Speaker, Top Republicans Visit Afghanistan

When Congress adjourns for a recess, most Members just race off to their home Districts. Not Speaker of the House John Boehner. He, a number of committee Chairmen, and a handful of other Republicans are on a trip to Afghanistan. Thus far, they have met with American military forces, including General Joseph Dunford, the head of the International Security Assistance Force, which supports the Afghan government. The also visited with the American Ambassador to Afghanistan, James B. Cunningham. This weekend, Afghan citizens will have the opportunity to vote in presidential and provincial elections. “Our continued commitment here in Afghanistan is critically important to provide the security that the American people deserve and expect”, the Speaker said in a video from the country. American forces have been in Afghanistan since 2001, following the 9/11 attacks.

National Journal: Boehner Heads to Afghanistan

Speaker.gov: Boehner Visit to Afghanistan Focuses on Nation’s Future, Democratic Transition, and America’s National Security

The Senate Slog

It’s raining in Washington today, but an even more dismal place to be is the Senate. The body is still reeling from the Democrats’ use of the nuclear option to eliminate the filibuster for Executive Branch nominees and non-Supreme Court Judicial Branch nominees. Republicans have retaliated by refusing to yield the debate time they are entitled to following a successful cloture vote, even if they do not intend to speak on the nomination. The friction boiled over to a heated exchange on the Floor last Thursday as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid tried to clear the decks before the Easter recess. Since the post-cloture debate time is currently vexing the Senate Majority, they could use the nuclear option to cut back on the time available one the cloture motion passes. Roll Call reported: “‘What you will have again is a slow building up of these violations of the comity of the Senate,’ one aide said. ‘And you’ll have, if it continues, the momentum again to make another rules change.’” Reducing post-debate time is not the only option the Democrats have, so it remains to be seen what they might do. Cutting back on post-cloture debate time would allow them to approve a glut of nominations before the end of the year, which would be gift to the Obama Administration in the event that the Democrats lose the Senate.

Roll Call: Nuclear Nominations Aftermath Slows Senate to Crawl

Polarizing Congress

The Senate Slog is just one episode in a greater drama of polarization and partisanship afflicting Congress. It is not surprising to see the legislative process going more slowly when the parties are further apart and when the Members generally vote in lockstep as they do today. Today polarization is at an all-time high, and Members generally do not stray from the party path. Polarization in Congress has steadily increased over the last few decades. In fact, in the middle decades of the last century, it was not unusual to have significant numbers of Members of Congress voting with the opposite party.

Washington Post: How Congress Became So Partisan, in 4 Charts

CBO: Budget Deficit Could Top $1 Trillion Within Next Decade

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its analysis of the Federal budget from fiscal year 2014 through 2024, and it predicts that the country’s deficits could grow to over $1 trillion within the next decade. The deficit as a percentage of the gross domestic product has been on a downward path since FY 2009, which saw a great increase in spending due to the stimulus. The deficit is set to decline further until at least FY 2015, when it is projected to stand at $469 billion. Following FY 2015, the deficit will likely rise and is estimated to hit $1 trillion in 2022. Although few would celebrate the report’s predictions of increased deficits, Democrats trumpeted the report’s findings that the Federal Government will pay less on health insurance premiums than expected. The CBO made these assessments based on the assumption that current law would remain in place; if the law changes, the actual budget figures will vary accordingly.

National Journal: Are We Heading Back Toward $1 Trillion Budget Deficits?

And for our latest post: Cracks in the Senatorial Saucer: Filling the Tree, Cloture, and Curtailing Senate Debate