By Russell Berman - 02/07/11 09:16 PM EST
Barely a month into the new
Congress, Democrats are mocking House Republicans for what they say is a
less-than-ambitious legislative agenda.
The GOP majority is bringing only a handful of bills to the floor this week, and none would be characterized as major legislation. Four of the five measures will be considered under a procedure generally reserved for non-controversial legislation; the fifth is a resolution that merely instructs committees to review federal regulations for their impact on job growth.
“Members return Tuesday from a week and a half of recess for another light legislative agenda in the House of Representatives,” Kristie Greco, spokeswoman for the assistant Democratic leader, Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.), wrote in a note to reporters over the weekend. “Perhaps if House Republicans had a jobs agenda, the schedule would be more robust.”
Greco scoffed at the resolution on federal regulations, saying the GOP planned to spend 10 hours debating a bill that “instruct[s] oversight committees to conduct oversight.”
Adding to the criticism, a group of 10 Democratic committee leaders on Monday sent a letter to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) denouncing the resolution as superfluous and a waste of time.
“The floor schedule that the Republican majority has pursued and intends to pursue this week will create no jobs,” the Democrats wrote. “Indeed, spending two days, and taxpayer dollars, on a resolution calling on our committees to perform oversight functions that they are already authorized to conduct distracts from our efforts to create jobs.”
The legislative pace at the outset of the 112th Congress has paled in comparison to the flurry of House activity during the first month of the 111th. The House has held fewer than half the number of votes during the first month of this Congress that it did in 2009.
Part of the difference is the fact that House Republicans postponed their agenda for a week out of respect for the victims of January’s shooting in Arizona. (One of the five bills this week names a courthouse after Judge John Roll, one of the victims in Tucson.) And the new majority has deliberately cut down on the number of non-binding, congratulatory resolutions that have packed the floor schedule in past years.
Still, Democrats are now jumping on the chance to argue that Republicans lack a substantive agenda for creating jobs. Republicans say the majority of their legislation speaks directly to their “cut-and-grow” mantra; one measure derived from the GOP’s “YouCut” program trims $179 million in overpayments to the United Nations, and the resolution promoting regulatory oversight is aimed, Republicans say, at eliminating red tape that stifles job growth.
“While Assistant Leader Clyburn and [Minority Leader Nancy] Pelosi [D-Calif.] are making jokes and holding dog-and-pony-show-style hearings, the new majority is hard at work,” responded Laena Fallon, spokeswoman for Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.). “In addition to the floor schedule this week, the House will hold more than 30 committee and subcommittee hearings examining ways to repair the damage done by policies of the past Democrat-led Congress, so that we can grow the economy and create jobs.”
Fallon also took a shot at the management style Democrats used to run the House. “Last Congress, Democrats voted hand over fist to increase spending, in addition to overusing the suspension calendar for hundreds of needless votes on resolutions honoring items such as Confucius’ birthday and ‘Pi Day,’ ” she said.
For Republicans, the decision to bring legislation to the floor also has to be weighed against the likelihood that most bills the House GOP majority passes will go nowhere in the Democratic-controlled Senate. And while Democrats maintained a busy House schedule for much of 2009, the pace slowed considerably last year following the passage of the healthcare law, when hundreds of bills passed by the House piled up on the Senate shelf. Three-day workweeks filled with largely symbolic or congratulatory resolutions became the norm over the summer and into the fall.
The schedule crafted by Cantor, Fallon said, “promotes quality over quantity, allowing time for substantive committee work in addition to votes on the floor. While Assistant Leader Clyburn and Leader Pelosi may find efforts to save money through the YouCut program humorous, taxpayers do not, and it is this type of tone-deaf approach that helped lead them to minority status.”
A spokesman for Pelosi, Nadeam Elshami, retorted: “That’s a very long and defensive statement by the Republicans to simply say that the GOP has no jobs plan.”