Thune, Rodgers: Hershey Retreat Is About Unveiling ‘America’s New Congress’

Matt Vespa
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Posted: Jan 15, 2015 3:15 PM
Thune, Rodgers: Hershey Retreat Is About Unveiling ‘America’s New Congress’

Around 11:45am, South Dakota Sen. John Thune and House Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington State stated that this is the time to unveil “America’s new Congress;” one that pushes policies that builds a “healthy economy from the bottom up.” Economic growth, expansion of opportunities, and reinvigorating entrepreneurism seem to be some of the main themes at this retreat, along with immigration.

When asked if House and Senate Republicans would spend political capital to push tax reform, Sen. Thune said that depends on how much capital President Obama is willing to invest in pushing this initiative. Thune noted that there’s a lot of interest with his colleagues, they feel it will spur economic growth, and activity. But, it all depends if the White House wants to take the plunge with Republicans on it.

Rep. Rodgers added that Americans already know that the American tax code is too complicated, costly, and House Republicans are eager on streamlining the process and making it simpler.

Today, President Obama is calling on Congress, cities, and state governments to provide their labor forces with a week of paid sick leave; he will request $2 billion in new spending to pay for the initiative. If this new legislative push is successful, tens of millions of workers are poised to benefit from it (via AP):

Renewing a push for paid leave for workers, President Barack Obama on Thursday will call on Congress, states and cities to pass measures to allow tens of millions of workers to earn up to a week of paid sick time a year, the White House said.

He'll also ask Congress for more than $2 billion in new spending to encourage states to create paid family and medical leave programs.

In addition, Obama will take steps to provide federal employees with up to six weeks of paid sick leave to care for a new child. And he'll propose that Congress pass legislation to give federal workers an additional six weeks of paid parental leave.

Details on how Obama would raise the $2 billion to help states will be in the budget proposal the president releases next month, senior adviser Valerie Jarrett said Wednesday.

Obama wants Congress to pass legislation that has been sponsored since 2005 by Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., to allow workers to earn up to seven days, or 56 hours, of paid sick leave to care for themselves or a sick family member, obtain preventive care or deal with domestic violence. Under the Healthy Families Act, workers would earn an hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours they work. Employers that already provide paid sick time would not have to change their policies as long as the time earned can be used for the same purposes.

Obama will also call on states and cities to adopt similar legislation; some already have, as the White House noted in a fact sheet.

More than 40 million U.S. private sector workers don't have any type of paid sick leave, Jarrett said, meaning they lose pay if they stay home when sick or to care for someone who is.

Rodgers said they would look at the White House’s proposal. When ABC News’ Jeff Zeleny pressed Rodgers about House Republican support for the measure, Sen. Thune said that they welcome the White House to the debate; commenting that Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska, Zeleny’s home state, already has a good workplace flexibility bill on the table. He mentioned it was considered in the previous Congress.

NBC’s Luke Russert asked Thune about the prognosis regarding keeping DHS funded and operational. It’s a pervasive issue at this retreat, and Russert noted that Senate Republicans from bluish states might be hesitant to back the bill that came out of the House yesterday.

Thune laughed, and said, “The magic number is 60.” He also noted that after speaking with House Republicans, both chambers believe the president engaged in executive overreach; Senate Republicans will challenge that–the House has already done so. Yet, unlike the House, an appropriation bill from the Senate will be contingent on the 60-vote threshold. This is where legislative realism comes into play, which is said to be on the docket for discussion at this retreat.

In keeping with the DHS line of questioning, Thune and Rodgers were asked about the recent foiling of an ISIS-inspired attack on Capitol Hill. Twenty year-old Christopher Lee Cornell of Ohio was arrested by the FBI after he allegedly told an informant that he planned to detonate pipe bombs in the U.S. Capitol and then shoot members of Congress and their staff.

Rodgers noted that it highlights the threats America faces, her gratitude for the Capitol Police, all security entities that keep them safe, and the need to get the DHS bill funded.

As the two tried to leave the podium, they were asked about the problems the IRS would face come tax season due to cuts to their funding. Thune cited the IRS targeting scandal, noting there’s not much sympathy for agencies that participate in such irresponsible activities. Nevertheless, he noted that the IRS’ function of collecting taxes is important and that resources to carry out that mandate should be met in full.

At the same time, I don’t think the IRS is a government entity that ever had much popularity, even before the targeting fiasco.

As they tried to leave again, they were hit with a question about voting for a clean DHS funding bill. Thune said the discussions will continue, but he wants the opportunity for his colleagues to vote on it, like in the House, but noted that there could be different ways “to get the point across” to the White House over immigration.