House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers (R-KY) said Wednesday that subcommittees will mark up Military Construction-VA and Legislative Branch bills next week, making those the first two spending bills handled in the committee.
Since the December budget deal (P.L. 113-67) largely flatlines discretionary top lines for defense and domestic programs, the allocations will likely be similar to the allocations used in the fiscal 2014 omnibus Congress cleared in January.
Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) said Tuesday that Military Construction-VA will be among the first three measures the Senate committee marks up later this spring.
Late Tuesday night, House leadership posted a 12-month sustainable growth rate (SGR) fix. On Thursday, the House passed the fix by voice vote. The voice vote (as opposed to a recorded vote) was required because leadership put the bill on the suspension calendar, which means 2/3 of the House had to vote for it. The House went into a brief recess when it became clear the votes were not there (it would probably garner enough votes if only a simple majority was needed).
Physician groups oppose the 12-month fix and are advocating for the full reform package that was previously agreed upon by the 3 committees of jurisdiction. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) was also lobbying his colleagues this week on both sides of the aisle and both sides of the Capitol in favor of the permanent deal, but Republicans have said his proposed offset for the package, using the savings from the wind-down of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, is a non-starter.
Assuming Wyden cannot get a deal on the full reform package over the weekend, the Senate is scheduled to vote on the 12-month fix bill on Monday at 5pm. The bill will be subject to a 60-vote threshold for passage. Senate leaders had hoped to consider the bill by unanimous consent on Thursday following the House vote, but Sen. Coburn (R-OK) objected, forcing the vote.
The Senate voted 65-34 on Thursday to move legislation that would restore federal unemployment benefits.
The key test vote likely clears the way for passage of legislation that would restore Federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC), which expired December 28, 2013. The agreement would provide for a 5 month extension retroactive to December 28.
The Senate ended debate on the motion to proceed to H.R. 3979, the Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act, which will be used as the legislative vehicle for the jobless aid.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) made comments earlier in the week indicating that he is not inclined to take up the bill in the House.
The likelihood of a permanent fix for the Highway Trust Fund is losing ground, leaving lawmakers to come up with alternative fixes to keep the fund afloat. Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer said Thursday she’s aiming to identify a way to patch the dwindling Highway Trust Fund only “for four or five years,” indicating that the most difficult legislative work, either raising the gas tax or replacing it entirely, will be kicked years down the road, or at least until after this year’s midterms.
Congress pumped more than $21 billion into the trust fund to pay for a two-year authorization of highway, bridge and transit programs that became law (P.L. 112-141) in 2012. However, higher fuel prices have Americans driving fewer miles in more efficient vehicles, which has significantly lessened the spending power of the federal gas tax, which has not been raised since 1993.
Boxer and House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) are leading efforts to write a new surface transportation authorization package, but finding the money for the multi-year authorization that states and highway builders want has proven a challenge. There has been one proposal (H.R. 3636) to raise the gas tax, by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), but it does not have wide support.
A temporary solution to keep the trust fund solvent for a few years is the likely course of action. House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) included a proposal to feed the trust fund with $126 billion from a corporate tax overhaul, enough to keep highway, bridge and transit projects funded for another eight years.
President Obama’s FY15 budget proposal also included a corporate tax change that the White House says would be enough to put $302 billion into transportation projects over four years, including major boosts in spending on transit and passenger rail upgrades.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said earlier this month he expects a full reauthorization proposal to be sent to Congress sometime in April. Boxer’s committee also plans to mark up a reauthorization measure sometime next month, with Shuster’s panel following in late spring or early summer.
Next week in Congress, the Senate is scheduled to consider a bill (H.R. 4302) that would avert expected cuts in Medicare payments to physicians for one year. The House passed the bill on Thursday. If passed by the Senate, the measure would be sent to President Barack Obama for his signature.
Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Finance Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) said they are disappointed Congress is not acting on proposals to permanently replace the current sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula. However, if Congress does not act by Tuesday, Medicare payments to physicians would be cut by 24 percent.
Senators are also scheduled to vote Monday on the motion to proceed to the bill (H.R. 3979) that would amend the tax code to ensure emergency services volunteers are not counted as employees under the requirements of the 2010 health care law (P.L. 111-148, P.L. 111-152). Democrats are planning to amend the House bill with language that would extend an expanded unemployment insurance program for five months. Senators agreed to limit debate on the motion to proceed to the measure Thursday, although it could face another cloture vote before final passage.
In coming weeks the Senate Democrats have on their agenda a bill (S. 1737) that would raise the hourly minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 over two years. Senate moderates say they want the chamber’s leadership to cut a deal on a more modest increase in the minimum wage to expedite final action in an election year.