President's New Term Doesn't Mean New Day In Congress
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
And I'm Melissa Block. Congress eased back into session today, its first working day of President Obama's second term. But at this point, its priorities bear little resemblance to the president's. Of the big issues he raised yesterday in his inaugural address, climate change, gay rights, immigration, school safety - none appeared to top the agenda of the GOP-controlled House or the Democratic-lead Senate.
Instead, as NPR's David Welna reports, Congress is still fighting several battles left over from last year.
DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: The Senate picked up today exactly where it left off nearly three weeks ago. By a twist of the rules, that chamber remains in its first legislative day. Majority Leader Harry Reid said today he's kept things at the starting point so that he and his fellow Democrats have the option of changing the rules on a filibuster by a simple majority vote.
SENATOR HARRY REID: The Senate will take action to make this institution that we all love, the United States Senate, work more effectively will consider changes to the Senate rules.
WELNA: Reid said he hoped to reach agreement with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in the next day or so on modifying the filibuster rules to make things work more smoothly. But if there's no agreement, Reid said he's ready to use what Republicans are calling the nuclear option, changing the rules with 51 votes instead of the usual 67 votes. Reid said the Senate's first order of business, aside from the filibuster maneuvering, would be to get final passage to a $60 billion disaster relief package for the victims of Superstorm Sandy.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Capitol, the House also came back in session.
REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: The House will be in order.
WELNA: House Speaker John Boehner gaveled in the session just days after he and his fellow Republicans decided to raise the debt ceiling enough to keep the Treasury meeting its obligations until May 19th. But as Colorado House Republican Scott Tipton noted, there would be a condition attached to such a short extension of the debt ceiling.
REPRESENTATIVE SCOTT TIPTON: That this House and our counterparts in the United States Senate actually pass a budget for the American people. If we can't do that, then we, as members of Congress, don't deserve to be paid. No budget, no pay.
WELNA: Senate Republicans applauded their House colleague's initiative. John Cornyn is the Senate's number two Republican.
SENATOR JOHN CORNYN: I want to congratulate the House for directing people's attention to the failure of the Senate under Leader Reid to bring a budget to the floor. And I think the appropriate sanction is no budget, no pay. That's just me talking, but I believe that's the - it sends a good message.
WELNA: Some Democrats say they're fine with having their pay docked if there's no budget, but Iowa Senator Tom Harkin says House Republicans are going too far.
SENATOR TOM HARKIN: I think that's ridiculous because their premise is that we haven't passed a budget, but we did, as you know, in the budget control act. We passed, as Senator Conrad can tell you, we are operating under limits right now. It may not be the, quote, "budget," but it is a budget control act and which we passed.
WELNA: Democratic Leader Reid emphasized the positive when asked about the House bill raising the debt ceiling which is to be voted on tomorrow.
REID: I'm happy to set us a debt ceiling with not entitlement cuts and dollar for dollar, so that's a big step in the right direction.
WELNA: The White House issued a statement today saying it will not oppose the short-term raising of the debt ceiling proposed by House Republicans. But spokesman Jay Carney said the president will not negotiate with Congress over the debt ceiling, either in the short term or the long term.
JAY CARNEY: The president takes some of the statements by Republican leaders and important and prominent Republicans about the absolute folly of pursuing a strategy that ties raising the debt ceiling to demands on spending cuts. The fact that it is folly, you know, we take heart in that because we believe it's good for the economy to cease that practice. We're not going to engage in it any more in three months than we were going to engage in it now.
WELNA: Carney added the president will address deficit reduction separately, as long as it's fair and balanced. David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.