Battle-weary House Dems eye short weeks, easy votes ahead of election

House leaders are preparing a schedule of short weeks and relatively easy votes over the next seven weeks as they aim for a smooth entry to election season.

If December marked the point at which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) shifted mentally into “campaign mode,” April marks the point at which she and other House leaders are finally beginning to implement a campaign-first legislative ground game.

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“They’ll be no more tough votes,” a Democratic leadership aide said of the April and May legislative work period.

House leaders have scheduled a number of four-day weeks and relatively easy agenda items in order to give their members plenty of room to maneuver for their upcoming races.

Their first week back from recess, the House will consider nearly two-dozen suspension bills, and the only piece of legislation currently scheduled for debate is a reauthorization of the National Estuary Program portion of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act.

Democrats also will waste no time pivoting sharply toward jobs legislation, a priority that many Democrats are eager to shine the spotlight on, especially with unemployment and the economy remaining top concerns of voters.

In the coming weeks, Democrats will forge ahead with their jobs agenda by introducing a series of bills to further dent the unemployment rate, primarily though a mix of small business tax incentives and loan and access-to-capitol programs.

A number of other job growth initiatives that Democrats have passed through the House – including a $600 million summer jobs program – are still stuck in the Senate. 

Aside from focusing on jobs, top Democratic aides said the next seven weeks of work will look and feel rather mundane compared to the previous 15 months, in which House Democrats worked at a unrelenting clip to pass a series of signature bills that many leaders had been waiting decades for.

There are a few difficult items Pelosi and her caucus can’t avoid.

Democrats are drafting a Fiscal Year 2011 budget, and they are preparing to have to write a supplemental spending bill for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars that will be contentious with the caucus.

Other broad legislative items appear to be on hold, particularly since their success is dependent on the will of the Senate.

“If it’s not getting through the Senate, it’s not getting though the House,” said another top House aide, referring specifically – but not exclusively – to comprehensive immigration reform, another legislative priority of President Barack ObamaBarack ObamaClinton to call on Black Lives Matter at Dem convention The youth vote—a unicorn worth hunting in 2016 Instead of being bold, Clinton errs in picking Kaine MORE that makes House leaders queasy at its very mention.

The House Democratic Caucus does not have a single strategy on jobs legislation, which could point to future friction. 

Prior to the Easter recess, splits began to appear both from liberals who wanted to see more direct investments and spending in infrastructure programs and from conservatives who were wary of any new deficit spending.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) identified this problem months ago, telling a group of reporters in January that the primary legislative challenge Democrats would face in 2010 was balancing the need to spend money to create jobs and grow the economy against reducing the deficit.

But almost no one expects the task of bridging ideological divides about the best job-creating formula to be anywhere near as challenging as passing healthcare legislation.

If Democrats are going to face any significant internal strife in the coming months it’s likely to be over the budget resolution and an Iraq and Afghanistan supplemental spending bill.

House leaders are still working behind the scenes with committee chairman and various groups within the Caucus on the budget, but leadership aides said that they expect Chairman John Spratt’s (D-S.C.) budget draft to incorporate the discretionary spending freeze proposed by Obama.

While that freeze will likely upset House liberals, aides said they don’t anticipate meeting the spending reductions called for by conservative Blue Dog Democrats, either. 

The budget that leaders hope to produce is one that nobody particularly loves, but that too many people don’t hate.

The shape of that budget document – as well as the degree to which leaders have to fight to win votes – may be the first measurement of how much damage the healthcare bill did at either end of the caucus.

At the liberal end of the spectrum, it could forecast the severity of the fight leaders will have on their hands when the time comes to pass a supplemental spending bill for the Afghanistan War, which is rapidly becoming more and more unpopular throughout Democratic ranks.