This week in Congress marks the final hours of the 109th Congress. It’s been a long, strange trip.
In the House of Representatives there are two essential items: 10 appropriations bills and a tax extender package. The tax extender package looks like it will pass as it is a Christmas tree tax bill with enough goodies for everyone. Also expected this week is a vote on a Senate-passed offshore oil drilling package.
The appropriations bills will not pass stand alone. Instead, Republicans in both chambers will pass a Continuing Resolution that funds the government at last year’s levels through February 15th. This CR not only saves the taxpayers $17 billion (thanks Senators DeMint and Coburn), it also puts Democrats in a serious bind.
When Congress returns in the new year Democrats will be forced to deal with appropriations bills and the often endless debates surrounding them before they get cranking on their agenda. As an added bonus, the CR is scheduled to end mid-February, right before the busy Congressional budget season ramps up.
Non-floor activity in the House and Senate this week will be interesting to watch. In the House Republicans pick their committee slots on the 6th and 7th. One high profile committee showdown to watch will be between Representatives Ander Crenshaw and Paul Ryan.
Crenshaw is next in line on the Budget Committee but the challenge being mounted by Ryan is formidable. Despite being 13th in line on the committee, Ryan may be able to jump up to the top GOP slot with the support of conservatives who admire Ryan’s youthful energy and limited government ideas. A jump like this would not be entirely unprecedented. John Kasich made a similar leap when he became Budget Chairman in the 90’s.
Meanwhile, the conservative Republican Study Committee will assemble on Wednesday to elect their new Chairman. Mike Pence has declined to run for the top spot again leaving open a void that will be filled by either Todd Tiahrt or Jeb Hensarling. Tiahrt is supported by the RSC founders and will likely draw support from appropriators in the RSC. Hensarling is supported by the most conservative and most active members of the RSC.
Finally, tomorrow morning in the Hart Senate Building the Robert Gates nomination will begin in the Senate Armed Services Committee. Most observers expect Gates to be confirmed despite the inevitable political posturing from the top Democrat on the committee, Carl Levin.
UPDATE: Representatives Tom Price and Mike Pence along with 24 other House conservatives sent this letter to leadership today urging the passage of a year long continuing resolution in order to save more taxpayer dollars.