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Congress Returns To Center Stage


Congress returns this week after a half-month recess. Polls show lawmakers aren't getting a lot of love these days, and lately they haven't been getting much attention either, not with all the jousting going on in the GOP presidential primary. But now that Mitt Romney is on the glide path to the Republican nomination, we'll likely be hearing more from Capitol Hill, where the subtext is bound to be the November election. Joining me to talk about what's ahead for Congress is NPR congressional correspondent David Welna. And David, first week back after the Easter break, what should we be watching for? What's going to happen?

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Well, Rachel, like it or not we are now on full campaign season. So, the spectacle we'll be watching for months to come in Congress is a raging debate over which party should be in charge next year. Much of what Congress does in the coming won't be so much about getting legislation signed into law. Instead, nearly every hearing, floor debate and vote here is almost certain to be about forcing opponents to take stands that will later be fodder for TV attack ads.

MARTIN: So, what does that mean? If everyone's already politicking in anticipation of the November elections, does anything get done?

WELNA: Well, they will be doing things, and the first horse out of the gate here, so to speak, is a big hearing tomorrow on a scandal that broke just as Congress left town last month. It's that lavish Las Vegas convention bash in 2010 where civil servants working for the General Services Administration ran up a tab of more than $800,000 on things like special commemorative coins, assembling bicycles and even hiring a professional clown. Darrell Issa, the Republican who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee called the hearing, and he's already released video of some of the antics at the convention.

MARTIN: OK. So, that's House Republicans. What do the Democrats in charge of the Senate have planned?

WELNA: Well, they have a big make-or-break vote tomorrow on bringing up what they're calling the Paying of Fair Share Act. That's a bill that's essentially codifying into law what President Obama's called the Buffett Rule, which says that anyone making more than a million dollars a year will have to pay at least 30 percent of that in federal taxes. Now, Republicans solidly oppose this tax hike, which would affect only about 22,000 filers. So, it's not going anywhere in Congress this year, but that's not the point. The purpose of this bill is for Senate Democrats, whose chief concern now is to hang onto their majority, to be able to say that we hear the clamor out there for more tax fairness and Republicans don't. And just as importantly, it keeps a spotlight on the fact that Mitt Romney only about a 14 percent tax rate on tens of millions of dollars on income this year and last year.

MARTIN: OK. NPR congressional correspondent David Welna. David, thanks so much.

WELNA: You're quite welcome.


MARTIN: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.