Washington (CNN) - As Washington watches and prays for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Arizona, it remains a time of herculean issues and complex debate. Yes, we know it's a new, Republican House, but what did they actually do in their first week? There is a significant list, filled with change and easy-to-miss tricks.
Listen here or read below to see our breakdown.
This week, in the podcast we also look at how to erase government debt. We analyze, piece by piece, how one town government took car of a looming $1 million deficit. Finally, we check-in with a woman trapped in the maze of loan modification. If you want to understand the foreclosure mess, listen.
So, what did Congress do last week?
Senate: This is easy. The Senate met for one day (Wednesday) and then adjourned until January 24th. The battle is staged for a debate on the filibuster, but first, the Senate went back home.
The House: Three main things happened. Republicans changed House rules. The House voted to cut is spending. And lawmakers opened up the next health care debate. Let's get into specifics.
1. Rules changes.
Overall, Republicans made some 53 changes to the rules last week. Here are the most significant ones.
- The thee-day rule: It was a Democratic pledge (yes, it was broken), now it is an official House rule. Non-committee bills must be posted three days before the House votes on them.
- Committees: Must now post vote results within 48 hours, make text of bills/amendments available and provide both audio and video of meetings.
- "Cut as you go": Any proposal with a cost attached must cut that same amount of spending from elsewhere in the federal budget. Differs from Democrats "Pay-Go" because Democrats allowed members to propose tax or fee increases to pay for their bills.
Loophole alert: Republicans exempted the Bush tax cuts, a fix for the Alternative Minimum Tax and current estate tax levels from this requirement. The GOP does not consider tax cuts "spending." They argue it is money that belongs to taxpayers. However, by allowing tax cuts to happen without finding the money to compensate for them, this policy could add trillions of dollars to the national debt. Republicans have not yet said how they would offset the decrease in revenues specifically but say they believe that lower taxes boost the economy.
- Must vote on the debt: The new rules eviscerate the so-called "Gephardt Rule," which allowed congressmen to raise the national debt as a side effect of voting on other, budget legislation. Now House members will have to vote separately on whether to raise the debt. (Note: the U.S. is expected to hit the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling in early April or May.)
- Budget "super tsar": The rules give unprecedented power to House Budget Chair Paul Ryan, R-WI. He can now write the budget proposal on his own, without a vote from his committee.
2. Spending cut
The House voted 410-13 Thursday to cut its own office budgets 5 percent. The Appropriations Committee, known for its beefier staff and budget, will be cut 9 percent.
- Amount Saved: $35 Million.
- Cut per Congressman: About $75,000 or the equivalent of one staff member.
- Thirteen Congressmen voted "no" on the cut, all Democrats: Ackerman (New York), Clarke (New York), Conyers (Michigan), Ellison (Minnesota), Filner (California), Honda (California), Jackson (Illinois), Lee (California), Moran (Maryland), Payne (New Jersey), Schakowsky (Illinois), Towns (New York), Woolsey (California).
3. Health care debate, round five
The House voted 236-181 Friday to hold a least a day of debate on repealing the health care law, known as the Affordable Care Act. This sets up another eyeball-to-eyeball vote on the law, possibly next week.
Four Democrats voted with Republicans on the procedural vote Friday and are expected to vote for repeal itself.
Those were: Dan Boren, D-Oklahoma, Larry Kissell, D-North Carolina, Mike Ross, D-Arkansas and Mike McIntyre, D-North Carolina.
What do you think about the 112th House's first week? Any of the other rules changes I should add? Leave a comment.
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