March 16, 2012 Edition

In this week’s edition … Administration, Congress, Budget, Health Care, Committee Action, Other News, Elections, For your information

Administration.   President Barack Obama appointed Todd Park as the new U.S. Chief Technology Officer (announcement/article).  He also released a “One-Year Progress Report” on the effort to gain energy independence (statement/report/article).

Politico asks, “What if W did that?” which discusses some of the policy decisions Obama has made and questions whether Democrats would be supportive of them if former President George W. Bush made the same decisions. 

Congress.  During the week of March 13, the House held a District Work Period.  The Senate was in session.

Senate – On March 14, the Senate finally passed (74-22) the highway authorization bill (article).  It spent much of the week debating the amendments allowed under the agreement reached last week.  Here is a rundown, which includes a brief summary and whether it was adopted or not. 

The Senate then moved onto several judicial nominations.  It appeared that the Senate was going to have a showdown over the 17 nominations (see “Other News (Congress)” in the March 9 Edition for background). But on March 14, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) reached an agreement on how to move forward without a protracted debate.  Basically, the agreement said that “senators would vote to confirm 12 federal district court nominees and two circuit court picks by May and move next to a vote on the bipartisan JOBS Act that passed the House overwhelmingly last week with White House support” (article). 

The chamber started debate on the JOBS bill on March 15 (see March 9 Edition for background); the Senate appears to be approaching the bill cautiously and is likely to amend the bill, which would require the House to approve or disapprove of the changes.  Among the amendments that could be considered is the reauthorization of the Export-Import bank (article).

House – During the week of March 20, the House may consider H.R. 5, Help Efficient, Accessible, Low-cost, Timely Healthcare (HEALTH) Act of 2011 (text/supporters’ views/opponents’ views).   This is part of the House Republicans to effort to ramp up messaging on the health care reform bill ahead of the Supreme Courts’ hearing on the law (see below and/or March 2 Edition for more on message voting). 

With the Senate passing the highway bill, the pressure on House Republican Leaders to pass it, tweak it or pass something else has been ratcheted up (article).  Senate leaders have indicated that they would be tolerant of modest tweaks but nothing substantial.  Something must be passed by both chambers and signed into law before March 31, 2012 when the current extension runs out.  At this point, it is unclear which route the House will take. 

Budget.  The House Budget Committee is scheduled to mark up the FY13 budget resolution during the week of March 19th.  But CQ reports that Republicans are nowhere near an agreement on the top three issues that require agreement for the party to shape the fiscal policy debate this election year: Should domestic programs be pushed to live with even less than was agreed to last summer? Is the campaign season the right time to engage on the future of Medicare and other entitlements? How should Congress move to reclaim ownership in the deficit reduction process in order to avoid across-the-board cuts of $109 billion (half to defense) 10 months from now?”  And because the House is in recess this week, it’s tough to see how the Committee’s chairman, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) will reach a decision and vet it with the Republican Caucus in time for the mark up.  Apparently, Ryan will announce his plan on March 20.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said that the deficit for 2012 is $93 billion larger than last estimated in January.  As the Washington Post summarized it would be the fourth straight year of trillion dollar-plus deficits and most of the new cost comes from the extensions of payroll tax holiday and unemployment benefits.

House Republicans are also trying to avoid massive cuts to the Department of Defense’s budget required under sequestration.  According to Politico, “At this stage, the goal is not to match the full $1.2 trillion in 10-year savings ordered by the Budget Control Act last summer. Instead, the primary focus is on the first round in 2013, half of which — about $54.7 billion — would come from national defense spending” (see def and March 9 Edition for more information about sequestration and other plans that are in the works). 

Health Care.   The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the case on the health care reform bill on March 26.  The decision is likely to be issued in June and Politico writes, whichever side wins will “make it sound like the final word on the ACA. But everyone knows that just isn’t the case. For Republicans, a win would validate their two-year fight against “Obamacare.” For Democrats, a win means the ultimate stamp of approval on Obama’s signature policy achievement and the chance to accuse Republicans of wasting the past two years fighting a law that’s constitutional.”

