Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) has filed several amendments, including one that would require states to pay a bigger share of the cost of rebuilding damaged maritime assets. He also sought to divide his one pending amendment into multiple sections to require a series of votes on its separate parts. After Reid’s actions, Jeff Merkley (D-OR) took to the floor to explain that senators will have to offer their amendments again, saying they were back to “square one.”
House leaders did not take up Speaker John Boehner’s proposal to extend current tax rates on those with incomes under $1 million.
Yesterday Boehner said, “The House did not take up the tax measure today because it did not have sufficient support from our members to pass, now it is up to the president to work with Senator Reid on legislation to avert the fiscal cliff. The House has already passed legislation to stop all of the January 1 tax rate increases and replace the sequester with responsible spending cuts that will begin to address our nation’s crippling debt. The Senate must now act.”
Senator Daniel Inouye, the second-longest-serving senator in U.S. history, died on Monday at the age of 88. The Hawaiian Democrat was a WWII veteran and longtime Chairman of the Appropriations Committee.
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) is now the most senior member of the Senate, and was sworn in as the new Senate president pro tempore on Tuesday. Leahy is the current chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and chose to keep his position rather than take over the Senate Appropriations Committee in the 113th Congress.
Instead, Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) will be the new chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Mikulski will be the first woman to lead the spending panel.
In other news, President Barack Obama nominated Senator John Kerry to succeed Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of State. The Massachusetts Democrat, who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, the position is a long-held ambition.
The Senate will vote today to clear the defense authorization bill after conferees hammered out a deal that authorizes $552.2 billion for base national defense and $88.5 billion for Overseas Contingencies Operations. The House voted 315-107 on Thursday to advance the measure.
Conferees made several tough compromises on spending matters, including language that would allow the Pentagon to proceed with its plans to fund a biofuels refinery but would fence off the $70 billion in funding until the departments of Energy and Agriculture contribute an equal amount. The final bill also would retain a Senate provision allowing Pentagon funds to pay for abortions for service members in cases of rape or incest.
House and Senate negotiators rejected an Air Force proposal to mothball 18 new Global Hawk Block 30 unmanned aerial vehicles, which service officials had hoped would save $2.5 billion over the next five years. The conference report additionally contains a provision that would block the use of funds for building or modifying a detention facility in the United States for holding terrorism detainees. As expected, it authorizes a 1.7 percent pay raise for military personnel.
The policy measure would authorize several billion dollars more than House and Senate appropriators have called for in the FY13 Defense spending bill. The House-passed version (H.R. 5856) appropriates $518.1 billion for the Pentagon, while the draft Senate bill seeks $511.2 billion.
The House version provoked a White House veto threat as it exceeded the level stipulated in last year’s debt ceiling law (P.L. 112-25), while the Senate adhered to it. Without a FY13 measure in place, the Pentagon is operating under 2012 spending levels for the first six months of the year as prescribed by the continuing resolution. The authorization bill’s spending is not expected to provoke a veto threat because the measure only sets authorization funding levels rather than directly appropriating any dollars.
As of now, there are four different scenarios that can end the fiscal cliff debate: a grand bargain between Obama and Boehner where both sides make compromises on spending and taxes, no deal at all which is the worst-case scenario where the automatic sequestration will kick in on January 2, an unhappy compromise where one side gives up more than the other, and finally the punting scenario (the most likely) where lawmakers don’t let the sequester cuts begin and don’t let the tax cuts on lower incomes expire. The punting scenario would be a quick-fix that essentially pushes longer-term policy decisions to the next Congress, which already will have to do battle over an increase in the nation’s debt limit.
The House will meet at noon Christmas Eve in pro forma session and convene at 2 p.m. December 27 for legislative business under an adjournment resolution (H Con Res 146) adopted by voice vote.
The next weekly legislative update will cover the week of January 7-11. As always, we will keep you apprised of relevant events.