March 23, 2012 Edition

Editor’s note: Don’t forget about the glossary on our website, which has a running list of legislative terms.  If you aren’t sure of a terms meaning and its not on the list, email it to us and we will define it in the next edition. 

In this week’s edition … Defense, Administration, Congress, Budget, Transportation, Supreme Court, Trade, Committee Action, Elections, Other News

Defense.  March 21, 2012 marked nine years since the start of the Iraq war.  Thank you to all who served. 

Administration.  Secretary Geithner gave remarks last week defending the Administration’s economic policies (text).   It appears that Britain and the United States will release oil from their strategic reserves within months, seeking to prevent fuel prices from choking economic growth.  On March 21, President Obama began a four-state tour to highlight his energy policy (article).  While on the trip, he ordered federal agencies to expedite approval of the southern part of the Keystone XL pipeline (article). 

As reported by The Hill, “The Treasury Department has sold off all the mortgage-backed securities it bought during the financial crisis, reaping a profit along the way. The government made $25 billion from roughly $225 billion of debt backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The securities were purchased in the midst of the financial crisis, as the government tried to keep credit flowing in the housing market.”

The paper also reported, “The Treasury Department announced late Thursday that American International Group, the insurance giant at the center of the financial meltdown, had paid back another $1.5 billion in bailout funds. While the government still has a $45 billion stake in the company, that latest chunk of change means the public has fully recouped its investment in the company, all $182 billion originally pumped into it to keep it afloat. The vast majority of the government’s remaining investment is in the form of 1.2 billion shares of company stock, which it plans to slowly sell off over a period of time.”

The Washington Post recounted last year’s negotiations between Speaker Boehner (R-OH) and President Obama regarding the national debt, which eventually lead to the raising of the debt ceiling, creation of the Super Committee, and if that failed, sequestration.

Congress.  A summary of the legislative action undertaken by the Senate and House.

SenateThroughout the week, the Senate continued to debate the JOBS bill, which it started late last week.  Senators rejected a motion to invoke cloture on an amendment to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank of the United States (article; see below for some of the politics related to the amendment).   The Senate passed the bill on March 22.  The chamber also passed the House-version of the STOCK act, which would ban lawmakers from trading stocks based on insider information (article).  The President is expected to sign both into law. 

The Washington Post profiled Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND), who will retire at the end of the term and currently serves as Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. 

House – Despite the urgency, Politico reports that the House will not take up a long term highway bill until April.  Instead it will pass a three month extension (probably next week) to prevent a partial shutdown (article), however the Senate is not keen on the short term extension so the two chambers are at a standoff.  The current highway extension expires on March 31. 

The House passed on HR 5, which would repeal the Independent Payment Advisory Board (article). Although it is doubtful the Senate will pass it, the President has been advised to veto the bill by his advisors, if it is presented to him for his signature.  See the SAP here.  House also passed legislation that calls for the administration to sell off excess properties.

During the week of March 26 it may consider H.R. 3309, the Federal Communications Commission Process Reform Act (background).  It may also consider H.R. 2309, Postal Reform Act (background).

Budget.  On March 21, the House Budget Committee passed the FY13 budget resolution by a vote of 19-18.  Click Majority, Minority or White House for the respective points of view on the budget or for articles summarizing it, click The Hill, Washington Post or New York Times.  The full House is expected to take up the bill during the week of March 27th

Some highlights of the Republican budget (thanks largely to The Hill):

  • The proposal calls for two individual tax brackets (25 percent and 10 percent), nixes the Alternative Minimum tax and lowers corporate rates to 25 percent. 
  • It calls for $1.8 trillion in mandatory spending cuts without fully fleshing these out.
  • It would slash federal Medicaid spending by $810 billion over 10 years and give states more flexibility to run the program as they see fit (article).
  • It would add more to the deficit over 10 years than if Congress kept to the status quo (article).
  • It cuts $33 billion in farm subsidies.
  • It also deals with sequestration (article).  In short, the plan depends on reconciliation (def) but because the Senate must agree to reconciliation but won’t, it will not happen and therefore significant budget cuts are still scheduled for January 2012 unless Congress passes other legislation, which the President would need to sign into law.   

