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‘Very, Very Old Battles’ Revisited

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer alluded to the idea that any legislative effort between now and the November elections is more likely destined to be referenced in a 30-second political ad than it is to produce a bill for President Barack Obama’s signature.

We’ve seen this movie before, but then again, it could be the sequel.

In a speech Monday, President Barack Obama stated his position on the Bush-era tax cuts once again — that they should be extended for those making less than $250,000 annually.

Meanwhile, House Republicans are preparing to vote to repeal Obama’s health care law once again. By Wednesday, the chamber will have voted to kill all or some of the law more than 30 times.

With less than four months until Election Day, however, it’s clear to all parties involved that none of this will pass before November.

Instead, what it all amounts to is political posturing, a fact conceded by House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer. Asked Monday whether Congress could take up substantive issues before the elections or whether bills and initiatives brought up by Members are more likely to lead to 30-second campaign ads, the Maryland Democrat was frank.

“Unfortunately,” he said, “the latter is more probable than the former.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) pinned the blame on Republicans and said they should stop seeking to refight the health care debate, praising the Senate’s recent legislative achievements, including passage of a farm bill, a transportation bill, a flood insurance bill and a measure staving off a doubling of interest rates for student loans.

“Rather than wasting time participating in political theater, we actually legislated,” Reid said on the Senate floor. “I’d hope we’d continue that productive process in this work period, characterized by cooperation between lawmakers on both sides of the Capitol and between both chambers.

“Unfortunately we already know that our colleagues in the House are going to waste much of their short work period refighting very, very old battles,” he said about the health care vote. “This is almost hard to comprehend.”

A House GOP leadership aide said the Supreme Court changed the game when it ruled the law constitutional last month. Democrats who voted against past repeals might be more inclined to vote for this one because Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion that the individual mandate was constitutional because it was a tax.

“The circumstances have changed,” the aide said. “Now that the Supreme Court has found that it is a tax, and therefore constitutional, maybe they’ll see the light.”

As the House seeks to once again underscore its opposition to the 2010 health care law, Senate Republicans are not expected to seek wholesale repeal of the law as part of the Senate tax debate that will likely begin Tuesday.

“I don’t think a repeal of Obamacare will be part of the debate [this week], but it is coming,” a senior Senate Republican said.

Instead, Senate Republicans might seek to offer an amendment that would highlight differences between some Democrats and the president. Senate Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have advocated for extending the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts for those making more than $1 million, a number higher than the president’s.

But that effort might not have the desired effect. According to House and Senate Democratic leadership aides, Pelosi and Schumer have agreed to back the president as an opening bid.

A House GOP aide said the party is unfazed by the president’s most recent speech, saying he caved on a full extension of tax cuts once before and that he likely will again.

The Senate is set to hold a procedural vote on a small-business tax bill today. Under the bill, which is part of Obama’s Congressional to-do list, Congress would provide a 10 percent income tax credit on new payroll — through hiring or increased wages — added in 2012.

The bill also extends bonus depreciation for one year, allowing businesses to write off the entire cost of major purchases in the year they are made rather than depreciate those expenses over many years.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said the health care law needs to be repealed because, echoing GOP talking points, the law’s taxing authority imposes costs on businesses.

But Senate Republicans, perhaps not wanting to muddy their message, are not likely to push repeal in debate this week, even though it would likely be relevant.

“Republicans have a lot of good ideas on tax relief; we would surely welcome an opportunity to put them before the Senate,” the Senate GOP aide said.

One issue that could come up that is related to the health care law is the repeal of a 2.3 percent tax on medical devices. This provision of the law is expected to go into effect at the beginning of next year and is one of a raft of taxes and fees in the law designed to help subsidize expanded insurance coverage.

Some Senate Republicans, though, are skeptical that Democratic leaders are acting in good faith when it comes to the small-business tax bill.

As evidence, some cite the fact that the Senate is working from its own bill, as opposed to a House-passed vehicle. Under the Constitution, revenue bills have to originate in the House.

“It’s an ‘S’-numbered bill, which makes me nervous,” a senior GOP Senate aide said. “It’s unclear if Democrats will allow a true debate and votes on Republican amendments to the bill,” the aide continued.

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