Monthly Archives: December 2009

Capitol Decisions

Weekly Legislative Report May 14, 2010

An assortment of other policy items were also included in the manager’s package, including a provision by Senator Christopher Bond (R-MO) that would require the director of national intelligence to submit to the congressional Intelligence committees a report on the lessons learned from the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group.  Language from Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), which was incorporated into the manager’s package, would require the Transportation Security Administration to check the “no fly” passenger list within 30 minutes of the list being updated.

Senator Robert Bennett (R-UT) offered an amendment, adopted by voice vote, which would prohibit NASA from terminating contracts for the Constellation program, which the Obama administration has proposed rescinding.  The bill also includes $22 million to reduce an accumulation of unresolved cases at the Mine Safety and Health Review Commission.  Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) pushed for the funding after 29 coal miners were killed during an explosion at a West Virginia mine last month.

Appropriations Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee Chairman, Tom Harkin (D-IA) and several other Senators gave notice of amendments they plan to offer on the floor.  Harkin wants to include $23 billion in aid for states in order to avoid hundreds of thousands of teacher layoffs.

The overall bill was approved 30-0, and would meet the president’s emergency request for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, disaster response and foreign operations.  It would provide $45.4 billion in discretionary funding, as well as $13.4 billion in mandatory funds to compensate Vietnam War veterans exposed to the chemical defoliant Agent Orange.

The Department of Defense would get $33.4 billion, which would fund 30,000 additional troops in Afghanistan.  It would also provide $2.6 billion for operations in Afghanistan and $1 billion for the Iraq Security Forces.  The bill would also provide $4.9 billion for procurement.  Democrats like Vermont’s Patrick Leahy and Maryland’s Barbara Mikulski voted for the bill despite concerns over continued war funding.  The Federal Emergency Management Agency would receive $5.1 billion to pay for costs of past disasters, including Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the Midwest floods of 2008 and California wildfires.

The State Department would get $6.2 billion for operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Haiti would get $893 million in aid to help recover from January’s earthquake, with an additional $465 million set aside for international disaster assistance.  The bill would also provide Obama’s request for $219 million to cancel existing debts owed by Haiti.

After the markup, Inouye said the timing of a floor vote on the measure was uncertain, but is confident it will be taken up for consideration and passed before the recess.

Budget

House members continue to argue over the tardy budget resolution, with Republicans charging that Democrats have acknowledged there will not be a resolution this year. Democrats maintain that budget talks are still in the works.

Republicans attacked comments made by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) yesterday when discussing the chamber’s upcoming schedule.  In his weekly floor colloquy, GOP Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia asked Hoyer about Democrats plans to consider a budget resolution.   Republican staff members have interpreted that by excluding any mention of a budget, which Democrats were instead working on a “deeming” resolution to set a top-line discretionary spending cap for the year that would allow appropriations bills to move forward without a budget resolution.

The fiscally conservative “Blue Dogs” and House liberals are at odds on where to make cuts on discretionary spending, delaying progress on moving the budget.  Liberals are open to cuts as long as spending is reduced across the board, while the Blue Dogs have resisted cutting defense spending.  Democrats insist that talks are in the works, and that there is still a possibility they will be able to agree on a budget.  A Democratic aide said that Hoyer and Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt had held a constructive meeting Thursday regarding the budget, which could allow Spratt next week to distribute some proposals in order to get House Democrats on the same page.

Republicans have criticized Democrats management of fiscal matters because of their lack of progress on a budget. 

The Senate Budget Committee adopted its $3.7 trillion resolution (S Con Res 60) on April 22, and leaders have said they would like to bring it to the floor for a vote.

Washington Outlook

Next week, the Senate will complete the final stages of their work on the financial regulatory bill, while the House is expected to proceed on a stalled tax extensions measure and a science bill that was pulled off the floor this week.

In the House, a modified version of the American Workers, State and Business Relief Act of 2010 (HR 4213) is expected to come to the floor next week.  Democratic tax writers have spent weeks attempting to hash out differences between versions that passed in each chamber, with their ultimate goal being to revive and extend tax breaks and social safety net programs through 2010.

Although the package has not been finalized, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said it will likely include the Build America Bonds program and a summer jobs program.  It also will include extensions of long-term unemployment insurance and health insurance assistance for jobless Americans, as well as several tax credits for individuals and businesses that both chambers have backed.

The House is also likely to address the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 (HR 5116) that would reauthorize science and technology programs.  The measure was pulled from the floor on Thursday after Republicans successfully moved to considerably cut its funding levels and added language to prohibit the use of funds to pay the salaries of government employees who have been disciplined for using work computers to look at pornography.  The bill aims to improve U.S. economic competitiveness through federal support of various science and technology education and research programs.  It would authorize funds for the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Standards and Technology, and certain Energy Department research programs.

The Senate seeks to complete the Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010 (S 3217) by next week.  In order for Democratic leaders to complete work on the measure, Reid could possibly file a cloture motion on the bill as early as Monday, in order to cut off debate and block unrelated amendments.  The Senate could also consider the tax extenders legislation when the House completes work on the measure.

Before leaving for the Memorial Day recess, the Senate may also request to move an emergency supplemental spending bill (HR 4899) that the Senate Appropriations Committee approved Thursday.

