By Billy House
Updated: May 13, 2013 | 3:37 a.m.
May 12, 2013 | 12:00 p.m.
With tensions over fiscal issues building, and the three-month suspension of the nation’s debt limit set to expire Sunday, lawmakers this week will be rehashing on the House floor their messaging war over repealing President Obama’s three-year-old health care law.
Thursday’s vote on Rep. Michele Bachmann’s bill to undo the Affordable Care Act will represent the 37th time the House has set out to repeal all or part of the law since 2011, though she and other Republicans know the Democratic-led Senate will not take up its measure.
As for the debt ceiling, the Treasury Department has said it can delay new borrowing until September or October by juggling the books, and the threat of default remains low for now.
Still, what was once a routine matter for Congress and the White House to agree upon—increasing the nation’s ability to borrow to pay its bills—has become a game of chicken to gain partisan leverage and extract concessions.
House Republicans also are expected to meet behind closed doors Tuesday, possibly to discuss their strategy regarding the debt ceiling, but there is little evidence that real bipartisan negotiations are under way.
As for the more-public GOP action to repeal the health care law, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., offered blithely, “It seems like a week doesn’t go by that some version of it isn’t there” on the floor.
In a statement Friday, Bachmann of Minnesota said the law “removes health care choices from women and their families and inserts government bureaucrats between them and their doctors.” She added, “Three years after being signed into law, Obamacare is a train wreck that is deeply unpopular with the American people and it must be fully repealed.” Her bill would do just that.
As Congress gets a reprieve from any imminent fiscal battles, there are two developing issues to watch over the next few months.
In the House, lawmakers must decide the fate of the online-sales-tax legislation that passed the Senate, 69-27, on May 6. Speaker John Boehner told Bloomberg Television that he “probably” won’t support the bill; it would allow states to collect sales taxes from Internet retailers, even if those businesses have no physical presence in a given consumer’s state.
House Republicans will also spend this week talking about the way they want to handle the debt-ceiling fight. Should they try to link raising the debt ceiling to a plan to do tax reform, or should they push for additional spending cuts?
Independent analysts now estimate that the Treasury Department’s extraordinary measures will last through September or mid-October, which pushes the fight until the fall and gives the House GOP more time to strategize.
Use of Force
The big news on the defense beat is likely to come from Thursday’s Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the laws of armed conflict and the use of military force—in particular, the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force that Congress passed after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The Obama administration is using the AUMF as justification to kill terrorists from al-Qaida and related groups even outside of traditional battlegrounds like Afghanistan, with drone strikes in places such as Yemen and Somalia, sparking debate over whether the legislative body should redefine the authorization for use of force—and how. The Defense Department’s acting General Counsel Robert Taylor will testify alongside Maj. Gen. Michael Nagata, deputy director for special operations/counterterrorism on the Joint Staff, and Brig. Gen. Richard Gross, legal counsel to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. On a second panel, a slew of professors and experts will give their opinions—including Harvard Law School’s Jack Goldsmith, who led the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department in the George W. Bush years and wrestled with controversy over his memos on detainees.
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