After a week delayed by tragedy, House set to shift back into gear

Delayed a week by the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), House Republicans are ready to get back to business.

Although the Arizona tragedy spurred a host of proposals tackling gun control, congressional security and mental-health reform — issues directly related to the shooting — GOP leaders have brushed aside those concerns to focus instead on the bread-and-butter campaign promises that helped propel them to the majority in November.

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"The Pledge to America is our plan,” Kevin Smith, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), told The New York Times Thursday, “and our immediate focus is on addressing the top priorities of the American people, creating jobs, cutting spending and reforming the way Congress works."

The strategy is indication that, while the assassination attempt on Giffords might have prompted a weeklong breather from the bitter legislative fights the new Congress has in store, GOP leaders have no plans to let the temporary outpouring of bipartisanship divert them from the course they plotted beforehand.

Indeed, the House on Tuesday is scheduled to take up legislation repealing the Democrats' recent overhaul of the nation's healthcare system. In sharp contrast to the unified gestures of prayer and mourning that marked the last week, the repeal bill — and the seven hours of debate scheduled around it — will highlight the deep ideological differences between the parties. Though a week delayed, the bill is no less partisan than it was before the shooting.

“As the White House noted, it is important for Congress to get back to work, and to that end we will resume thoughtful consideration of the healthcare bill next week," Brad Dayspring, spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) explained Thursday. "Americans have legitimate concerns about the cost of the new healthcare law and its effect on the ability to grow jobs in our country.

"It is our expectation," Dayspring added, "that the debate will continue to focus on those substantive policy differences surrounding the new law."

Last weekend's shootings — which killed six, including U.S. District Judge John Roll, and injured 13 others, including Giffords — shocked the nation and provoked a host of related reforms over the past week. Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), for instance, are crafting a bill to prohibit high-capacity ammunition magazines like those allegedly used by Jared Lee Loughner, the 22-year-old who's been charged in the rampage.

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) is calling for an increase in congressional budgets to increase security.

Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) wants the House gallery to be shielded in plexiglass. And Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.), the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, intends to introduce legislation prohibiting people from carrying guns within 1,000 feet of members of Congress.


Unlike another recent high-profile shooting — the 2007 rampage that killed 33 people at Virginia Tech — congressional leaders this time around are deflecting all calls to respond to the tragedy with reform legislation.

The Virginia Tech massacre led Congress to enact a bipartisan law designed to keep guns out of the hands of those suffering from mental illness. Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.), co-chairwoman of the Congressional Mental Health Caucus, said last week that the Arizona shooting will cause lawmakers to revisit that law.

"How do we allow people to be assured that nobody who is unstable gets a hold of ammunition and guns?" Napolitano said in a phone interview. "I'm sure we'll touch upon it."

But even Capitol Hill's staunchest gun-control advocates aren't holding their breath for reforms in the 112th Congress.

"Any bill that I would offer wouldn't see the light of day — it wouldn't even get through the committee," said Rep. James Moran (D-Va.), explaining why he's not proposing any reforms in the wake of the shooting. "Why do we have to cower in the face of the gun lobby? We've lost ground."

The House healthcare repeal bill, scheduled for a Wednesday vote, is expected to pass the House, but stands almost no chance of being considered by the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Less than a week after that partisan repeal vote, President Obama will deliver his State of the Union address before the Congress. In a show of comity and bipartisanship, leaders from both parties are urging mixed seating during the speech.

On Sunday, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced on NBC's "Meet the Press" that he and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) are going to sit together during the address.