March 9, 2012 Edition

In this week’s edition … Administration, Congress, Budget, Committee Action, Elections, Other News (Congress), Other News, For Your Radar, Quote of the Week

Administration.   On March 6, President Obama held a press conference, during which he discussed Iran, gas prices, two new housing initiatives, among other things. 

Congress. 

Senate – The Senate continues to debate the highway authorization bill.  On March 1, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) “filled the tree” on the bill.  This is a somewhat common practice by Majority Leaders from both parties (though whoever is in the minority party always complains when it happens) which allows him to fill up all the possible opportunities for amendments and thereby depriving the Minority to offer amendments.  Generally, this is done to end delaying tactics but that is in the eye of the beholder.  Reid also offered an amendment that combines several portions of the bill.  However, the Senate failed to invoke cloture on these amendments so Senate Leaders continued to negotiate how to proceed on amendments (article).  Late Wednesday evening, they reached an agreement.  Under the terms, up to 30 amendments would be allowed, including some that were nongermane (the main sticking point for Reid; he wanted only germane amendments), including ones that deals with the Keystone XL pipeline (which failed), the Secure Rural Schools program, offshore drilling (which failed) and renewable tax extenders.  Each amendment needed to meet the 60 vote threshold, making many of them unlikely to pass.   

In case you were wondering, this article explains what would happen if an extension is not passed. 

During this transportation hoopla, the Senate did manage to find time to approved legislation that would give the Commerce Department the authority to continue imposing countervailing duties on imports from non-market economies such as China and Vietnam.  Essentially, the legislation would restore the agency’s power to set tariffs, about $5 billion worth, on subsidized goods from nations without a domestic market, overturning a U.S. appeals court ruling in December.  The House passed the bill on Tuesday, clearing the way for it to be sent to President Obama for his signature (article). 

House – The House debated H.R. 3606, Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (see last week’s edition for background: note: it apparently has more than one title, which is not unusual).  The White House formally announced its support for the legislation in a SAP.  It passed on March 8 and now goes to the Senate for consideration (article).

As reported in last week’s edition, House Republican Leaders have pulled the highway authorization bill due to the lack of support.  Speaker Boehner worked his Caucus hard, trying to gain enough support for the bill but by afternoon of March 8, he announced that the House bill would be shelved and his chamber will take up the Senate bill, once it is passed.  It is unclear if this strategy will work as many in the Republican Caucus find the Senate bill unpalatable but it may have the support of House Democrats.  The take away is that the highway bill is in limbo in the House and Speaker Boehner continues to have trouble controlling his Caucus.     

Budget.  The House Budget Committee expects to mark up the FY13 budget on March 19, with a March 26 floor vote.  Leading up to that, House Republicans are trying to determine what the funding levels will be for fiscal year 2013.  The debt limit agreement reached last year established the discretionary spending levels but some House Republicans are pushing for deeper cuts (article).  But further reductions could cause other Republicans to drop their support (most Democrats are already unhappy with the levels established last year and are therefore unwilling to agree to more cuts).  The full Senate is unlikely to take up a budget resolution but will draft the annual appropriations bills (which contains the discretionary funding) based on the debt limit agreement, which was $1.047 trillion.  Any difference between the chambers will require additional work between appropriators to reconcile the differences.  See Feb 10 Edition for explanation as to why the Senate will not take up a budget resolution. 

The Hill reports that “A small, bipartisan group of lawmakers in both the House and Senate are secretly drafting deficit grand bargain legislation that cuts entitlements and raises new revenue” to avoid sequestration (def), which is scheduled for January 2013 if no deal is reached.  Here is one plan on how to avoid the massive cuts; It is unlikely to get any traction.  The Pentagon is extremely worried about the cuts. 

Committee Action.

  • The president’s budget continues to be the subject of dozens of hearings, including House and Senate Appropriations Committees, Senate Budget Committee, and Senate Finance.
  • The Senate Finance Committee held a hearing that explored possible ways forward on tax reform, focusing this time on ways to incentivize capital investment and manufacturing.
  • The Senate Agriculture Committee held a hearing on healthy food and nutrition.

Elections.

  • Super Tuesday Results: Romney won Virginia, Vermont, Massachusetts, Idaho, Ohio, Alaska; Santorum won Tennessee, Oklahoma, North Dakota; Gingrich won Georgia.
  • Politico is keeping track of the delegates won by each candidate. 
  • Next Up:  Kansas (March 10), Mississippi, Alabama, Hawaii (all on March 13), 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).
  • Romney failed to clinch things on Tuesday.  Most agree that he will eventually win the Republican nomination but it looks like it will continue until May or may be even later.  As one reporter summarized Romney’s success during the primaries:  “Win, no bounce, repeat …”
  • Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA-6) announced his retirement (article).  He is the Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Committee. 

Other News (Congress).

  • The Hill reports, “Senate Republicans are clashing with conservative groups over whether to hold votes this year to repeal all of President Obama’s healthcare reform law” (see March 2 Edition for background).
  • It appears that the Senate is gearing up for a fight over judicial nominations. 
  • Roll Call looks at who will succeed Nancy Pelosi as the Democratic Leader, whenever she decides to move on. 
  • Rep. Donald Payne (D-NJ-10) passed away on March 6 (article).

Other News. 

  • Politico reports that “Military at odds with GOP on Iran policy” but apparently the Pentagon has drafted tentative plans for Syria
  • In a speech, Attorney General Eric Holder said the Obama administration has the “clear authority” to kill U.S. citizens overseas who are believed to be a terrorist threat (speech/article).
  • The New York Times reports that “The Treasury Department plans to sell $6 billion of its American International Group shares and A.I.G. will repay $8.5 billion in other obligations to the Treasury Department, principally using proceeds gained from various asset sales. Upon the completion of the new stock offering, the government will own a stake in the company worth about $41.8 billion, or roughly 70 percent.”
  • NPR reports on a new government study that found one-in-three American families reported difficulty paying their medical bills in the first half of 2011.
  • The Washington Post looks at how the current Supreme Court compares to previous Courts. 
  • According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, about $85 billion in U.S. student loan debt was delinquent in the third quarter of last year (article). 

For Your Radar.  The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the challenge to the health care reform bill on March 28.  See January 13, January 20, February 3, February 10 Editions for background and various amicus briefs in support/opposition to the law. 

Quote of the Week. “The little island of Manhattan, set like a jewel in its nest of rainbow waters, stared up into my face, and the solar system circled about my head! Why, I thought, the sun and the stars are suburbs of New York, and I never knew it!”  Helen Keller, in a letter, describing what she saw atop the Empire State Building (thanks to Wash Post).

This week’s photo is courtesy of Kirsten Rose.

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