Around the State
“Date night” on Capitol Hill went off without a hitch Tuesday night and the president’s State of the Union speech has been analyzed word for word by many.
Meanwhile, the House and Senate chambers went back to work Wednesday and continued their work this past week, with the Senate finally concluding their opening day “housekeeping” resolutions and resolving the Senate rules change impasse that had stalled much of the opening-day routine matters.
By week’s end, the Senate made minor rules changes to help make it seem more in order. The changes are true “inside baseball” procedural modifications dealing with the “outing” of senators who want to hold up legislation or nominations and removing the ability of a senator to ask the clerk to read an amendment out loud if the text is available on the Internet.
These two changes are minor in comparison to what had been threatened by a small number of Senate Democrats at the beginning of the 112th Congress.
The Senate did conduct some votes on the more radical proposals; however, none of the game-changing ideas offered by the Senate Democrats came close to passing. The proposal by Sen. Harkin (D-Iowa) to reduce the number of votes needed to close off debate -- the so-called cloture/filibuster rule -- garnered only 46 votes.
A major rules change, like the one offered by Sen. Harkin, needs 67 votes to pass in the Senate under its rules. With the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) backing down from his threat to drastically change the Senate, starting with having it declared NOT a continuous body, the Senate was able to announce long-awaited committee assignments for the 112th Congress as well as other organizational resolutions.
Next week the senators will begin debating legislation possibly dealing with the Federal Aviation Administration which has been operating on extensions for a couple of years. They may also consider termination of the taxpayer-funded presidential campaigns and the two national conventions. This bill, HR 359, was debated and voted on in the House this past week and passed by a vote of 239-160.
Both bills could be vehicles for the Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to call for a vote on repeal of the Obama health care law. The repeal bill HR 2, passed by the House, has also been teed up under the Senate rules by Sen. McConnell for a possible motion-to-proceed vote in the very near future.
The two Senate leaders are trying to “play nice” right now in an effort to get much of the opening-day organizing items put in place. What remains of the organizing items is the resolution that would constitute the committee budgets. This resolution is needed for senators to hire their appropriate committee staffers. The leaders hope to have an agreement on these funding levels by the middle of next week.
Finally, before the week ended in the Senate, the tea party caucus was formally announced and the small group held their first “town hall”-style meeting and are urging other senators to join. The tea party caucus will focus on reducing the federal debt and government spending. The members of the new caucus include Sens. Paul (R-Ky.), DeMint (R-S.C.), Lee (R-Utah) and Moran (R-Kan.).
The House of Representatives will be in recess next week to reconvene on Tuesday, Feb. 8.
Stay tuned to see if the final Senate housekeeping measures can be resolved and if the Senate will conduct its first vote on or in relation to the health care repeal bill in the coming days.
Elizabeth B. Letchworth is a retired, elected United States Senate secretary for the majority and minority. Currently she is a senior legislative adviser for Covington & Burling, LLC and is the founder of GradeGov.com.