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It fits on a Post-it note, but some lawmakers are still confused by what’s on President Barack Obama’s “to-do” list — and so far, neither chamber has scheduled a vote on any of the five items the president has urged them to tackle “right now.”
When Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) outlined his agenda for the June work period this week, only one item from Obama’s to-do list made the cut — a business tax cut package. That’s the item most likely to win GOP support, given that Democrats at this point plan to follow the lead of House Republicans and simply borrow the money to pay for it.
Reid also mentioned a half a dozen items that aren’t on Obama’s list, although one — preventing the doubling of interest rates on student loans — is a separate White House priority.
Senate Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who has championed the tax cut measure, said he hopes they can take it up soon, provided they can find the time to do it.
Senate Democratic aides tried to minimize any talk of a rift with the White House, suggesting that they will eventually get to the to-do list. And the White House says it’s working to get votes.
But the biggest problem for the president’s agenda isn’t the usual partisan gridlock — it’s an unexpected surge in cooperation on a series of less-than-sexy bills, such as a Food and Drug Administration authorization package and postal reform. Rather than taking their cues from the White House, Senators in both parties have been pushing other priorities to the top of Reid’s agenda — whether it be a farm bill, garden-variety appropriations or renewing the flood insurance program.
In the meantime, several Senators confessed to Roll Call that they don’t know what is on the to-do list anyway, despite several speeches in which Obama has urged his followers to tweet, call, write and email lawmakers urging them to take it up.
“Didn’t we do some things he wanted us to do?” asked Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.). “[Export-Import] Bank, that doesn’t count? That wasn’t on the to-do list?”
No. The president wanted that, too, but it’s not on the list.
“Do you have a copy of the to-do list?” Landrieu asked.
After a reporter told her what was on the list, she quipped, “We’re adding to that list by doing some great things.”
“I don’t have a copy of it; I’m sure my staff does,” said Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), when asked when the Senate might get to it.
“We’ve got June, July. We’ve got some time. What time frame did he put on that to-do list?”
When told the president said the to-do list could be done “now,” Casey joked, “Now is a very expansive term. It’s not even the summer yet.“
“Didn’t we just try to move on student loans. Wasn’t that on his list?” asked Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.).
No, that’s a separate priority.
“You’d have to ask Harry Reid” why the list hasn’t moved, Levin said.
In addition to the tax cut, Obama wants Congress to let “underwater” homeowners who have made their payments on time to be able to refinance their mortgages; extend tax credits for renewable energy; transfer tax breaks from companies that ship jobs overseas to companies that bring them back homeand create a “Veterans Jobs Corps.”
The business tax cut would provide a credit to small companies that increase their payroll through hiring or salary increases in some circumstances. It would also extend a current credit for business expensing of equipment.
“The fact of life is none of us work for the president,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “What you see is the Senate’s legislative agenda being driven by the Senate, not by the White House. The president’s pretty much irrelevant, because he’s basically given up on governing and is campaigning.”
“I think if the president wanted to get some stuff done, he could call up [on] the phone and tell the Majority Leader to move ahead on any number of bills,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), mentioning doing a budget and a tax reform package.
The White House said it is trying to get bills on the schedule.
“We’re actively working with the leadership to schedule votes on Congress’ to-do list over the next few weeks,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest. “The fact that some Members of Congress can’t keep track of five simple, bipartisan things they could do — right now — to help the middle class and strengthen the economy says more about their priorities than it does about the president’s.”