Morning Action: Does Anything Really Separate Republicans and Democrats in Congress These Days?

HOUSE LEADERSHIP.  The Heritage Foundation’s Genevieve Wood explains House leadership has not earned our benefit of the doubt, which Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) N/A% the American people give them at CPAC Thursday:

And that is exactly the problem for many conservatives. They have a hard time pointing to exactly where the elected officials Ryan speaks of have earned such a benefit.

Even on smaller issues, the GOP establishment has laid down arms, putting what it thinks is good politics before good policy. From refusing to reform student loans to cutting deals on corporate welfare programs like the Export-Import Bank, promises made to reduce the size and costs of government have been broken.

Whether it was giving up the filibuster for presidential nominations last summer, surrendering in the battle to defund Obamacare last fall, passing a trillion dollar spending bill in January, or caving on the debt limit in February, the Republican establishment’s track record is not exactly inspiring.

UKRAINE.  House lawmakers are heading home today after starting some action on Ukraine (sub. req’d):

House passage of a Ukrainian loan guarantee measure, committee approval of a resolution calling for sanctions against Russia and executive actions imposing a visa ban on certain officials and other penalties — presage further action next week as Obama and Congress continue to react to Russia’s occupation of Crimea.

However, as CQ Roll Call’s Tim Starks explains, a number of other legislative options present dim prospects. For instance, the president wants to overhaul the International Monetary Fund’s structure in a way that he said would help the lender allocate funds to Ukraine. Republicans have previously resisted that move, and other possible measures could be stymied by partisan discord or tactical disputes. As such it is not clear how much more Congress will do beyond loan guarantees, potentially codifying Obama’s executive order or passing resolutions.

Among other examples, boosting natural gas exports to Ukraine is emerging as a key priority for Republicans in Congress, since that country has been reliant on Russia for its energy needs. But Democrats counter that the resulting drop in domestic supplies could kick up prices for U.S. consumers.

Moreover, CQ Roll Call’s Kate Ackley reports that new sanctions against Russia will affect what is only a modest trading relationship to begin with. 

APPROPRIATIONS.  Appropriators began meeting this week to set a timetable for fiscal 2015 spending bills (sub. req’d):

Top congressional appropriators began meetings this week to set an aggressive timetable for fiscal 2015 spending bills pointing toward markups in May and floor action over the summer.

Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) 5%, met with her House counterpart Rep. Harold Rogers (R-KY) 46%, Wednesday to coordinate when and how the two will shepherd the 12 annual spending bills through their respective committees and on to the House and Senate floors.

Mikulski said subcommittees will start marking up fiscal 2015 spending bills as early as May, and she will turn to full committee “markups and votes in late May and in June.” Some spending bills could be considered on the Senate floor as early as June, Mikulski said.

DOC FIX.  House GOP leaders may offset a bipartisan bill to change how Medicare pays physicians (sub. req’d):

House GOP leaders may offset a bipartisan bill to change how Medicare pays physicians with a delay of the health care law’s individual mandate penalties, forcing Democrats to take a difficult vote next week.

The move could also kill — at least for now – the hopes of many that Congress would find a permanent solution to the much-hated sustainable growth rate and move Medicare towards an improved payment system that rewards quality over volume.

Rep. Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX) 72%, announced the vote during a colloquy Thursday, saying the bill would be completely paid for, but that the offsets were still under discussion.

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