By Elizabeth Wynne Johnson
I’m Elizabeth Wynne Johnson of Capitol News Connection. This Week in Congress...
...began with reverberations still of a decision in the Senate last week: to wrap up legislative business this week and adjourn without resolving a key question before the November election. The question: what to do about Bush-era tax cuts that are set to expire at the end of this year. Republicans accused Democrats of running away from one of the most important issues this year – take it away, Minority Leader John Boehner:
BOEHNER It’s irresponsible for them to leave town without giving us a fair up or down vote.
Democrats, in turn. accuse Republicans of being the ones blocking meaningful debate. Senator Mark Udall of Colorado?
UDALL – "For me the right thing is extending the tax cuts for working Americans and small businesses and letting the tax cuts expire for those in the wealthiest categories."
Democratic leaders in both chambers say the country can’t afford NOT to give up the tax break for those wealthiest Americans. Republicans and enough moderate Democrats disagree… to make this officially a non-starter until Lame Duck.
Speaking of which - the lame duck list was long… and getting longer. On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid declared the chamber a “procedural morass.”
REID We’re down to the CR and a couple of other issues… We may not agree on much, but I think with rare exceptions, all 100 senators want to get out of here and get back to their states.
Before that day would come, however, there was work off the floor to do. Beginning Tuesday, back-to-back hearings in the Senate and House Armed Services Committees put a spotlight on the Pentagon’s plans for downsizing.
MCCAIN One proposal the Secretary has recommended is the elimination of the Joint Forces Command. I strongly support that proposal.
Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, is O-K with the Defense Secretary’s assessment of JFCOM, as it’s known. That the billion-dollar operation has become, in essence, duplicative and unnecessary. That’s with respect to the military, anyway. With respect to the regional economy around Norfolk, Virginia – JFCOM is both unique and necessary. Suffolk mayor Linda Johnson was in the audience for the Senate hearing.
JOHNSON We’re looking at is a lot of jobs, a lot of ancillary businesses -- well, it’s a fear of the unknown. So if you give us the data, give us the facts, we will do what we have to do. But in the meantime, we’re simply in limbo and I think that’s a very unfair place to be.
Virginia Senator Jim Webb is demanding that Defense Secretary Robert Gates share the details of any cost-benefit analysis that was done - something he’s been wanting for more than a month. This week it was Deputy Secretary William Lynn III who had to answer to Webb and other lawmakers’ mounting frustrations.
LYNN This was not a business-case analysis as some have described it. This was a military decision.
WEBB Just as an immediate reaction – there are NO decisions of this magnitude that are military decisions. Not in the United States. There are military recommendations to the Secretary of Defense, who then makes a recommendation to the President.
Senator Webb is asking President Obama to hold off on implementing the Pentagon’s recommendation… unless and until the aforementioned data is forthcoming.
Lawmakers ended the week a bit early. In the House, doing so involved a marathon legislative session that went into the wee hours of Thursday morning. It was Kafka-esque in its way, with hours spent debating a “plain language” bill.
Both House and Senate are off now until mid-November. At which point, it will be a changed Congress that returns. In spirit if not in person. For better or worse, Democrats will retain their current numbers at least through the end of the year – with three notable exceptions possible. According to state law, the winners of the special Senate elections in Illinois, West Virginia and Delaware take office immediately – so they’ll be the ones serving during the lame duck.
That was This Week in Congress. I’m Elizabeth Wynne Johnson, Capitol News Connection.