In The News

September 7, 2011

Congress returns...

By Colby Itkowitz, The Morning Call

The House of Representatives reconvenes after a month's absence Wednesday afternoon. The Senate returned to Washington the evening before. Senate appropriators are working on a trio of spending bills at the committee level. The House will vote on a few noncontroversial resolutions, including one authorizing the use of the Capitol grounds for the District of Columbia Special Olympics Law Enforcement Torch Run.

But as monsoon-like conditions rage on here in Washington, it's the calm before the storm inside the Capitol. Lawmakers are readying their political rhetoric arms in preparation for President Obama's jobs speech Thursday night. In the ring will be the same old arguments that have played out for years: Democrats will call for more government assistance and Republicans will say the size of government must be reduced.

U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, a Republican freshman, during a conversation Tuesday about Congress' overwhelming agenda for the fall, didn't sound very confident that common ground could be found.

"We should never stop being hopeful but realistically there is such gridlock because there is two entirely different ideologies on how to fix this economy," he said. "How do you convince people who believe the government creates jobs that it’s the private sector?"

Obama is expected to ask for investments in infrastructure, housing assistance, unemployment benefits extensions and an expanded version of the payroll tax cut. Supporters are cautiously optimistic. Critics say it's merely reminiscent of the 2009 stimulus law.

"It’s time to try something different," Barletta said. "Let us repeal some of the over regulation, address tax reform and let’s repeal 'Obamacare' and in doing so we’ll relieve some of the uncertainty."

Democrat U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, on Chris Matthews' Hardball Tuesday night, said there are ideas Obama can present that would have bipartisan support and create jobs. Among them, he said, is an idea to provide a quarterly tax cut to businesses that increase their payroll.

Casey would prefer rather than a debate over a huge comprehensive plan, that Congress take up some of the ideas one-by-one.

"I would hope we could vote on one or two ideas each week so cumulatively over the next couple weeks and months you'd have a whole package of good ideas that are moving and creating jobs," he said.

U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent, a Republican, said he wants to hear Obama say he's sending to Congress the three-stalled trade agreements with Panama, Colombia and South Korea. He'd also like to see Obama continue lessening environmental regulations as he did last week -- when he blindsided environmentalists --- and asked the EPA to back off rules to cut smog levels.

Dent, who is a new member on the appropriations committee tasked with determining how much to spend on what, said he hopes to see Congress find some common ground on completing that work so it does not fall back on continuing resolutions as it did for fiscal 2011.

"The best indication of whether we can play together is whether we get the most fundamental (work) done…," Dent said. "A lot of people have to find ways to work together and for some members on both sides we have some members who have a hard time deviating from their ideological basis."

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