Breakneck Pace Slows in House
Land swap buffs are in for a treat this week as the House is expected to take up not one, not two, but six bills transferring federal lands to individuals or modifying various federal land boundaries.
After dispensing with that business, the House will also delve into cybersecurity
and data management, working on no fewer than five measures in that arena this week.
Welcome to election year legislating, the time of the calendar when Republicans — still healing their wounds from a rough presidential primary battle and coalescing around their nominee — grind through important if not particularly sexy legislation.
It’s not as if there isn’t plenty of activity going on: A number of House committees are holding hearings on economic legislation, gas prices and other issues, all of which are teed up for consideration over the next few months.
Additionally, Republicans are pushing forward with their efforts to reform the tax code. And although no legislation is expected to be seriously considered until next year, Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) are engaged in “tax strategy planning sessions about what to do about our tax code,” Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said Thursday at a breakfast hosted by Politico.
And of course there’s the appropriations process, which has finally begun in earnest and will likely take up much of the floor schedule in the coming months.
Still, it’s a far cry from last April. Last year Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) spent much of the month struggling with his own conference over a continuing resolution to fund the federal government. Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) spent days and many nights struggling to agree on a spending measure that could muster enough support among Republicans to pass the House while being viable in the Senate.
With that crisis resolved by midmonth, Boehner immediately pivoted into the months-long fight over the debt limit, a process that consumed much of the GOP’s and the nation’s focus.
By contrast, Boehner finally passed transportation legislation last week, setting up the start of conference proceedings as soon as the end of this week. But there is no debt ceiling meltdown on the horizon, no hovering deadline to give action in the House a sense of urgency.
And for Republicans, a bit of a lull in the breakneck pace of legislating and crisis management is a good thing.
“The idea that Congress every day is, or should be, doing something that affects Americans tomorrow is a misnomer,” one GOP leadership aide said, adding that although Democrats tend to see a role for government in people’s daily lives, “Republicans don’t.”
The leadership aide explained that although the public and Members have become used to Congress constantly acting in crisis-containment mode, that has been a reality for lawmakers only since 2008’s vote on the Troubled Asset Relief Program and the economic collapse.
“We live in a post-TARP world in Congress,” the aide said, adding that “just because the floor schedule isn’t filled with salacious things doesn’t mean Congress isn’t doing anything important.”
A big part of this week’s lull is a result of Republicans putting together their next several waves of election year issues. For instance, after next week’s recess, Republicans will bring to the floor a reconciliation package that outlines a new round of cuts the GOP wants.
Although there is little chance that those cuts will be put in place in the near term, GOP aides said the package will be the centerpiece of Republicans’ push against automatic cuts to defense programs, known as the sequester, put in place by last year’s debt ceiling deal and the subsequent failure of the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction.
According to Cantor, “We’ll make some moves throughout the year” to demonstrate the GOP’s effort to replace the sequester with a set of cuts it is more comfortable with.
Republicans for months have been beating the drum against the sequester’s defense cuts, and according to a GOP leadership aide, the reconciliation package “shows we’re the only ones with a plan to avoid these defense cuts.”
Similarly, McCarthy has been putting together a package of energy and gas price legislation that will come to the floor later this spring, timed to coincide with the expected spike in prices because of the summer driving season.
One issue that is also complicating matters for Republicans in the House has been the presidential primaries.
While Democrats already have their standard-bearer in President Barack Obama, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has only recently put the primary process in his rearview mirror.
Republicans said they are happy to finally have a presumptive nominee and are eager to work with him on his agenda.