Washington Week

Jobs, budget issues top February congressional agenda
By: Elizabeth Letchworth | Posted: January 31, 2011 3:55 AM
Elizabeth Letchworth photo

The House of Representatives is not in session this week, but many of the new chairmen of the major House committees are working on a plan that will quickly address the joblessness in America and the fact that Congresses of the past have spent this country into near-bankruptcy.

The president’s 7,000-word State of the Union address last Tuesday night mentioned our country’s debt, but clearly the theme seemed to be jobs. Jobs and the debt are obviously the main concern of the GOP-controlled House, and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) echoed this during his Sunday interview with Fox News as seen here.

The speaker stated that it will be his intention to cut the federal government agency spending back to at least 2008 levels, before Congress passed the giant stimulus spending and authorized the various bailouts that occurred. The speaker also concurred with what many economists believe -- which is that out-of-control spending leads to uncertainty in the business world which freezes up hiring and investment spending within our economy.

The speaker’s plan to cut spending will have to be addressed in the month of February since the omnibus appropriations government spending bill expires March 4. This means that our government will shut down due to no funding if Congress doesn’t address this bill and pass some new spending levels before the March date. The Treasury Department has also indicated in a letter to Congress in January that our federal debt, or the level of the country’s credit card, will be maxed-out in early spring of 2011. Both of these huge government spending issues will, in effect, be crashing into each other within the coming weeks.   

The speaker said in his Fox News interview that when the House debates both the omnibus appropriations bill as well as the debt limit bill, he will allow alternative Democratic initiatives to be debated and voted on when the House considers these issues in the coming weeks. This is indeed good news and refreshing to this Capitol Hill veteran who has watched the House and Senate operate in almost a completely dictatorial fashion over the last four years.

Efforts by the former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to only allow the Democratic Party views to be heard in Congress has ignited the tea party movement, minority rights organizations, as well as other good government organizations that fully understand that the minority party in Congress should have a voice when debating legislation. Speaker Boehner has indicated he will ensure this happens on the House side of the Capitol.

On the Senate side, the Senate Majority Leader Reid engaged in a colloquy this past week with the Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). They discussed the ability of senators to offer and debate amendments that they believe are important. Sen. Reid agreed to allow more of this open process and use the procedural options that block alternative debate less frequently. All of this bodes well for Congress.

Stay tuned to see if this new form of congressional comity will restore some confidence in Congress with the American people.

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

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