CQ TODAY ONLINE NEWS
Jan. 13, 2012 – 9:11 p.m.
House GOP Seeks to Focus on Party’s Message
By Richard E. Cohen, CQ Staff
House Republican leaders return to work this week determined to show voters a united front in support of a party-defining agenda, and to avoid the kind of dramatic showdowns that dominated last year.
With President Obama highlighting his differences with House Republicans in his re-election campaign, GOP leaders will focus on legislation illustrating the differences between the parties on deficit spending, taxes, regulation, energy and transportation policy, leadership aides said.
Prospects for significant legislative accomplishments this year are dim, but that is almost beside the point. The House GOP majority’s plan is to pass and send to the Democratic Senate bills that demonstrate that Republicans are prepared to govern with a clearly defined economic and social agenda. As was the case last year, the emphasis is likely to be on creating jobs by reducing the government’s role in the economy.
House Majority Leader
House Republicans will discuss their strategy during a three-day retreat in Baltimore beginning Jan. 19.
An early marker of the majority’s strategy will be the fiscal 2013 budget resolution, which Budget Chairman
GOP leaders do not want to provide Obama with more ammunition with which he can portray the House majority as a collection of extremists who have failed to address the nation’s priorities and would plunge the country into one crisis after another in pursuit of a tea-party-inspired ideology. They do not want to engage in a no-win conflict on terms defined by Obama, said aides to Speaker
To that end, they hope to avoid showdowns like last year’s confrontations over fiscal 2011 discretionary spending (PL 112-10), the debt limit (PL 112-25) and a short-term extension of the Social Security payroll tax cut, benefits for the long-term unemployed and Medicare physician reimbursement payments (PL 112-78).
But the leaders’ hopes to avoid partisan showdowns on what they view as peripheral issues may be challenged by some Republicans who won election two years ago by promising to shake things up. Some of those rank-and-file lawmakers made life difficult for Boehner in December when they balked at accepting a bipartisan Senate agreement on the short-term payroll tax cut package.
Boehner wants to focus attention in the coming weeks on a measure to finance additional surface transportation and other infrastructure spending with revenues from increased domestic energy production. Leadership and committee aides to panels with jurisdiction over the complex measure say committees may act in early February, and the House could pass the measure before the scheduled Feb. 20 start of the Presidents Day recess. But previous deadlines for the bill have been missed.
“We are doing our job. All the president wants to do is point fingers,” said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel. “Small-bore executive actions cannot create the environment for job creation we need. More must be done, so House Republicans will continue in 2012 to pass common-sense bills designed to boost private sector job growth.”
Early Test of Strategy
The effort to keep House Republicans in lockstep will be tested this month when a conference committee revisits the long-term payroll tax cut package (
House GOP Seeks to Focus on Party’s Message
The December battle over that legislation left the House GOP conference in turmoil after members were essentially forced to accept a two-month extension of the payroll tax cut package two days before Christmas.
The leadership’s handling of that episode remains under scrutiny and suspicion among conservatives. The episode concluded with Boehner presiding over a nearly empty House chamber during a truncated procedure that bypassed customary debate and ended with passage of the two-month extension that Republicans had vigorously opposed.
Boehner’s handling of the legislation has generated second-guessing of his leadership — particularly among silenced conservatives — and raised questions about whether he may take more assertive command of his majority this year.
“Members will want to discuss how [December] played out, so that we don’t end up in that position again,” said an aide to a leading House GOP conservative.
The chaotic period created lingering problems for the Speaker. “Boehner may have made calculations that he couldn’t keep,” said John J. Pitney Jr., a politics professor at Claremont-McKenna College. “It’s not a good position when your party looks bad and there is no one else to blame.”
Some Republicans expressed concern that the White House may see a political benefit in prolonging the payroll tax negotiations and blaming Republicans for the apparent deadlock.
Boehner’s signature measure to use revenues from expanded oil and gas drilling to pay for an extension of surface transportation programs that expire March 31 also faces resistance that goes beyond longstanding Democratic opposition to expanded domestic oil and gas drilling.
A potentially more serious obstacle is the desire of some conservative Republicans to shift transportation funding to state control.
Although Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman