Congress rushes to an Easter break

Congress rushes to an Easter break 

Posted: 8:26 pm Sunday, March 22nd, 2015

By Jamie Dupree

With a two week break for Easter on the horizon, the stage is set for lawmakers in the Congress to get a bunch of things done over the next few days, or again run aground on the rocks of gridlock.

And once more, most of the focus will be on internal battles within the Republican Party.

For more than four months since winning control of both houses of Congress, that has been the dominant theme in the Congress – GOP leaders trying to do something, while always battling to smooth over divisions within Republican ranks.

And this week may be no different on the budget and more.

Here’s some of what’s on tap on Capitol Hill:

1. The Budget Resolution

This non-binding budget blueprint could give the GOP a big victory or cause the leadership to break out in hives, as the party’s fiscal hawks battle with Republican defense hawks over future spending plans. A large group of Republicans wants to spend more on the military, but another sizable group is dead set against more spending without offsetting budget cuts. Just getting these measures through the House and Senate this week is one hurdle; finding a compromise that can be approved in both houses will be challenging as well.

For example, when it came to extra money for defense, there weren’t enough votes for that in the House Budget Committee – so, the GOP leadership will simply add more spending authority to the plan (about $20 billion) before it reaches the House floor for debate this week.

2. Fixing the “Doc Fix”

Many times in recent years, both parties have tried to get rid of the so-called “Doc Fix,” a quirky provision from GOP budget balancing efforts of the late 1990’s, which tried to force some budget savings in Medicare. Instead, it’s become emblematic of the ‘kick-the-can-down-the-road’ mentality of Congress, as 17 times, lawmakers have stepped in to temporarily avert a large cut in payments to Medicare providers.

Last week, House Republicans and Democrats unveiled a bipartisan plan to finally update the Doc Fix, which would be partially paid for by other savings – that has some Republicans worried.

All the details on the legislation can be found here.

Will this be a bipartisan achievement? Or will enough members in both parties balk at the idea of doing something bipartisan?

3. Dems still filibustering sex trafficking bill

In the Senate, we enter a third week where Democrats are blocking action on a sex trafficking bill, demanding that Republicans remove language from the plan dealing with abortion. This story has several levels, as Republicans seemed to have slipped that language in the bill, but Democrats on the Judiciary Committee failed to even read the bill, which led to them being caught off guard.

The Washington Post in recent days labeled Democrats, “the new party of no” for their filibuster, as they keep rejecting Republican offers to solve the impasse.

4. The Loretta Lynch nomination

Caught up in the Senate impasse over the sex trafficking bill is the nomination of Loretta Lynch for U.S. Attorney General. Republicans know that President Obama and Democrats want action on Lynch – but the GOP also wants action on the sex trafficking bill. So, GOP leaders have said, as long as the trafficking bill is delayed, Lynch isn’t getting a vote.

This story hasn’t received that much attention in the news media, despite Democratic efforts to get reporters to focus more on it. But one would think that if the Senate leaves town at the end of this week without action, then Democrats will try to spend much of the Easter break hammering the GOP over the failure to vote on Lynch’s nomination.

5. The numbers on Loretta Lynch

If Lynch gets a vote this week in the Senate, it may take the vote of Vice President Biden to get her approved. At this point, there are a bare minimum of 50 votes to confirm her as U.S. Attorney General. (My colleagues in the Press Gallery scoffed at my assessment several months ago that her nomination was in danger; and yet, here we are.)

One other number to watch – the contention of the White House and Democrats that Lynch has waited the longest amount of time to be confirmed.

Yes, the President announced Lynch’s nomination in early November. But remember, Democrats decided against trying to get her confirmed before they lost control of the Senate. Lynch’s nomination was officially sent to the new Congress in early January of this year.