‘Line’ Items: Washington Activities Affecting the Bottom Line

No Limit to Ploys in House Rules – The House raised the debt limit to $14.3 trillion on Thursday using a procedure that allowed members to approve the increase without a direct roll call vote on it. The vote to agree on the rule for consideration of the legislation (which under the rule meant automatically approving the measure) was a close 217-212, with no Republicans voting for it. The House then passed accompanying PAYGO legislation on a 233-187 vote. The new limit is expected to hold until after the mid-term elections in November.

Not So Blue – Blue Dogs in the House rejoiced in the passage of PAYGO rules -- a major legislative priority for the moderate-to-conservative Democrats -- in conjunction with the debt ceiling increase. Before the vote Blue Dog Rep. Earl Pomeroy said, “This represents the biggest legislative achievement for the Blue Dog Coalition since it came into being.” Also just before the vote, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer singled out former Blue Dog leader, and current CRFB Board Member, Charlie Stenholm for his years of leadership on the issue.

No Commission Commitment – Republicans have not shown any enthusiasm about participating in the White House fiscal commission called for by the President. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has been non-committal, he only said he is "willing to consider" appointing Republicans to it. House Minority Leader John Boehner was even more critical, saying it is “rigged” and “partisan” and calling on the White House to try again. A Republican boycott would weaken the legitimacy of the panel and its ability to function. The White House budget released last week places the onus on the commission to reach the administration’s fiscal goal of reducing the deficit to 3 percent of GDP. The commission will likely come up in a White House meeting with Democratic and Republican leaders on Tuesday.

Irreconcilable Differences – Senate Republicans say they can block Democrats from using the budget reconciliation process to pass health care changes with a simple majority vote by introducing unlimited amendments. Democrats have yet to determine how to finish one of their top legislative priorities.

Tough Jobs – Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wants the Senate to consider jobs legislation this week, but leaders are still trying to devise a bill that can garner 60 votes. That task will get harder now that new Republican Senator Scott Brown has reduced the Democrats to 59 members. The Senate is expected to lead with a Finance Committee package of business tax breaks and extensions of expiring unemployment benefits that could attract bipartisan support, to be followed by other proposals that may be more partisan.

Neither Snow, nor Sleet… – Cabinet secretaries and agency heads are expected to trudge up to the Hill this week in the aftermath of DC’s “Snowmageddon” to defend their agencies’ budget requests before Congressional committees.

Hearing Out the Experts – The Senate Budget Committee is scheduled to hold two hearings this week on the fiscal outlook and the path forward. On Tuesday it will convene a hearing on “Crisis and Aftermath: The Economic Outlook and Risks for the Federal Budget and Debt.” On Wednesday, CRFB president Maya MacGuineas will testify along with board members Alice Rivlin and Rudolph Penner at a hearing on “Setting and Meeting an Appropriate Target for Fiscal Sustainability.”

Redburn Helps Fight Red Ink – Steve Redburn has joined CRFB as the new project director of the Peterson-Pew Commission on Budget Reform. He will help the Commission analyze flaws in the federal government’s budget process that have contributed to the current unsustainable fiscal situation and identify a set of recommended reforms to produce better budget outcomes in the future. Dr. Redburn was most recently study director for the joint committee of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Public Administration whose report on options to address the long-term budget challenge, Choosing the Nation’s Fiscal Future, was released in January.