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A Low-Key Agenda

House GOP Will Focus On Must-Pass Measures And Appropriations

After seeing last week’s recess partly defined by contentious social issues such as gay marriage, House Republicans hope to use the next several weeks to plow through a number of must-pass measures while contrasting their fiscal policies with the Democrats’ policies.

With a budget reconciliation resolution on deck and a possible bipartisan deal on legislation to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank — as well as the appropriations process — the next several weeks will feel more like an off-year grind instead of the ramp up to major elections.

“It’s not sexy … but it’s important,” a senior GOP leadership aide said.

“We’ve got a lot to do. It’s going to be a busy couple of weeks,” the aide added.

The House will formally get the appropriations process under way during this work period when the Commerce, Justice and science spending bill comes to the floor. Although aides said they expect the floor process to be more controlled than it was last year — when lawmakers spent days, and some nights, slogging through amendments — Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) remains committed to an open process, and the spending debate will set the backdrop for most of the summer.

One area where there could be fireworks will be the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. Although the Senate last month passed its version on a broad bipartisan basis, House Republicans have rejected that bill and will instead pursue their own legislation.

Additionally, look for Republicans to return to their jobs message. “We’ll continue that drumbeat on small-business job creators,” the GOP leadership aide explained, particularly on tax and regulatory issues.

The House will also look to pass defense and intelligence authorization bills this month, while transportation reauthorization and postal reform measures could also be in the offing.

The agenda is a marked difference from last week, when despite being away from Washington, D.C., Republicans were temporarily drawn into the culture wars when conservative religious groups forced Richard Grenell, an openly gay foreign policy adviser to the presumptive GOP
presidential nominee, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, to step down.

Although Republicans have periodically nodded to social conservatives during the past two years with votes on abortion, leaders in the House have been loath to take their attention away from economic messaging.

Speaking on his radio show last week, American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer crowed over Grenell’s departure as the religious right’s first major scalp of the 2012 elections.

“This is a huge win, and it’s a huge win for us in regard to Mitt Romney because Mitt Romney has been forced to say, ‘Look, I overstepped my bounds here. I went outside my parameters here. I went off the reservation with this hire. The pro-family community has called me back to the table here,’” Fischer said.

On Tuesday, Boehner also waded, ever so briefly, into the culture wars when he directed the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group to intervene in McLaughlin v. Panetta, a suit challenging the Defense of Marriage Act by eight current and former members of the armed forces. This is the second DOMA case that the advisory group has become involved in at the behest of Boehner.

Although Boehner’s timing of intervening in the case meant it came during a recess — and thus garnered little attention — it still drew a strong rebuke from Democrats.

“Without a vote or any specific authorization … [BLAG] is intervening in yet another case,” said Drew Hammill, spokesman for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.).

Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck defended the Speaker’s decision.

“A majority of the BLAG believes the constitutionality of this statute … should be determined by the judicial branch, not through a unilateral decision of the president,” Buck said.

Although House Democrats can’t control the floor agenda, that doesn’t mean they won’t be busy trying to make the next several weeks as politically painful for Republicans as possible.

According to several Democratic leadership aides, Democrats will continue to make student loans a top messaging priority.

“A number of Members did events over the recess, and we’re going to continue to keep pushing on that,” one leadership aide said.

Likewise, look for Democrats to return to their playbook on the transportation reauthorization bill regarding the Violence Against Women Act as they demand the House quickly pass the Senate’s bipartisan version.

According to one aide, Democrats’ strategy will be “similar to the highway bill. We’ll be pushing the storyline that it passed the Senate with a big bipartisan vote so we should be taking it up here and sending it to the president.”

Pelosi and her top lieutenants will also use the debate over the budget reconciliation process and appropriations bills to continue their attacks on the GOP’s economic policy and attempt to make the case that “they’re doing all this because they want to protect tax breaks for the rich,” a second Democratic leadership aide said last week.