 

###

Capitol Decisions

Weekly Legislative Report May 7, 2010

Along with the funding for war costs and FEMA, the white house has requested an additional $4.5 billion for the State Department’s work in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq; $2.8 billion for Haiti earthquake recovery activities; and $4.3 billion for two legal settlements involving the U.S. government.

Reid warned senators Tuesday that they should clear their schedules for the first week of the August recess.  The Senate is currently slated to begin the month long summer break August 9th.  Reid explained that he is trying to urge senators to finish action on an overhaul of the financial regulatory system (S 3217) by the end of next week.  That bill is making slow progress on the floor, and prolonged debate could make it even more difficult for Reid to advance his extensive agenda. 

Economy

Thursday, Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus told panel members that a $10 billion-plus package of small-business incentives could be ready for a markup by next Wednesday.  However, the measure could become an enticement for unrelated provisions that Baucus would prefer to deal with separately.  Some of the issues could range anywhere from China currency legislation to the estate tax.  Democrats remain concerned about the imminent expiration of lower tax rates for the middle class enacted in 2001 and 2003.

For years, small manufacturers have disputed that China’s undervalued currency pushes down the price of their imports, and in turn takes market share away from U.S. firms.  Treasury Secretary Geithner has promised to work out a deal with his Chinese counterparts, but Senator Schumer (D-NY) remains apprehensive.  Aides said it would most likely get enough votes to be approved in the Finance Committee.

Then there is the lapsed estate tax, which without action, will return to 55 percent next year.  Senate Minority Whip Kyl and Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Blanche Lincoln are pushing to lower the rate to 35 percent and raise the exemption from the 2009 level of $3.5 million per spouse to $5 million.  Yesterday after the Finance meeting, Kyl and Lincoln made it clear that they want assurances on a plan for considering the issue.

Earlier in the week, Baucus indicated he wanted to get the small-business bill through the Senate by Memorial Day.  Acting House Ways and Means Chairman Sander Levin said he thinks both chambers can agree to pass the bill, as well as a massive package of unfinished business, including tax extenders, unemployment insurance, Medicare physician payments and other items.  House Democratic leaders want the latter bill on the floor within the next two weeks, Levin said, although there is some confusion about whether it needs to go back to Ways and Means for a markup next week.  Speaker Nancy Pelosi said a markup next week would occur, but Levin said the process has not been decided.

Environment

Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Joe Lieberman (D-CT) announced today they will unveil their climate and energy plan Wednesday without their fellow co-author, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC).  The Democratic Senators credited their partner with being a vital asset to creating balanced legislation that will gain bi-partisan support and help the country become more energy efficient.

But Graham believes that between battling the immigration issue with and continuing the investigation and efforts to address the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill, it is poor timing to push a climate and energy plan.

Lieberman said Thursday that due to the Gulf spill, he and Kerry were giving a second look to the section of their plan that would allow drilling as close as 75 miles from shore regardless of whether that state or a neighboring state disapproves.  In addition to the 75-mile buffer, there is also language giving coastal producing states guaranteed shares of production revenue, was a provision that is still active.

Washington Outlook

Next week, the Senate will stay focused on financial overhaul regulations, and the House will address legislation to authorize funds for federal agencies engaging in scientific research.

Senate Democrats are threatening to reduce part of the August recess if Republicans continue to stall on the financial regulatory reform bill and other measures coming to the floor.  Senator Reid said he wants to pass the financial regulation bill (S 3217) by next week, which would require a cloture filing by Wednesday.  Reid said today that the chamber will work late in order to begin work on a war supplemental appropriations bill before Memorial Day.  Democrats are hopeful they can obtain GOP votes because of the displeasure Republicans have expressed with being labeled defenders of Wall Street.

Progress was stalled yesterday evening after Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Chairman Christopher Dodd (D-CT) attempted to call for a vote on an amendment that would allow the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct limited audits of the Federal Reserve.

Bernard Sanders (I-VT) sponsored an amendment that has been a personal project of his for over a year.  In order to ensure its passage, Sanders eventually agreed to several revisions from Dodd that would reduce the provision’s impact.  The amendment would strengthen an existing statute that prohibits the GAO from evaluating the central bank’s monetary policy.  The current law also protects the GAO from examining transactions with foreign central banks.  Sanders amendment is just one of many that could return to the floor next week.  There will be no roll call votes on Monday and Friday next week, limiting the time available for the Senate to consider amendments to the measure.

The House will be out of session Monday of next week and when members return they will likely take up a bill that would reauthorize funding over the next five years for a handful of science, technology, and research agencies and programs. 

The bill (HR 5116), sponsored by Bart Gordon (D-TN) would authorize about $82.5 billion for the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the National Science Foundation, and certain Energy Department research programs for fiscal years 2011-2015.  Republicans have criticized the cost of the bill and expressed concern over whether the authorized programs would be redundant.

###

Sarah Strup

Capitol Decisions

Suite 675 East

101 Constitution Ave, NW

Washington, DC 20001

Phone: 202-737-8727

Fax: 202-638-0353

Capitol Decisions

Weekly Legislative Report April 30, 2010

 

Leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and members of the Congressional Black Caucus are opposed to both proposals, and their support is needed to pass the resolution on the floor.  CBC leader, Congressman Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) said that his concern is that his constituents depend on the social programs in which the spending cut would harm.

