This week: Congress returns as debt ceiling clock starts ticking

Capitol building
AP/Patrick Semansky
Clouds roll over the U.S. Capitol dome on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, June 12, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

The House and Senate are set to reconvene this week after the U.S. hit its debt ceiling last week, setting off a roughly six-month sprint for Congress to either raise the borrowing limit or risk economic catastrophe.

But there’s no clear path for a debt limit deal, with Republicans on Capitol Hill pushing for spending cuts and the White House insisting on a no-strings-attached increase.

President Biden is scheduled to meet with Democratic congressional leaders on Tuesday, during which the debt ceiling will likely come up.

Also this week, House Republicans are slated to bring an energy bill to the floor under an open amendment process, making good on a promise Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) made to his holdouts during the race for the gavel.

The chamber will also take up a resolution commending protesters in Iran.

And on the Senate side, the Judiciary Committee is set to hold a hearing on competition in the ticketing industry after the chaos around Taylor Swift’s upcoming concert tour. The chamber will also vote on a nomination to the Defense Department.

Debt ceiling standoff begins

Lawmakers are scheduled to return to Washington this week for the first time since the U.S. hit its debt ceiling on Thursday. The Senate reconvenes on Monday, and the House on Tuesday.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told congressional leaders on Thursday that her office would begin to use “extraordinary measures” to prevent the U.S. from defaulting on its debt, which would last until June 5.

That move started the clock for Congress to act on the debt ceiling.

Some House Republicans have been pushing for spending cuts to accompany any increase of the debt ceiling — a demand that took center stage in this month’s Speaker election. The White House, however, has said Congress should approve a clean debt ceiling increase, without any spending cuts.

With both sides digging in, the White House and House GOP majority are at the beginning of a months-long standoff that could bring the U.S. to the brink of economic calamity.

The White House last week signaled that Biden will have a meeting with McCarthy in the coming weeks, but press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre reiterated that “raising the debt ceiling is not a negotiation.”

“It is an obligation of this country and its leaders to avoid economic chaos,” she continued in a statement on Friday.

“Congress has always done it, and the President expects them to do their duty once again. That is not negotiable,” she added.

There is not, however, a concrete date for the meeting.

House Republicans restated their requests for spending cuts during the Sunday show circuit.

“What happened is, the credit cards are maxed out. That’s basically how you hit the debt ceiling,” House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) said on Fox News’s “Sunday Morning Futures.”

“It’s the ability to print more money. And that expires when you hit the debt ceiling. And so the only way to address it is to control spending or to increase the debt ceiling, or a combination of the two. But you can’t just keep increasing the debt limit,” he said.

House takes up oil bill, resolution honoring protesters in Iran

The House this week is scheduled to take up a bill that would direct the Energy Department to to draw up a plan to increase oil and gas production on federal lands in an effort to counteract drawdowns from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

The bill, titled the Strategic Production Response Act, comes after Biden in October announced a drawdown from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve after authorizing the release of 180 barrels over a number of months in March amid elevated gas prices. The October drawdown was the last of that release.

In December, the Department of Energy announced that it would purchase 3 million barrels of oil to replace the drawdowns from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

The legislation will be considered under a modified-open rule, which means any lawmaker can offer an amendment on the House floor. It is the first time in seven years that the modified-open rule is being used, making good on the demand from some McCarthy holdouts that the legislative process be more open.

According to Politico, all amendments must be submitted and printed in the Congressional Record before debate begins on the floor.

In addition to the Strategic Production Response Act, the House this week is scheduled to consider several pieces of legislation under suspension of the rules — a fast-track process that requires support from two-thirds of the chamber for passage.

Among those is a concurrent resolution “commending the bravery, courage, and resolve of the women and men of Iran demonstrating in more than 133 cities and risking their safety to speak out against the Iranian regime’s human rights abuses.”

The legislation references the death of Mahsa Amini, who died in police custody in September after being arrested by the morality police for allegedly violating Iran’s laws regarding hijabs. Protests broke out following her death.

The resolution also expresses support for those participating in the protests.

Senate hearing on Ticketmaster fiasco

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday is slated to hold a hearing on competition in the ticketing industry after Ticketmaster’s website experienced service failures and delays when tickets went on sale for Taylor Swift’s upcoming tour.

The hearing is titled “That’s The Ticket: Promoting Competition and Protecting Consumers in Live Entertainment.” The committee has not yet announced a witness list.

Ticketmaster canceled the public sale of tickets for the Swift concert in November after customers reported issues while trying to purchase tickets during a presale event, including the website freezing and crashing.

Some lawmakers amid the chaos brought attention to the merger between Ticketmaster and Live Nation in 2010, which created Live Nation Entertainment. The company controls a massive portion of ticket sales for the live music industry.

“The issues within America’s ticketing industry were made painfully obvious when Ticketmaster’s website failed hundreds of thousands of fans hoping to purchase tickets for Taylor Swift’s new tour, but these problems are not new,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said in a statement.

“At next week’s hearing, we will examine how consolidation in the live entertainment and ticketing industries harms customers and artists alike. Without competition to incentivize better services and fair prices, we all suffer the consequences,” added Klobuchar, the chairwoman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights.

Rep. Mike Lee (R-Utah), the ranking member of the subcommittee, wrote in a statement “I look forward to exercising our Subcommittee’s oversight authority to ensure that anticompetitive mergers and exclusionary conduct are not crippling an entertainment industry already struggling to recover from pandemic lockdowns.”

Tags Joe Biden Karine Jean-Pierre Kevin McCarthy
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