Weely Round up: Congress’s rash of bipartisanship has symptoms of partisanship

Josh Huder | April 20, 2015

Bipartisan deals were the big theme this week on the Hill. This was a welcomed contrast to the last two Congresses where even routine bipartisan measures were hard to come by. In part, this was expected.  Now that Republicans control both the House and Senate, they have an interest in demonstrating an ability to govern. As a result, we’re seeing more movement on bipartisan measures that have a chance of becoming law, rather than measures that are meant to divide the opposing party’s votes for political reasons, i.e. votes on Obamacare, minimum wage, etc. This week we also saw congressional Republicans’ willingness to strike major deals with a Democratic President. However, while bipartisanship made the headlines, the hallmarks of partisanship were also plainly evident.

But first the good news, the Senate passed the Pelosi-Boehner deal on Medicare’s sustainable growth rate, also known as the “doc-fix.” A No Child Left Behind update flew through committee by unanimous vote. Additionally, Senate Republicans and the President struck deals on the Iran negotiations and trade promotion authority. These deals can only be described as major steps forward in each realm. The deal on trade promotion authority is particularly significant since it sets the stage to approve trade deals later in the Congress. The president is attempting to wrap up trade deals across both oceans, cementing major agreements with dozens of Asian, South American, and European countries in the Trans-Pacific Partners (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Securing trade promotion authority, which guarantees a straight up or down vote on the trade agreements, is a major step toward finalizing those deals. While many Senate and House Democrats are not keen on the details leaked in these trade deals, many believe there are enough votes to pass trade promotion authority and set the stage for these deals.

Finally, the House passed several bills from Financial Services and Ways & Means, garnering the necessary two-thirds support.

However, the week was not without partisanship. The week also included bills that divided the two parties more starkly. Changes to mortgage regulations, federal tax deductions for state and local taxes, and a repeal of the estate tax, which kicks in at $10.86 million for couples, all passed but did so on mostly party line votes. A bill that would require agencies to fire federal employees with delinquent taxes also divided the parties, but failed in the House.

It’s early in the session still. The closer this Congress moves toward the 2016 election, the less common instances of broad bipartisanship are to occur. Yet, it should be pointed out that the intense gridlock that characterized the 112th and 113th Congress has eased, at least somewhat.

The Budget and Weeks Ahead

The House and Senate missed an important budget deadline this week when they failed to finalize the budget resolution.  The 1974 Budget Control Act requires that the process is completed by April 15th. Yet despite missing the deadline the deal toward a complete budget resolution appears to be entering the final stages.

While the naming of conferees is somewhat perfunctory, the people named in both chambers highlights the differences in how the leaders of the House and Senate plan to treat this important matter.  The House named only nine Members, five Republican and four Democrats.  Conferees are normally the most senior Members of the Committee but House leaders did not follow the normal pattern.  All five of the Republicans are seen as supporters of House Republican leaders and one is a first time Member of Congress. The Democrats four conferees include the Committee’s Ranking Member, Chris Van Hollen, and also includes Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi who is not even a member of the Committee.  Expect tight leadership control over the House members of the conference.

The Senate went the exact opposite direction by naming the entire Senate Budget Committee as conferees. As the Republican members of the Committee are not entirely together on how to deal with additional funding for the Department of Defense, the Senate conferees are not in the most unified negotiating position vis-a-vie the House conferees.

While there is hope that a final deal can be reached before May 15th when the appropriations committees are expected to start their markups, nothing is certain.  Much will be revealed in the next two weeks as to the strategy and direction the Republican leaders in the House and Senate hope to take for funding government agencies in the FY16 unfolds.

Categories: 114th Congress, Budget and Appropriations, Federal Budget and Appropriations, Revise & Extend, Updates