Compromise in Congress very unlikely
WASHINGTON Republicans and Democrats in Congress who congratulated themselves for passing relatively routine legislation before July 4 are returning to the Capitol for a summer stocked with political show votes and no serious role for bipartisanship.
Any thought of compromise on major issues — taxes, spending, deficit control or immigration among them — will have to wait until after the election or the new year.
So, too, with a farm bill. It cleared the Senate on a bipartisan vote and is now at risk for becoming sidetracked in the House in the run-up to this summer's presidential nominating conventions and the Nov. 6 election.
To pass the legislation, "I've got to work with my leadership. I've got to work with my members. I've got to work with the minority (Democrats). I've got to work with my friends in the Senate. I'm having a lot of fun," Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, told reporters with more than a trace of sarcasm several days ago.
In the interim, the House Republican leadership intends to force a vote this coming week on a repeal of President Barack Obama's health care law, recently upheld by the Supreme Court in a ruling that said the law imposes a tax on anyone who fails to purchase insurance.
Also in the pipeline is a measure to stop major new federal regulations from taking effect until joblessness recedes nationally, possibly to 6 percent from the current 8.2 percent.
Another item on the Republican to-do list for July is a measure to extend all of the tax cuts due to expire at the end of the year, including the reductions on wealthier income earners. Obama is pushing to extend the cuts for households making less than $250,000 a year.
Senate Democrats are not without their own July agenda, beginning with a business tax cut that is set for a test vote Tuesday.
They also want to end existing tax breaks for the costs businesses incur in moving jobs overseas. This measure dovetails nicely with Obama's attempts to cast Romney as a champion outsourcer of jobs during his career as a businessman.
In addition, they may set up a vote on legislation to require disclosure for individuals making high-dollar contributions to political organizations that spend millions on campaign commercials.
Whatever the merits of these proposals, Republican and Democratic aides say there is no expectation any of them will pass this summer. Instead, they say, each is designed to make lawmakers on the other side of the political aisle choose between a popular position on the one hand and political orthodoxy within their own party on the other.
By their own count, House Republicans have voted more than 30 times to repeal, defund or erode the health care overhaul that stands as Obama's signature domestic achievement yet fares poorly in public opinion polling. "The law I passed is here to stay," the president said late last week, brushing aside the latest Republican assault.
But if anything, Republicans are more eager than ever to hold a vote to repeal it, following a majority opinion from Chief Justice John Roberts that said the law was constitutional because it imposes a tax — not a penalty — on anyone who refuses to purchase insurance.
The vote will take place in the midst of a $9 million television advertising campaign by the conservative Americans for Prosperity.
The commercial includes a video of Obama saying the law "is absolutely not a tax increase." Referring to the court's ruling, the announcer rebuts him, saying, "Now we know that's not true," and the ad calls for repeal of the legislation.
On tax cuts, Obama and Republicans compromised once, and they may again — after the election.
But for now, the president has pledged he won't agree to another renewal of the reductions on individuals earning over $200,000 or couples making more than $250,000 a year. The dispute is one of the main issues to be presented to voters this fall.
It's a showdown Republicans are eager to have. "Working families and small business should not be saddled with the uncertainty of a looming tax increase as they attempt to invest and grow for the remainder of the year," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., wrote this spring in a memo to the rank and file.
More disclosure for political contributions generally enjoys public support in the polls, but Republican outside groups, more than Democratic ones, are awash in large donations from anonymous donors.
The Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, calls the Democratic legislation a threat to the Constitution's guarantee of free speech. Its supporters "have a simple view: If the Supreme Court is no longer willing to limit the speech of those who oppose their agenda, they'll find other ways to do it," he said last month.
Nor is there much prospect for immediate compromise on a farm bill, meaning the likeliest outcome is a one-year or two-year extension of current programs that puts off difficult decisions over spending cuts.
Bipartisan legislation passed the Senate last month to cut $23 billion over a decade. The bill before the House Agriculture Committee would chop $35 billion.
Some conservatives want to slice more; other Republicans, as well as Democrats, prefer less. Several officials say It's unlikely the GOP leadership will permit the full House to vote on the bill with their own rank and file divided. That means deferring politically difficult decisions about food stamps, commodity programs and other accounts until after the election.
Lawmakers produced a short-term, one-year, solution last month to prevent an increase in interest rates on federal student loans for an estimated 7.4 million new borrowers. Another portion of the same bill pays for highway construction and other transportation programs for two years.
Its approval ended an unbroken string of nine short-term extensions dating back three years — evidence itself of Congress' chronic difficulty in compromising.
EDITOR'S NOTE — David Espo covers Congress and politics for The Associated Press.