May 19, 2012 Edition

In this week’s edition … Administration, Congress, Appropriations, Health Care, Economy, Committee Action, Other News

Administration.  On May 15, President Obama spoke at the National Peace Officers Memorial Service. 

On May 16, the President met with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (KY), Speaker Boehner (R-OH) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA.) to discuss the President’s “to-do list” for Congress (see May 11 Edition for background).  During the meeting, Obama and Boehner clashed over how the two would raise the debt ceiling (article; see below for more on the debt limit debate).  He also presented the Medal of Honor for valor above and beyond the call of duty to the family of Specialist Leslie H. Sabo, Jr.

On May 18, Obama announced $3 billion in American private sector pledges to reduce hunger in Africa (announcement/article).  He also began the first of two days of meetings with G-8 leaders.  On Sunday and Monday, he will meet with NATO leaders.

Congress.  A brief summary of the legislative action in the two chambers. 

Senate – On May 15, the Senate passed the Export-Import Bank Reauthorization bill.  Here’s more on the agreement that allowed the bill to be considered and passed.  It now goes to the President for his signature. 

On May 16, the Senate spent six hours debating motions to proceed to six budget resolutions.  Essentially, they were debating whether or not to debate one or more of the budgets, which were sponsored by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA); Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY); Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), which is a Republican interpretation of President Obama’s budget; and a plan offered jointly by Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT), Jim DeMint (R-SC) and Paul. The last was the budget resolution passed by the House a couple weeks back.  None of them secured the required number of votes (51) so the Senate did not formally debate the bills.  Here is more about the debate. 

After months of delay due to one Senator placing a hold on them, the chamber confirmed the President’s two nominees to the Federal Reserve, Jerome Powell and Jeremy Stein (article).  Senator David Vitter (R-La.) had held them up claiming that he wanted a full debate on them “rather than just rubber-stamping all this,” while jabbing at the Fed for pushing “activist, easy money policies,” as summarized by The Hill.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) tried to pass legislation that strengthens sanctions against Iran that are designed to economically isolate the country until it abandons its nuclear weapons aspirations but Republicans blocked it because they wanted to include stronger language reiterating that the United States is prepared to use force to stop any nuclear weapons program. 

House – This week the House passed legislation to extend the National Flood Insurance Program (article); to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (article); and National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2013 (article). 

Members submitted 237 amendments to the Rules Committee for the Defense bill and 127 were made in order (the full list can be found here).  These two articles discuss some of the more controversial ones. 

The White House has threatened a veto of the Defense Authorization bill (SAP) even though it passed with bipartisan support.  It also threatened to veto the Violence Against Women Act (SAP) because the House version of the VAWA does not include Senate language prohibiting discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. It also does not go as far as the Senate in protecting Native Americans or illegal-immigrant victims of domestic abuse. 

After they concluded voting on Friday, they adjourned for a District Work Period. They will reconvene after the Memorial Day holiday.  The Senate will have votes next week. 

Other Congressional News.

  • Last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) expressed his support for changing the filibuster rules; however, this week, he indicated he would hold off on any proposals (article).  Meanwhile, Common Cause, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization, sued the U.S. Senate arguing that the filibuster is unconstitutional.  Politico has more on the lawsuit. 
  • The Senate may take up legislation to reauthorize Food and Drug Administration user fee programs next week. 
  • The conference committee on the highway transportation reauthorization bill continues to meet.
  • Some House Republicans are rethinking the ban on earmarks.
  • Some Republicans are rejecting a pledge to never vote for a tax increase, which is a “litmus test for any conservative who wants to be taken seriously in a Republican primary.”
  • CBS wrote about message voting. 

Appropriations.  On May 15, the Senate Military Construction, Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee approved its spending bill.  It provides $146.6 billion to fund military construction and programs for veterans (summary/article) and the Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee approved its bill (summary).  For those keeping track, 4 bills have been approved by the full Senate Appropriations Committee, 2 more by the subcommittee and 6 have had no action.

The House Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee approved its spending bill, which now moves to the full Committee.  The House Appropriations Committee approved the Military Construction-VA, Foreign Ops and the Defense Appropriations bills (Mil-Con/Foreign Ops/Defense summaries); next step, the full House.  As for the status of the House bills, 1 bill passed the House, 5 have been passed by the full Appropriations Committee and 1 has passed on the subcommittee level, leaving five that have had no action.

Health Care.  HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and NIH Director Francis Collins unveiled the final draft of a national plan to eliminate Alzheimer’s disease by 2025 (announcement/article). 

A New England Journal of Medicine study found that, from 2001 to 2010, the FDA approved new drugs faster than its counterparts in Canada and Europe .

The annual Medical Index found that the average health care costs for a typical family of four covered by a PPO was $20,728, an increase of 6.9 percent from 2011.  Most families don’t realize this though because their own out-of-pocket costs average $3,470.  For more, click here

Economy.  In dueling speeches this week, Treasury Secretary Geithner and Speaker Boehner discussed the debt ceiling, which will need to be raised sometime after November’s elections but before the new year.  Geithner warned against playing around with the ceiling, which could cause economic harm.  Boehner argued that any increase will have to be accompanied by spending cuts and other reforms.  Click Geithner or Boehner for more on their speeches. 

Boehner also said in the speech that House Republicans will explicitly link an extension of the Bush tax rates with a path for overhauling the tax code (article).

Committee Action.

  • Other than the Appropriations Committees moving some of their bills, nothing of note. 

Other News.

  • The Associated Press reports that Global Zero calls for steep cuts in the US’s nuclear arsenal, saying that the country only need about 900 total nuclear weapons.  The group includes several retired high-ranking military and State Department officials and retired Members of Congress.
  • Senator John McCain (R-AZ) is working with several Democratic Senators on campaign finance reform (article). 
  • The Postal Service announced that it is closing 232 mail processing centers in the coming months.

Elections.

  • Romney won the Nebraska and Oregon Republican primaries on May 15.  NBC estimates that Romney is 155 delegates away from the 1144 needed to be the Republican nominee.  The current count is Romney 989, Santorum 265, Gingrich 130, and Paul 106.
  • Ron Paul effectively ended his presidential campaign.

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