A Rocky Start

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Sure, the handing over of power went smoothly and civilly. But Republicans are off to a tough first week and Dems are not letting them forget it – or so say the dozens of press releases in my inbox. Governing is always harder than being in the minority and there’s bound to be some period of transition – though it’s only been four years, Republican memories can’t be that short. Four reasons why the GOP’s first week in power hasn’t exactly been one of shock and awe:

New Minority Rights, Except on the First Bill
Republicans are getting hammered for breaking their own new rules with their bill to repeal health care reform: they’re bringing up a bill without any committee action, that increases the deficit and they’re not allowing any minority amendments.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor defended the move in a Tuesday press conference (note to Cantor staff: you might want to hold back some news when for big press conferences because if he’s just there to answer questions he has no answers to, he’s gonna get hammered and the resulting headlines will never be good):

The health care bill has been through this process – the bulk of the Congress prior was about the health care bill. This election was about jobs and the economy, and certainly the health care bill played a significant role. It has been litigated according to the American people, if you look at the polling on this.

While the latest Gallup poll shows that 46% of Americans want to see the bill repealed, it also shows that 40% do not – hardly a resounding rejection of the bill. Besides, going off poll numbers is hardly a great measure for passing unilateral legislation: another recent Gallup poll found that 67% of Americans support repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell but that didn’t stop congressional Republicans from overwhelmingly opposing it.

Don’t shoot the CBO
Whilst on the subject of health care reform, when asked if Republicans will get their own score on the health care bill Cantor on Monday lambasted the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.

What we do know is the CBO fulfilled its role according to the rules set by this Congress, and it looked at the paper that was presented before them. We all know that the bill that was passed by the Democratic Majority was full of budget gimmickry.

Blaming the CBO is a common bipartisan pastime – especially estimates done whilst the other Party was in control. But, it’s unusual for the Party in power to attack a CBO score of one of its bills, which is exactly what happened Thursday when the CBO estimated that repealing health care reform would add $230 billion to the deficit. Speaker Boehner responded:

I do not believe that repealing the job-killing health care law will increase the deficit. CBO is entitled to their opinion, but they’re locked within constraints of the 1974 Budget Act. Listen, even the actuaries at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid have made clear that this bill will not save the kind of money that was predicted earlier.

I don’t imagine Boehner wanted to spend his first press conference as Speaker arguing over the hypothetical bias of the non-partisan CBO.

When we said 100, we really meant 50
Republicans also scaled back on their pledge to cut $100 billion from non-defense discretionary spending from the federal budget. By the time the current continuing resolution expires, Republicans argue, the fiscal year — which ends in September — will be half over.

Cantor also seemed to back pedal from their pledge not to cut military spending (not surprising given that Defense Secretary Robert Gates himself this week proposed nearly $80 billion in cuts). “I think most of us have said everything is going to be on the table,” Cantor said.

Oops – I really do have to swear?
Despite the GOP’s elevation of the Constitution – reading it aloud on the House floor for the first time ever – the Party was embarrassed when it turned out that two of their own members were not officially sworn in: Pete Sessions of Texas and Pennsylvania’s Mike Fitzpatrick.

The snafu forced the Rules Committee to break in the midst of considering the health care repeal and for the pairs’ six votes during the day to be invalidated. The two were at a fundraiser for Fitzpatrick in the Capitol Visitors Center during the swearing in – Sessions is the head of the National Republican Campaign Committee.