The House will return this week for a brief start to the second session of the 112th Congress, voting to disapprove of a debt ceiling hike before Republicans huddle in Baltimore at their annual retreat to try to coalesce after a rough December.
Ending the first session on a low note after bowing to pressure on a short-term payroll tax cut extension, House Republicans have the opportunity to use the short legislative week to unify the Conference before President Barack Obama’s Jan. 24 State of the Union address.
After a procedural vote to gavel in the second session, the first action in the Capitol will occur mostly in the House Rules Committee, where the resolution of disapproval will be taken up Tuesday evening. The full House will vote on the resolution Wednesday and will likely pass it easily. The one-page resolution, written in simple language, reads, “That Congress disapproves of the President’s exercise of authority to increase the debt limit.”
The vote was laid out in the August compromise to raise the debt ceiling. Obama agreed to submit a written certification to Congress that the debt is within $100 billion of the limit. He did so on Thursday, giving Congress 15 days to pass a resolution presenting an objection to a debt limit hike of $1.2 trillion.
The exercise is widely seen as a way to provide opponents of the debt limit increase with the opportunity to vote against it, even though there is little chance both chambers will vote to disapprove and block the debt ceiling hike.
While passage of the resolution in the House is likely, its chances are particularly iffy in the Senate.
Even if the resolution did pass both chambers, Obama has the authority to veto it, and the likelihood of both chambers having enough votes to override his veto is next to nil.
The House will then recess so Republicans can head to Baltimore for their annual retreat. A wide range of topics will be discussed, not least among them the outstanding issue of passing a package to extend through at least the end of the year the payroll tax cut and the unemployment insurance benefits for the long-term unemployed. The package also contains elements to prevent cuts to doctors’ Medicare reimbursements.
Having been beat up on the issue at the end of 2011 and cowed into approving the short-term extension, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) likely wants to avoid another fight that could again sap his Conference of political advantage so early heading into the election year.
December’s fight over the payroll tax cut package left several Republican Members, particularly those in the freshman class, weary and disillusioned after having to swallow a compromise they didn’t like.
Because the payroll tax cut conference committee faces an end-of-February deadline to strike a deal, the Conference must be ready to vote on it, even if it excludes some of the priorities they included in the House-passed bill, such as changes to unemployment insurance eligibility and cuts to the Affordable Care Act.
House leaders have a challenge ahead in keeping the party unified and on message as they head toward the November elections.
It helps that right off the bat, Obama gave Republicans a cause to rally around early this month when he used a recess appointment to install Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray and three picks to the National Labor Relations Board.
Obama’s use of recess appointments when the chambers were using pro forma sessions to block them allows leadership a valuable opportunity to channel GOP frustration and return from the retreat swinging in that direction.