The Big Week in Washington
Let’s face it.
If you work in politics, on Capitol Hill, the media or in the health care field – this week is going to be a nightmare.
Albert Einstein once proffered that “the only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.” But for all of Einstein’s genius, he never anticipated a week like this in Washington.
As early as 10 am today, the Supreme Court could rule on the Constitutionality of both President Obama’s health care law and Arizona’s immigration statute. The House is expected to vote Thursday to slap Attorney General Eric Holder with an extraordinary contempt of Congress citation for failing to hand over documents related to the Fast and Furious gun-walking program. If lawmakers don’t get on the same page this week, seven million collegiate borrowers will see rates on their student loans double from 3.4 to 6.8 percent. And that’s to say nothing of an impasse between Congressional negotiators over federal transportation funding. Many of the nation’s transportation programs are set to expire on July 1. Failure to approve a new measure could cost the nation three million construction, roadway and railway jobs.
This is a seminal week in American politics. Not just because of the sheer volume of major issues this week. But because the outcomes of these decisions will reverberate through November and could help dictate the elections.
Much of the success or failure of President Obama’s presidency hinges on the Supreme Court’s decision. If the High Court upholds Mr. Obama’s law, Democrats may secure the upper messaging hand for the first time in the health care debate. If the justices strike down the law in its entirety, or specifically, determine that the “individual mandate” (which requires Americans to purchase insurance or face a fine) isn’t legal, Republicans, the tea party and presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney will rally.
Of course, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) assumed the role of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell last week. The Ohio Republican warned GOPers in a memo that “there will be no spiking of the ball,” if the Supreme Court incinerates the Affordable Care Act. “We will not celebrate at a time when millions of our fellow Americans remain out of work.”
Boehner wants to control the optics of the Supreme Court’s ruling. But try as he might to curb overzealous forces in his party, a number of Republicans practically have Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco on speed dial to coach them on their end zone celebrations. You may even see a resurgence of Billy “White Shoes” Johnson’s rendition of the “Funky Chicken.”
The Arizona immigration decision comes just days after Mr. Obama announced a major initiative to allow some illegal immigrants who are in school or in the military to become citizens. The outcome of the Arizona case will again heat the embers surrounding this already simmering issue.
The GOP plunge to find Holder in contempt of Congress is fraught with danger for the GOP. Republicans and the White House are several rounds deep into a Constitutional fracas. It escalated last week when the Obama Administration claimed executive privilege over the documents in question. House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) is leading the charge on contempt. Issa’s expected to write the president in the next day or so, explaining how he believes it’s inappropriate for the White House to assert executive privilege in this case.
The contempt debate on the floor will be heated. And it could fire racial tensions. Holder is the first African American to hold the attorney general post. Democrats are already offering a full-throated theory as to why the GOP is targeting Holder.
“They’re going after Eric Holder because he is supporting measures to overturn these voter suppression initiatives in the states,” intimated House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). “This is no accident. It is no coincidence. It is a plan on the part of Republicans.”
GOP lawmakers dismissed those assertions. But senior Democratic aides indicate they’ll continue that drumbeat when the contempt resolution hits the floor mid-week.
And what would be a such a colossal week in Washington without a double-dose of brinksmanship.
The calling card of the 112th Congress is waiting until the final minute to approve a stopgap extension of a policy or critical program that’s set to expire. Congress has reprised this exercise on multiple occasions over the past 18 months as lawmakers repeatedly fail to cede political ground.
On student loans, the House passed its version of renewing the current rate back in April. Three weeks ago, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) proposed a $6 billion patch to delay a pending rate hike for a year. But Boehner’s spokesman Mike Steel indicated the House GOP leadership didn’t think Reid’s idea would get anywhere across the Capitol.
“If the Senate passes it, we will address it,” said Steel.
Meantime on the transportation bill, Congressional Democrats keep imploring Republicans to take up the Senate’s version of the plan. That package sailed through the Senate with wide, bipartisan support. But it’s been near-impossible to forge a compromise between House and Senate negotiators. That’s because of Republican insistence to include a provision to expedite construction of the Keystone pipeline. Plus, Republicans want to add language to the bill to streamline transportation projects without going through multiple environmental impact reviews. Boehner and Reid called the top transportation bill negotiators to a summit early last week and urged them to finish a bill before the June 30 deadline. Boehner’s said the House might have to engineer yet another extension if the sides fail to come to an agreement.
The effort to pass the transportation bill started last October in the House.
Huge political consequences swirl around both the student loan and transportation issues. A failure to extend either or both programs represents yet another catastrophic Congressional meltdown. If Congress founders here, it will contribute to the festering opinion outside the Beltway that the institution has fallen into serious disrepair. That could fuel anti-incumbent sentiments for both parties.
That is a synopsis of the week ahead in Washington. It’s a week which will dictate the year’s political contours. It will augur which side is up and which side is down. And it’s a week where both sides will attempt to craft competing narratives. Democrats will be quick to seize on possible GOP schadenfreude if the Supreme Court strikes down the health care law. Republicans will walk a tightrope as they try to stay on their message about jobs and the economy – even as they vote to hold the attorney general in contempt of Congress.
It’s a big week in Washington. And for those of you who have friends in politics or who work on Capitol Hill, just check back in with them sometime in July.