While scrambling this week to conclude a budget deal, House Republicans are also moving to push farm-bill negotiations into next year and planning to leave behind a list of other unfinished business as they adjourn for the holidays.
Why is Speaker John Boehner so unbending in his insistence that the House must wrap up its business on Friday and recess for the year?
“The speaker simply believes it’s time for us to do our work,” spokesman Michael Steel said Tuesday.
But isn’t the Senate in session next week? “Yes, and the Senate wasn’t here last week when we were,” he responded.
It’s true that some GOP members have a trip scheduled Friday afternoon to New York City for the National Republican Congressional Committee’s “2013 Bright Lights and Broadway” event this weekend. But no one says that’s why House Republicans can’t work deeper into the month of December.
Rather, the explanation from most Republicans points to how House members and staffs have had to deal with extended time away from home—including the previous two holiday seasons.
But two House GOP aides suggested the real reason is a calculated move to save House Republicans from themselves: “The speaker simply does not think anything good can come about for Republicans by staying around any longer,” one of the aides said.
In short, Boehner is not interested in placing House Republicans in any other self-imposed end-of-year deadlines of any sort, says the aide. The fiscal-cliff battles late last year and the bitter payroll-tax fight at the end of 2011 were two instances when Republicans fell into end-of-the-year fights that caused internal bitterness and division within their own ranks. Some believe the GOP is doomed to lose at Christmastime.
“The speaker is right: We need to not have a crisis at the end of the year again,” said the aide. “We had enough crises through the year already.”
Anyway, with a new spending plan not really required to be in place until Jan. 15 to avoid another government shutdown, this week’s deadline for a budget deal is widely seen as a soft one. Farm-bill negotiators appear to be closing in on a deal—but need a little more time.
And the literally dozens of other types of extenders set to expire—including provisions related to charitable deductions, energy, community assistance, and disaster relief—could be addressed retroactively early next year, although doing so would lead to uncertainty.
House Democrats are trying to make an issue of Republicans leaving town, emphasizing that unemployment benefits are expiring at the end of December unless Congress renews them. But that charge does not faze Republicans.
“I don’t know if it’s because of the last two years—that we’ve just been here so late and so many people have lost time with their constituents and their families,” said Rep. James Lankford, R-Okla., of Boehner’s plans. “But he was here a month ago saying the 13th—we’re done. Then he shifted it to 11 a.m. on the 13th and we’re done. He’s been dead-on clear on that.”
This article appears in the December 11, 2013 edition of NJ Daily as For House GOP, a Holiday Rush.