According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), President Obama’s 2013 budget would add $3.5 trillion to annual deficits through 2022.  As The Hill summarized, “the differences between the estimates from CBO and the White House budget office are attributable to different baselines and economic assumptions, and a big reason CBO expects the deficit to spike sharply under Obama’s budget is that CBO’s baseline assumes all the Bush-era tax rates will expire at the end of 2012.  Obama wants to continue the middle-class tax cuts, something reflected in his budget (see February 17 Edition for background on the President’s budget).  Reuters also wrote about the Democrats’ concerns. 

Transportation.  Politico reported on the Department of Transportation’s Conditions and Performance report.  As they summarized, “The startling number: All levels of government would need to spend $101 billion each year for the next two decades just to maintain the current system.” That said, DOT cautions, “This document is not a statement of administration policy, and the future investment scenarios presented are intended to be illustrative only. The report does not endorse any particular level of future highway, bridge or transit investment.”  See it here

The FAA may reconsider the use of electronic devices. 

Supreme Court.  The New York Times reported on a pair Supreme Court decisions which vastly expanded judges’ supervision of the criminal justice system.  According to the article, “The decisions mean that what used to be informal and unregulated deal making is now subject to new constraints when bad legal advice leads defendants to reject favorable plea offers.”

The Supreme Court will not allow television cameras into its chambers during arguments over President Obama’s healthcare law, which is scheduled for March 26-28 (article).   While we did our best to provide you with all the amicus briefs related to the case (See January 13, January 20, February 3, February 10, March 16 Editions for links to the briefs), there are apparently 136 such briefs (article).  While we haven’t reviewed all of them, we believe we have linked to the major arguments. 

Trade.  As previously mentioned, the Senate rejected an amendment to the JOBS bill that would have reauthorized the Export-Import bank.   The amendment pitted House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and Delta Airlines against Boeing, the National Association of Manufacturers and the Chamber of Commerce. For more, click here.

Committee Action.

(Note: this is not comprehensive.)

  • The House Appropriations subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies held a hearing on the National Institutes of Health’s 2013 budget proposal, which is flat-funded at $31.7 billion (testimony was unavailable).
  • House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing on the European debt crisis.  The witnesses were Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. 
  • The House Education and the Workforce Committee held a hearing on the Department of Labor’s 2013 budget.
  • The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held a hearing on the Department of Homeland Security 2013 budget request.

Elections.

  • Mitt Romney won Puerto Rico’s Republican on March 18th (article) and the Illinois Republican presidential primary on March 20 (article).  
  • Here is Politico’s delegate tracker for the primaries held so far.
  • According to NBC, “The earliest Mitt Romney could win the 1,144 delegates needed to capture the GOP nomination, per our count, is May 29, and that’s assuming he wins every single delegate after today. If you assume that he wins a 60%-40% split of the remaining the delegates, Romney won’t get to 1,144 until June 26, when Utah holds its primary. And if Romney and Rick Santorum continue to trade victories as they’ve been doing over the past month — with Santorum winning his demographic strongholds and Romney winning his — Romney would fall about 50 delegates short of the magic number.”  (Note: this was written before the Illinois primary so the numbers may have changed slightly). 

Other News.

  • House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) proposed a small business tax plan (article). 
  • Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) became the longest serving woman in the history of Congress (article).
  • Sen. Richard Blumenthal is writing a bill to bar prospective employers from asking job seekers for access to their Facebook accounts (article).
  • Reps. David McKinley (R-WV) and Peter Welch (D-VT) unveiled legislation, known as the Home Owner Managing Energy Savings (HOMES) Act, which would give rebates to consumers who improve their home energy efficiency.  According to The Hill, “Homeowners who demonstrate a 20 percent energy savings will receive a $2,000 rebate. For every 5 percent in additional energy savings, they can receive another $1,000 — up to a total of $8,000 or 50 percent of the project’s cost.”  The legislation won support from an unlikely coalition of green and industry groups, including the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
  • USAToday profiled Holly Petraeus, wife of Gen. David Petraeus, the current Director of the Central Intelligence Agency and currently head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Office of Servicemember Affairs.

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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