House GOP calendar plans July vote to extend Bush tax rates

House Republican leaders on Friday unveiled a legislative calendar for the summer, revealing plans to hammer President Obama and Democrats on the economy, energy, taxes and other divisive issues in the months leading up to November’s elections.

The schedule includes a July vote to extend the Bush-era tax rates for all taxpayers – a move dismissing Democratic calls for separate votes on tax cuts for different income levels.

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In a memo to House Republicans, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) outlined the GOP’s legislative wish-list, including scheduled votes on proposals as diverse as those to rein in federal regulations, kill elements of the Democrats’ healthcare reform law and expand oil and gas production on federal lands.

Cantor said the strategy will highlight the GOP's “underlying principles,” which he said include “reducing spending and shrinking the size of the federal government while protecting and expanding liberty.”

“Above all,” Cantor wrote, “we must continue to focus on economic growth and small business—producing results that get Americans back to work.”

Republicans also intend to consider legislation extending the Bush-era tax rates for all income levels. Without congressional action, those tax rates expire at the end of the year, setting up a showdown with Obama and Capitol Hill Democrats who want to allow the rates to increase to pre-Bush administration levels for the wealthiest Americans.

“Working families and small business should not be saddled with the uncertainty of a looming tax increase as they attempt to invest and grow for the remainder of this year,” Cantor said.

Most of the bills on the summer calendar aren't expected to pass the Democratically controlled Senate – a dynamic GOP leaders know well – but the Republicans are hoping the barrage of votes on high-profile issues will highlight the contrasting policy priorities of the two parties.

The Democrats were quick to push back, with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) office warning that the GOP's agenda favors the wealthy at the expense of working Americans.

“The Republicans have spelled out an agenda that fails to address jobs and will hold the middle class tax cuts hostage because the GOP refuses to let millionaires, Big Oil and corporations that ship jobs overseas pay their fair share,” Nadeam Elshami said in an email.

Cantor’s calendar is front-loaded with spending bills, including imminent votes to fund the Veterans Affairs, Energy and Homeland Security departments. The schedule, however, does not include State Department appropriations, a bill that contains controversial anti-abortion riders that could play into the Democrats' claims that the GOP is waging a “war on women.”

Some conservative House Republicans – notably Rep. Tom McClintock (Calif.) – have pressed their leadership to pass all 12 appropriations bills separately, thereby avoiding the need to combine those proposals into so-called “minibus” packages. Cantor’s memo punts on that issue, indicating only that leaders will consider the spending bills “under an open and deliberative process” that will allow for amendments.

Among the other items scheduled for summer votes are:

• A Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) bill designed to expedite FDA approval of drugs and medical devices;

• A Rep. Tim Griffin (R-Ark.) proposal prohibiting the adoption of any new federal regulations until the national unemployment rate – currently 8.1 percent – falls below 6 percent;

• Legislation, sponsored by Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), to audit the Federal Reserve and report the results to Congress;

• And a Rep. Darrell Issa (D-Calif.) bill overhauling the U.S. Postal Service.

Sounding off, Cantor warned his caucus of a “busy” summer, adding that the schedule “will undoubtedly require further additions.”

This story was posted at 11:38 a.m. and updated at 12:19 p.m.