The holiday season has ended and the 114th Congress is officially in session. For the first time in six decades, we now have a Republican controlled Senate and Republican controlled House of Representatives. But of course, we still have Democratic President Barack Obama who over the course of his six year presidency has moved increasingly more to the left. In the Senate, Republican Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), who was previously the Senate Minority Leader now becomes the Senate Majority Leader, effectively switching roles with Senator Harry Reid, (D-Nevada) who was previously the Senate Majority Leader. There has been much discussion about the impact of the transfer of the gavel of power from Senator Reid to Senator McConnell on the legislative docket. Harry Reid has been criticized by the right for delaying and stonewalling legislation. He reportedly left office with over 350 bills waiting decisioning. And since Harry Reid and President Obama marched in lockstep, most of the legislation which did move from Reid’s desk to Obama’s desk received a seal of approval. Mitch McConnell will clearly face an uphill battle with the President. But McConnell is reportedly fired up with plans to accelerate the review of stalled legislation, reinvigorate dormant Senate committees and generally run a tighter ship than Senator Reid. The Keystone Pipeline and Obamacare are reportedly at the top of the legislative agenda. The reshuffling of Senate leadership from Harry Reid to Mitch McConnell was tempered by the announcement that Harry Reid who was injured exercising on New Year’s Day would be taking an “indefinite” leave of absence. The 75 year old Reid who suffered broken bones in his face, three broken ribs and a concussion, was instructed by his doctors to stay away from the office so that his injuries can heal. The new minority Whip Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois stood in for Senator Reid during the official ceremony. But even with his injuries, Harry Reid is not backing down. He continues to maintain a full schedule and hold meetings with Senators, his staff and other key individuals. In fact he released a You Tube video where he referenced his days as an amateur boxer, stating that he didn’t get these injuries “sparring with Manny (Pacquiao)” or by “challenging Floyd Mayweather”, both professional boxers. Will McConnell and Reid be able to work together now that their roles have been reversed? That remains to be seen.
The House of Representatives also became a hot bed of activity with an eleventh hour challenge to unseat Speaker of House John Boehner (R- Ohio). A recent poll revealed that 60% of republicans are dissatisfied with Boehner’s leadership. Three representatives stepped up as candidate challengers to Boehner. They included Representative Louis Gohmert of Texas, Representative Ted Yoho of Florida and Representative Daniel Webster also of Florida. Boehner did eventually prevail and was sworn into his third term with 216 votes more than the 205 votes he needed to be in the majority. But 24 Republicans voted against him. This unprecedented opposition might very well have succeeded if not for the dozen absent Democrats who missed the vote because they were attending the funeral services of former Democratic New York Governor Mario Cuomo. Speaker Boehner did not take the opposition to his leadership lightly. Representative Webster along with fellow Florida Representative Richard Nugent were dismissed from the powerful House Rules Committee which oversees the legislative process including amendments and changes to bills before they arrive at the House Floor. And there has already been talk of others who voted against Boehner losing plum committee assignments including Representative Scott Garrett (R- New Jersey) who may at risk of losing his chairmanship of a Financial Services Subcommittee. Boehner’s immediate retaliations against those who voted against him will undermine his ability to bring together the GOP as cohesive force to pass meaningful legislation. This is hardly the way to kick off the first day of his third term as Speaker of the House.
President Barack Obama has also put another wrench in bipartisan cooperation with his statements that he would immediately veto both the Keystone Pipeline and the proposed GOP modification to the Affordable Care Act which ups the minimum full time worker definition from 30 hours a week to 40 hours a week. Once again, we have a President who is more concerned with his own agenda than the interests and welfare of the American people. The $8 billion pipeline which would carry more than 800,000 barrels of crude oil a day to the Gulf Coast enjoys strong bipartisan support. According to a December Fox News Poll, “68% of voters support building the Keystone XL Pipeline. That includes 53% of Democrats, 69% of independents and 85% of Republicans.” The pipeline which is already 40% constructed promises 42,000 jobs and is giant step towards US energy independence. On the Affordable Care Act, The White House has stated that President Obama would veto the GOP proposed legislation that would modify the definition of full time work from 30 hours to 40 hours a week because it fosters a situation where employers cut back on workers hours so that they do not have to offer them healthcare. Proponents of the GOP proposal say that the current 30 hour full time work week hurts workers because it creates an incentive for companies to reduce their hours to under 30 hours so that they do not have to pay for healthcare. With the traditional 40 hour full time work week, part time workers would have the opportunity to work more hours and earn more income. Once again, the President is being short-cited in his views.
While it is only the first day of the new congress, we are already seeing division and infighting on key issues. And we are witnessing President Obama holding firmly to the left. Let’s hope that our elected leaders can find a way to get past their differences to come together to develop and pass legislation which improves the quality of life for the American people. After all, they are in office to serve us.
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