Spratt said that the provision that would generate reconciliation instructions would be difficult to make work because it primarily would affect Medicare, Medicaid and other popular healthcare entitlements by putting them in the fiscal “gun sights.”  However, negotiations are ongoing, and Cleaver hopes a solution can be found.

Finance

The financial overhaul bill, the Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010 (S 3217) was unveiled on the floor yesterday as Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) continued to negotiate whether to follow standard procedure, or try to speed things up by setting a 60-vote threshold for adoption of amendments that would eliminate the incentive to filibuster.

Democratic and Republican Senators alike began filing amendments, including several intended to limit taxpayer exposure to large financial insolvencies and to cap the size of large banks.  Several more amendments are expected regarding the new consumer regulator the bill would set up an onslaught on payday lenders and reinstating walls between commercial and investment banks.  Banking Chairman Christopher Dodd (D-CT) said he plans to discuss proposed changes with senators and their aides through the weekend and said votes on amendments would begin May 4th.

Reid has set a goal to pass the financial overhaul legislation before the Memorial Day recess and send the bill to conference with the House, which passed its version (HR 4173) last year.  The Obama administration has said that it hopes to have the legislation ready for the president’s signature by September, the second anniversary of the financial crisis.

Immigration

Yesterday, Senate Democrats released an immigration that emphasizes border security in an effort to influence Republicans, with provisions aimed at Arizona’s controversial new law.  The blueprint embraces measures pushed by Arizona Republicans John McCain and Jon Kyl, such as the use of unmanned aerial vehicles to patrol the border.  It would also prohibit states and municipalities from enacting their own immigration rules and penalties. 

Democrats released the 26-page blueprint at a news conference Thursday evening, after circulating it among advocacy organizations. The proposal includes beefed-up border security as a condition for other elements of an overhaul in an effort to persuade opponents.  It also sets a two-stage path to permanent-resident status for nearly 11 million illegal immigrants already living in the country, including payment of a fine.  Other steps include: increases in the number of Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents; improved technology and infrastructure to help police the border; increased resources for prosecution of drug smugglers, human traffickers and unauthorized border crossers; and more resources for immigration courts to expedite deportations.

Senator Schumer (D-NY) said he has been meeting with moderate Republicans this week to try to bring them on board, in talks he described as encouraging.

Washington Outlook

Next week, the Senate will continue to debate on the financial regulations overhaul, while the House will take up a measure intended to promote energy efficiency.  Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT), chairman of the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, said action on many of the proposed amendments to the financial regulatory overhaul measure (S 3217) would start next week, although no votes are expected until Tuesday.  A Democratic aide indicated that the Senate would debate the measure for at least two weeks.  Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-IL) said they have not reached an agreement with Republicans on how to handle the amendments, or whether 60 votes will be needed to adopt them.

Supporters of the banking and finance industry will argue to restrict what they believe is unnecessary regulation in the derivatives and consumer protections portions of the measure.  Republicans are expected to offer amendments aimed at ensuring that non-financial companies that use derivatives to hedge business risks associated with market fluctuations would not have to clear their trades or place them on a public exchange.  Contrastingly, a group of Democratic senators hope to pass amendments that will strengthen the bill.

The House also plans to vote next week on a $6 billion program that would provide rebates of up to $3,000 per household for energy-efficient improvements, such as new heating and air conditioning systems and replacement windows and water heaters.  Supporters say the “cash for caulkers” bill (HR 5019) would create more than 100,000 jobs for contractors.  The program would be administered by the Energy Department and run for two years.  The White House backed the bill and urged quick consideration.

If conferees reach an agreement next week, either chamber could consider the conference report for a bill (HR 2194) that would enforce new sanctions on companies doing business with Iran.  The House has specified that it wants the bill signed before May 28th.

###

Sarah Strup

Capitol Decisions

Suite 675 East

101 Constitution Ave, NW

Washington, DC 20001

Phone: 202-737-8727

Fax: 202-638-0353

Capitol Decisions

Weekly Legislative Report April 15, 2010

Obama’s budget predicts deficits declining to 3.9 percent of GDP in five years (4.3 percent of GDP as re-estimated by CBO), with the president calling for a bipartisan fiscal commission to make further recommendations to bring the deficit down to three percent of GDP by 2015, a level economists consider sustainable.  Conrad said he would like to write a budget that meets that five-year deficit goal so the commission, on which he sits, could focus more of its efforts on how to deal with the long-term growth in debt.  Conrad and others have long supported a commission to make recommendations on long-term fiscal issues, but Obama in forming his commission also tasked it with reducing the deficit in 2015.

In the House, Budget Chairman John Spratt (D-SC) said he and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) had held meetings with most groups of House Democrats to discuss the budget situation, but had not looked for any commitments.  Hoyer also said that the challenges facing the House and Senate were different, suggesting that in the Senate it may be necessary for the Senate Budget Committee to move and approve a budget because of the Senate’s rules.

Defense

Today, House Armed Services Committee leaders introduced a bipartisan bill (HR 5013) that attempts to save billions of dollars yearly by transforming the way the Pentagon buys equipment and awards contracts for services.  The panel plans to mark up the legislation next week, and could proceed to the House floor this month as a stand-alone bill.  The committee is also likely to include the bill in its version of the FY11 defense authorization measure, which is scheduled for a markup in May with floor consideration likely before the Memorial Day recess.

