckage of the super committee squarely in their rearview mirror, lawmakers returning to the House on Monday will face a packed agenda with little time to get everything done.
Add to the chamber’s already busy schedule of GOP jobs and regulatory reform measures the thorny issues of a payroll tax extension, unemployment insurance and the “doc fix” to cover the shortfall in Medicare payments to providers — all of which were supposed to be dealt with by the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction — and you have a very busy few weeks ahead.
The plan for tackling all of the issues is very much a work in progress: According to a leadership aide, decisions on when to move those items and how to deal with long-term spending needs won’t be made “until leaders have a chance to talk to their Members once they get back.”
But that means that, at least in the House, work on the difficult, high-profile issues such as unemployment will be delayed until next week while Republicans finish up the bulk of their jobs agenda.
A GOP leadership aide described the regulatory reform work over the next two weeks as part of Republicans’ “top 10 list” of changes they wanted to pass this year, including elimination of public financing for presidential elections and conventions and several broad regulatory reform and flexibility bills.
Republicans also insist they will get their work done.
“On doc fix ... my prediction is we will address the proposed cliff in the [formula for Medicare payments]. And yes, I have recently met with some of our physician Members in the House and look forward to coming up with a long-term fix. But again, that would be work we still have to do,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said earlier this month.
Cantor seems intent on passing the payroll tax cut and providing an extension to unemployment insurance, although it is unclear whether these measures will be fully offset.
Several aides said that while conservatives will likely object to not having everything paid for, leaders remain confident they can move the legislation. “We’ll be able to sell it to our Members,” one aide predicted.
One thing that’s not likely to come up before the end of the year is changes to the sequester that was put in place as part of the debt deal that created the super committee.
According to numerous GOP aides, while pressure is growing to remove the sequester’s $600 billion in defense cuts, that’s likely not in the cards for December.
Leaders are keenly aware of the fact that simply eliminating the sequester could result in a credit downgrade for the country. Additionally, it would more generally demonstrate Congress’ inability to hold itself accountable.
But interest in finding a way to change the makeup of the sequester to protect defense spending is growing.
“Obviously, with the collapse of the super committee, we have got an opportunity to maintain the fiscal discipline and allow the cuts to stay in place, but there is another way,” Cantor said. “There is, I think, another way to accomplish the cuts to ensure that our veterans and what they stand for isn’t affected in a disproportionate way.”
In a letter to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) last week, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Assistant Minority Leader James Clyburn (D-S.C.) argued that passage of unemployment insurance extension, the doc fix and payroll tax cut were critical to the country’s economic recovery.
“Independent economists from across the political spectrum estimate that failure to pass these essential pieces of legislation could reduce economic growth by — as much as 2 percentage points next year,” the Democratic leaders wrote.
This article updates the print version to clarify House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s stance on the payroll tax cut and extending unemployment insurance.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.