In other news: Debt-limit debate isn’t only story on Capitol Hill


Director for National Intelligence James Clapper, left, and FBI Director Robert Mueller talk during the White House launching of the Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime on July 25. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)
August 1, 2011

In recent years, Congress has appeared to lurch from one major legislative drama or crisis to the next, with little room for subplots. But even as the debt-ceiling debate hogged the focus on Capitol Hill in recent weeks, the House and the Senate managed to do — or not do — at least a few other notable things, any one of which might have been a bigger story under other circumstances. So if you’re just reemerging from the debt-limit cave, here’s what you missed:

● Rep. David Wu (D-Ore.) announced he would resign after it was reported that a young woman had called his office alleging that she had an “unwanted sexual encounter” with him. That actually did manage to make the news even amid the debt debate. But the relatively small amount of coverage Wu received compared with that of then-Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) two months earlier was striking, particularly because the allegations against Wu are potentially much more serious.

Wu did say he would resign — but only after the debt-ceiling debate ended. That made things awkward for Democratic leaders, who wanted him gone as quickly as possible but who benefited from having him stick around to vote against Republican House Speaker John A. Boehner’s debt bill last week. But then Wu surprised everyone by voting against the proposal of Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid, one of just 11 Democrats who did so.

● Somewhat lost in the inability of Democrats and Republicans to agree on the debt ceiling was that they also couldn’t agree on reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA impasse did make some headlines, but the furlough of thousands of federal employees and the halt of major construction projects because of a partisan fight would surely have made a bigger impact — as a symbol of congressional dysfunction — if it hadn’t been overshadowed by a much larger one.

● The House debated but then punted a bill that would fund the Interior Department. Why? Because the debt debate got in the way, and because members were lined up with a seemingly endless series of amendments for the measure that covers so many hot-button environmental issues. It’s likely to come back to the floor in September.

● The House also put off — probably for months — an appropriations bill that covers the Treasury Department as well as the District of Columbia and several other items. Among other issues, that legislation got caught up in a jurisdictional dispute between a pair of House committees — the measure would block funding for the “individual mandate” in President Obama’s health-care law, and the House Ways and Means Committee considers that an intrusion on its turf.

● The House did pass one spending bill in late July — to fund itself. The chamber moved its legislative branch appropriations bill, cutting funding for congressional operations by 6 percent compared with last year. Democrats tried to add a provision to block the use of Styrofoam in House cafeterias. That didn’t work. Republicans sought to include language that would prevent the House from using most compact-fluorescent light bulbs. That failed, too. The House will continue to be a brightly lit, foam-friendly chamber.

Five House-passed spending bills now await action by the slower-paced Senate. But the debt-limit deal may require all of them to be rewritten with lower price tags.

● Congress changed the law to allow Robert S. Mueller III to stay on as FBI director, and then the Senate confirmed him unanimously. If he’s that popular, maybe he should have been enlisted to help with the debt-ceiling debate.

● Elsewhere on the nomination front, the Senate confirmed Leon Panetta as defense secretary and David H. Petraeus as CIA director in June. The chamber also confirmed a pair of district judges in July and approved Gary Locke to be U.S. ambassador to China.

But the White House decided not to pick Elizabeth Warren to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in the face of Republican opposition. She is now considering a run against Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.). Obama nominated Richard Cordray for the CFPB post instead, and Republicans said they’ll block him, too.

● A citizens commission in California released a new congressional map that — barring legal challenges — is nearly finalized and would draw close to 30 current lawmakers into districts with other incumbents. Several members will have to retire or face tough primary contests. A state that has been one of the least electorally competitive because of gerrymandering could be the most entertaining locale on the 2012 map.

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