David Hawkings, editor of the CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing, talks about the latest on Capitol Hill including why Congress isn’t on really on recess this month and the legacy left by former Sen. Mark Hatfield (R-Ore.), who died on Sunday.
Partisan fight keeping Congress from a full August recess
It's August, and Congress is usually in recess. But things are a little different this year. According to Hawkings, the republicans and democrats are in the middle of a partisan fight over the President's power to fill executive branch and judicial appointments while Congress is in recess.
If Congress is totally in recess, the President has the power to fill seats on boards and commissions, cabinet departments, and even on some courts through the end of the next Congress.
"It used to be done sparingly," says Hawkings. "But as the partisan gridlock in Washington has gotten more and more emphatic in recent years, the president has felt that he had to resort to doing it more and more often because his regular nominees weren’t getting confirmed. And this time the republicans say no more. We’re just going to technically prevent a recess, so that the president can't do this."
As a result, the House and Senate are meeting every three business days to until Labor Day.
Hawkings says because D.C. area lawmakers are guaranteed to be around, they're the ones who are likeliest to get the call.
"On Friday for example, in the Senate the only two senators who had a speaking part in that session were Ben Cardin of Maryland who acted the role of the presiding officer and Jim Webb of Virginia who actually made the motion that passed the FAA bill reauthorization bill that was the big story of the second half of last week. Mr. Harris of Maryland, freshman republican, got the job of presiding for all of eight minutes. And similarly, similar calls will go out to republicans in the House and democrats in the Senate from here on out."
S&P downgrade will not improve bipartisanship efforts
The big news of the weekend was Standard and Poor’s downgrade of the bond rating. The S&P said political gridlock was a factor in that new move.
Hawkings says the move will not help bipartisan efforts in the short-term.
"I think the only bipartisanship that exist in Congress today is bipartisan disdain for S&P. I think both sides agree that this was in their view an unhelpful to them, and sort of a political cheap shot, and of course, there's this criticism on the numbers S&P used to get to reach their conclusion."
Hatfield remembered as the last breed of moderate republicans
Members of Congress lost a former colleague over the weekend. Former Sen. Mark Hatfield of Oregon died Sunday at the age of 89.
According to Hawkings, Hatfield is being remembered as the last of a breed of moderate republicans.
He was the chairman of the appropriations committee, and was all about spending money in ways he thought was important, including health – the big NIH clinical building out on Rockville Pike is named after him.
"Hatfield casted the deciding vote that prevented a budget constitutional amendment from going to the states 15 years ago," Hawking says. "This was at the height of the last republican revolution – the Newt Gingrich revolution – and Hatfield casted the deciding vote against it. There was actually a move by conservatives to strip of him of that role as appropriations chair, but it failed because seniority won out back in those days."