Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Congress's dirty secret: behind scenes, it's working to fix problems

Much of what Congress does this summer will be pure political posturing. But behind the scenes, small groups of lawmakers are trying to chip away at the biggest fiscal issues. ?

By David Grant,?Staff writer / July 2, 2012

Sen. Max Baucus (D) of Montana is one of several senators working to make headway on reforming America's tax code during the summer session of Congress.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP


When Congress returns from its?July 4 break, the American people will actually be watching two institutions.

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One set of votes and talking points will be about improving each party?s political fortunes come November.

The other, smaller, portion of the legislative branch?s time? That will be spent attempting the real heavy lifting Congress will have to do in the next year: dealing with $600 billion in federal spending cuts and tax increases slated to take place at year?s end.

The House has teed up two of the most important votes for Congress in its political, election-year best. First, Republicans will vote to repeal President Obama?s health-care reform law on July 11, marking the 31st such vote to repeal or defund at least part of the legislation and marking the second time House Republicans will have struck down the measure in its entirety.

Of course, this vote is as guaranteed to pass the House as it is to die in the Democrat-held Senate. So why do it at all?

?Look, the choice is very clear,? said House majority leader Eric Cantor (R) of Virginia when asked that question on "CBS This Morning" on Friday. ?If you step back for a second, it's all about this election and whether this law is going to go forward or not.?

Next up is a vote to extend all of the Bush tax cuts, another election year wedge which has no chance of a showing in the Senate but will allow Republicans to maintain that they are the party of lower taxes. Mr. Obama favors extending the tax cuts only for those with incomes under $250,000 a year.

And then there?s a likely vote on a measure close to the heart of the party?s most conservative members: legislation requiring an audit of the Federal Reserve.

Taken together, these votes have an aggregate chance of coming into law of somewhere around 0 percent before the next Congress is sworn in.

And then there?s the other Congress ? the one that is trying to head off what economic experts call the fiscal cliff and which media pundits have dubbed ?taxmaggedon.?

A group of roughly a half dozen senators committed to?the bipartisan deficit-reduction plan created by Obama?s debt commission is quietly discussing how to pass that proposal into law. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D) of Montana said recently that Finance Committee members would be meeting behind closed doors to begin building a consensus around reforming the American tax code in 2013.??

But not everything is being done largely out of the public eye.

While much of Washington was recovering from a momentous Supreme Court ruling on health-care reform, longside a dramatic (and also historic) vote to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress, a trio of Republican senators took to the floor on Friday to throw down the gauntlet to leaders on both sides of the aisle over the looming budget sequester.


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