The Speaker's Lobby: Congressional Penalty Kicks

By: Chad Pergram, FOX News

13 July 2010

Spain pulled out a last-minute, 1-0 victory over the Netherlands in the World Cup Sunday. The match was already into extra-time. Had the game gone much longer, the two squads would have settled the World Cup title on penalty kicks.

Too bad they can't use penalty kicks to solve tough issues in Congress.

Congress is facing a staggering portfolio of work as lawmakers return to Washington this week following the July 4th recess. Some of the problems are seemingly intractable. And lawmakers have just a few, short weeks to break the impasses before the all-important August recess in what has become the most-competitive election season in years.

And like in the Spain-Netherlands match, lawmakers have hammered through a slate of legislative topics during regulation time and now are well into extra-time.

Penalty kicks would resolve these disputes quickly and efficiently. Maybe they could even bring in Ian Darke to call the game from the broadcast booth.

To wit:

The House and Senate are stuck over how to solve a critical, supplemental spending bill. The legislation is crucial because it provides $37 billion to fund the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But the House and Senate have approved different versions of the legislation. And it's going to be hard for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to find the votes to approve some of the domestic spending provisions for teachers and summer jobs okayed by the House.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) faces a similar conundrum. To satisfy the liberal wing of the House Democratic Caucus, Pelosi had to order up a series of votes that called for a withdrawal of troops in Afghanistan or pulling the plug on military operations altogether. And in order to move the bill, the speaker championed the domestic spending priorities that seem anathema to the Senate.

The bill is so controversial because President Obama said long ago there would be no more supplemental spending packages to fund the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Granted, Congress approves supplemental spending bills almost every year. It's only in the post-September 11th world that supplementals became vehicles to approve war funds. And after years of war, many liberal Democrats and even some conservatives say enough is enough.

Mr. Obama's climate and energy legislation faces an uncertain future in the Senate. The bill would curb greenhouse emissions and impose fees on companies which trade for credits to pollute more. The House approved its version of the bill more than a year ago.

The first question is whether the Senate can even tackle the measure. It's likely the more moderate Senate will water down the climate bill. Then, much like the supplemental bill, the House and Senate will have approved different versions of  the legislation. And few vulnerable Democrats have much interest in plowing through a process to resolve differences between the bills so close to an election.

And then there are the annual spending bills which run the federal government.

It's become tradition in Congress for the House to complete most if not all of the bills that run the federal government. The Senate usually wades through a few. And then lawmakers glom all of the remaining spending packages into a gigantic omnibus bill at the end of the year.

Because of election year politics, the House may only approve a few if any of the individual measures in the next few months. And many of the biggest squabbles center on disputes among liberal and conservative Democrats who have different legislative priorities. This is one of the reasons why the House didn't pass a traditional budget this year. A budget serves as a blueprint for government spending.

Then there is immigration.

Immigration reform is the new health care. It's the topic everyone talks about. But never seems to get anywhere.

The passage of Arizona's stringent immigration statute has focused the country on this divisive topic. Republicans and Democrats alike are apoplectic about how porous the border has become. And lawmakers are at loggerheads about what should be done with the 12 million illegal immigrants lingering in the country. Conservatives argue that any reform which allows illegal immigrants to remain in the U.S. or gives them a pathway to citizenship is "amnesty." They ask why illegal immigrants should be "rewarded" when they arrived in the U.S. illegally in the first place. Secondly, those in favor of allowing undocumented persons to stay are portrayed as "soft" on the issue.

And this issue is the same as all of the others. There is no clear consensus as to how lawmakers can navigate their way out of this legislative cul-de-sac. There certainly aren't the votes to solve immigration right now, regardless of the approach. And many lawmakers are loathe to take a tough stance or care to vote on such a divisive issue with the midterm elections approaching.

So, lawmakers individually hammer on the issue as they fit. Border state politicians expound the need to bolster border security. Some rail against those who are here illegally. Meantime, those who represent districts with large immigrant populations walk a fine line, advocating some sort of comprehensive bill that will allow those who are here illegally to stay.

Yes. It's only mid-July. But Congress only has a few weeks left before the volatile August recess. And then lawmakers return to Washington in September for a final push before heading back to home to campaign in October.

Lawmakers will come back to Capitol Hill in November and December for what's expected to be the mother of all lame duck sessions.

In other words, there will be no penalty kicks like in the World Cup. Instead, Congress may steal a page from the National Football League's annual "Punt, Pass and Kick" competition for youths to resolve the Congressional disputes.

With the election looming, it's likely Congressional leaders could punt, pass or kick on the toughest issues until the lame duck.

Which is only appropriate. The U.S. Congress eschewing the world's most-popular form of football for America's own brand of football.

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

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