Wonkbook: Congress grieves; post-shooting legislation; committee chair elections
The awful events of the weekend have reshaped the legislative agenda. Majority Leader Eric Cantor announced that the House will be postponing the week's planned votes -- including the repeal of health-care reform. And when the body does return to normal business, expect a more restrained tone to the proceedings. It's very difficult to say how that will change what Congress does and does not get done, of course. But compared to Friday, when the passions of the election were still riding high and the two parties were gearing up for the epic and angry clash they'd promised voters, it's going to be a very different mood when the lawmakers reconvene.
One thing you will see are a series of bills meant to address various parts of the tragedy in Arizona. Already, there's talk of gun-control laws, of legislation regulating the threats you can make against a member of Congress, of security details for legislators. I haven't seen any of these bills, and so I'm not passing judgment on them. But we should be vigilant that the desire to do something in response to the shooting does not lead us to do the wrong thing by mistake.
Attacks on members of Congress remain very rare in this country. The last congressman killed while in office was Rep. Leo Ryan, who was murdered in the events directly preceding the Jonestown Massacre. That was in 1978. What we think we know about the events in Arizona suggest it was even more senseless, and thus even less likely to be part of an organized or even disorganized spree that we need to radically overhaul policy in order to defend against. Above all, nothing we do should make it more difficult for citizens and legislators do follow the example of Rep. Giffords and her constituents and meet for an hour on the street corner to participate in the basic give-and-take of representative democracy. It is, if anything, a moment to double down on the democratic traditions that Giffords and her voters inadvertently took such risks to participate in. Anything that would even indirectly limit such easy contact between legislators and constituents should be viewed very skeptically.
The House has cleared its legislative agenda this week, reports Jennifer Haberkorn: "Lawmakers on Sunday said they still expect to have a spirited but delayed and toned-down debate to repeal the health care reform law after Saturday’s shooting in Arizona. Within hours of the massacre, Majority Leader Eric Cantor postponed the House’s entire legislative agenda for the week, including the vote on repealing the law, which was planned for Wednesday. His office said he’ll make further announcements on the schedule today. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Republican conference chairman, said on CNN’s 'State of the Union' that the rhetoric needs to be turned down."
Lawmakers are preparing bills in response to Saturday's shooting in Tucson, reports Shira Toeplitz: "One of the fiercest gun-control advocates in Congress, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.), pounced on the shooting massacre in Tucson Sunday, promising to introduce legislation as soon as Monday...Pennsylvania Rep. Robert Brady, a Democrat from Philadelphia, told CNN that he also plans to take legislative action. He will introduce a bill that would make it a crime for anyone to use language or symbols that could be seen as threatening or violent against a federal official, including a member of Congress."
Junior Senators want to reform committee chair elections, reports Alexander Bolton: "Senate Democrats elected in 2006 and 2008 are challenging the internal caucus procedures that have allowed veteran lawmakers to lock up committee chairmanships for years on end. A group of junior Democratic senators are pushing for committee chairmen to stand for election at the beginning of each Congress, a requirement that has not been in effect for years, according to lawmakers familiar with the discussions...The proposed rules change has made some chairmen nervous, Democratic aides say. If chairman have to face reelection at the beginning of each Congress, they might be less willing to cut deals with Republicans."
The Fed is subjecting banks to another round of stress tests, report Francesco Guerrera and Tom Braithwaite: "Large US financial groups are bracing for a new battery of stress tests that will determine which institutions are now healthy enough to raise dividends and buy back shares. The Federal Reserve is expected this week to begin examining data provided by 19 groups, including Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America, to gauge how their balance sheets would withstand a variety of new economic and financial shocks. The exercise, mirroring the tests of May 2009 when the sector was reeling from the crisis, comes as investors have been pressing banks to return part of their surging profits. The calls have gone unanswered...because after injecting billions of dollars to recapitalise the sector, regulators have been wary of sanctioning capital returns."
Got tips, additions, or comments? E-mail me.
Remembering-the-better-times interlude: Rep. Giffords talking with C-SPAN shortly after her election to Congress.
Still to come: The payroll tax holiday this year may not spur growth; a cost control measure in health care reform is being fought by lobbyists; junior Senate Democrats are pushing for secret ballot elections for committee chairmen; the House GOP is planning on cutting the EPA's budget; and the world's most intense badminton match.
Austan Goolsbee offered a quick preview of the White House's coming bugdet, reports Jonathan Weisman: "Austan Goolsbee, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said Friday the administration’s economic policy will shift from 'rescue and crisis mode' to 'recovery and raise the growth rate mode.'...'The long-run fiscal challenges facing the country remain there. We have known that,' Mr. Goolsbee said. 'And when [the president] comes out with his budget, I don’t think there will be any question that he’s ready to make medium- to long-run fiscal consolidation.' With the chances for another big round of fiscal stimulus slim, the administration’s efforts will be geared to getting the private sector to stand itself up, through low-cost public-private partnerships, the president’s export efforts and trade promotion."
This year's payroll tax cut may not necessarily spur economic growth, reports Ylan Mui: "One of the most visible components of the $858 billion plan passed by Congress is a 2-percentage-point reduction in the federal payroll tax for all workers that will last through the year. The administration hopes the increase in take-home pay - about $1,000 for an average family, according to White House estimates - will boost consumer spending, which in turn drives the nation's economy. But how much of that money will actually be spent rather than saved or used to pay down debt remains a hotly debated topic among economists. Many consumers will not even notice the increase because it is spread over the course of a year, rather than distributed as a lump sum."