The acquisition bill is the conclusion of a yearlong review by a special panel assembled by the committee to review the Pentagon’s buying practices.  It follows last year’s passage of the Weapon Systems Acquisition Reform Act (PL 111-23).

House Armed Services Chairman Ike Skelton and Congressman Rob Andrews (D-NJ), chairman of the special acquisition panel, estimated that the changes in the bill would save up to $135 billion over the next five years.  In order to accomplish this, the bill seeks to improve the acquisition workforce through career development, new recertification and training requirements, financial incentives and consequences for poor performance.  Also, they will include a condition requiring each military branch to establish a process for identifying, assessing and approving requirements for the acquisition of services.

In the interim, the House measure addresses industry concerns by requiring the Defense secretary to establish a program to expand the nation’s defense industrial base by identifying and communicating with nontraditional suppliers.  The legislation also would offer incentives for Defense agencies to produce auditable financial statements by 2017, and provide for consequences for failure to do so.

Economic Affairs

Yesterday, the Senate voted 60-40 to waive a point of order against a substitute amendment to the Continuing Extension Act of 2010 (HR 4851) that would extend the unemployment and other programs for an additional month.  Democrats failed to win the 60 votes required to waive the budget point of order earlier Wednesday because Patrick Leahy (D-VT) was in Vermont for a funeral.

Democrats are hoping Republicans will work with them to complete action on the measure, but Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) offered cloture motions Wednesday to end debate on the substitute amendment and the underlying bill, in case no agreement can be reached.  In a sign of bi-partisanship, GOP Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma offered the first of three amendments to offset the cost of the bill.  The Senate rejected the amendment, 51-46.

The short-term extensions bill is expected to pass, despite criticism from Republicans that its cost is not offset.  The House Rules Committee voted yesterday afternoon to put forward action by the end of next week on the amended legislation if the Senate passes it. 

Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) offered a substitute amendment that would extend most of the bill’s provisions through May.  This would give lawmakers more time to resolve differences on a separate package (HR 4213) to extend these programs as well as other tax provisions through this year.  In addition to long-term unemployment benefits, the amendment would extend COBRA health insurance subsidies for the unemployed and higher payments for physicians who treat Medicare patients.  It also would extend a national flood insurance program and the use of 2009 poverty guidelines for federal programs.  The amendment would extend them through the end of May, except the unemployment benefits, which would last until June 5th.  The measure also would provide back pay to workers who were dismissed because of a lapse in the Highway Trust Fund, and would extend satellite TV transmission laws.  The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the substitute amendment would add $18.1 billion to the deficit over the next decade.

Finance

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he hopes to bring a financial regulatory overhaul bill to the floor as soon as next week.

With drawn out negotiations between Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Chairman Christopher Dodd (D-CT) and ranking member Richard Shelby (R-AL) Reid said it was time to bring it to the floor for debate.

Dodd and Shelby continued their discussions on the measure yesterday night.  Shelby described it as “one of the most productive meetings we’ve had in months.” Several unresolved issues remain, however, including how best to structure a consumer protection agency and to regulate certain smaller trading markets.  Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) still plans to mark up legislation addressing the latter issue, which could be integrated with Dodd’s bill as part of a larger package.

Democrats said the regulatory overhaul must be passed quickly to avoid the kind of financial crisis that stunned Wall Street in 2008 and contributed to the recession.

Washington Outlook

Senate Majority Leader Reid presented a long list of work to finish before the Memorial Day recess.  The agenda for the coming weeks includes hopes to pass a financial regulatory reform bill, food safety legislation and a long-term extension of tax breaks and benefits programs.  Democrats will also push to confirm stalled nominees and will try to take up a campaign-finance measure.

Reid is also looking to see when he can introduce climate change and energy legislation, as well as immigration.  He is confident immigration overhaul can pass sometime this year; however, many think this timetable is unlikely given that Reid is facing tough re-election fight in Nevada.  Although Reid did not specify a timetable for taking up energy legislation, authors of the package anticipate it to be introduced before Earth Day (April 22nd), and do not expect it on the floor until June.  In addition to energy and immigration reform, Reid also plans on adding regulation reform and food safety to the Senate’s to-do list for the next six weeks.

The focus of this summer will likely be on confirmation hearings for President Obama’s nominee to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.  Aides said Democrats will focus particularly on confirming judicial nominees, 22 of whom are delayed on the Senate calendar after being cleared by the Judiciary Committee. 

While an energy vote isn’t likely until later in the year, a lot of work is already in progress behind the scenes.  Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry, who is working on the package with Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Joe Lieberman (D-CT) said they have a hectic week meeting with lawmakers, administration officials and stakeholders.

The three senators met Tuesday with Interior Secretary Salazar, White House climate adviser Carol Browner and several Democrats, including Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ).  Lautenberg has cautioned that his vote is dependent on the legislation not extending oil and gas drilling near his state’s shores.

Kerry also met Tuesday with House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman and Global Warming Chairman Edward Markey, the lead authors of an economy-wide cap-and-trade bill passed in the House last year.  Kerry aides said the bill is likely to be introduced next Tuesday or Wednesday.

###

Sarah Strup
Capitol Decisions
Suite 675 East
101 Constitution Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20001
Phone: 202-737-8727
Fax: 202-638-0353

Capitol Decisions

Weekly Legislative Report March 19, 2010

President Obama’s budget cut the deficit from $1.556 trillion in FY10, or 10.6 percent of the gross domestic product, to $706 billion in FY14, or 3.9 percent of GDP.  Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad this week also said healthcare reform will holdup work on the FY11 budget resolution.

