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Get A Bill Passed, Mr. Speaker

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Republicans are 1-4 against President Obama, having lost two elections and two big showdowns with him. The only time the GOP won a round was after the blowout of 2010, and that win was limited in time –a two year extension of the Bush era tax rates.

There are at least three more showdowns with the president ahead, one of them in the immediate future as the debt limit looms. The president began this round last week, and was backed up in his posturing by Chuck Schumer. The president says he won’t negotiate over the debt limit. Schumer says “Yeah, that’s the ticket. No negotiation, unless taxes go up.”

Mitch McConnell has replied for the Congressional GOP and has done so forcefully, stating bluntly the tax hikes are over.

The Speaker has been silent and his leadership team has adopted his reticence.

The clock is ticking. The president and the Senate Dems are racing out to the same sort of lead that Alabama established last night. The House GOP has to get into the game, and soon.

Speaker Boehner has committed the House to return to “regular order.” I discussed this last week with Congressmen John Campbell and Paul Ryan and Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul and yesterday with Senator Pat Toomey.

“Regular order” means that the House will pass a bill, send it to the Senate and wait for its return in a wholly different form, or with slight amendment, and then summon a conference of House and Senate negotiators to hammer out the details pending final votes in both houses and then referral to the president for his signature or veto.

The promise to return to “regular order” comes as the Republicans in Congress prepare to confront the president over the country’s out-of-control spending binge. The president wants to raise the limit on the country’s credit card –the “debt ceiling”—and the Republicans won’t do that unless spending reforms are put into place, specifically, reforms of entitlement spending.

The following key reforms have been identified as key starting points for the return of fiscal sanity:

1. Conform Medicare eligibility with Social Security’s retirement age. Under existing law the latter is slowly rising to 67.

2. Raise both Medicare and Social Security eligibility to 70 over the next 13 years.

3. Reform the cost-of-living provisions of Social Security by substituting a “chained CPI” in the place of the current method of calculation COLAs.

4. Block grant Medicaid to the states at the current level and increase payments only via inflation adjustments, leaving the states to administer the medical assistance for the poor programs as best they see fit.

5. Limit food stamp eligibility to halt the explosion in numbers of individuals eligible for the program.

This is what the GOP must insist upon in exchange for a hike in the debt limit, but to proceed in “regular order,” this must be reduced to legislative language and debated, voted on, and hopefully passed and sent to the Senate.

The House GOP needs a bill. It needs actual legislative language that the Members can discuss and debate and which the public can respond to.

When that happens and a bill is passed and sent to the Senate, Senate Republicans can do their best to get their colleagues on the Democratic side to take the measure up quickly, but in any case the responsibility for avoiding a collision with the debt ceiling will be on Harry Reid’s shoulders.

There is no reason for the House GOP to delay another day, and the bill should be written and available for the House GOP “retreat” this coming weekend in Williamsburg.

This isn’t rocket science, and the staff is available to put the bill into legislative form, post it on the web, and schedule the debate for the week of January 14th.

The Republicans cannot hope to frame the debate until they build the frame. Every day lost is one that cannot be used to advance the cause of avoiding the debt crisis.

Joe Biden was willing to lead the party of sane Democrats, and once the House’s bill arrives in the Senate perhaps he can be tasked a second time to gather the dozen or so Democrats –especially those facing re-election in 2014—and force Harry Reid to confront the crazies in the Democratic caucus who have blocked every step towards dealing with this tidal wave of debt. But that won’t happen until the House GOP sends over the bill and the bill is specific and public.

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