Why Wednesday will be ‘Another Tricky Day’ on Capitol Hill

October 28, 2013

In the words of The Who, Wednesday will be "Another Tricky Day" on Capitol Hill.


The Who frontman Roger Daltrey, performing at the Verizon Center last November in Washington. (Tracy A. Woodward/Post)

The House and Senate are back in town together for the first time since lawmakers voted to reopen the federal government, and this is the week that the results of the short-term deal brokered to end the impasse start playing out.

It's also the week that could cement good, bad or mixed feelings about the new federal health-care law in the minds of the general public, as the nation's top health official comes to Capitol Hill to explain what's gone wrong so far with implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

And why are we quoting The Who? Find out below -- but only after you read what else is up this week on Capitol Hill:

1. Kathleen Sebelius testifies: The secretary of Health and Human Services is scheduled to appear before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday morning. Expect the secretary to face a barrage of heated questions from Republicans and Democrats about the troubles with HealthCare.gov and other concerns with the implementation of the new health-care law.

Lawmakers of both parties declined to call for Sebelius's ouster when asked on Sunday political television shows whether she should be fired for overseeing such a troubled rollout. If she emerges from the hearing generally unscathed, the chatter about her future should die down. If she performs poorly, expect lawmakers of both parties to join the small band of Republicans already calling for her ouster.

2. House Republicans get an Obamacare briefing: After complaining that they were shut out of similar briefings for House Democrats last week, GOP lawmakers will receive a briefing from HHS officials Wednesday. There's no reason to believe that this briefing, combined with Sebelius's testimony, will silence the new law's critics or allay broader concerns about the health-care law. But if the briefing is cordial and if administration officials agree to give similar briefings in the future, perhaps the ill feelings will subside a bit.

It's important to note here that while the closed-door briefing will be one of the first for Republicans, House Democrats have been receiving regular updates from HHS officials since the spring. That's when many rank-and-file Democratic lawmakers first asked for briefings in order to learn about preparations for the new law and to share concerns they were hearing from constituents.

3. Budget conference committee: The bipartisan, bicameral budget talks required by the new short-term deal passed to reopen the federal government kick off Wednesday when House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) begin long-awaited public talks.

But don't expect any grand plans to end the nation's fiscal woes. Instead, expect all sides to focus on ending the automatic budget cuts known as sequester that both parties now agree must be replaced.

“It’s more appropriate to the moment we have to focus on common ground to see if we can produce some advancements there,” Ryan told The Post's Lori Montgomery last week.

That same day, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) told Nevada Public Radio that he also wants to focus on ending the deep budget cuts and dismissed as “happy talk” any speculation about another shot at a grand bargain.

So what will happen? That's still unclear, but the most important thing with these talks is that the two parties and chambers keep talking and that the deep disagreements between the sides don't once again compel leaders to end negotiation and creep perilously close to blowing through another short-term fiscal deadline.

4. Farm bill conference committee: Consider this the sleeper event of the week that could signal how strong the prospects are for lawmakers to ever start working again on substantial legislation.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank D. Lucas (R-Okla.) and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) will lead about 40 members of both chambers in talks to finally strike a deal on a new multi-year measure to set the nation's agricultural policy and spending on the federal food stamp program.

The composition of the conference committee -- a rare occurrence in the modern-day Congress -- represents myriad of political, ideological and geographic priorities for top congressional leaders.

The goal is to have a deal in place by Jan. 1, when the price of milk is set to rise to above $3 a gallon as federal agricultural policy starts rolling back to laws passed in the 1930s and 1940s. The more realistic outcome is that the conference committee strikes a deal that can be incorporated into the broader budget agreement set to be approved by Jan. 15 to avoid another government shutdown. (We'll share more from a recent interview with Lucas later this week in The Fix.)

5. Roger Daltrey (but really it's about Winston Churchill): As if there isn't enough happening Wednesday, The Who’s frontman is scheduled to be on Capitol Hill Wednesday to perform a tribute to Winston Churchill. Lawmakers will "Join Together" in the late morning to dedicate a bust of the former British prime minister in Statuary Hall.

"Roger’s performance is sure to guarantee that the Churchill bust receives the first-class welcome it deserves," House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said in announcing the performance last week.

So what does Daltrey plan to sing? We don't know. Maybe Boehner will ask him to sing "Cry if You Want?" Or perhaps Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) -- who inexplicably suggested last week that a House Republican mouthed off to President Obama in a closed-door meeting -- would want him to sing, "I Can't Explain."

Follow Ed O'Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost

Ed O’Keefe is a congressional reporter with The Washington Post and covered the 2008 and 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
Comments
Show Comments
Most Read Politics
Next Story
Chris Cillizza · October 28, 2013