Wait. What? We have to come back?
Oh my God. Another Today in Congress? War on Christmas, I tell you!
When we last left off, the House had passed the necessary continuing appropriations bill (plus two short-term back-up bills as emergency measures, only one of which became necessary), and sent the Senate a payroll tax cut extension bill that had been larded up with ideological riders designed as poison pills for the Senate. It was clear at that point that the Senate wanted nothing to do with the House's nonsense, so in breaking for the weekend, the House leadership went ahead and scheduled a session for today.
As expected, the Senate rejected the House's version of the payroll tax cut bill, and substituted its own, this one without so much of the crap, and designed as a temporary, two-month compromise to allow time to work out something more permanent. Senate Dems had held out in their insistence that the payroll tax bill be acted on before the appropriations, in order to leverage a deal (else the government would partially shut down for lack of funding). But though Senate Republicans came to terms with that arrangement, House Republicans want it undone. Now that the necessary appropriations are in place and the Senate's leverage is gone, they're balking at approving the two month deal.
So here's what's on the schedule for today:
THE NIGHTLY WHIP: SUNDAY, DECEMBER 18, 2011
On Monday, the House will meet at 10:00 a.m. for legislative business.
First votes expected: 6:30 p.m.
Last votes expected: ???
Suspensions (5 bills)
- H.Res. 497 - To provide for the placement of a statue or bust of Sir Winston Churchill in the United States Capitol (Rep. Boehner - House Administration)
- Senate Amendment to H.R. 2056 - To instruct the Inspector General of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to study the impact of insured depository institution failures, and for other purposes (Rep. Westmoreland - Financial Services)
- Senate Amendment to H.R. 1801 - Risk-Based Security Screening for Members of the Armed Forces Act (Rep. Cravaack - Homeland Security)
- Senate Amendment to H.R. 1059 - To protect the safety of judges by extending the authority of the Judicial Conference to redact sensitive information contained in their financial disclosure reports, and for other purposes (Rep. Conyers - Judiciary)
- Senate Amendment to H.R. 515 - Belarus Democracy and Human Rights Act of 2011 (Rep. Smith (NJ) - Foreign Affairs)
Motion to Concur in the Senate Amendment to H.R. 3630 - Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2011 (Rep. Camp - Ways and Means/ Energy and Commerce)
But if the House doesn't agree with the Senate's amendment to payroll tax cut extension bill, what are they doing voting on a motion to concur in that amendment?
Well, for one thing, reports are that the exact nature of the vote the House will take today—and possibly others they'll take today and/or tomorrow—has not yet been determined. But one possibility is that they'll vote on a motion to concur, just to reject it. Another would be to concur in the amendment with an amendment of their own, which might well be to change it right back to the way it was before the Senate got it the first time.
Another option would be voting on a motion to disagree with the Senate's amendment and request a conference. But the Senate apparently has no plans to return prior to January 23rd, so anything that puts the House in disagreement with the Senate amendment essentially means that all the programs extended by the bill (payroll tax cuts, unemployment insurance, the "doc fix," etc.) will expire at year's end, and nearly a month will pass before the Senate returns to even consider what the House may try to cook up this week. Essentially it's a big game of chicken. Again. And all the stuff that used to make Democrats blink—like being accused of "defunding the troops," or getting blamed for a government shutdown or a tax increase—doesn't now and never has really meant anything to the Republicans who used to do the accusing.
I suppose there's some room for arguing that Republicans have become sensitive to the politics of the repeated threats of government shutdowns, because they appear to have done what was necessary to avoid that particular problem. But the people who took the country to the brink of default in August appear ready to withstand the accusations that they're responsible for a gigantic tax increase, and in fact are eager to try to sell the exact opposite line and blame it all on Democrats when this falls apart.
We shall see. Stranger things have happened.