This Week Could Blow the Lid Off Congress
Policy + Politics

This Week Could Blow the Lid Off Congress

REUTERS/Jason Reed

In recent years, Congress has shown a penchant for procrastination, demonstrated last month when lawmakers approved a plan to fund the government just hours before a shutdown would have taken effect.

Returning from a recess to face a stack of unresolved issues has become the new norm on Capitol Hill, but this week promises to be unlike anything ever seen, with potential, longstanding implications for the nation’s finances, the 2016 presidential race and the future of the House GOP.

Related: House GOP Hatches Harebrained Debt Ceiling Fix

Here are the three major developments to watch this week:

The Debt Ceiling
Lawmakers have ten legislative days to come up with a plan to raise the limit on how much the U.S. Treasury can borrow to pay debts already incurred before November 3 or face a first-ever default. Failure could spark a market meltdown and damage U.S. credibility around the world.

Raising the debt ceiling has divided Republicans in recent years, with House conservatives arguing any boost should be accompanied by cuts in government spending or other financial reforms. More recently, hard-right members contend any vote on the debt should wait until a new Speaker is elected.

Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) could try to bring a “clean” bill to the House floor, however this week lawmakers are going to vote on legislation that would prioritize a half-measure bill Treasury could make, thereby, technically, avoiding a default. It would certainly not satisfy the “un-prioritized,” including veterans, contractors and almost everyone else who receives government payments.

After months of anticipation, Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton will testify before the House Select Committee that is investigating the 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya.

Related: House Republicans Give Clinton Another Gift on Benghazi

Her long-awaited appearance on October 22 will be another major test for Clinton’s candidacy, as the panel’s seven Republican members will no doubt try to goad her into an outburst like the one she had in 2013 before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk last night who decided to kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make?” an exasperated Clinton said at the time.

Democrats have long accused the select committee of being a political investigation designed to hamstring Clinton’s White House bid, something Republicans have seemingly confirmed in recent weeks. In a Fox News interview earlier this month, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) hinted the panel was formed to hamper Clinton's poll numbers and Rep. Richard Hanna (R-NY) and former GOP staffer for the committee have also said the inquiry is all about politics.

On Sunday, select committee chair Trey Gowdy (R-SC) pushed back hard against the panel’s critics.

Related: Not So Fast, Paul Ryan—Some Conservatives Don’t Like Your Budget Deal

"I get that there's a presidential campaign going on, but I have told my own Republican colleagues and friends shut up talking about things you don't know anything about," he said on CBS’s Face the Nation. Clinton will have to stay on her toes throughout what could be a marathon hearing, conscious anything she says could wind up in a political attack ad, and hope for a stalemate.

The Next Speaker
Boehner had hoped to leave Congress at the end of the month but McCarthy’s unexpected decision not to succeed him – fueled in part by the fallout from his Benghazi comments – has left the chamber in chaos.

Moderate Republicans are begging House Ways and Means Committee chair Paul Ryan (WI) to seek the gavel, but the GOP’s 2012 vice presidential nominee has thus far given no indication he will run. Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL) who was endorsed by the forty-odd members of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus prior to McCarthy dropping out, is moving ahead with dark horse bid.

The other previously declared candidate, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chair Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) has said he would drop out of the race and back Ryan, should Ryan chose to run.

Meanwhile, nearly a dozen other House members have floated the idea of mounting a campaign, including Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX), the chair of the 170-member Republican Study Committee, but he too said he would bow out for Ryan.

But if Ryan takes a pass, it’s unclear if any of the wannabes have enough to support to get the necessary 218 votes on the House floor. Any candidate would have to break that threshold decisively and reach the dais with overwhelming support, if he or she has any chance of corralling the fractious House GOP conference.