March 30, 2012 Edition

In this week’s edition … Correction, Editor’s Note, Supreme Court/Health Care, Administration, Congress, Transportation, Budget, Committee Action, Other News, Elections, Quote of the Week

Correction.  Last week’s Edition stated that the JOBS bill, which had passed the Senate, was on its way to the President for his signature.  However, the chamber amended it so it went back to the House for its approval, which it did on Tuesday (article).  It is now on its way to the White House to be signed into law. 

Editor’s Note.

  • Congress is scheduled for a two week recess, which will begin after this week’s last vote.  The NonPartisan Post will take a brief pause but will bring you up to speed on major developments once we return. 
  • Also, while we welcome visitors to our website and hope you take advantage of our glossary and archived editions, you can have each week’s edition sent directly to your email inbox.  Sign up through the link on the upper right side of the homepage.  Feel free to share The NonPartisan Post with others.

Supreme Court/Health Care.  On Monday, the Supreme Court began the first of three days of arguments on the healthcare reform law.  A very brief summary of each day’s arguments:

  • Day 1: It appears unlikely that the Justices will let a tax law prevent them from ruling on the constitutionality of the health care law this year (article; good thing for both sides).
  • Day 2: Several Justices appeared skeptical of the government’s argument that requiring consumers to purchase health insurance or face a fine is constitutional (article; good for opponents of the bill and bad for supporters).
  • Day 3:  Justices were trying to determine if the entire law must fall if the individual mandate requiring Americans to carry health insurance is found unconstitutional (article; worst case for supporters of the bill).

The Washington Post looked at how the individual insurance mandate (Day 2’s debate) changed from something Republicans supported and now oppose and Obama initially opposed but is now key to his signature initiative. 

Also, as NBC noted, “Only a small percentage of the public would even be subject to the individual mandate, if it’s found to be constitutional. A new Urban Institute study finds …that 98% of Americans “would either be exempt from the mandate — because of employer coverage, public health insurance or low income — or given subsidies to comply.” So there you have it, folks: “The central issue before the Supreme Court was once opposed by Obama, supported by conservatives and Republicans, and won’t even affect most Americans.”

The Washington Post interviewed Don Berwick, who “spent 18 months as the administrator of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, making him the point man for the Obama administration’s implementation of the Affordable Care Act.”

Administration.  President Obama spent part of the week in South Korea for a nuclear security summit.  The Hill reports, “The Obama administration is “coordinating” with world nations to respond to volatile energy markets, but has made no decisions on whether to tap emergency oil reserves.”

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

Senate – On March 26, in a somewhat surprising move, the Senate agreed to start debating a Democratic proposal to eliminate billions of dollars in tax breaks for major oil companies (article).  As The Hill summarized, “Both parties think they can score political points in the highly charged floor debate. Democrats hope to paint their GOP colleagues as shills of the oil industry for opposing the bill, while Republicans will argue that the legislation is a distraction from measures intended to rein in soaring gas prices.”  As expected, Majority Leader Reid “filled the tree” so Republicans can’t offer any amendments; he also filed cloture on the bill.  However, the cloture vote failed, essentially killing the legislation.  The vote was 51-47 with 60 votes needed. 

The chamber rejected a motion to invoke cloture on postal reform legislation (article).  The chamber will probably revisit the issue in mid-April. 

The Senate was to vote on President Obama‘s nominees to fill two vacancies on the Federal Reserve‘s Board of Governors and three nominees to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. but Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) put a hold on them (article).   They will likely get a vote but at this point it is unclear when the votes will be held. 

House – The House finally passed an extension of the highway bill.  See below for more. 

The House passed H.R. 3309, the Federal Communications Commission Process Reform Act (article).  The bill would require the FCC to do more study and require more public input before releasing regulations, and weaken the FCC’s ability to dictate the terms of mergers between communications companies.  It is unlike the Senate will take it up and the Administration would likely veto it if the legislation managed to pass the Senate.

The House spent much of the week debating the FY13 budget resolution (see March 23 Edition for background materials).  The chamber also considered alternatives from Democrats, the Republican Study Committee, the Progressive Caucus, the Congressional Black Caucus, and an alternative offered by Reps. Jim Cooper and Steven LaTourette.  This article has a rundown on each or see below for a very brief summary.  Note: The only amendments that are allowed are substitute amendments which contain an alternative budget (usually amendments modify a small part of the pending legislation).  Members can and often do vote for more than one budget. 

  • The Republican budget (aka the Ryan Budget) would cut $5.3 trillion in spending over 10 years and balance the budget by 2040.
  • The Republican Study Committee (a group of extremely conservative members) budget would make enough cuts to balance the budget in five years.
  • The Democratic budget largely mirrors President Obama’s budget (see Feb 17 Edition).
  • The Congressional Progressive Caucus budget would increase taxes by $4.7 trillion more than the White House proposed, which it said was necessary to “put Americans back to work” and “rebuild the middle classes” while reducing the deficit.
  • The Cooper/LaTourette is modeled after Simpson-Bowles commission.
  • Editors couldn’t find a simple summary of the CBC budget.  See the link above for a Fact Sheet (note: the other links above are to articles describing the various budget proposals, not the legislation). 

The Ryan budget ultimately passed by a vote of 228-191; every Democrat and 10 Republicans opposed it.

Transportation.  On March 26 and 27, the House was scheduled to vote on an extension of the highway law but the votes were postponed because the Republican Leadership did not have the necessary support.  The House finally passed a 90 day extension (through June 30), on March 29, which the Senate quickly passed (article); the previous extension was scheduled to expire at midnight Saturday.  The first two attempts were through the suspension calendar, which requires 2/3 of the House to pass legislation.  The March 29 vote only required a simple majority for passage. 

The measure now goes to the President for his signature and will allow the two chambers time to figure out the next step.  The Senate passed a two year authorization, while the House has tied itself up in knots.  The options are for the House to pass something and conference it with the Senate, for the House to pass the Senate bill, or punt again and do another extension.  However, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) said she would object to any additional extensions in the future so the other two options are more likely.

Committee Action.

  • Nothing of note. 

Other News.

  • Senate Democrats introduced a $25 billion tax cut to spur hiring among small businesses that is intended to counter a different offer by House Republicans (see “Other News” in last week’s Edition).
  • The EPA announced its greenhouse gas rule for new power plants.
  • The Hill reported that a group of six bipartisan senators — Michael Bennet (D-CO), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Mike Enzi (R-WY), Richard Burr (R-NC), Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) — unveiled a discussion draft of legislation that would shift the burden to manufacturers to prove a drug is safe when entering the United States instead of waiting for a complaint. According to Bennet, the bill would “strengthen manufacturer quality standards, enhance the FDA’s ability to protect Americans through improved tracking and oversight of foreign manufacturing sites, require manufacturers throughout the supply chain to register with the FDA, and increase the penalty for counterfeiting drugs.”
  • MSNBC reported on a new Department of Treasury study that indicated that traffic snarls wasted 1.9 billion gallons of fuel last year — about 5% of the gas American motorists used. 

Elections. 

  • Santorum won the Louisiana Republican on March 24. 
  • His win didn’t substantively change the delegate count; it netted him just five delegates.  Politico has the count here
  • Up next are DC, Maryland, Wisconsin primaries.  And in case you were wondering, as of March 29, there are 222 days until Election Day. 

Quote of the Week.  As written by Politico, “As several people were discussing taking off their shoes while waiting in line to enter the Rayburn [House Office Building]: “It’s easier to get to a member of Congress than to get on an airplane.”

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