In case you were wondering, the AP has a status report on the implementation of the health care bill.  The short answer is that only a small percentage of it has been implemented with some provisions taking effect a decade down the road.  The CBO recently issued a report that estimated the amount of individuals who will receive coverage through their employer due to the law.  Bottom line is that it is hard to estimate because of the number of variables but “as many as 20 million Americans could lose their employer-provided coverage” (worst case) or “about 3 million to 5 million fewer people will obtain coverage through their employer each year from 2019 through 2022” (best case).  Click article or report for more information. 

On March 12, 26 states filed another brief on the case, this one over the Medicaid expansion provisions, which they say is coercive.  You can find the brief here.  On March 13, they filed another (their last) on the issue of severability — how much, if any, of the law’s other provisions can remain intact if the individual mandate is ruled unconstitutional.  Click here to read it.  See January 13, January 20, February 3, and February 10 Editions for background and various amicus briefs in support/opposition to the law.  There are also a number of op-eds arguing each side of the issue, including HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (support) and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi (oppose), who filed the case. 

U.S. News & World Report wrote a “new study finds that health insurance premiums will pass the median U.S. household income in 2033 if current trends continue.”

Committee Action.

  • A Senate Banking subcommittee held a hearing on the prepaid credit card market. The cards are a rapidly growing tool of the financial sector, but critics say the financial product loads fees and other charges on people with little financial know-how or few options. Consumers’ advocates and industry representatives will be on hand to offer their take, according to The Hill.

Other News.

  • The federal government and 49 states filed a $25 billion settlement with the nation’s largest banks over foreclosure abuses.  As The Hill summarized, “After more than a year of negotiations, five firms — Ally Financial, Bank of America, Citigroup, J.P. Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo — agreed last month to provide at least $20 billion in financial relief to borrowers as well as $5 billion in cash to federal and state governments.  Approximately $1.5 billion will be used to pay homeowners between $1,500 and $2,000 for those whose homes were sold or taken in foreclosure between Jan. 1, 2008, and Dec. 31, 2011, and those who meet other criteria.”
  • The Washington Post reported “a new report from the inspector general of the Department of Housing and Urban Development reveals that those shoddy practices often came at the direction of managers at the banks, and that employees in some cases were judged by how fast they could get new foreclosure filings out the door (article/report).
  • The Federal Reserve said 15 of the 19 largest U.S. banks would remain healthy even in a crisis that saw the markets plummet and the unemployment rate rise above 13 percent (article). Among those that would fail: Citigroup, the nation’s third largest bank (article).
  • We suppose this is good news: the LA Times reports “Overhead bins are getting bigger as more fliers avoid checking bags.”
  • Ever wonder how much effort goes into designing the Army’s camouflage uniforms?  Click here to find out.

Elections.

  • On March 10, Romney won the Wyoming primary while Santorum won the Kansas caucus (article). 
  • On March 13, Santorum has won the Republican primary in Mississippi and Alabama (article).  And Romney won Hawaii.
  • Next up: Missouri (March 17), Illinois (March 20), Louisiana (March 24), Maryland and Wisconsin (both on April 3), and Connecticut, Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island (all on April 24).
  • Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA-1) announced that he is resigning from Congress to focus on his gubernatorial campaign.
  • Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY-5) will not seek reelection in 2012 (article). 
  • The LA Times reports that labor unions are reevaluating their role in elections but the New York Times is saying that “Labor Leaders Plan Door-to-Door Effort for Obama.” 
  • One of the more bizarre facts about a candidate for Congress.  

For your information.  Before Senate leaders reached an agreement on the judicial nominations mentioned in the “Congress” section, the chamber was scheduled to hold 17 votes on motions to invoke cloture on the nominations.  Generally speaking, a vote lasts 15 minutes, which means the votes would take 255 minutes or 4 hours and 15 minutes.  And that does not include any debate time or other parliamentary requirements.  The Senate can (and often does) reduce the amount of time for each vote after the first one but that requires unanimous consent of all Senators.  

This week’s picture on The NonPartisan Post’s website is courtesy of Kirsten Rose.

Note about the pictures:  Each week we feature a new photo for two reasons.  One, to let those who prefer to read the NPP online that there is a new edition (you can access it either by the website or by having it sent to your email every Friday).  Two, Washington, DC is a beautiful city and we would like to share that with you. 

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