Here’s What’s Happening After the Debt Ceiling: Nothing

Members of the House of Representatives and others leave the Capitol Building after a vote on Capitol Hill October 16, 2013 in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Michael Catalin and Billy House
Add to Briefcase
Michael Catalin Billy House
Feb. 11, 2014, 5:01 p.m.

The debt-ceil­ing bill passed by the House Tues­day, un­burdened by ad­di­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an policy de­mands, ap­pears headed for ap­prov­al in the Sen­ate, which would mark an end to ma­jor fisc­al fights for the rest of the year.

With the debt lim­it raised, a budget passed, and the funds ap­pro­pri­ated, Con­gress will have largely cleared its decks — though for what is still un­clear.

As law­makers head in­to Pres­id­ents Day re­cess, they have few big-tick­et le­gis­lat­ive as­pir­a­tions this year, only a few ac­com­plish­ments, and plenty of time to cam­paign.

“That’s what our lead­er­ship said — if we get past this one, we’re done un­til the elec­tion,” said Rep. Tim Huel­skamp, a Kan­sas Re­pub­lic­an. In­deed, for a col­lec­tion of law­makers who already have been cri­ti­cized as one of the least pro­duct­ive in his­tory, there seems to be little ur­gency to turn that no­tion around.

“We spent two years do­ing noth­ing,” said Rep. Louise Slaughter, the rank­ing Demo­crat on the House Rules Com­mit­tee, adding, “I don’t see a change of pace here. Lots of time off and noth­ing done.”

One House Demo­crat­ic aide was even more blunt in as­sess­ing the com­ing months: “The rest is filler.”

Of course, there’s something on every­one’s list. Sen­ate Demo­crats will pur­sue a host of is­sues, in­clud­ing a min­im­um-wage in­crease and an ex­ten­sion of fed­er­al un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance. House Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Eric Can­tor said earli­er this month that House Re­pub­lic­ans will fi­nally ad­vance a GOP al­tern­at­ive to the Af­ford­able Care Act. But the odds against those be­com­ing law are long, and Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id was hard-pressed to name oth­er bills that are likely to pass this year. “There aren’t a lot,” he said.

Law­makers still will have to ap­prove an­oth­er round of spend­ing bills for the 2015 fisc­al year. But wheth­er they do, and wheth­er those will be full-scale budget pro­pos­als or mes­saging tools, re­mains to be seen. Either way, it won’t be the heavy lift­ing seen in years past. The bi­par­tis­an budget deal has already set the level of gov­ern­ment spend­ing, which is one of the ma­jor flash points.

The rest is small-ball stuff: tax ex­tenders, an en­ergy-ef­fi­ciency bill, and ad­dress­ing how the gov­ern­ment pays doc­tors un­der Medi­care. That has some say­ing this is the true kick­off to cam­paign sea­son.

House Demo­crats now head to their an­nu­al policy re­treat for the rest of the week, and the full House will not re­turn to Wash­ing­ton un­til Feb. 25.

Then, the cal­en­dar brings a St. Patrick’s Day break in March, a two-week East­er and Pas­sov­er break in April, and yet more weeks off in May, June, and Ju­ly. Dur­ing the sum­mer, law­makers will be back in their dis­tricts the en­tire month of Au­gust and half of Septem­ber. And in the fall, they will work just two days in Wash­ing­ton dur­ing Oc­to­ber be­fore head­ing in­to Novem­ber’s elec­tion.

Of course, some law­makers are loath to cede that the Cap­it­ol will turn solely to the midterms, at least right away. “My folks at home don’t care about Novem­ber,” Huel­skamp said. “They want solu­tions.”

Demo­crat­ic Sen. Maria Can­t­well of Wash­ing­ton said it’s too early to view everything through the elect­or­al lens, not­ing that com­mit­tee work con­tin­ues. She re­called a Fin­ance Com­mit­tee bill to ad­dress tax ex­tenders that law­makers craf­ted dur­ing an elec­tion year. The bill got delayed un­til after Novem­ber, but when mem­bers re­turned, much of the work had been done, she said.

“We need to not check out and start act­ing like the elec­tion is to­mor­row,” said Sen. Mar­tin Hein­rich, a New Mex­ico Demo­crat. “We’ve got a job to do. We need to be think­ing about how to get things done even in a chal­len­ging en­vir­on­ment.”

And part of that is fin­ish­ing the debt-ceil­ing bill. There’s still a chance for some drama in the Sen­ate, with Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas say­ing he will force Re­id to get the 60 votes needed to cut off de­bate, a pro­ced­ur­al move that likely would re­quire five Re­pub­lic­ans to cross the aisle to vote with Demo­crats.

The move sug­gests there is some di­vi­sion among Re­pub­lic­ans. But sev­er­al GOP sen­at­ors said they ex­pect that Re­pub­lic­ans will not block the bill.

Rather, with the House passing a clean bill on the debt lim­it — which only months ago was heresy among con­ser­vat­ives — some GOP law­makers are ced­ing a plain fact that Demo­crats have rel­ished point­ing out: They must win in the fall if they want to cut spend­ing.

“I think if the re­cog­ni­tion is that the Demo­crats simply will en­act no ad­di­tion­al fisc­al dis­cip­line, let’s re­cog­nize that real­ity, agree not to fili­buster, and say go ahead, pass an in­crease,” said Re­pub­lic­an Sen. Ron John­son of Wis­con­sin. “We can re­vis­it this after the 2014 elec­tion.”

What We're Following See More »
FCC Tightens Internet Privacy Standards
9 hours ago

Along party lines, the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday voted to tighten privacy standards for Internet service providers. "The regulations will require providers to receive explicit customer consent before using an individual’s web browsing or app usage history for marketing purposes. The broadband industry fought to keep that obligation out of the rules."

Obama Commutes Another 98 Sentences
10 hours ago

President Obama commuted the sentences of another 98 drug offenders on Thursday. Most of the convicts were charged with conspiracy to distribute drugs or possession with intent to distribute. Many of the sentences were commuted to expire next year, but some will run longer. Others are required to enroll in residential drug treatment as a condition of their release.

DOJ Busts More Than 50 for Call Center Scam
10 hours ago

The Department of Justice announced today it's charged "61 individuals and entities for their alleged involvement in a transnational criminal organization that has victimized tens of thousands of persons in the United States through fraudulent schemes that have resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in losses. In connection with the scheme, 20 individuals were arrested today in the United States and 32 individuals and five call centers in India were charged for their alleged involvement. An additional U.S.-based defendant is currently in the custody of immigration authorities."

Clinton Up 9 in USA Today Poll; Up 3 According to Fox
14 hours ago

A new USA Today/Suffolk University poll finds Clinton leads Trump by 9 points nationwide, 47% to 38%. A Fox News national poll has Clinton up just three points, 44% to 41% over Trump.

Cruz: Eight Justices Could Be an Ongoing Situation
16 hours ago

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said that "there was “precedent” for a Supreme Court with fewer than nine justices—appearing to suggest that the blockade on nominee Merrick Garland could last past the election." Speaking to reporters in Colorado, Cruz said: "I would note, just recently, that Justice Breyer observed that the vacancy is not impacting the ability of the court to do its job. That’s a debate that we are going to have.”


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.