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updated: 7/19/2012 12:54 PM

Congress can't resist allure of presidential race

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  • Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney gestures during a campaign stop on Wednesday, July 18, 2012 in Bowling Green, Ohio.

      Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney gestures during a campaign stop on Wednesday, July 18, 2012 in Bowling Green, Ohio.
    Associated Press

 
Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- The Senate is spending this week debating, and summarily rejecting, Democratic-written bills to disclose the names of people who give more than $10,000 to help elect people such as, say, Mitt Romney, and to take away tax breaks from companies taken over by people such as, say, Mitt Romney, who move operations overseas.

Their latest effort, unveiled Wednesday, would make candidates for federal office, like, say, Mitt Romney, disclose any of their financial holdings in offshore tax havens, such as Bermuda or the Cayman Islands.

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Senate Democrats certainly aren't alone in devoting congressional workdays to bills attacking the other party's presidential candidate.

House Republicans last week voted to repeal President Barack Obama's health care overhaul. Next week, they plan to vote on freezing all of former President George W. Bush's tax cuts for another year, including those on the top 2 percent, whom Obama says should pay more. On Wednesday, the House passed a GOP bill ordering Obama to specify how many thousands of defense workers will lose their jobs if the deficit-cutting deal he and Republicans negotiated a year ago stands.

Congress is just two weeks away from a five-week August recess, with plenty of critical issues hanging over the Capitol. But neither party seems able to resist the allure of presidential politics. As tourists crowd the galleries to escape a record heat wave, lawmakers in both parties bash their opponents and push quixotic bills even as they complain about key work not being done.

On Wednesday, Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin and Carl Levin took the floor to speak out against the use of offshore tax havens and tout their bill to make candidates for federal office lay out financial holdings they or their spouses have in any offshore account. Both senators carried on, seemingly in earnest, never letting on that the legislation mirrored Obama's recent attacks against Romney's use of offshore bank accounts.

Legislatively, the Senate spent all day debating whether to debate Democrats' Bring Jobs Home Act, which would take away tax breaks for companies that outsource jobs overseas -- another Obama attack line against Romney. It prompted a withering reply from GOP leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

"What are we doing here? Is the Senate a messaging machine?" he said on the Senate floor. "Or are we doing the basic work of the government?"

McConnell may object. But his GOP colleagues in the House are hardly plowing through a nonpartisan to-do list.

House Republican leaders actually left the Capitol on Wednesday, walking a block to Republican National Committee headquarters, expressly to weigh in on the elections. Speaker John Boehner told reporters that Obama's criticism of Romney's business career and refusal to disclose more tax returns are a distraction from the administration's stewardship of the wobbly economy.

"The American people are asking, `Where are the jobs?"' Boehner said. "They're not asking where the hell the tax returns are."

Obama's questions about when, exactly, Romney left Bain Capital amount to an "attack on the private sector," Boehner said, and show that Obama "doesn't give a damn about middle-class Americans who are out there looking for work."

The House's official business Wednesday also seemed designed to put the president on the spot.

With an overwhelming 414-2 vote, Republicans pushed to passage a bill requiring Obama to lay out in full detail how he would implement nearly $1 billion in spending cuts next year -- half of them in Pentagon accounts -- agreed to last summer during the debt ceiling debate. Republicans are trying to use the issue against Obama, maintaining that any right-thinking commander in chief wouldn't undermine the military with deep defense cuts.

Republicans as well as Democrats backed the legislation that called for $487 billion in defense cuts over 10 years, plus the automatic cuts of about $492 billion in projected spending if a bipartisan congressional committee failed to come up with $1.2 trillion in savings. The panel was unsuccessful.

Wednesday's efforts from the GOP-controlled House came about a week after a bill to repeal Obama's signature health care legislation was rushed to the House floor for a vote. It passed on a largely party-line vote, but with full knowledge that the Democratic-controlled Senate isn't likely to even look at it.

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