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This Week in Washington: House GOP Emerges With Debt Ceiling Plan, Senate Prepares for Filibuster Fight


Following Inauguration Day, both houses of Congress will return in earnest. This week will kick off a very consequential period for conservatives. Between the debt ceiling, annual budget bills and sequester deadline, House conservatives will be tested to see if they fulfill their promises to their constituents. The Senate, led by an ever leftward Democrat leadership, will consider curtailing the filibuster, gun control, and amnesty for illegal immigrants. Conservatives must be engaged in every step of the process.

Debt Ceiling– Republicans have emerged from their annual retreat with a budget/debt ceiling plan that has garnered vocal support from the conference. They will pass a bill this week that will suspend the debt ceiling restriction until May 18. The debt limit increase will be tied to a requirement that the Senate passes a budget – with the threat of cutting off pay for senators in the event they fail to come through with one.

The underlying rationale behind this strategy is to defer the debt ceiling fight until after the FY 2013 continuing resolution is dealt with and the FY 2014 budgets are formulated. The idea is that the House would unite behind a pro-active budget/debt plan in March from which they would harness as their demand for any long-term debt ceiling increase in mid-April.

According to a joint letter by five current and former chairmen of the Republican Study Committee, who are all supporting this plan, “the House will work to put the country on the path to a balanced budget in 10 years. House leadership also agreed to stand by the $974 billion discretionary number that is part of the sequestration process.”

The House will put this proposal into formal legislation and vote on it this coming Wednesday.

Conservative concerns:

Disappointing the Base: After squandering their leverage in 2011, Republicans agreed to grant Obama a free $2.1 trillion debt card. He burned through it in 17 months, yet Republicans appear to be moving towards a permanent increase in the debt ceiling. This plan will seriously depress the base, especially after the capitulation on the debt ceiling. They will view this as yet another clean debt ceiling increase, albeit a temporary one. While Democrats would rather not formulate a budget, if that is the price they have to pay for getting more debt, then they will do so. Chuck Schumer has already announced that Senate Democrats plan to put forward a budget. Remember, there is no requirement that the Senate pass a budget that balances in 10 years, just that they pass any budget.

Standing by the Budget: While conservatives claim that the House budget slated to be unveiled in March will balance in 10 years, there is no confirmation from leadership that such an agreement is final. Moreover, even if they formulate such a budget, does anyone believe they will stand behind it as a demand for a long-term debt limit increase in May? It is clear that Republicans were scared to fight in 2011; they are scared to fight now; they will be scared in three months from now.


House conservatives should only agree to pass this bill under two conditions. 1) They receive a blood oath from Boehner that the House budget will balance in 10 years and that they will use it to fight to the brink in May. 2) The House must pass the Full Faith and Credit Act, which will force the Treasury to prioritize debt payments in the event that an agreement is not reached, as part of the bill this week. That is the only way Republicans will legitimately have leverage going into the long-term debt ceiling fight. For now, don’t hold your breath waiting for Republicans to fight – ever.

Filibuster – As early as Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is planning to pull the “nuclear option” and limit the minority’s right to filibuster, offer amendments, and block conference reports. It essentially works like this. Every rules change in the Senate requires a 67-vote threshold to adopt the change. Harry Reid is offering the absurd argument that the Senate is not a continuous body, and is therefore not governed by the rules of the previous session on the first day of the new Congress (before the rules package is adopted). With that in mind, he plans to abolish the filibuster on “the motion to proceed” and limit the minority’s ability to offer amendments when they vote on the rules package. He plans to do this with a simple majority vote.

Although the Senate already convened on January 3, Reid used a parliamentary procedure blocking any adjournment of the Senate, so that the body will technically remain in its first “legislative day.” This will provide him with the opportunity to pull the trigger at any time.

Throughout his tenure as majority leader, Reid has abrogated regular order in the Senate. Under regular order, every senator has the right to offer amendments to the any bill on the floor. Reid has used an egregious parliamentary procedure to continuously block all amendments. That is why Republicans have retaliated by filibustering the motion to proceed with debate on a bill. That is the only way they can force amendments.

Unfortunately, a group of Republicans, led by John McCain, has already agreed to give up the filibuster on motion to proceed. In return, they will get to offer 2 or 3 amendments approved by leadership. This is not the way the Senate should work. It will eliminate the ability of individual senators to be heard. Moreover, Harry Reid will be able to immediately proceed to a bill that restricts gun rights, grants amnesty to illegals, implements cap and trade, or any other pernicious policy. Most bills that successfully proceed to debate and amendments wind up passing on the final vote. Republicans would be extremely stymied in their ability to offer amendments post-cloture on the final bill.


Yet, even if the filibuster on final passage is preserved (and that will only be temporary), Reid will still have the ability to insert nefarious legislation into a conference committee report on any must-pass bill. As part of his rules package, Reid plans to prohibit individual senators from objecting to going to conference on a bill. Jim DeMint often used this as a tool to thwart any attempt to parachute in bad legislation to conference reports.

If Harry Reid obdurately sticks to his plan to use the nuclear option, Republicans should engage in jujitsu and call up their own rules changes. What’s good for the goose is goose for the gander, and if Reid believes that only 51 votes are needed to change the Senate rules on the first legislative day, then everything else is fair game. Conservatives should propose rule changes instituting a ‘point of order’ against any legislation that violates any aspect of the Bill of Rights – with a requirement of 67 votes to strike it down. This will enable any senator to object to any gun control bill (or any other power grab) and require a 67 vote threshold to advance the bill.


Bonus Legislation

[Every week, we will try to spotlight some positive legislation that is worthy of conservative support.]


• Believe it or not, under current labor laws, employers cannot pay individual employees more than their union contracts stipulate. This is part of our broader problem with collective bargaining laws. These laws disincentivize good performance on the job and reduce productivity. Congressman Todd Rokita (R-IN) is introducing the Rewarding Achievement and Incentivizing Successful Employees (RAISE) Act, which reforms the collective bargaining process allowing employers to give merit-based increases in compensation, irrespective of any collective bargaining agreement in place. Ask your members of Congress if they are cosponsoring this meritorious legislation.

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