News from Washington, D.C. 01/14/2011
The 112th Congress commenced with much fanfare the week of
January 3 as Republicans took control of the House after a
four-year hiatus. With the biggest shift in power on Capitol Hill
in the past 70 years, GOP House leaders enthusiastically welcomed
87 Republican freshmen into the fold.
For their part, Democrats scrambled to pass several pieces of legislation before handing the gavel over to incoming House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH). Among the bills signed into law by President Obama on the last day of the 111th Congress (January 4) was the Food and Drug Administration Food Safety Modernization Act. The measure is an overhaul of federal food safety legislation aimed to improve prevention of food-borne illness and response to food-related outbreaks.
Members of Congress were sworn into office on January 5, marking the official start of the 112th Congress. On the heels of the swearing-in ceremony, ambitious House Republican leaders quickly set forth their agenda for the coming weeks. Topping their list of priorities is the repeal of the controversial Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148, PL 111-152). The measure (HR 2), dubbed the “Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act,” would essentially abolish the health care reform law approved by Congress last year.
While the repeal bill is expected to sail through the House, it is highly unlikely to get much attraction in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Nevertheless, Republicans will march forward with the repeal, though many see the vote as mostly a symbolic move. With Congress unlikely to approve a repeal of the law, GOP lawmakers are planning to attack the health care law on other fronts, such as restricting spending on discretionary programs enacted in the bill, as well as limit funding for the Department of Health and Human Services, which serves as the primary executor of many of the health care regulations. According to House Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Denny Rehberg (R-MT), de-funding the health care reform bill will be a top priority under his reign.
The repeal measure was originally scheduled to be taken up by the House on January 12. However, action on the bill was stalled due to the shooting incident that occurred in Tucson, Arizona on January 8. Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) was meeting with constituents in front of a local supermarket when she was shot and critically injured. The vicious attack killed six people and injured 14. With the Arizona tragedy, it was unclear at press time when House leaders will proceed with its legislative agenda, though it has been reported that the health care repeal vote will occur the week of January 17.
In other news, Republican lawmakers will have to decide soon when to move forward with the fiscal year 2011 appropriations bills. Currently, the federal government is running on a continuing resolution (CR) that temporarily funds federal government operations. With the current CR (PL 111-322) set to expire on March 4, lawmakers have a short timeframe to work on a compromise package. Sure to ruffle Democratic feathers is the GOP’s proposal to rescind non-military spending amounts to fiscal year 2008 levels.
The fiscal year 2011 spending bills, as wells as the repeal of health care reform, will be early tests for the new House GOP majority. The Republicans will now have to reconcile their campaign pledges with the realities of Washington as they set out to deliver on the various promises made to constituents. Heading the list of promises is reducing “big government,” rolling back federal spending and, as noted above, repealing the health care overhaul. The GOP will map out its strategy for the new Congress when Republicans hold their annual retreat in Baltimore, Maryland on January 13. Democrats will also hold their retreat this month as they are scheduled to meet on January 20 in Cambridge, Maryland.
In another development, CSAC President John Tavaglione and Executive Director Paul McIntosh traveled to Washington the week of January 10 for the National Association of Counties’ State Association Presidents and Executive Directors meeting. In conjunction with the conference, the CSAC officials, along with CSAC’s Washington representatives, met with a number of congressional offices to discuss the association’s federal priorities for 2011. The group met with Congressman Ken Calvert (R-CA) and staff members from the offices of Representatives Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), who chairs the California Democratic Congressional Delegation; David Dreier (R-CA), who heads the California Republican Congressional Delegation; Jerry Lewis (R-CA); Mike Thompson (D-CA); and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).
Additionally, CSAC leaders met with officials from the White House’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs to discuss the organization’s federal agenda for the upcoming year.