5 political stories to watch in the week ahead

Mgn Online
Sunday, July 14, 2013 - 4:29pm

A clash in Congress over Obamacare and a nasty filibuster fight over the president's nominees will make headlines in the week ahead, and two state capitals are in the national spotlight because of developments in the divisive battle over abortion.

1. Senate might go nuclear

Partisanship may reach new heights in the Senate on Tuesday. That's when Senate Democrats may move to dramatically limit Senate filibusters, over the angry objections of Republicans who warn the move would shatter any bipartisan cooperation in the chamber.

The Democrats, who hold a 54-46 majority in the Senate, have long threatened to use the so-called "nuclear option" to push through rules changes for filibusters of executive branch appointments. They argue that Senate Republicans have abused the use of filibusters to stonewall Obama administration nominees.

"I took Sen. (Mitch) McConnell at his word, said that he would only do this filibuster stuff under extraordinary circumstances. I guess being in session is an extraordinary circumstance," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Thursday.

Republicans argue they have cleared nearly all the president's executive branch picks and that the Democrats are playing politics and overstating the problem.

"This is really a sad, sad day for the United States Senate. And if we don't pull back from the brink here, my friend the majority leader is going to be remembered as the worst leader of the Senate ever," said McConnell, the Senate minority leader.

Republicans warned Democrats that they were on a slippery slope, as they may find themselves in the minority again. The Democrats are defending 21 of the 35 seats up for grabs in next year's midterm elections.

All 100 senators are invited to a meeting Monday night to discuss the controversy.

2. Another vote on Obamacare

The GOP-led House of Representatives is expected to vote on delaying two key components of President Barack Obama's health care law.

The move by House Republicans comes after the administration announced that implementation of a crucial part of the Affordable Care Act was being delayed a year. The requirement that businesses with 50 or more employees provide their workers with health insurance or face fines will now kick in at the start of 2015.

House Speaker John Boehner said his chamber would hold a vote on pushing back the employer mandate, as well as vote to delay by a year the implementation of the mandate that the vast majority of Americans must have health insurance or face fines. The individual mandate is the most controversial part of Obamacare. The law was passed in 2010, when Democrats controlled both houses of Congress.

"I believe it's unfair to protect big business from Obamacare but not individuals and families," Boehner said at his weekly news conference.

Since retaking control of chamber in the 2010 midterm elections, House Republicans have voted nearly 40 times to repeal or defund all or parts of the health care reform law.

The push for a vote on the individual mandate is seen as a deliberate political move by House Republicans to force their Democratic counterparts to go on the record in support of the president's health care policy, which could cause problems for some Democrats up for re-election next year in competitive districts.

3. N.C. abortion bill in Senate's hands

A restrictive abortion bill in North Carolina could become law in the week ahead. The state's GOP-dominated House of Representatives passed the bill Thursday by a 74-41 vote. The bill now heads to the state Senate, which is also controlled by Republicans.

The bill would place requirements on clinics that family planning advocates say would make it hard for them to stay in business. Among the requirements is the presence of a doctor when an abortion is being performed.

The measure allows North Carolina's health department to make temporary new rules for the state's 31 abortion clinics as it sees fit. It also prohibits government-administered insurance plans, such as those under the Affordable Care Act, from paying for abortions -- though it makes exceptions when a pregnancy endangers a woman's life.

Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, vowed to veto an earlier abortion bill passed by the state Senate, but says he won't veto the legislation passed Thursday by the state House. McCrory said during his 2012 campaign for governor that he would not sign any further restrictions on abortion into law.

4. Texas abortion bill goes to governor

A controversial measure that would place new limits on abortions in Texas heads to Gov. Rick Perry's desk.

The bill was just passed by both houses of the GOP-dominated legislature, amid protests by demonstrators on both sides of the abortion battle.

The measure would ban abortions past 20 weeks of gestation, require abortion clinics to become ambulatory surgical centers, tighten usage guidelines for the drug RU486, and require doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic where they're providing abortion services.

The bill was sidetracked last month thanks to a filibuster by a Democratic state senator, which captured national attention. That move led Perry to call a special session of the legislature so lawmakers could once again try to pass the bill.

5. Lights still burning after 24 years

Former President George H.W. Bush will be back at the White House on Monday, celebrating a milestone for a service initiative started in his administration.

Obama and first lady Michelle Obama will host the event to celebrate the 5,000th Daily Point of Light Award, according to the White House.

Calling volunteers who serve their communities "a thousand points of light" in his 1989 inaugural address, Bush went on to award Daily Point of Light awards to honor citizens who make a difference through their volunteer work. The Points of Light Foundation is now the world's largest service organization coordinating volunteer projects. Bush serves as honorary chairman of the nonpartisan, nonprofit foundation, and his son Neil Bush is the president of the organization.

"Monday's event brings together two presidents and families united in their commitment to growing volunteerism and service -- an issue with a long history of strong bipartisan support," the White House said.

Bush is excited about the milestone, spokesman Jim McGrath said. "It should be a special day for the service movement," McGrath said.

Former first lady Barbara Bush and other members of the Bush family will also attend.

The 89-year-old former president has battled health problems and was hospitalized last winter suffering complications related to bronchitis.

Bush also has a form of Parkinson's disease that affects his legs and requires him to use a wheelchair.  

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