House lawmakers voted 285-144 on Wednesday to pass a bill (H.R. 325) suspending the debt limit until May 18, therefore eliminating the immediate threat of a government default and giving members more time to address other looming budget deadlines. After May 18, the nation’s borrowing authority will automatically increase the current $16.4 trillion ceiling to accommodate additional debt accumulated before that date. Without action, the federal government is due to reach its borrowing ceiling as early as mid-February.
The legislation also would tie congressional pay to passage of a budget plan by suspending salaries of members of the House or Senate if either chamber does not adopt a resolution by April 15. Lawmakers would be paid at the end of the 113th Congress should their pay be delayed.
Senator Reid announced on Wednesday that the Senate will pass the bill next week, sending it to President Obama for signature.
The Senate adopted 78-16 a measure (S Res 15) making temporary changes to Senate filibuster rules that will expire at the end of the 113th Congress. The resolution allows the Senate majority leader to avoid a filibuster on motions to proceed if he guarantees two amendments from the minority and two from the majority. Under this provision, debate on the motion to proceed will be limited to four hours. A 60-vote threshold was required for adoption of the resolution.
The Senate also adopted a measure (S Res 16) by a vote of 86-9, making permanent changes to the chamber’s rules in an attempt to speed up the legislative process on the floor. For cloture petitions on motions to proceed signed by both Senate leaders along with seven members from each side, the cloture vote will occur the day after it is filed, eliminating a waiting day. If cloture is invoked, under the new rules senators will immediately vote on the motion to proceed, eliminating the 30 hours of debate time typically required in such cases.
This week the House Education and the Workforce Committee Chair Rep. John Kline (R-MN) held his first committee meeting with the new members of the 113th Congress. The meeting served to approve the committee’s rules, oversight, and subcommittee markup, as well as to outline their goals and priorities for the months ahead.
In his opening remarks, Kline announced that in 2013, reauthorizing No Child Left Behind will remain a top priority. NCLB governs public K-12 education, and expired in 2007.
Kline also stated the importance of reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Workforce Investment Act, the Education Sciences Reform Act, and the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, which are set to expire in the next few years.
Despite this era of hyper-partisanship Kline remains hopeful stating, “In previous Congresses, we have applauded the committee’s ability to disagree without being disagreeable. While we managed to do so again in the last Congress, it’s time we focused less on polite disagreements and more on forging commonsense agreements.”
Tuesday, the House passed 395-29 a bill (H.R. 307) that would reauthorize public health security and preparedness programs meant to facilitate the development of chemical, biological, radioactive and nuclear medical countermeasures
Also on Tuesday, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce approved by unanimous consent a bill (H.R. 267) that would exempt certain small hydropower dams from Federal Energy Regulatory Commission regulatory requirements. The panel also approved by unanimous consent:
• A draft bill that would facilitate new hydropower projects.
• A measure (H.R. 297) that would renew a children’s hospital graduate medical education program.
• A bill (H.R. 235) to address employment licensing for veterans in emergency medical positions.
• A bill (H.R. 225) that would create a pediatric research network.
President Barack Obama’s plan to reduce gun violence was initially estimated to cost $500 million; however, the plan could potentially cost nearly nine times that much if his request to add $4 billion into the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program prevails.
COPS is a Justice Department grant program that helps localities hire police officers which many GOP members have had mixed opinions over. The timing on this proposal couldn’t come at a worse time, as Republicans are trying to convince the administration and Senate Democrats to make deep spending cuts.
The COPS program is currently funded through the FY13 continuing resolution at $198.5 million, according to the Senate Appropriations Committee. Obama’s proposal would provide “a one-time injection that would be part of our request for the next fiscal year but not the ongoing request,” said a White House official.
While Republicans may object to the program for its costliness, it doesn’t necessarily they disagree with its concept. The House, for example, initially sought to fund the program at $73 million in a FY13 spending bill it approved last May, and the chamber adopted an amendment on the floor that boosted funding by an additional $126 million.
Local officials who have struggled amid budget crises in recent years are strong supporters of the program. The U.S. Conference of Mayors views it as crucial and adopted a resolution in 2011 calling on Congress to fund the program “at a level sufficient to continue assisting the public safety needs of America’s cities.”
Next week the Senate will then begin consideration of the Sandy disaster relief package (H.R. 152) and one amendment, offered by Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT). Lee has been promised the chance to offer an amendment to offset the costs, after which senators will vote on final passage.
The $50 billion-plus bill passed in the House last week and will be taken up by the Senate under an agreement to allow two votes, each requiring a supermajority of 60 to prevail.
The House will be in recess next week, but will meet on Tuesday and Friday for pro-forma sessions. Votes are not expected.