Boehner-Pelosi bill a last­ing fix

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DINAN

A rash of bi­par­ti­san­ship has bro­ken out in re­cent weeks on Capitol Hill, where Repub­li­cans and Democrats have teamed up to make progress on is­sues such as en­ti­tle­ment spend­ing and ed­u­ca­tion re­forms, leav­ing law­mak­ers and Congress watch­ers alike won­der­ing whether it’s the dawn of a promis­ing era.

Most of the ac­tion hap­pened in the Se­nate, where a com­pro­mise bill to im­pose con­gres­sional re­view of the Iran nu­clear deal cleared one com­mit­tee on a 19-0 vote, an­other com­mit­tee was plow­ing to­ward ap­proval of a bi­par­ti­san re­vamp of the No Child Left Be­hind ed­u­ca­tion law, and the whole Se­nate passed a long-needed fix to Medi­care’s physi­cian pay­ments.

The House has had its mo­ments, too: The Medi­care bill, which patched a 1997 law that was about to foist a 21 per­cent pay cut on doc­tors, was the prod­uct of ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween the un­likely duo of House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Repub­li­can, and Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat.

Each side con­ceded on im­por­tant poli­cies to achieve the agree­ment.

“It’s a model. I think you’re go­ing to see it more of­ten,” said Michael McKenna, a Repub­li­can lob­by­ist who works on Capitol Hill. He said the con­gres­sional changes were “healthy.”

As the 114th Congress passed its 100-day mark, all sides took stock of the ac­com­plish­ments so far: Nine bills signed into law, one par­tial gov­ern­ment shut­down averted, a more open amend­ment process in the Se­nate and two pres­i­den­tial ve­toes de­rail­ing Repub­li­can pri­or­i­ties.

The House and Se­nate also have passed bud­get plans and are headed for the first uni­fied con­gres­sional bud­get since 2009 — though Repub­li­can lead­ers missed the April 15 dead­line set in law for com­plet­ing that agree­ment, drawing a re­buke from Mrs. Pelosi.

“Once again, Repub­li­cans have failed to meet their re­spon­si­bil­ity to the Amer­i­can peo­ple,” she said. “Repub­li­cans have spent the first 100 days of this Congress do­ing noth­ing but ex­pos­ing their in­ep­ti­tude in gov­ern­ing and their contempt for hard­work­ing Amer­i­cans.”

Still to come are big tests, in­clud­ing a debt limit de­bate be­fore the end of the year and the an­nual ap­pro­pri­a­tions process.

Mr. McKenna said he sees signs that the early bi­par­ti­san­ship could con­tinue, at least in some ar­eas. He said part of that is House Democrats’ ad­just­ment to be­ing in the mi­nor­ity and re­al­iz­ing that if they want to shape leg­is­la­tion, they will have to ne­go­ti­ate with Repub­li­cans. An­other part is the ap­proach­ing end of Pres­i­dent Obama’s ten­ure.

“This ad­min­is­tra­tion, and truth­fully the one be­fore it, has been a toxic player in the leg­isla­tive process. You’re look­ing at the wan­ing in­flu­ence of the ad­min­is­tra­tion and Congress sort of re­turn­ing to the cen­ter,” Mr. McKenna said.

Mrs. Pelosi will join Mr. Boehner on Thurs­day for an of­fi­cial cer­e­mony as the speaker signs the Medi­care bill and sends it to Mr. Obama. Just months ago, the mere ex­is­tence of a bill dubbed the Boehner-Pelosi com­pro­mise on any ma­jor leg­isla­tive is­sue would have been un­think­able — much less on en­ti­tle­ment spend­ing, which has bedev­iled Congress for the past decade.

The Medi­care doc­tors pay­ment prob­lem has stymied Congress for more than a decade. Law­mak­ers passed 17 short-term patches but failed to find fund­ing for a per­ma­nent fix, as Repub­li­cans in­sisted the hit to the deficit was un­ac­cept­able.

But un­der the deal that cleared Congress this week, Repub­li­cans ac­cepted more than $140 bil­lion more in spend­ing over the next decade. In ex­change, they wran­gled lan­guage that re­quires wealthy se­niors to pay more for Medi­care cov­er­age, which they ar­gue will help slow the pro­gram’s growth in the long run.

The Iran deal came to­gether Tues­day af­ter Se­nate Repub­li­cans agreed to limit their leg­is­la­tion to Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram and ad­justed the time frames that Mr. Obama must meet for sub­mit­ting to Congress the agree­ment that he and five other world pow­ers are ex­pected to reach with the regime in Tehran. In the face of the nar­rower deal and the prospect of over­whelm­ing bi­par­ti­san sup­port, the White House with­drew a veto threat and ex­pressed re­luc­tant sup­port.

A bill to re­vamp the fed­eral role in el­e­men­tary and sec­ondary school­ing con­tin­ued to make head­way in a Se­nate com­mit­tee Wed­nes­day and should be fin­ished Thurs­day. The prod­uct of ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween Sen. La­mar Alexander, Ten­nessee Repub­li­can, and Sen. Patty Mur­ray, Wash­ing­ton Demo­crat, re­moves some fed­eral pres­sure on lo­cal school dis­tricts.

Jim Man­ley, a long­time aide to Sen. Harry Reid, Ne­vada Demo­crat, who is now se­nior direc­tor at QGA Public Af­fairs, said the Alexander-Mur­ray deal was en­cour­ag­ing but the leg­is­la­tion would be tough to rec­on­cile with a more con­ser­va­tive ver­sion that is likely to emerge from the House.

The same set of in­gre­di­ents doomed bill af­ter bill dur­ing the pre­vi­ous four years, earn­ing the 112th and 113th con­gresses the low­est marks ever in The Wash­ing­ton Times’ Leg­isla­tive Fu­til­ity In­dex.

The Iran deal, Mr. Man­ley said, does re­flect real com­pro­mise, but the Medi­care deal was chiefly the prod­uct of Repub­li­cans’ aban­don­ment of their deficit-spend­ing stance.

The real test will be on 2016 spend­ing, when strict lim­its likely to be set by the Repub­li­can bud­get will have to be sep­a­rated into a dozen bills that must sur­vive a po­ten­tial Se­nate fil­i­buster and then a promised pres­i­den­tial veto.

Joshua C. Huder, se­nior fel­low at Ge­orge­town Uni­ver­sity’s Gov­ern­ment Af­fairs In­sti­tute, said the pre­vi­ous Congress made bi­par­ti­san deals, but they usu­ally were up­ended by di­vi­sions be­tween the Repub­li­can-con­trolled House and the Demo­crat-led Se­nate. A bi­par­ti­san im­mi­gra­tion bill that cleared the Se­nate was blocked by Repub­li­can lead­ers in the House, and Se­nate Democrats re­fused to take up en­ergy and fi­nan­cial reg­u­la­tion bills that Repub­li­cans pushed through the House.

But the Iran and Medi­care deals in par­tic­u­lar ap­pear de­signed for bi­par­ti­san sup­port in both cham­bers.

“We’re see­ing the House and Se­nate lead­ers work bi­par­ti­san an­gles on bills that have a real chance at be­com­ing law this week. That’s starkly dif­fer­ent than last Congress,” Mr. Huder said. “This week the House and Se­nate worked on some is­sues that were clearly press­ing, but did so in a way that weren’t overt at­tempts to divide the par­ties for po­lit­i­cal and elec­toral pur­poses.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The Medi­care bill that patched a 1997 law that was about to foist a 21 per­cent pay cut on doc­tors was the prod­uct of ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween the un­likely duo of House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Repub­li­can, and Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat.

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