This week, Congress was set for a rhetorical battle over healthcare reform and federal spending. But partisanship, at least within the Capital, has taken a back seat to national grieving. In response to the shooting in Tuscon, Arizona, which left six people dead and Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in critical condition, Congressional leaders have delayed all major votes until at least next week. [Photo Gallery: Gabrielle Giffords Shooting in Arizona.]
On Wednesday, Congress didn't debate a bill to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, even though it was initially scheduled for a vote. Rather, members of Congress came together to support a resolution honoring Giffords, as well as the others who were wounded or killed in the attack. House Speaker John Boehner choked back tears as he recalled one of those who lost his life -- Gabe Zimmerman, one of Giffords' Congressional staffers. "Like us, Gabe swore an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution," Boehner said. "At the time of the attack, he was engaged in the most simple and direct of democratic rituals: listening to people, to his neighbors." Boehner was joined by fellow Republican and Democratic Congressional leaders.
The House leadership has yet to announce when it will return to regular business. "This institution has an obligation to move forward doing the business of the people at the appropriate time," says Laena Fallon, a spokeswoman for Majority Leader Eric Cantor. The Senate was already scheduled to be in recess until January 24th.
Whether Congress can maintain a civil tone--or whether it will backpedal into partisan rancor--once regular business resumes remains to be seen. Congress will likely eventually take up repeal of healthcare reform. The bill will likely be mostly symbolic, as it has a slim chance of being approved by the Senate or President Obama. Congress will also likely soon take up the federal budget, as appropriations to the government are set to run out on March 4. At about the same time, Congress will also have to decide whether to raise the debt limit, which allows the Treasury to borrow money. Republicans have insisted that any votes to continue government funding and raise the debt ceiling also be accompanied with budget cuts.
But the shooting may swing Congressional debate away from the budget and towards other issues, such as gun control and decorum in politics. Already, two members of the House have proposed stiffening some gun control laws after the shooting. New York Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, a Democrat, proposed a ban on high capacity gun magazines. Critics claim that those gun clips, which were previously forbidden by the expired Assault Weapons Ban, make it easier for a gunman to target more victims. New York Rep. Peter King, a Republican, has also proposed a law which would ban firearms within 1,000 feet of an elected official. [Read more about gun control and gun rights.]
Rep. Bob Brady, a Pennsylvania Democrat, has also proposed expanding the current law against threats to the president to include members of Congress. The shooting initially provoked many lawmakers to question whether political rhetoric has become too heated--although there is little evidence that the alleged shooter, Jared Loughner, was influenced by current political debates.
- See photos of the aftermath of the shooting.
- Read more about the Arizona shooting and Gabrielle Giffords.
- Take the poll: Is Political Rhetoric To Blame for Arizona Shooting?