The Senate is expected to take up a reconciliation bill after House action on the measure that would make changes to a Senate healthcare package the House is expected to pass with the reconciliation measure.  Conrad said that he has been working with the Senate parliamentarian to try to guard against attempts by Republicans to change the package under the Byrd Rule, which states that only items with a direct budgetary impact can be included in the reconciliation measure.

White House officials have said that the budget relies on a presidential deficit reduction commission that would make recommendations to Congress to reduce the deficit to three percent of GDP by FY15.  The commission would present its proposals to Congress by December 1st, and Democratic congressional leaders have pledged to take up the commission’s recommendations.

Transportation

Senators are looking at two options to end a dispute over long-distance flights to and from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport that has stalled the Federal Aviation Authorization reauthorization bill for much of the week.

Supporters had hoped to complete the FAA bill (HR 1586) this week, Senator Dorgan (D-ND) said yesterday that disagreement among senators over “slots and perimeter” restrictions at the airport probably would push the final vote until March 22nd.

Western lawmakers are pushing to increase the number of direct flights from their states to Reagan National, located just over four miles from the Capitol in Arlington, Virginia.  Current law restricts the number of flights into and out of the airport, with 24 each day permitted to go beyond a 1,250-mile perimeter.  But Virginia and Maryland lawmakers want to protect their constituents from the added noise and traffic of additional flights while preserving flights at other airports.

At least eight senators have filed amendments regarding the flights, and Dorgan repeatedly urged them to drop the matter until a House-Senate conference, noting that time was running short for completing the bill.

During the FAA debate Thursday, senators continued to argue over federal spending and the deficit.  The chamber rejected, on a 56-39 vote, an amendment by Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) that would have imposed discretionary spending caps for FY11-13 that were based on the FY10 budget resolution (S Con Res 13).  A competing amendment by Mark Pryor (D-AR) that would have imposed spending limits for the same years based on President Obama’s proposed FY11 discretionary cap was defeated, 27-60.  Sixty votes were needed to waive budget points of order against both amendments.

The Senate also rejected competing GOP deficit amendments.  The first, by Senator Inhofe, fell 41-56 and would have limited non-security related spending.  An amendment by John McCain would have banned earmarks in years when there is a federal deficit was rejected, 26-70.

Washington Outlook

Floor action in both chambers of Congress next week depends on the fate of the budget reconciliation measure for a health care overhaul, which House Democratic leaders released late Thursday.

If the House completes work on the reconciliation package (HR 4872), which combines revisions to the Senate-passed health care bill, The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (HR 3590) and a modified version of a House-passed student loan bill (HR 3221), then the Senate is likely to take it up next week.

The reconciliation package cannot be filibustered directly, but the process has a number of procedural pitfalls and the potential for dozens of recorded votes on amendments.  First, however, the Senate must complete work on a $34.5 billion, two-year reauthorization bill (HR 1586) for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).  The bill has been delayed while senators worked on the issue of whether or not to ease flight restrictions at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.  Also in the queue is a short-term extension of the FAA’s authorization (HR 4853) to continue its programs while the House and Senate work through differences.

The Senate is also expected to address a variety of provisions that expire at the end of March.  A House-passed Continuing Extension Act of 2010 (HR 4851) would grant short-term extensions of such measures, which include unemployment compensation, COBRA subsidies for unemployed workers, flood insurance and the compulsory license for satellite television.

House Majority Leader Hoyer (D-MD) said his chamber next week could take up legislation that aims to help small businesses and create jobs, but the chamber’s exact schedule is up in the air, as it is expected to vote on the budget reconciliation package on March 21.

The Ways and Means Committee approved the jobs bill (HR 4849) by a party-line vote Thursday.  The legislation includes $16.8 billion in tax incentives targeted at small businesses and state and local governments.  Its cost would be covered by a controversial provision that would require U.S. subsidiaries of foreign-owned companies to pay taxes they could previously avoid by sending the funds to another country.  The provision is expected to raise $7.7 billion over 10 years; Republicans contend that it would undermine existing tax treaties and drive away foreign investment.

###

Sarah Strup

Capitol Decisions

Suite 675 East

101 Constitution Ave, NW

Washington, DC 20001

Phone: 202-737-8727

Fax: 202-638-0353

Capitol Decisions

Weekly Legislative Report March 5, 2010

Defense

Last night, the Senate approved Defense Department nominees whose confirmation had been blocked for weeks by Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) amid concerns about an Air Force contract for aerial refueling tankers. 

The nominees, confirmed by unanimous consent, are:

  • ·         Frank Kendall- principal deputy undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics
  • ·         Erin Conaton- undersecretary of the Air Force
  • ·         Terry Yonkers- assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations and environment
  • ·         Malcolm Ross O’Neill- assistant Army secretary for acquisition, logistics and technology
  • ·         Paul Luis Oostburg Sanz- Navy’s general counsel
  • ·         Jackalyne Pfannenstiel- assistant Navy secretary for installations and environment.

Northrop Grumman and EADS are vying for the high-stakes tanker contract, worth as much as $40 billion, and plan to build the planes in Mobile, Alabama. But Northrop Grumman officials are weighing whether to pull out of the competition because they fear the Air Force may be favoring their competitor, Boeing Co.

