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Legislative Updates: December 2012

 

Capitol Call

In mid-December Jim DeMint (R-South Carolina), elected to the Senate in 2004 after three terms in the House, announced his resignation from the Senate to become President of the Heritage Foundation, a leading conservative think tank. It is very rare for a sitting Senator to resign, but the current President of the Heritage Foundation has held the job since 1977, so this may have been an opportunity Senator DeMint felt he couldn't pass up.

Due to Senator DeMint’s departure, a Republican seat has opened up on the Senate Banking Committee in addition to the two openings on the Democratic side. According to multiple news reports, Senator-Elect Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) will fill one of the Democratic slots, but it is too early to tell who will fill the other two openings.

On the House side, three members have been named to the House Financial Services Committee (HFSC), along with two who are unexpectedly being removed. Congressmen Mick Mulvaney (R-South Carolina), Marlin Stutzman (R-Indiana) and Congresswoman-Elect Ann Wagner (R-Missouri) have all been named to the HFSC. Congressman David Schweikert (R-Arizona), former Vice-Chairman of the Capital Markets Subcommittee, and Congressman Walter Jones (R-North Carolina) were removed from the Committee because of "a range of factors," according to Speaker Boehner. Others speculate that the removals were caused by the members not voting for bills such as the FY 2012 budget or raising the debt limit in 2011. Whatever the reason for the removals, Speaker Boehner had clearly indicated that, after two years of fractured support, House Republicans were expected to support the decisions of their leaders.

The Republicans' support of Speaker Boehner was put to an early test when they were asked to vote on a package of potential tax increases and entitlement reforms resulting from the "fiscal cliff" negotiations with the Senate and President Obama. However, Boehner's latest "Plan B" was thwarted shortly before the holiday as his caucus refused to allow a final vote. As of Christmas, a compromise had not been reached.

While they are here in Washington, the House and Senate still have to fill their schedules, but they have not been busy holding hearings. Nevertheless, the HFSC is scheduled to hold oversight hearings on the economic impact of Title VII of Dodd-Frank and the implementation of the Volcker Rule, both of which were originally scheduled for the first week in December but were postponed because the House recessed for the week on Wednesday. The Senate Banking Committee held two hearings on housing issues this month and has not indicated if they will hold any more hearings this year.

As expected, the House and Senate Committees closed up shop after the first week in December and are waiting along with everyone else for the outcome of the fiscal cliff negotiations. Included among them is retiring Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-Louisiana), who recently told Roll Call that there just isn’t much for the rank-and-file members to do right now. He likened the fiscal cliff negotiations to the pope’s appointment by jokingly explaining, "And when they signal—sort of like the pope being elected. You know, when the white smoke comes out of the Capitol, then we can come back and execute the deal."

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