Legislative Preview of the 112th Congress

By:  Ann Shibler

altEveryone is wondering what kinds of legislation will be the focus of the 112th Congress. The shift of power from the Democrats to the Republicans in the House, with the tea parties still highly energized and engaged in the political process, is bound to have some effect. 

At the end of the 111th Congress, all legislation that was sitting in the hopper and at various stages in the legislative process was discarded. But that doesn’t mean there will be any dearth of legislation. Congressmen are notoriously prolific in this area and will file for the 112th many old and new pieces of legislation. Any treaties that have already been transmitted to Congress, but not ratified yet, are not discarded, however.

The passage of the New START treaty in the lame duck will bring about the next step toward total disarmament, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban (CNTB) treaty. Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) said last October that New START was a transition treaty that would allow the senate to “sort of move on to other agendas that are also very important in arms control,” and the CNTB is it.

The Law of the Sea Treaty (LOST) and the UN’s Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) will see action at least in the Foreign Relations committee. LOST has a far better chance of passage in the full Senate, although it’s not great, and CEDAW very little, as only two senators even bothered to show up for the CEDAW hearing in late 2010. Foreign Relations committee Chairman Sen. John Kerry is said to be committed to furthering Middle East peace talks and brokering a deal between Israel and Pakistan, and Israel and Syria. Also in Kerry’s sights is the revaluing of China’s currency.

Constitutionalists and Federal Reserve opponents everywhere are eager to see what kind of legislation will be forthcoming to address the central bank’s economic powers and policies. In the euphoria of son Rand Paul’s senate win, Congressman Ron Paul said publicly that he and his son might celebrate by introducing an “audit the fed” or “end the fed” measure immediately after inauguration just to “make a point.” In an interview on FoxNews he also related that it would take only one day to repeal the Federal Reserve Act, although that would be a “little more disruptive than I care to get.”  He also plans on introducing legislation to force the Federal Reserve “to be accountable every time they print more money,” a very laudable first step.

Another burning political issue most Americans are anxious about is the 100 percent repeal of ObamaCare. Congressman Steve King (R-Iowa) had already drafted and introduced legislation in the 111th Congress, H.R. 4972, that would do just that. The old bill serves as the basis for the repeal of ObamaCare in the 112th Congress as a stand alone measure with a vote expected on January 12, but debate beginning on January 7. A spokesman for Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said House Republicans “will pass a straight-up repeal of ObamaCare early on in the 112th Congress.”  Rep. King also made mention of an effort to lay the groundwork for defunding any and all efforts to implement ObamaCare. King says Republicans in the House should “zero-out any Obamacare related item in the budget,” and protect those efforts from Democrats in the Senate “by including language in every appropriations bill we pass explicitly barring any money allocated therein from being spent on implementing or enforcing any part of Obamacare.” But don’t expect the Democratic-controlled Senate to repeal this draconian bill as the Dems are already digging in. Senators Reid of Nevada, Durbin of Illinois, Schumer of New York, Murry of Washington Stabenow of Michigan have vowed to block passage. This may force the Republicans to address this unconstitutional disaster in a rather half-hearted piecemeal approach, repealing just bits of the measure one at a time.

Republicans and Democrats alike have vowed to abolish the provision contained in ObamaCare which requires businesses to file a 1099 form with the IRS for every vendor they pay more than $600 to annually, as early as possible in 2011. If they hold true to their word this is something that all small businesses and taxpayers would support and would be a great relief both on the record-keeping side and financially. However, a repeal of the measure was offered twice in November, and rejected both times because many viewed it as a loss of government income that required an offsetting increase in income or decrease in spending.

Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) has promised to immediately introduce a privileged resolution in January to stop America’s participation in the war in Afghanistan by the end of 2012: “The War in Afghanistan is longer than any other war America has ever fought. The war has cost U.S. taxpayers more than a trillion dollars. The death toll is rising. More than 1300 Americans have died, thousands more wounded and countless Afghan civilians have died.” It is difficult to ascertain what kind of support the new Congress will give this. Perhaps the reduction in spending and savings will appeal to the newcomers.

President Obama has recently floated his objective to rewrite the tax code. Maryland’s Rep. Steny Hoyer (D) — tea parties are “poisonous to our future” — who will move from House Majority Leader to Minority Whip in the new Congress seconded the motion a week after Obama uttered it, saying it will attract at least some bipartisan support. But Hoyer — and Obama — have no intention of giving taxpayers a break; instead the idea is to raise more money to reduce the debt. This supposed simplifying of the tax code will be labeled “tax reform.” It will most likely turn into a fair tax vs. flat tax pseudo debate.

The deficit and national debt are of great concern; the political rhetoric during the campaign was about developing guidelines for appropriating money in a more fiscally responsible manner. The deficit and debt simply cannot be ignored and will most certainly be addressed early in the year. What will ignite the debate will be the necessity of having to raise the debt ceiling early in the new year. Currently the government is funded through March 4 of 2011. The debt ceiling at $14.291 trillion must be raised in early spring to accommodate the increasing cost of big government — unless the newly elected hold true to their campaign promises of large-scale cuts in spending. Liberals are worried that the President will make a deal with the Republicans and get an increase in the debt ceiling in exchange for reforming Social Security. These reforms would be in the form of raising the retirement age to 68 and lowering benefits for people in higher income brackets. Medicare and Medicaid programs would probably remain untouched; it’s far easier to tinker with Social Security.

Certainly a balanced budget amendment will be in the forefront, whether proposed in the usual way by a 2/3s vote of both houses of Congress or attempted through the risky constitutional convention approach remains to be seen.

Many are saying cap-and-trade is dead due to the lack of enthusiasm for global warming and climate change by the general electorate. What will definitely see debate is the problem of EPA’s regulation of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act which begins on January 2, 2011. Even John  D. Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) believes “the worst possible option is EPA regulation under the Clean Air Act.”

What is being discussed on both sides of the political spectrum is the probability of gridlock, which is not always a bad thing. Some even predict that the legislative focus will shift to the state legislatures, again not a bad thing. This is where activists, unions, and lobbyists are set to pour their money and invest their time. The Tenth Amendment protections and use, while not exactly mainstream yet, have already had a considerable impact on the political landscape.

Stay tuned, and stay engaged.

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