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Posted at 06:00 AM ET, 07/16/2012

Tax cuts, DISCLOSE, sequester, oversight and the Veepstakes: 5 things to watch this week in Congress


(Cliff Owen - AP)
Consider this: The House has just 25 legislative days left on its calendar before Election Day. The Senate, which maintains a slightly different pace, has no more than 30 days left in Washington before voters head to the polls.

The schedules could change, especially as the end of the fiscal year approaches in late September, but there is precious little time left for lawmakers to complete any substantive work or score political points before they head home to campaign. So how does Congress plan to spend its time this week? Here’s a preview:

1. Tax-cut debate continues ahead of votes: The House and Senate won’t vote on Republican and Democratic proposals to extend the George W. Bush-era tax cuts until next week, but that won’t stop lawmakers from debating the issue this week. Consider what Sens. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) had to say Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“We have seen 28 straight months of job creation in the private sector,” Durbin said. “We want to continue it and build on it. And we believe that asking the top 2 percent of wage-earners in America to pay their fair share of taxes is not going to kill the economy. Instead, it’s going to make sure we move toward reduction of our deficit. The Republicans have failed to explain . . . how we can continue to give tax cuts to the wealthiest people in our country and realistically, honestly reduce the deficit. We can’t.”

In response, Kyl said Republicans “are not talking about giving tax cuts to anyone. All we’re asking is: Don’t raise taxes on all Americans. And especially don’t raise taxes on the people who create the business. When you say that the high-income earners, the top 20 percent, pay 90 percent of the taxes, what should they pay, 99 percent? These are the people who have enough money to invest in businesses and to create jobs. And the problem with the tax cut, or tax increase that the president is proposing, is that it falls directly on those job creators. Fifty-three percent of the income raised would come from those businesses. And they employ 25 percent of all of the people that are working in the United States.”

2. The DISCLOSE Act comes back to the Senate: A bill that would require corporations and labor unions to file disclosure reports with the Federal Election Commission for any donations at or above $10,000 faces an uncertain test vote Monday.


Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). (Charles Dharapak - AP)
The DISCLOSE Act, sponsored by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), would roll back aspects of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the 2010 Citizens United case, which permitted corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts of money on campaigns. The changes would not take effect until after the 2012 election cycle and would remove some requirements that television ads include a disclaimer identifying the ad buyer. The bill differs from a similar proposal introduced in 2010 that fell one vote short of the 60 votes necessary to proceed to final debate.

Democrats know that the new bill faces tough odds in a more divided Senate, but they plan to use any “no” votes against Republican senators facing tough reelection campaigns. Senate Democratic aides said they expect that at least a few Republican senators not facing reelection this year, including Olympia Snowe (Maine) and Richard G. Lugar (Ind.), might vote to move forward with the legislation.

But most Senate Republicans oppose attempts to curtail current campaign spending legislation, and the conservative Club for Growth said it plans to score the bill as part of future endorsements. The group said it is urging GOP senators to vote “no” on the measure because “this bill is an attempt to massively infringe upon the First Amendment rights of American citizens.”

3. GOP hopes to make Obama own the “sequester”: Virtually everybody in Washington agrees that automatic federal spending cuts due to take effect in January — commonly referred to as “sequestration” — need to be stopped. But nobody seems to agree on an alternative, and Republicans are stepping up efforts this week to force President Obama to own the political consequences of the agreement reached last summer as part of a deal on paying down the federal debt.

The House plans to vote on a bill that would require the White House to detail how it would implement the roughly $110 billion in Pentagon and non-defense spending cuts set to take effect in January. The Sequestration Transparency Act mirrors a proposal that has not advanced in the Senate, but is expected to sail through the Republican-controlled House.

Ahead of the vote, congressional Republican leaders on Friday pushed Obama to engage in negotiations to defuse the automatic defense cuts by sending him a letter that accused the White House of not planning for the cuts.

“Instead of ignoring the need to address this critical issue, we would respectfully request that you and your senior staff engage constructively with both parties to find common ground,” GOP leaders wrote.

Obama and top Democrats have said they also wish to avoid the spending cuts, but insist that they will do so only as part of a broad long-term deficit-reduction deal that includes cuts as well as new revenue from higher taxes on the wealthy.

Republicans hope the focus on defense cuts will hurt Obama in states with major military presences, including Virginia — where the president campaigned over the weekend — and Ohio — where Obama and Mitt Romney plan to devote considerable attention.

4. Republican oversight of the Obama administration continues: The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is turning its attention to political travel that the heads of 18 Cabinet departments and other agencies have taken in recent months.

The new line of inquiry, first reported by Politico, is seeking details on travel to political events connected to the president’s reelection campaign and the Priorities USA Action super PAC supporting Obama. Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said he is seeking the information in response to news reports about plans to use the Cabinet on the campaign trail and at political fundraisers. Previous administration have done much the same.

The Obama administration has until July 26 to fulfill Issa’s request. In response, White House spokesman Eric Schultz noted that the California Republican once criticized a Democratic investigation of George W. Bush’s administration that sought the same information he’s seeking.


Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.). (Cheryl Senter - AP)
5. The Veepstakes: Two of Romney’s potential running mates, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), appeared on Sunday television talk shows and dodged questions about their prospects.

Ryan told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that he doesn’t plan to answer any VP questions, “because it doesn’t do the Romney campaign any favors to speculate in this area. So I just don’t want to comment on it because I just don’t think it’s helpful to their campaign process.”

Ayotte wasn’t asked about her prospects, but did say on ABC’s “This Week” that she thinks former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice is qualified for the job: “She’s very qualified. She’s excellent. She’s tested.”

Other potential GOP running mates from Capitol Hill include Sens. Rob Portman (Ohio) and John Thune (S.D.), who dodge VP-related questions on a near-daily basis as they walk through the U.S. Capitol.

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