Facing a bipartisan uprising from Northeast lawmakers, House Republican leaders scheduled a Friday vote on an initial installment of aid for states damaged by Superstorm Sandy.
In addition to this week’s action on $9.7 billion in additional borrowing authority for the National Flood Insurance Program, Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio and Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia announced that the House will vote on the $50 billion remainder of the Obama administration’s disaster relief request on Jan. 15.
The House on Wednesday evening rejected a proposal to allow tax cuts on the wealthy to expire, instead passing an alternative bill to preserve existing tax rates for a year, an act of political theater setting up a contentious post-election fight.
The Republican-controlled House voted 256 to 171 to preserve current tax rates, which were first enacted by President George W. Bush in 2001 and later extended in 2010 for another two years with President Barack Obama’s support.
In a separate vote, the House shot down, 170 to 257, a Democratic bill to extend current tax rates past the end of this year only for households earning less than $250,000 per year and individuals earning less than $200,000 per year. This plan has the current backing of the president, and was approved last week by the Senate. Nineteen Democrats joined a unanimous GOP conference on the vote.
The vote virtually ensures that the fate of the expiring tax cuts won’t be decided until after the election. Though House GOP leaders wrote Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid on Wednesday to say they “stand ready to bring the House back into session for the purpose of enacting solutions” as it relates to taxes or the automatic defense cuts set for Jan. 1, leaders in both parties have conceded that a truce unlikely.
No matter how the Supreme Court rules on the challenge to the health care law, it will only be a matter of minutes after that ruling is announced before attention shifts back across the street to the Capitol and to what happens next there.
Congressional press aides will be ready. Democrats and Republicans have spent months honing their messages. House GOP leaders have held “listening sessions” with rank-and-file members, going through various scenarios. Republican leadership aides from the House and Senate have coordinated their messaging plans with Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.
After the ruling is announced, it will take seconds before staffers for both parties begin to flood reporters’ inboxes with news releases. They, and their bosses, also will take to Twitter and Facebook to quickly move to frame the political fallout for the other side.
The messages are already pre-written to respond to the three different rulings the court could hand down — it could overturn the law entirely, strike down parts of the law including the individual mandate requiring people to purchase insurance coverage or pay a fine, or allow it to stand.
A decision to overturn the law they dubbed “Obamacare” would be vindication for congressional Republicans who unanimously opposed it in 2009.
But House Speaker John Boehner made it clear he doesn’t want Republicans — who won back control of the House in 2010 in large part because of backlash to the law — to look insensitive by doing victory dances if the court rules all or part of it unconstitutional.
Trying to avert another tax showdown, House Republican leaders Monday proposed an extension of the withholding-tax holiday to the end of the year without offsetting spending cuts.
Locked in a fight over the payroll tax holiday since President Obama made it the centerpiece of his jobs legislation last September, the top three House GOP leaders backed off previous demands that its extension be accompanied by spending reductions to shore up the finances of the Social Security program, which is funded through withholding taxes.
Instead, while blaming Senate Democrats for not negotiating in good faith, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and his top lieutenants said they would not be held responsible for an increase in taxes to 160 million workers, whose payroll withholdings are set to increase an average of $80 a month starting March 1.
Republicans want to continue negotiations over financing the rest of the original legislative package, including an extension of unemployment benefits and a key tweak to maintain Medicare reimbursement rates for doctors, while assuring that taxes will not rise on workers.