Monday, January 05, 2015

The Cliffs Ahead of Congressional Republicans

Even if they succeed in putting out the brush fire sparked by Rep. Steve Scalise's white supremacist ties, Congressional Republicans, especially Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, will find themselves facing several potential cliffs as they try to prove to the nation that the GOP can govern and is more than the party of obstruction.  In addition to confrontations with the White House, McConnell and Boehner will need to seek to rein in the lunatic elements of their respective caucuses.  A piece in Politico looks at the coming circus.  Here are highlights:
They just won control of the Senate and have a historic majority in the House. The presidential election hasn’t yet begun. President Barack Obama says he wants to engage with Capitol Hill. For the first time in a while, there seems to be a genuine thirst for getting something done.

But guess what: Congress is running straight into another series of cliffs. . . . . The legislative land mines range from tricky transportation issues to funding controversial slices of the government, to updating a pricey Medicare program and, of course, the ever-explosive debt ceiling.

The lineup of these so-called cliffs could complicate the GOP’s desire for scoring a big accomplishment before the onset of presidential primary season. Furthermore, it could stoke intraparty confrontation and force Republicans into cooperation with the White House. These problems can’t be ignored, and GOP leadership will have to decide if it wants to set up short-term solutions or negotiate permanent fixes to these long-lingering problems. These deals don’t come together quickly and could require leaders to spend their hard-earned political capital on brokering compromises.

The first cliff comes just 25 legislative days into the 114th Congress. By Feb. 28, Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell must devise a plan to fund the Department of Homeland Security. Conservatives are furious that Obama unilaterally changed the enforcement of immigration laws and will want to enact some change of their own.

The potential for an intraparty feud over immigration is high: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and his conservative allies are urging Boehner and McConnell to play hardball and defund the administration’s order to shelter millions of immigrants from deportation.
In March, Congress has to deal, once again, with the extremely pricey formula by which the government reimburses Medicare providers — known inside the Beltway as the “doc fix.” Washington has punted on changes to the formula for years, but there is a desire to fix the problem for good. That would cost billions of dollars and could drive fiscal conservatives mad.

The highway trust fund will become insolvent in May, and federally funded infrastructure projects across America will grind to a halt if nothing is done. Congress will have to work out a new funding mechanism — the gas tax has not been raised since 1993, and fuel-efficient cars have steadily decreased its buying power. Raising the tax is politically difficult, so Boehner, McConnell and the transportation chairmen will have to work out another funding mechanism — or turn to another unpopular general fund bailout, rather than risk a construction shutdown.

The debt ceiling isn’t far behind — the nation’s borrowing authority will need to be extended sometime between the late spring or early fall.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans must confront the unique challenge of processing Obama’s executive and judicial branch nominees while occasionally flexing their parliamentary muscle to halt some confirmations.

The GOP has vowed to hold numerous votes on amendments to each piece of legislation, a key promise of McConnell’s reign, along with working a five-day workweek and empowering the committees. But Democrats are eager to prove the GOP’s parliamentary promises are hard ones to keep.

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