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The Week Ahead in Congress

January 24, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Last week was a tough one for the Democrats who control Congress. They lost their filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. Health care reform turned from a sure thing only weeks away from finishing to a toxic subject completely up in the air with no clear path ahead. And on every other issue Congress is working on, the Republican win in Massachusetts last Tuesday has Democrats in all but the bluest districts afraid to act for fear of an electorate backlash in November.

It’s time for the Democrats to regroup. That’s what this week will be all about. The House has planned a light legislative schedule for the week and they’ll be hearing Obama give his State of the Union address on Wednesday. The Republicans are energized after their win in Massachusetts last week. If Obama fails to fire up his party on Wednesday, it’s easy to imagine the Democrats staying in a fearful, defensive position for the foreseeable future and getting next to nothing done.

Behind the scenes, Democrats will spend the week trying to figure out a strategy for passing health care reform given the new political climate. Dozens of House Democrats last week rejected the idea of simply passing the Senate’s more conservative health care bill, having it immediately signed into law and then fixing it later through stand-alone measures. Many of them favor breaking their health care bill up into pieces and passing only the pieces that they think will help them politically. The Democrats clearly need to figure out what to do on the health care front, but they’re trying to take it slow. House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi [D, CA-8] last week said, “we’re in no rush.” And the retiring Sen. Chris Dodd [D, CT], who earlier in the month said health care reform was “hanging by a thread,” said last week that the Dems should “take a breather for a month, six weeks” on health care and focus on other pieces of legislation in the meantime.

For now, that’s what they’re doing. Below is the House’s legislative schedule for the week:

MONDAY, JANUARY 25, 2010

On Monday, the House is not in session.

TUESDAY, JANUARY 26, 2010

On Tuesday, the House will meet at 12:30 p.m. for Morning Hour debate and 2:00 p.m. for legislative business with votes postponed until 6:30 p.m.

Suspensions (6 Bills)

  1. H.Res. 583 - Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that Lester Flatt has made an invaluable contribution to American art as both a songwriter and a performer, leaving an indelible legacy in bluegrass music (Rep. Davis (TN) – Education and Labor)
  2. H.Res. 990 – Expressing support for designation of January 2010 as “National Mentoring Month” (Rep. McCollum – Education and Labor)
  3. H.Res. 1030 – Congratulating Messiah College men’s and women’s soccer teams on winning the 2009 NCAA Division III national championships (Rep. Platts – Education and Labor)
  4. H.Res. 1029 – Expressing support for designation of the week of February 1 through February 5, 2010, as “National School Counseling Week” (Rep. Linda Sanchez – Education and Labor)
  5. H.Res. 1024 – Expressing support for designation of January as Poverty in America Awareness Month (Rep. McDermott – Ways and Means)
  6. H.R. __ - Emergency Aid to American Survivors of the Haiti Earthquake Act (Rep. Rangel – Ways and Means)

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 27, 2010 AND THE BALANCE OF THE WEEK

On Wednesday, the House will meet at 10:00 a.m. for legislative business. At approximately 5:00 p.m., the House will recess to allow for a security sweep of the House Chamber prior to the President’s address. The House will meet again at approximately 8:35 p.m. in a joint session with the Senate for the purpose of receiving an address from the President of the United States. On Thursday and Friday, there will be no votes in the House to accommodate the Republican Issues Conference.

Suspensions (2 Bills)

  1. H.R. __ - To provide for an additional temporary extension of programs under the Small Business Act and the Small Business Investment Act of 1958 (Rep. Velazquez – Small Business)
  2. H.Res. 1020 – Honoring the 95th anniversary of the signing of the Rocky Mountain National Park Act (Rep. Markey (CO) – Natural Resources)

H.R. 4474 – Idaho Wilderness Water Facilities Act (Rep. Minnick – Natural Resources) (Subject to a Rule)

H.R. 3726 – Castle Nugent National Historic Site Establishment Act of 2010 (Rep. Christensen – Natural Resources) (Subject to a Rule)

* Conference Reports may be brought up at any time.

* Motions to go to Conference should they become available.

* Possible Motions to Instruct Conferees.

And here’s what we know so far about the Senate’s schedule:

Monday, Jan. 25

Convenes: 2:00 p.m.

Morning Business until 3:00pm with senators permitted to speak therein for up to 10 minutes each.

Following morning business, the Senate will resume consideration of H.J.Res.45, debt limit.
At 5:30pm, the Senate will turn to Executive Session to consider the nomination of Rosana Peterson to be a US District Judge for the Eastern District of Washington, with the time until 6:00pm equally divided and controlled between senators Leahy and Sessions or their designees. At 6pm, the Senate will proceed to vote on confirmation of the nomination.

The following amendments to the debt limit bill will also likely get votes this week:

  • Coburn [R, OK] rescission amendment — not much information available on this one, but it will likely change the rules and require that Congress votes on presidential rescission packages. [link].
  • Sessions [R, AL] spending caps amendment — would set spending caps for the next five years on all discretionary government spending. Besides entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security, the amendment would limit spending growth to a maximum of 2 percent per year for the next five years. [link].
  • Reid [D, NV] pay/go amendment — would require that any increase in mandatory spending be offset by new revenues elsewhere. [link].
  • Conrad [D, ND] deficit-reduction commission amendment — would establish a “Bipartisan Task Force for Responsible Fiscal Action” that would make recommendations and legislative language to Congress on how they could reduce the deficit. Congress would be forced to vote on the task force’s recommendations, which after 100 hours of debate would not be filibusterable. [link].
  • Baucus [D, MT] amendment to protect social security — states that it would not be in order for the House or the Senate to consider any recommendation from Conrad’s task force, or any other commission, pertaining to Social Security or Medicare. The amendment would allow this restriction to be waived by a 3/5ths majority vote. [link].

Oh, and the Senate’s also going to have to vote on Ben Bernanke’s confirmation for another term as head of the Fed. At this point, that’s looking like a pretty sure thing.

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