Round One: GOP Majority in the House Pledges Frugality

The new Congress convenes on Wednesday and the Republicans aim to roll back part of the Obama legislation passed during the previous Congress.

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Amiel Ungar,

Capitol building
Capitol building


The 112th Congress doesn't convene until Wednesday, but the skirmishing has already begun. On the Sunday interview programs the Republicans, who regained control of the House of Representatives in the midterm elections, pledged to repeal the Obama administration's signature health care bill, unlovingly referred to as Obamacare.

The Republicans know that the direct route of passage through the two houses is an impossibility, as the Democrats still control the Senate. Even if they were able to secure enough Democratic defectors, Obama can head them off at the pass with a presidential veto. Therefore initiating the repeal bill in the house is more for demonstration than actual purposes,  but the Republicans hope to emasculate the health care program by legislative guerrilla warfare. This involves cutting off funding, hauling officials before investigative hearings as well as challenging the law's constitutionality before the courts.

The Republicans will make cuts in government spending, their major issue, because the position is popular and it unites rather than fragments the Republican Party. Additionally, the spending issue feeds into another popular conservative concern, the size of government. Incoming House Speaker Rep. John A. Boehner is convinced that downsizing government is the best way to ensure growth in the private sector.

A symbolic issue that will come up shortly is raising the debt ceiling. Right now the US borrowing limit is $14.3 trillion. This ceiling will be hit in a few months and if Congress does not raise the ceiling the US will default on its debts. Everybody realizes that the ceiling is going to be raised as the consequences of a US defaul,t both domestically and internationally, are incalculable. 

The Republicans will insist on something in return so that they will not be seen as backsliding on their pledge to get the US fiscal house in order. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham suggested that he would be willing to trade support for a debt ceiling increase for either a plan to rein in debt or a bipartisan reform of the Social Security system. The Social Security System has been considered an issue that one approached with trepidation as those who proposed tinkering with it usually sustained electoral retribution. That is perhaps why Graham favors bipartisanship on this issue. One option advanced by Graham would be to raise the retirement age.

Another area that will be closely watched is the battle between the House of Representatives and the Environmental Protection Agency. Noted conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer has claimed that in its attempt to legislate against greenhouse gas emissions,  the Obama Administration, already stymied during the last Congress, has attempted to compensate for its failure by using the federal regulatory agencies to do the same things proposed in the legislation.

The Republicans in general are more highly skeptical of the global warming theory. In any case they definitely do not believe that US businesses that are already in difficulty can handle the extreme costs entailed by mandatory cuts in CO2 emissions. This week they received ammunition from Japan that backed down on some of its environmental pledges as a result of pressure from Japan's manufacturing lobby.