House Republicans will focus on jobs and rising gas prices next week as leaders continue working on intra-Conference squabbles over the transportation bill and other top-tier priorities.
Next week should also mark another high point for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a frequent foil for Democrats who earned their praise for his small-business jobs plan that is heading to the floor. President Barack Obama indicated his interest in the Virginia Republican's package of jobs bills during a Wednesday meeting with congressional leaders. Speaker John Boehner noted after the White House meeting that, "The president was very optimistic about moving that bill through the House ... [and] I think the president's support of the JOBS Act was very welcome." House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi also noted the bipartisan support for the jobs plan, but said it is only a small substitute for a larger transportation bill that the California Democrat said would provide a bigger boost for job growth.
But the House transportation bill remains mired in intraparty squabbling and the GOP Conference is set to meet and discuss the subject on Wednesday. Boehner was forced to separate the transportation and energy components of the broad package two weeks ago, yet even that move did not jump-start consideration of either piece. Conservatives maintain the transportation bill is too costly, while Democrats have regularly blasted it as a partisan measure. With Cantor's bipartisan jobs package taking focus next week, Republicans will have more time to work out the kinks on the transportation reauthorization set to expire at the end of the month.
The Conference must also work out differences between conservatives and others on spending levels for the upcoming fiscal year. Conservatives want to lower the spending cap, but doing so would leave appropriators with unrealistic numbers and could doom any spending bills to failure on the House floor. The budget is slated to move to the floor by the end of the month.
As both parties seek to highlight the small-business jobs bill back home, particularly as Members gear up for a weeklong recess, congressional Republicans are likely to continue their coordinated attack of the Obama administration over rising gas prices. Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) talked about the issue in the weekly Republican address, while Senate Republicans this past week continued to push for votes on the Keystone XL oil pipeline and other energy-related amendments to their chamber's transportation bill, which is currently lagging on the floor.
With Republicans hitting the administration on gas prices, Democrats will no doubt continue pounding the GOP on contraception. The issue has grown into an all-out culture war, with the Democratic campaign arms regularly emailing supporters and charging that GOP candidates support policies on birth control that are harmful to women. On Friday afternoon, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee sounded off on conservative talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh for calling Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute." Fluke appeared before a House Democratic hearing and maintained that the Obama administration's rule on contraceptive coverage should be upheld.
"Personal attacks on a student — and all women — simply can't be ignored," the DSCC petition to supporters read. "Stand with us, and denounce Rush Limbaugh's vile attacks."
The Senate voted Thursday to kill a GOP amendment that would allow companies and insurance providers to opt out of mandated birth control coverage for religious reasons. Despite that setback, and the wave of Democratic messaging against it, House Republicans are still expected to bring up their own measure in the coming weeks. Boehner told colleagues the Conference would move forward with Rep. Jeff Fortenberry's (R-Neb.) proposal.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.