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Posted at 05:10 PM ET, 06/10/2012

House begins its 7th week-long break of the year


(Cliff Owen - AP)

Folks griping about a lack of summer vacation time may want to run for a seat in the House of Representatives.

Lawmakers are out of town on a week-long recess (sorry, “district work period,” as GOP leaders call them). It’s their seventh full-week absence from Washington so far this calendar year.

In fairness, the Senate has spent taken five full week breaks away from Washington in 2012, but isn’t scheduled to break again until the week of July 4th — the same week that the House is scheduled for its 8th week-long break of the year.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who sets the schedule, has noted that the break/recesses/work periods are meant for lawmakers “to gain valuable input from their constituents at home.” The schedule of course also permits them ample time to raise money and campaign for reelection. (During the last recess, for example, many lawmakers of both chambers spent time in New York raising campaign cash.)

In an ultimately fruitless attempt to keep lawmakers in town, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) last week asked House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) to cancel this week’s recess in order to vote on a bill to extend middle-income tax cuts and work on other economic issues. By week’s end, House Democrats circulated a mock iPod playlist with songs that suggested Republicans were “shuffling the middle class” by leaving town. The list included “Leaving on a Jet Plane” by John Denver, “The Lazy Song” by Bruno Mars, “Summer Wind” by Frank Sinatra and “On the Road Again” by Willie Nelson.


A mock playlist circulated by House Democrats titled "House GOP Heads Home, Saving their Plans & Shuffling the Middle Class" (Dem Leader Press Office)

Republicans dismissed Pelosi’s request and reminded reporters that dozens of GOP-sponsored economic-themed bills already have passed the House this year — only to be ignored by the Senate.

Back home on the campaign trail, expect House Republicans to highlight Obama’s gaffe last week that the “private sector is doing fine.” (As The Post’s Chris Cillizza writes today, the comment will surely factor into Mitt Romney’s campaign strategy — and the message of GOP congressional candidates.) Expect House Democrats to focus instead on Romney's disparaging comments Friday of public sector workers and that the GOP is shirking their responsibilities by refusing to meet this week in Washington.

Student loans, farm bill in the Senate

This week could be a remarkably productive, bipartisan week for senators, or just the latest example of the partisan rancor hampering the legislative process.

Senate Republicans are reviewing a proposal by President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) to extend federally-subsidized college student loans before a June 30 deadline. Reid last week suggested that Congress pay for the extension by using two items already agreed to in the Senate’s one-year bipartisan highway funding bill: A change in how companies calculate pension liabilities, and increasing the premiums that businesses pay for federal pension insurance.

Obama supports the plans, but hasn’t discussed them specifically, only offering last week that “My message to Congress is: Let’s get to work.”

We should learn what Republicans think of Reid’s proposal at some point this week — and with less than 20 days left before the expiration date, both sides remain hopeful a deal can be reached.

Also this week, senators are scheduled to continue debating the new five-year farm bill, a bipartisan measure that would trim $23 billion in spending mostly by ending about $15 billion in direct subsidies to farmers.

Aides say Reid is expected to release a list of amendments to be voted on early in the week, and whichever proposals he opens up for a vote could determine how easily the measure passes.

Expect the farm bill debate to break down along regional, not partisan divides, similar to how things went in late April during debate on a bill to overhaul the U.S. Postal Service:

But GOP Senate aides caution that they will complain and possibly filibuster the farm bill if Reid attempts to control the amendments process, as he did five years ago.

Positive reviews for leak investigation ... so far

Leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees gave early endorsements Sunday to the Justice Department’s appointment of two special prosecutors to investigate recent national security leaks to news organizations.


House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.). (Rich Clement - BLOOMBERG)
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) called the plans a “good start, maybe,” and told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that he plans to closely track the investigation.

“We need to find out if they will have that independence,” Rogers said of the special prosecutors. “Can you have a U.S. Attorney assigned... through the Attorney General, investigate something that is clearly going to the most senior levels of all of the security, the DOD, Attorney General’s office and even the president?”

But Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) sounded more supportive, saying that “Hopefully it’s enough to get to a relatively quick disposition.”

Asked by CBS whether she thought the White House was behind the news leaks, Feinstein said, “I have no idea. No, I do not believe that.”

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced the appointment of the two special prosecutors late Friday, tasking them to lead criminal investigations into “possible unauthorized” leaks to reporters for several recent news articles and books. The FBI is conducting a separate probe and prosecutors from the Justice Department’s National Security Division will be involved in both inquiries, according to law enforcement officials.

Support for the new special prosecutors will prove critical, and any wavering by Rogers and Feinstein and their counterparts — especially Feinstein — could lead to more congressional or outside investigations and assure that the storyline continues up to and beyond the November elections.

Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Follow Ed O’Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost

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