The Fed will not bail out state or local governments: http://on.wsj.com/gHsWsw
A new Fed study suggests quantitative easing will add 700,000 jobs, reports Sewell Chan: "Even as the Federal Reserve released new evidence that its plan to buy $600 billion of Treasury securities to stimulate the recovery is working, scholars remain skeptical about the program’s effectiveness in the long run. A new study by Fed researchers, released at the annual meeting of the American Economic Association, the world’s largest gathering of academic economists, said the program could lead to a 'significant pickup' in growth and the creation of roughly 700,000 jobs by 2012. Janet L. Yellen, the Fed’s vice chairwoman, on Saturday used the study to offer a staunch defense of the program, which is supposed to last through June."
Financial economists are urging further bank reforms: http://on.wsj.com/ecIkPa
The US may not need a debt ceiling, writes Annie Lowrey: "Now, budget wonks argue, the ceiling is no longer really necessary, given Congress' budgetary power and process--as well as the realities of the budget itself. 'It used to help control the amount you could appropriate,' explains Stan Collender, a partner at Qorvis and longtime budget watcher and expert. 'But so much of the debt is mandatory now.' He continues: 'The truth is: You shouldn't have to raise the debt ceiling separately. The debt ceiling should be raised automatically when Congress agrees to a conference report on a budget resolution. That's how it's supposed to work. It is an anachronism.'"
Interspecies wrestling interlude: A bear and cat battle it out.
A cost control measure in health care reform is running into trouble with interest groups, reports Jordan Rau: "At issue are "accountable care organizations," which the Obama administration hopes will spring up around the country, initially treating Medicare patients but eventually other people as well. Networks of doctors and hospitals would coordinate patient care and earn bonuses if they save Medicare money and meet quality targets...With regulators planning to issue rules for ACOs in the coming weeks, some prominent doctor and hospital groups are pushing for features that some experts say could undermine the overall goal - improving care while containing costs. They're seeking limits on how the quality of their care will be judged, along with bonus rules that would make it easier for them to be paid extra for their work and to be paid quickly."
A test vote suggests that health care repeal will pass the House: http://on.wsj.com/faqNHz
Striking down the individual mandate could lead to single-payer, write Adam Chandler and Luke Norris: "Suppose that conservatives succeed with their current, safer legal strategy, and knock out the individual mandate. Because the private-only mandate had been the middle, compromise position, Congress would be left with the two more extreme options on health care--either a plan that includes something like the public option, or the status quo. As costs rise and more Americans go uninsured, will the public really want to roll back reform? When Americans are asked about the current health care law, a majority say they either favor it or wish it were even stronger. Making the public option the only option would fulfill the wish of those wanting a stronger bill."
The federal government is launching a consumer safety complaints database, reports Lyndsey Layton: "The federal government is poised for the first time to make public thousands of complaints it receives each year about safety problems with various products, from power tools to piggy banks. The compilation of consumer complaints, set to be launched online in March by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, has been hailed by consumer advocates as a resource that will revolutionize the way people make buying decisions. But major manufacturing and industry groups have raised concerns about the public database, saying it may be filled with fictitious slams against their brands. Competitors or others with political motives could post inaccurate claims, business leaders say, and the agency will not be able to investigate most of the complaints."
The gun used in the Tucson shooting should be banned, writes Gail Collins: http://nyti.ms/dPmUPv
High-profile gun violence doesn't increase support for gun control, writes Chris Cillizza: "The Gallup numbers are almost entirely unaffected by incidents of gun violence that draw national attention. In 1999, when Gallup asked the question six times after the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado, the number of those in favor of stricter laws ranged from 60 to 66 percent. The 'less strict' number ranged from 5 to 9 percent and the 'stay the same' number ranged from 25 to 31 percent. The opinions were similar after the shootings at Virginia Tech in April 2007. By October of that year, 51 percent favored stricter gun laws, a 5 percent decline from a similar Gallup survey taken in the fall of 2006."
Great moments in sports interlude: A surprisingly intense match of badminton.
Republicans are seeking to cut the EPA's budget, reports Ben Geman: "The newly announced chairman of the House panel that crafts Environmental Protection Agency spending bills signaled Friday that he will seek to scale back the agency’s regulatory powers. Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) is chairman of the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies subcommittee of the full Appropriations Committee. He was the ranking GOP member of the panel in the last Congress. Simpson’s office, in a statement, said he will be 'tasked with reducing spending levels that have grown out of control in recent years under Democrat control,' and that Simpson has his 'eyes set on EPA' in particular. 'The EPA is the scariest agency in the federal government, an agency run amok,' Simpson said in a statement Friday."
Rising gas prices are spurring more attacks on Obama's drilling policy: http://on.wsj.com/gzTVwS
A "Buy American" provision for solar power purchases by the government is upsetting Chinese officials, reports Keith Bradsher: "The military appropriations law signed by President Obama on Friday contains a little-noticed 'Buy American' provision for the Defense Department purchases of solar panels -- a provision that is likely to dismay Chinese officials as President Hu Jintao prepares to visit the United States next week...China has emerged as the world’s dominant producer of solar panels in the last two years. It accounted for at least half the world’s production last year, and its market share is rising rapidly. The United States accounts for $1.6 billion of the world’s $29 billion market for solar panels; market analyses typically have not broken out military sales separately."
Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown may introduce a bill delaying EPA climate rules for a year: http://bit.ly/gF8Oup
A bipartisan group of Senators is fighting the EPA's decision to allow higher ethanol content in gasoline: http://bit.ly/esFRrZ
Closing credits: Wonkbook is compiled and produced with help from Dylan Matthews, Mike Shepard, and Michelle Williams. Photo credit: Jonathan Ernst Photo.
| January 10, 2011; 6:47 AM ET
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