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This Week In Congress-December 11, 2009

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The week opened with the Senate cranking away on health care, with most of the discussions taking place behind closed doors.

Over at the other end of the Capitol, meanwhile, Indiana Congressman Mike Pence did his part to stake his party's claim on the flashpoint du jour.

"House Republicans continue to believe that not health care, not global warming, but jobs is the number one priority of the American people, and should be the number one priority of this Congress," says Pence.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer swatted back. "I keep hearing from the Republican side, 'jobs is the issue--the fact of the matter is, first thing you had to do is stop losing jobs," says Hoyer.

The question is, whose approach will prevail? Democrats want to use a portion of the Wall Street bailout money, TARP, and are talking about targeted spending on infrastructure, small businesses, and direct assistance to states and localities to hire and retain essential personnel like teachers and cops. Measures they hope to pass before the end of the year, which may or may not be possible.

Minority leader John Boehner held forth from the House floor, beginning with the words "we're broke."

"We've got a $12 trillion national debt. We brought a national energy tax to the floor, passed it, health care, passed it," says Boehner. "When are we going to say enough is enough?"

The Democrats are in charge, though, because, as one Republican noted repeatedly this week, "elections have consequences." The American people put them in charge of the governing. That gives Democrats the power, and the burden of knowing that governing has consequences, too-–for elections.

By mid-week, the House was ready to begin its final push toward a vote on a sweeping financial regulatory overhaul. Republicans are a united front in opposition to the bill, which among other things, would create a $200 billion set-aside, which they decry as a "permanent bailout fund." An increasingly oft-repeated chestnut: "capitalism without bankruptcy is like Christianity without Hell." Financial Services chairman Barney Frank is having exactly none of that.

"The bill very clearly says, money can only be made available...to put the institution out of business. These are burial expenses," says Frank. "So the answer is, there is bankruptcy in this bill."

According to Frank, most of the essential elements of the House bill stand a good chance in the other chamber. However, the key will be getting the Senate to sign on to the consumer protection piece. As of now, the top Republican on the Senate banking committee, Richard Shelby, is decidedly guarded.

"I think that there’s a lot of progress being made," says Shelby. "I mean, won’t be made before Christmas. But we’re working--positively."

Next week, the Senate banking committee will vote on the reappointment of Ben Bernanke to head up the Federal Reserve. And lawmakers from both the House and Senate may, or may not, be boarding planes to Copenhagen. Democrats and Republicans alike want to appear on that global stage, to be counted as either for, or very much against, President Obama’s plans for signing on to an international treaty to reduce greenhouse gases.

That was This Week in Congress. I’m Elizabeth Wynne Johnson, Capitol News Connection.

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