The Speaker's Lobby: The Electric Slide

By: Chad Pergram, FOX News

30 April 2010

Video surfaced on the web a few days ago of House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) clapping his hands and grooving to the "Electric Slide." The Electric slide is a staple at wedding receptions. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC) had appropriated the dance for his annual fish fry in Columbia, SC. And when the jam started, the 70-year-old Hoyer joined dozens of others, bobbing to the beat on the dance floor.

The jig puts an entirely different spin on the term "swing district."

But in many respects, the "electric slide" started long ago on Capitol Hill. And I'm not talking about Hoyer busting a move, either. We're talking about the sheer vacuousness of the Congressional calendar for the rest of the year. And how most bills of import have been loaded onto the electric slide. A slide right into oblivion.

To wit...

After a protracted fight, Senate Republicans finally relented in their filibuster of financial regulatory legislation. The GOP scored a parliamentary hat trick this week, thrice blocking Democrats from even bringing the measure to the floor for debate.

"They do so at their political peril," warned Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-CT) before Republicans caved.

But it's the bill itself that faces peril now. The Senate's poised to debate amendments next week. And the legislation is far from a done-deal. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is hopeful senators can complete the package by Memorial Day. President Obama wants to sign it by Labor Day.

Thus, the financial regulation package will deplete the entire month of May. Before the Senate can even touch any other issue.

Which brings us to immigration reform, a climate change bill, an annual federal budget, and appropriations legislation to fund the federal government for the next fiscal year, to say nothing of a Supreme Court confirmation process and the potential ratification of a new nuclear arms treaty.

You see where this is going.

Just a few weeks ago, I penned an essay titled "It's All Over But the Shouting." My theory was that after completing health care reform, there wasn't a whole lot Congress would tackle between now and the elections. Lawmakers were still fazed from the health care fight and weren't exactly hankering for another brawl before the midterm elections. Still, readers flooded my in-box with dissenting emails. What about the financial overhaul bill? How about fights over the budget? Did you forget to mention immigration reform? And isn't that climate legislation still percolating somewhere?

Those issues linger. But there's a thin chance lawmakers will finish many if any of them. Those items are on the electric slide.

The House of Representatives approved the climate legislation last June. But that bill was left for Congressional road kill. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was forced to muscle the bill through the House. And then she punted the legislation to the Senate, where many moderate Senators like Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), Mark Pryor (D-AR) are skeptical of the plan.

Pelosi said that she "looked forward" to the Senate taking up the issue. But later deferred to the Senate debating immigration reform before it tangled with the climate bill. That was until Reid and Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) temporarily scrapped plans to roll out the climate measure because one of the Republicans on the issue, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) dialed back his support. So that again slid immigration to the front of the line. Until Reid shuffled the chess board once more.

"The energy (climate) bill is ready. We will move to that more quickly than to a bill we won't have. We don't have an immigration bill," the leader said.

Reid's decision disappointed Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), the chief sponsor of an immigration proposal in the House.

"I like the statement of last week better than the statement of this week," Gutierrez mused about the Congressional musical chairs. "I guess we're back to square one."

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) seemed particularly dismayed at Reid's decision in light of Arizona implementing the toughest immigration law in the country.

"Hopefully they are capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time," said Grijalva of the Senate. "And if it does not happen, I will be devastated."

But Reid faces a tough re-election campaign this fall. And immigration is a pressing issue in his home state.

"Others may have given up on immigration reform. I haven't," said the Nevada Democrat. "Energy and immigration are equally vital to our economic and national security and we've ignored both of them for far too long. I'm committed to doing both this session of Congress."

So an immigration scenario re-emerged. But it was fleeting.

Enter President Obama. On Wednesday, he told reporters that there "may not be an appetite" on Capitol Hill to dive into immigration policy.

"We've gone through a very tough year and I've been working Congress very hard," the president said.

Still on Thursday, Senate Democratic leaders unveiled the blueprint of an immigration reform bill.

Luis Gutierrez said he was ready for anything.

"This is a roller coaster ride here," he said. "I take the anti-nausea medicine. I go up and down and the heights and the thrills don't give me pain any more."

Perhaps Gutierrez needs to stock up on his omeprazole or domperidone. Because the thrills will just keep coming.

Pelosi has been in negotiations for days with fiscally-conscious "Blue Dog" Democrats over a budget. The Blue Dogs want deep cuts. And the speaker is left with trying to find enough votes to pass a budget.

There's precedent for Congress not approving a budget. But Democrats really need one this year. The annual budget resolution authorizes Congress to use reconciliation (remember that from health care?), a parliamentary tool to cut the deficit and synch up revenue and expenditures. And reconciliation is usually the vehicle used to approve tax cuts.

President Bush's tax cuts are set to expire. And Democrats need a budget to give them the reconciliation mechanism to reauthorize the tax cuts. Otherwise, Republicans will pillory them for letting the tax cuts fall by the wayside.

Democrats have other parliamentary gadgets with which to okay the tax cuts. Still, senior sources concede that passing a budget may be impossible.

Which leaves us with two agenda items: the Senate's confirmation of the president's yet-unnamed Supreme Court pick and the passage of the annual, government spending bills.

The vetting of Mr. Obama's Supreme Court nominee will consume June and July. The administration will want the justice seated before the first Monday in October.

Meantime, it's likely the House will peel through some of its spending bills before glomming all of the stray matters into a massive package during the lame-duck session following the elections.

And that's where the electric slide comes in for big-ticket bills. There's little time to take up climate change AND immigration reform. And finish the financial regulatory bill. To paraphrase Vice President Biden, many of these measures are a "big, f---ing deal." But in the vernacular, they aren't too big too fail. Especially in a contested election year.

That leaves the proponents of these bills twisting in the wind. Those lawmakers will be angry. And to paraphrase Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), they may believe they got a "sh--ty deal."

-          Chad Pergram covers Congress for FOX News. He's won an Edward R. Murrow Award, the Joan Barone Award and a National Headliner Award for his reporting on Capitol Hill.

-          The Speaker's Lobby is a long, ornate hallway that runs behind the dais in the House chamber. Lawmakers aides and journalists confer there during votes.