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Wednesday, June 12, 2024 | Back issues
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Gun Violence, Debt Ceiling Await 113th Congress

WASHINGTON (CN) - Pleasantries ensconced the first meeting of the House Judiciary Committee as lawmakers gear up for a 113th Congress laden with calls to reform gun and computer fraud laws.

Incoming chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., kicked off the Wednesday hearing with remarks to his predecessor, Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich.

"I want to continue, as I have been doing to members on both sides of the aisle, to reach out to you and say that I want to find ways that we can work together," Goodlatte said.

Behind the amicable offerings of cooperation, Republicans and Democrats are getting their ducks in a row to debate the issues that will define this term.

Fresh off of a strategy-building retreat in Williamsburg, Va., House GOP members criticized President Barack Obama's debt-ceiling rhetoric, while Democrats met this week to bemoan the growing epidemic of gun violence.

"A broad spectrum of witnesses at today's hearing, and at the hearing of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee last week, have proposed a number of ways for Congress to act to help reduce gun violence in our communities," Conyers said in a statement following a forum put on by the Gun Violence Prevention Taskforce, a group organized by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

"Based on those ideas, and the recommendations announced last week by the president and vice president, I call on Congress to act now, including adoption of these important priorities."

Democrats at the taskforce hearing said they want to require background checks for all gun sales, including sales between buyers and private sellers. They also called to re-ban semi-automatic assault weapons and ban high-capacity ammunition magazines for the first time.

These goals mirror several aspects Obama's planned gun-control legislation - a reported $500 million plan that he introduced earlier this month with 23 executive orders to curb gun violence.

One of these executive orders included an order to make more federal information available for background checks and unfreeze government research on gun violence.

A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said these recommendations will go to house committees of jurisdiction, "and if the Senate passes a bill, we will also take a look at that."

The House GOP appears more concerned with passing a budget and facing off against the Democratic-controlled Senate and a lame-duck president who publicly refused to compromise on the debt-ceiling issue.

"The American people do not support raising the debt ceiling without reducing government spending at the same time," Boehner said in a statement. "The consequences of failing to increase the debt ceiling are real, but so too are the consequences of allowing our spending problem to go unresolved."

Judiciary Committee Chairman Goodlatte reintroduced an amendment earlier this year to make balancing the budget a part of the Constitution. His last balanced-budget bill died in the Senate.

"A constitutional amendment will force Congress to eliminate unnecessary and wasteful spending and make the decisions necessary to balance the budget and eliminate the federal deficit," Goodlatte said in a statement.

The bill will head to Goodlatte's Judiciary Committee for review this session.

There was no reference to any issue facing Congress during the brief, first hearing of 2013.

Instead, the committee unanimously passed minor rule changes like notifying members two days in advance of amendments for bills scheduled for mark up. In a minor shift to subcommittee jurisdiction, the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice will now have jurisdiction over constitutional and legal reform issues. Chairman Goodlatte also announced the assignments for the subcommittees and their leadership posts.

"Brief and to the point," Conyers remarked after the conclusion of the hearing.

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