Washington Outlook

The Senate next week will take up more legislation intended to create jobs, while the House more or less continues a pattern of waiting for further action from the Senate.

The Senate is expected to move along on a broad measure to extend expired tax provisions (HR 4213  click here for summary).  The bill also includes extensions of unemployment benefits, COBRA health care subsidies and other provisions favored by Democrats.

Majority Leader Harry Reid is expected to limit debate on the measure, with a number of amendments still outstanding.

Controversial debate may develop over an amendment by Democrats Jim Webb of Virginia and Barbara Boxer of California that would tax bonuses paid at large financial firms that received funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (PL 110-343).

The Senate may also consider a $17.6 billion House-passed jobs creation package (HR 2847).  The measure is an amended version of a bill that the Senate passed last week.  The House amendment adjusted revenue provisions in the bill to address concerns raised by members of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition about pay-as-you-go budget rules.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said lawmakers might take further action next week on the Democrats’ “jobs agenda,” but it would depend on what is reported out of committees and the Senate.

The first measure scheduled for the floor is a resolution (H Con Res 248) sponsored by Dennis J. Kucinich (D-OH) that would call for a withdrawal timeline for U.S. troops in Afghanistan.  Although the House is not expected to adopt the measure, it is headed to the Rules Committee early in the week and will give Kucinich and other progressives floor time to debate the war.  The House will also consider a resolution (H Res 1031) that would recommend impeachment of federal Judge G. Thomas Porteous Jr. of Louisiana and present four charges to the Senate for trial.  If passed, it would be the first Senate trial of a federal judge in more than two decades.

The latest summary of the Senate jobs bill is attached to the e-mail bearing this report.

 

 

###

 

 

 

Sarah Strup

Capitol Decisions

Suite 675 East

101 Constitution Ave, NW

Washington, DC 20001

Phone: 202-737-8727

Fax: 202-638-0353

 

Capitol Decisions

Weekly Legislative Report Feb 12, 2010

This first bill will not include a number of items from a draft $85 billion package released Thursday morning by Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus and ranking member Chuck Grassley, including a renewal of $31 billion worth of expired tax breaks that was considered an olive branch to Republicans.  But Democrats have not been able to get broad Republican support yet for the Finance package and are under pressure to show some initial effort to address jobs.

Senate Minority Whip Kyl Thursday afternoon indicated Republicans would support the draft Finance bill, just as Reid was presenting the smaller bill to Democrats.  But Minority Leader McConnell later declined to endorse the Finance draft, calling it “a work in progress.”

Kyl said an agreement between Baucus and Grassley for consideration of bipartisan estate tax reform would have included a unanimous consent agreement that would set up a vote on their plan to lower the estate tax by increasing the exemption threshold from $7 million to $10 million per couple and lowering the top rate to 35 percent from 45 percent.  Their plan, strongly opposed by some Democrats, already passed the Senate this year in a nonbinding vote. 

Reid said the Senate will turn to the tax extenders after the Presidents Day break, just separately from this jobs bill.

Reid’s bill does not include other items in the $85 billion Finance draft, including three more months of unemployment benefits and COBRA health subsidies for laid-off workers and a physician payment fix.

Absent also from that draft is a one-year extension for USA PATRIOT Act provisions expiring February 28, a five-year reauthorization of satellite television law and $1.5 billion in farm disaster aid.  Reid said he made the decision to do the scaled-back bill before Thursday’s policy lunch.  “I just wanted to make sure that they were supportive of what I was doing, and they are very supportive,” Reid said of fellow Democrats.

Washington Outlook

A summary of the Democratic jobs agenda is available by clicking here.

The next weekly legislative update will be February 26th when Congress returns from their Presidents Day recess.

###

Sarah Strup

Capitol Decisions

Suite 675 East

101 Constitution Ave, NW

Washington, DC 20001

Phone: 202-737-8727

Fax: 202-638-0353

Capitol Decisions

Weekly Legislative Report Jan 29, 2010

 

Transportation

Senate Democratic leaders are considering a strategy that would split their job-creation effort into separate legislative measures, the first of which would be a “tight” package limited to several transportation matters and a business tax credit for new hires.  The initial bill is designed to win Republican support, with a later bill tapping Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds to pay for additional infrastructure spending, Senator Boxer (D-CA) said January 27.

While the measure has not yet been finalized, Boxer said it will include an extension of current transportation policy through December, a transfer of about $20 billion in general fund money to build up the depleted Highway Trust Fund that pays for road and transit work, and additional funding for Build America Bonds, low-interest bonds that states and localities use to finance transportation and other infrastructure projects. It also will include a one-year, two-tiered tax credit benefiting companies that hire new employees. 

A second jobs package would include additional funding for highway and transit projects.  The transportation and other infrastructure spending levels could mimic those several recent drafts that have been circulating around Senate offices, the most recent of which includes more than $25 billion for transportation infrastructure (16 DER A-25, 1/27/10).

While the Senate’s transportation infrastructure funding may be held for a second legislative vehicle, early indications show some major differences compared to the House version.  The House bill included $37.3 billion for transportation projects, compared with around $25 billion in recent Senate drafts.  An early Senate proposal dated January 22 showed $14 billion for highways, far less than the House bill’s $27.5 billion level.  A House Transportation subcommittee has already approved a six-year, $500 billion reauthorization (120 DER A-22, 6/25/09).

