April 20, 2012 Edition

In this week’s edition … Administration, Congress, Economy, Health Care, Budget, Committee Action, Other News, Elections, For Your Information.

Administration.  The Obama administration announced it was creating a single agency, the Administration for Community Living, to help keep seniors and people with disabilities in their homes. The new agency will coordinate programs currently run by the Administration on Aging, the Office on Disability and the Administration on Developmental Disabilities. 

President Obama encouraged Congress to pass legislation to ensure speculators aren’t manipulating energy markets (article). 

The White House announced that Obama will award the nation’s highest military decoration next month to Army Specialist Leslie H. Sabo Jr., who was killed in 1970 in Cambodia while fighting in the Vietnam War (announcement). 

Congress.  A brief summary of the week’s action in the House and Senate.

Senate – On Monday, the Senate voted down a motion to invoke cloture on the “Buffett Rule,” which would have ensured millionaires pay at least a 30 percent effective tax rate on all their income. The vote was 51-45 and needed 60 votes to pass (article).   The Senate approved the nomination of Stephanie Dawn Thacker to be a United States Circuit Judge for the Fourth Circuit (article). 

The Senate spent much of the week debating whether or not to debate the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.  While VAWA needs to be reauthorized, the bill is serving as a “parliamentary placeholder while Senate Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) negotiate the terms for debating the bill designed to forestall a financial meltdown at the Postal Service,” as reported by CQ.  This article outlines some of the issues regarding the Postal bill and here is a little more about the debate to renew the VAWA.    

House – The House voted on H.R. 4089, the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act.  The bill is meant to clarify federal authorities and policies for the management of hunting and fishing on public lands (justification of the bill starts on page 7; dissenting views are on page 20).  Here is a summary of the amendments offered to the bill.

The House passed a transportation extension (article).  The bill extends current law for 90 days and includes mandatory approval of construction of the Keystone energy pipeline (article).  Technically, the bill would transfer authority to approve the Keystone XL pipeline project from the State Department to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). FERC would be required to issue the permit within 30 days of receiving an application regarding the process. If FERC takes no action to approve the permit, it would be deemed approved after the 30-day period. 

The idea is to conference with the Senate and hope that the Keystone language will win out in conference committee.  It is unclear what the Senate’s position is on the Keystone language, though they are still committed to a long-term bill, similar to legislation that has already been passed (see March 16 Edition).  The Administration threatened to veto the bill over the Keystone provision (SAP/article). 

The chamber also passed 235-173 (mostly party-line vote) on a small-business tax bill drafted by Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.). The measure would provide a 20 percent tax break to companies with fewer than 500 employees.  The bill would add $46 billion to the deficit next year.  It is unlikely that the Senate will take the bill up but the Administration issued a veto threat for good measure (SAP/article).

Budget.  The Senate Budget Committee was scheduled to mark up the Fiscal Year 2013 Budget Resolution this week but the Committee’s chairman, Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND) announced that the mark up will be postponed until after the election.  The Committee met on Wednesday and after opening statements were given, the Committee adjourned. 

The rule (def) for the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act (see above) included deeming language which set the discretionary spending level outlined in the Ryan budget and reconciliation instructions for various House Committees to come up with the savings also required in the budget (article).  The six committees must come up with a $261 billion, 10-year savings package by the end of next week, which if enacted would replace the across-the-board sequestration cuts that are set to be launched come January (the cuts will not be enacted because the Senate would have to approve them and they won’t). 

The deeming language was necessary because there will not be a final budget resolution; Senate Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) has repeatedly said that he won’t bring a budget to the floor for a vote because he believes that the debt ceiling agreement reached last year set the spending levels for the upcoming fiscal year.  The deeming language officially set the House discretionary spending cap at $1.028 trillion, as called for in the Ryan Budget. 

The six committees charged with finding savings are Agriculture ($33 billion over ten years); Judiciary ($39.7 billion over 10 years); Financial Services ($35.1 billion over 10 years); Ways and Means ($53 billion over ten years), Energy and Commerce ($96.76 billion over ten years) and Oversight and Government Reform ($78.9 billion over ten years).

NYT and The Hill look at the upcoming battle over tax policy.

Appropriations.  Both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees held their first subcommittee markups this week, including House Energy and Water (article); House Commerce-Justice-Science; Senate Commerce-Justice-Science; Senate Transportation/HUD.  (Note summaries and articles were not available for all the bills.)

The Senate Appropriations Committee also voted to set the allocations for the 12 fiscal 2013 bills based on an overall discretionary spending level of $1.047 trillion set in the 2011 debt limit law.  House appropriators set a lower allocations, known informally as 302(b)s, based on the $1.028 trillion discretionary spending level outlined in the House budget resolution.  The difference will set up a clash between the two chambers and the White House warned Congress that Obama will not sign any new appropriations bills until the House Republican leadership moves back to the spending targets agreed to last summer’s debt deal (the Senate number).  For more, click here

Committee Action. 

  • The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Tuesday passed two bills relating to energy (article), one of which would prevent EPA from finalizing several air pollution rules.  The other bill would require that any drawdown of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve be accompanied by an increase in the federal lands and waters made available for oil and natural-gas drilling (summarized by the Hill)
  • As The Hill summarized, a House Financial Services subcommittee held a hearing on the penny. Specifically, lawmakers will be discussing what role coins have in the future of the nation’s money supply. Canada announced recently that it is ditching the penny, leading to questions about whether the United States will follow suit regarding the copper Lincoln.
  • The House Ways and Means Committee held a hearing on potential changes to tax breaks on retirement savings (article).
  • The Senate Banking Committee held a hearing on the Export-Import Bank reauthorization.  Usually just a formality, the reauthorization bill has been caught in a partisan battle but there may be a solution.  The bank’s authorization expires at the end of May.
  • A Senate Commerce subcommittee held a hearing on toll roads.

Other News.

  • Senate Republicans will join a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of President Obama’s recess appointments to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).  Click article and/or see January 6 Edition for background. 
  • The Washington Post reports that gasoline consumption is at its lowest level in a decade.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency issued final regulations aimed at reducing toxic air pollution from fracking (article).
  • The House and Senate will soon unveil legislation updating the fees prescription drug and medical device makers pay to fund their regulators at the Food and Drug Administration. Current user fees expire Sept. 30 and the committees of jurisdiction aim to begin work on the legislation by the end of the month.
  • The New Yorker had a very candid interview with Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), who is retiring. 
  • Here’s why tax forms are called “schedules.”

Elections.

  • Rep. Ed Towns is retiring (article).
  • Politico looks at 10 races where energy will play a significant role in determining the winner.
  • According to the Washington Post, Congressional retirements reach highest point since 1996.   Here is a list of retirements. 

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