U.S. Rep. James Lankford looks at battles of budget, federal unemployment policy and the Senate stall

Tuesday, after the annual observance of Martin Luther King Day, Congress will return to work. Many members hope 2012 will be more productive than 2011, including U.S. Rep. James Lankford of Oklahoma City.

The Republican House member, starting his second year of service in Washington, discussed with CapitolBeatOK what he said were likely to be “the first two things out of the box.”  

One will be “the budget – concerning the process of preparing the budget for 2013. That will be finalized by the end of March.”

The second matter at the top of the list, but actually “ the first thing a lot of people will see come out, as far as a piece of legislation, will hopefully be dealing with this extension for the rest of the10 months on unemployment – on social security payroll tax piece; and then also what is called the Doc Fix’, which deals with Medicare recipients, and the refunding that goes back to doctors.”

Lankford reflected on a battle that defined much of the latter part of the year, saying, “The Senate sent over the version that was much disputed in December. The House sent over the version that was for a full year. … The Senate sent over the version for just two months.

“Then, there was all that in-fighting in between to figure out how we were going to get this resolved. The Senate wouldn’t budge, so we ended up with a two-month extension. That’s got to fixed, so that we’re not continuing to tax policy 60 days at a time, but instead a year or more at a time. That’s what is to be resolved. We’ll do that quickly, after we get back into session – I hope.”

Lankford is considered a strong conservative, albeit one who has quickly developed a reputation for hard-headed realism. Ask if either, or both, of those might actually happen in the first three months of 2012, he replied that at least in the House, “The budget is going to be passed.”

Lankford serves on the House Budget panel with Chairman Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican. He disclosed, “We’ve already had multiple conversations. We’re going to work the budget through and get that done by the time we get to the end of March. I’ve got very high hopes on that.”

However, he cautioned, “Whether the Senate picks up on that, I have doubts. By the time we get in, with the State of the Union on January 24, the Senate has not done a budget now in a thousand days. That’s when Democrats were leading the House, and when Republicans were leading the House.

“The Senate has failed to do a budget, at all. Not even through committee, much less passed the Senate. So, I’m very pessimistic on them picking up and doing one this year, during a presidential election.

“On the other side of that, the unemployment piece, and the social security/Medicare payroll tax extension, and the ‘Doc fix,’ we have to get those things resolved.”

Lankford contends that among House members, “There is common agreement that we have to get this done for the full year. We do not understand why the Senate would only do it two months at a time.  It is much better to do that a full year at a time than it is to do only 60 days at a time.

“Now, the House proposal that we put on the table in December was a reform of the unemployment insurance, to get more flexibility back to the states, to be able to have more ideas of how they’re going to do that.

“Whether they’re going to require that someone is working toward a GED if they don’t have one, or do additional training and other job skills if they’ve not taken that on to be able to sharpen their skills, to give [states] more flexibility to make more decisions as a state, how that is managed.”

As for the unemployment compensation reforms, “That is one of the things the Senate flatly rejected. We think that is a positive idea, and it allows Oklahomans to give good ideas to help people get into employment, rather than just getting unemployment checks.”

“We’ll see how that process works. I’m less optimistic about that, but I am optimistic that something is going to be done.”