Gridlock In Congress Rekindled Quickly Despite Democrat, Republican Calls For Cooperation

January 8, 2015 7:25 am  

(Washington Times) – Four months after they joined Republicans in voting to tweak the Dodd-Frank law, House Democrats reversed themselves and killed similar legislation Wednesday, sending the latest grim signal that the last year’s elections did little to break gridlock on Capitol Hill.

On the second day in session, the conflicts were piling up. House Republicans plan votes next week to undo President Obama’s deportation amnesty, and both chambers will test the White House on veto threats issued in defense of Obamacare and in opposition to building the Keystone XL pipeline.

All sides pleaded for cooperation, with Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican who took over this week as majority leader, saying the decision rests with Mr. Obama, who must unleash fellow Democrats to pursue bipartisan solutions.

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“Bipartisan compromise may not come easily for the president. The president’s supporters are pressing for militancy these days, not compromise,” Mr. McConnell said in his first major floor speech as leader, in which he challenged Democrats to reject European-style welfare state policies and work for a leaner government.

But the new Senate Republican majority and extra Republican troops in the House are being matched by a renewed shift to the left among Democrats, who argue that their losses in last year’s elections were the result of a muddled message and a six-year itch with Mr. Obama, not to a rejection of their policies.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat whom liberals have embraced as a standard-bearer, told the AFL-CIO in a keynote address Wednesday that “democracy doesn’t work when congressmen and regulators bow down to Wall Street’s political power.”

Republicans blamed that kind of rhetoric for the defeat of the Dodd-Frank tweaks bill in the House. In September, a similar bill got 320 votes, including support from 95 Democrats. But the legislation garnered just 35 Democrats Wednesday for a total of 274, just short of the two-thirds majority needed for passage under expedited rules.

Democrats said the bill was significantly different from last year’s legislation and would benefit big banks. They objected to speeding the legislation to the floor on the second day of Congress without having gone through regular debate in the Financial Services Committee.

“House Republicans need to rethink their special-interests-first plan for this Congress,” Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said after leading the revolt. The number of her top lieutenants switched from “yes” to “no” votes this time. “Wall Street giveaways introduced in the dead of night are no way to govern.”

Rep. Jeb Hensarling, Texas Republican and chairman of the committee, said those were poor excuses and that the dozens of Democrats who switched their stance over the past four months were trying “to appease their far left-wing base.”

“They were for this bill before they were against it,” he said of the legislation, which Republicans described as technical fixes to the Dodd-Frank law that set rules for Wall Street in the wake of the 2008 collapse.

Mr. Hensarling did notch one success when the House overwhelmingly approved a bill to renew the federal terrorism risk insurance program, which lawmakers in both parties say is necessary to build big projects in a post-Sept. 11 environment.

Mr. McConnell said the Senate will try to pass the bill Thursday and send it to Mr. Obama for an early bipartisan victory.

Republicans have planned a number of early test votes for the 114th Congress to see where Democrats will come down and how many are willing to break with Mr. Obama.

On Thursday, the House will vote on legislation to revoke Obamacare’s provision defining the workweek as 30 hours rather than the traditional 40 hours. That bill has a half-dozen Democratic co-sponsors in the House and two in the Senate.

Mr. Obama has vowed a veto, saying upping the workweek definition will let businesses stop covering some employees who work more than 30 but less than 40 hours. Republicans and their Democratic allies, though, said they have seen evidence that businesses and even local governments instead are reducing workers’ hours to below the 30-hour threshold, taking money out of their pockets.

Republicans also are setting up votes in the House on Friday and in the Senate early next week on building the Keystone pipeline.

But the immigration fight could be the biggest test of all.

Republican leaders bypassed a battle over Mr. Obama’s deportation policies last year, overcoming conservatives who insisted that Congress refuse to fund the government for 2015 unless they also included provisions canceling the amnesty in the spending bill.

Instead, as a compromise Congress passed full-year funding for most of the government but funded the Homeland Security Department only through Feb. 27, setting up another showdown.

Democrats said this week’s terrorist attack on a humor magazine in France should encourage Republicans not to hold homeland security money hostage to the immigration debate.

“Stop playing politics, and fund DHS without strings attached,” said Rep. Bennie G. Thompson of Mississippi, the ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee.

House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, rejected those calls, saying Mr. Obama’s executive action must be stopped.

“I believe that the president’s executive actions with regard to immigration are outside of the Constitution and outside of his powers,” he told reporters. “And I believe that we can deal with that issue in the Department of Homeland Security bill without jeopardizing the security of our country.”

The bill is likely to clear the House but will struggle to earn the votes needed to clear a Democratic filibuster in the Senate.

“We’ll see if we can pick up six Democratic votes for that. But at the end of the process, the folks back home are going to know how their senators voted on that, and that’s a change,” said Sen. Roger F. Wicker of Mississippi, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

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