The current funding method for transportation projects is a motor fuels tax that continues to bring in less money year after year.  One alternate funding option being considered is a vehicle miles traveled (VMT) tax to replace the existing gas tax or a fee on oil or stock transactions.  While the Senate’s proposed funding levels differ from the House-passed version, the two chambers are closely aligned on the non-spending transportation provisions, making reconciliation on those issues fairly simple.  The general fund transfer cited by Boxer also was included in the House jobs bill (H.R. 2847), at the level of $19.5 billion.  It also would make several changes to allow the Highway Trust Fund to collect interest on its balance and to remove the fund’s obligation to pay refunds stemming from motor fuel tax exemptions, measures that could increase the fund by several billion dollars each year.  The Senate is expected to back those changes, as they mirror legislation (S. 1474) backed by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Baucus (D-MT).

The transportation policy extension in the Senate bill is three months longer than the House-passed bill, which runs through September 30.  Current policy is slated to expire February 28.  Whatever extension materializes from House and Senate talks will serve as the newest deadline for work on a multiyear highway and transit policy rewrite and funding increase that has been held up in Congress since last summer.

Washington Outlook

House and Senate Democrats are eager to wrap up their work on healthcare overhaul legislation and turn their focus to job creation and the economy.  While still caught in a struggle with the Senate over a final comprehensive health bill, Democratic leaders in the House appear ready to settle for a strategy of passing less comprehensive components as stand-alone bills.  One of those measures, which would repeal the health-insurance industry’s antitrust exemption, could come to a vote as early as next week.

Aides to Majority Leader Hoyer said House floor action is possible on Senate changes to House-passed legislation that would raise the federal debt limit and on a bill to reauthorize National Science Foundation programs to protect computer networks from hackers and other security breaches.

Senate Democrats also want their primary focus to be on job-creation bills between now and Election Day.

Senate Democratic leaders are considering breaking a jobs bill crafted by Senate Majority Whip Durbin and Senator Dorgan (D-ND) into pieces and moving those pieces separately.

“We recognize that if we introduce a package of that sort that it may not be possible to pass an entire package, so what we might want to do then is take pieces of it and move them individually,” Dorgan said.

Democrats said both long-term and short-term job-creation bills will move this year.

Democrats believe that if Republicans oppose the bills, it would anger a public upset by continued unemployment.  From that standpoint, breaking the package into multiple bills would prolong the focus on an issue Democrats believe will be a winner with voters.

Senate Majority Leader Reid said a Senate Democratic bill will be rolled out next week and that he hopes to begin consideration of the bill before the Presidents Day recess in mid-Februrary, aides said.  The Senate will not have votes Wednesday because Democrats will hold their annual issues retreat at the Newseum.

###

Sarah Strup

Capitol Decisions

Suite 675 East

101 Constitution Ave, NW

Washington, DC 20001

Phone: 202-737-8727

Fax: 202-638-0353

Capitol Decisions

Weekly Legislative Report Jan 22, 2010

 

As Senate leaders continue to hash out a deal on amendments to the debt limit bill, Senator Coburn (R-OK) today said he plans to offer a measure rescinding $120 billion in funding by consolidating more than 640 government programs he believes are duplicative.

In a statement, Coburn said the cuts would “alleviate the need to increase the national debt limit,” which would rise by $1.9 trillion if the bill is passed.  A vote on the amendment would likely come next week, according to his office.

Of the $120 billion in cuts, roughly $100 billion would come from rescinding discretionary funding that has been available for more than two years but not designated for a particular purpose, the statement said.

Additionally, the amendment would rescind $4.1 billion from HHS and direct the department to eliminate and consolidate more than 36 duplicative programs.  Another $3.2 billion would be rescinded from the Education Department, while 230 federal education programs would be consolidated or cut.

Washington Outlook

The Senate is set to continue debate on legislation to raise the statutory debt limit, while the House will see the return of two lands measures that stalled on the floor this week.

In the Senate, pending to the debt limit joint resolution (H J Res 45) is a substitute amendment that would increase the debt limit to $14.29 trillion, a $1.9 trillion increase over the limit set in December.

The measure sets up a fight over government spending and broader issues surrounding the federal deficit, with an amendment pending from Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) and ranking Republican Judd Gregg of New Hampshire to establish an 18-member bipartisan fiscal task force.  Legislative proposals from the task force would face expedited consideration in Congress.  The proposal has drawn opposition from congressional leaders who fear it could undermine the prerogatives of the legislative branch.

The Senate may also tackle pending nominations, with senators girding for a fight over the nomination of Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke for a second term.  The vote may face a rocky path, with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) facing questions about Bernanke from within his own caucus.

The House will spend a condensed workweek taking up a pair of lands bills that previously failed to pass the chamber under suspension of the rules; an expedited floor procedure that requires a two-thirds majority vote.  The first bill (HR 3726) would establish the Castle Nugent National Historic Site in the Virgin Islands.  House leaders plan to bring up the legislation under a rule.  A second bill from Democrat Walt Minnick (D-ID) would authorize the continued operation of certain water facilities in Idaho wilderness areas.  Similar legislation (HR 3538) from Mike Simpson (R-ID) failed to pass under suspension of the rules on January 20.

