Congress. Remember Congress? With all focus on political news it may have been easy to forget that when lawmakers return to work they have just a few weeks to find agreement on extending the payroll tax holiday, unemployment benefits and the so-called Medicare "doc fix."
It will all be in the hands of a select bipartisan, bicameral conference committee (this one, however, is not "super"). And although no real work has started, Democrat Sen. Bob Casey said he's had some conversations with colleagues over the break, and has set up more for their return.
The four Senate Democrats on the panel met in person just after the New Year to discuss the challenge ahead, Casey said in a brief phone interview Friday. He said they didn't get to nonnegotiables or specific demands.
"We didn’t get to the point where we had an outline that was definite, but we walked through in some detail each of the major elements of what we have to deal with," he said. "I don’t think we had a hard and fast consensus other than we have to get this done."
Everyone has his or her strengthens and passions to take the lead on, he said. Casey's is the payroll tax credit component, which he sponsored in the Senate. He said he'll resurface his idea to offset the credit with a surtax on wealthiest Americans, something that was deflected by Republicans last year.
"I have no allusions about the challenge. …don’t know where that will go, but there's no reason to not have that discussion again," he said.
There's some cynicism that this committee, like others that tried and failed at similar, albeit larger, tasks last year will be unable to find consensus. When both chambers are back and working in Washington, they'll only both be in January at the same time for four days. The payroll tax holiday extension expires on Feb. 29.
But Casey said it's not the calendar that makes him uneasy. "I’m not as concerned about time as I am the willingness people will have to work together," he said. But he's already planned a sit down with Republican lawmakers when they return. He's heartened that he already has a relationship with GOP Rep. Kevin Brady through their shared responsibilities on the Joint Economic Committee. And he has a bond with Wyoming GOP Sen. John Barrasso because he is from Reading.
There's one other Republican who Casey plans to reach out to: Pennsylvania's freshman Sen. Pat Toomey. Toomey garnered national attention for his public role on the failed supercommittee. Casey hopes his colleague can provide some advance guidance.
"I think in the old days it used to be more customary to have people locked in a room of different parties, but now it’s not as customary," Casey said. "I want to get his insights from having served in a similar capacity."
The Senate reconvenes on Jan. 23.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times