No Rest for the New Congress

Posted January 5, 2009 at 11:14am

House Democratic leaders this week are kicking off the 111th Congress with swearing-in events, meetings with President-elect Barack Obama and fresh talks on a potential $775 billion economic stimulus plan.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said House Democratic leaders will spend Monday deciding on committee assignments and meeting with Obama on the stimulus legislation. Democratic leaders were initially hoping to have package ready for Obama to sign by his inauguration on Jan. 20. But with the size and timing of the plan continuing to change, leaders now say it may be February before they can get a bill to Obama’s desk.

During an interview on “Fox News Sunday,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said that the package will be “in that neighborhood” of $775 billion and that a House vote is “probably going to slip” until later in the month, after Inauguration Day.

The plan is to get the package through the Senate and to the president by early February, Hoyer added.

On Tuesday, the House will swear in new Members to the 111th Congress and reinstall Pelosi as Speaker. The House will also adopt its internal rules package, which GOP leaders are already protesting over anticipated provisions that would repeal term limits for committee chairmen.

Republicans will “vigorously oppose” any efforts to end six-year term limits for committee chairs, a rule put into place when the GOP controlled the House, Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a letter to Pelosi on Monday.

In addition, Boehner said Americans “stand to pay a price” if Democrats change House rules to prevent Republicans from offering motions to recommit. This procedural motion allows the minority party to offer alternative legislation during debate on a bill.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee will hear testimony on Wednesday from economists Mark Zandi, Robert Reich, Martin Feldstein, Norm Augustine and Maria T. Zuber about the stimulus plan.

On Thursday, the House will hold a joint session with the Senate to count electoral ballots to officially seat Obama as president.

Hoyer also said to expect action on two labor bills on the suspension calendar: the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act. Both previously passed the House but failed in the Senate.

Also this week, Senate Democratic leaders will begin holding hearings to confirm Obama’s Cabinet picks. Hearings are set this week to approve Rep. Hilda Solis (D-Calif.) as Labor secretary and former Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) as Health and Human Services secretary.

On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) will meet with Illinois Democrat Roland Burris, who will make his case for filling Obama’s vacant Senate seat.

Burris last week was appointed to the seat by embattled Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D), who is under fire for allegedly trying to sell the position to the highest bidder. Senate Democrats have vowed not to seat anyone named by Blagojevich, but Reid has signaled a willingness to at least consider Burris.

“I’m a trial lawyer. There’s always room to negotiate,” Reid said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”