House Schedule Is Tight, Political

Posted June 15, 2012 at 5:14pm

Entering a crucial stretch for the student loan debate and transportation reauthorization conference committee, House negotiators will continue churning away this week while the floor debate will be dominated by election-year energy messaging.

House Republicans are bringing a series of bills to the floor that concern energy production and gas prices in an attempt to make President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats look ineffectual on energy policy.

“We’re going to push this now. The Senate has been able to just stay quiet on so many of our bills,” House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said on a conference call with reporters last week. “We’re going to push very hard. We’ve got friends in the Senate who we think can push as well to try to make the point.”

Included in the package is legislation that aims to ease regulations of domestic energy production, especially oil drilling on federal lands.

Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings, speaking on the same conference call, said he hopes to slam the president on comments he made about expanding energy production on federal lands because “his actions are 180 degrees from the rhetoric.”

“This administration has clearly gone against coal, gone against oil and natural gas … trying to promote their green energy policy, and that hasn’t worked,” the Washington Republican said. “We think our approach is better. Let the market decide.”

House Democrats, meanwhile, seem unfazed by the flurry of energy bills. One House Democratic leadership aide described the floor action as “simply messaging bills” and said the Caucus intends to keep its eye on the transportation conference committee.

“They claim these energy bills are jobs bills. If they were really serious about jobs bills, they’d get on this transportation bill immediately. It’s really unconscionable,” the aide said.

House Republican leaders are still holding out hope that House and Senate negotiators can work out an agreement on a long-term extension of highway and transit spending authority or at the very least make enough progress to justify a short-term extension.

Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) has said he does not want to see a one- or two-month extension of the law and instead favors a six-month extension, which would kick the issue into the already crowded lame-duck session.

That could change if House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) and Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) can show they are closing in on a deal.

But with both sides seemingly digging in over the biggest hurdles — including  language expediting the Keystone XL oil pipeline — and taking to theatrics to make their points, most agree that hopes for a deal are quickly fading.

House Republican Policy Committee Chairman Tom Price said he thinks Senate Democrats are the ones holding up the process, and he indicated that he thinks the president, seeking re-election, is to blame.

“We see a Senate that refuses to act. My sense is we see a president who is not encouraging [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid [D-Nev.] to actually be productive, that they’re just waiting for the election to occur,” the Georgia Republican said in an interview taped for C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers.”

A slew of other issues are sure to compete for attention this week as well.

Obama’s executive action to curb deportations of some undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children has already sparked passionate statements from Democrats and Republicans, and a House GOP aide said outcry from Members could lead to some leadership action on the topic.

This week the House will also get its crack at JPMorgan Chase & Co. CEO Jamie Dimon when the banker testifies Tuesday before the Financial Services Committee.

According to Republicans, he might get a much more difficult reception than he did from the Senate Banking Committee last week, when he testified about a
$2 billion trading loss and was treated with politeness and even some flattery.

Despite the banking giant’s troubles and continued public anger at the industry in general, Senators were remarkably cordial to Dimon, and the hearing was widely derided as a lost opportunity to hold him publicly accountable for his company’s contributions to the troubled economy.

Of course, the whole schedule could be upended if the Supreme Court issues its long-awaited decision on Obama’s health care reform law.

The court typically issues decisions on Mondays, and some Congressional staffers said they are anticipating a decision June 25, rather than today.

If that is the case, it buys House Republicans one more week to discuss their options. They have promised a full repeal measure if the court doesn’t strike down the entire law itself. But the next step is unclear.

John Stanton contributed to this report.