Legislative action in both chambers will pause Wednesday evening as lawmakers gather in the House chamber for President Obama’s first State of the Union address.

I have attached two documents to the e-mail bearing this report; a calendar of the 2010 Congressional schedule, based on the info posted on the Senate’s and House Majority Leader’s Web sites and the remaining legislative items for the second session of the 111th Congress, as put out in an email from Congressman Steny Hoyer’s office. 

 

 

 

###

 

 

 

 

Sarah Strup

Capitol Decisions

Suite 675 East

101 Constitution Ave, NW

Washington, DC 20001

Phone: 202-737-8727

Fax: 202-638-0353

 

Capitol Decisions

Weekly Legislative Report Jan 15, 2010

At the request of Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) again has examined which policies might work best to raise the employment rate.  While nearly all professional forecasters believe that the economy has begun to recover from the recent recession, many also predict a slow recovery with a high rate of unemployment for several years, the CBO said in a report released Thursday.  They also said actions such as reducing taxes for firms that increase payroll or increasing aid to the unemployed are among the steps likely to get the best return on money spent in 2010 and 2011. 

The CBO announced on its website plans to release its annual budget and economic outlook report Tuesday, January 26.  That report will include new baseline projections for both this year’s deficit as well for the next 10 years and sets the stage for release of the President’s FY 2011 budget in early February.

Defense

The Marine Corps’ top officer today said that his service is falling further behind in the process of repairing or replacing equipment worn out or lost in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.  “We’re in trouble today,” Gen. James Conway, the Marine Corps commandant, told the Surface Navy Association forum in Arlington, Virginia.  Conway said he has become “increasingly concerned” and has talked to Defense Secretary Gates about the need to “reset” Marine forces.  Two years ago, the Marines were meeting about 75 percent of their reset requirements, he said.  Now, the gap between what they need fixed or replaced and what has been done “has increased to about 50 percent.”

Although he has a “promissory note” promising to fix things after the wars, Conway said, “we need to start doing something about it now… to get back to where we need to be.”  The commandant did not provide a cost for his reset needs, but data provided Congress in the past put the requirement in the billions of dollars.

So far, Congress has approved about $16 billion to repair and replace Marine Corps equipment lost or damaged in combat.  Last month, Marine Corps Gen. James Amos told House lawmakers that the latest reset bill, which was estimated in July to be about $20 billion to replace damaged and unusable equipment, had jumped to $30 billion.  Although he could not give details because it has not been released, Conway also expressed concern about directions coming out of the Quadrennial Defense Review to focus on the current irregular or hybrid conflicts against terrorism.

Those directions ran counter to the Marines’ plea for more amphibious ships to meet the requests of regional commanders and the service’s desire to regain its expeditionary capabilities.

Washington Outlook

While healthcare negotiations continue, the Senate initiates its year Wednesday by considering a bill expected to raise the federal debt limit above the $13 trillion ceiling the House approved last year, a politically laden effort that should include several tough votes.  Floor action in the House will take on a more regional emphasis, with several bills to resolve longstanding Indian water-rights disputes scheduled for votes.

If a compromise can be reached on healthcare legislation and sent to CBO for scoring this week, Senate and House votes on the legislation could occur during the last week of the month.  Senators before Christmas punted the debt limit increase to this month as part of a deal that let members head home Christmas Eve.  They instead passed a short-term debt extension.

Senate Majority Leader Reid, who aides said discussed the debt ceiling with President Obama and House leaders this week, has not said how much the bill will raise the limit. However, Senate aides said a significant increase above the $925 billion hike in the House bill is needed to avoid another increase until after November’s election.  Action before the election is considered politically unfeasible.  The Senate’s unanimous consent agreement on the debt ceiling bill set up a vote on an amendment offered by Budget Chairman Kent Conrad and ranking member Judd Gregg to create a bipartisan budget commission to recommend spending cuts, including in entitlement spending, to Congress.

The panel’s recommendations could get quick floor consideration, a usurpation of congressional power that has drawn opposition from lawmakers such as House Speaker Pelosi and Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus

Gregg has said the commission lacks the votes to pass.  The White House is working on a compromise that would likely create a weaker panel.  Senate Democrats, who can offer four amendments to counter other debt ceiling amendments, could also set a vote on an amendment to create a watered-down commission as an alternative to the Conrad/Gregg commission. 

A related amendment by Reid would alter pay/go laws.  A spokeswoman said the amendment is not yet available.  Another closely watched amendment, to be offered by Senator Thune (R-SD) would end the Troubled Asset Relief Program, which Democrats plan to tap to help pay for job creation legislation.  Republicans say that voting to continue the unpopular program will be politically costly for Democrats.  Eight other amendments could receive votes.  With no limits on debate, consideration of the bill will most likely be delayed for at least two weeks.

The Senate also is expected to vote on a judicial nomination and on confirmation of Erroll Southers, the nominee to head the Transportation Security Administration who faces Republican holds.

House bills to be considered would approve settlements of water rights of four pueblos in New Mexico, between the Taos Pubelo, New Mexico and the United States and water rights claims in Arizona.

###

Sarah Strup

Capitol Decisions

Suite 675 East

101 Constitution Ave, NW

Washington, DC 20001

Phone: 202-737-8727

Fax: 202-638-0353