May 25, 2012 Edition

In this week’s edition … Administration, Congress, Appropriations, Health Care, Committee Action, Other News, Elections, Quote of the Week, Editors’ Note

Administration.  On Wednesday, President Obama delivered the commencement address at the Air Force Academy.

The White House announced the recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor. The honorees are Madeleine Albright, Bob Dylan, John Glenn, Toni Morrison and John Paul Stevens, Jan Karski, John Doar, William Foege, Gordon Hirabayashi, Dolores Huerta, Juliette Gordon Low, and Pat Summitt.  In addition, Israeli President Shimon Peres will receive the medal but the ceremony hasn’t been scheduled yet.  The ceremony of the others will be on May 29, 2012.

On Thursday, the President visited Newton, Iowa, where he gave a speech urging Congress to renew an extension of the wind production tax credit and a revival of the 48C clean tech manufacturing credit (article). 

Other Administration News.

  • Despite a pledge from Obama to change the way things work in DC and limit lobbyists’ access to his staff, the Washington Post reports that many lobbyists have access to the White House.  At least one reporter is not critical of this “flip-flop.”
  • Politico has an article about the President’s relationship with Congressional Democrats (hint: not as strong as many in Congress would like).

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

House – During the week of May 21, the House held a Constituent Work Period.  The House is expected to consider the following bills when they return from the Work Period:

  • H.R. 5743 — Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013
  • H.R.5855 — Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2013
  • H.R. 5854 — Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2013
  • H.R. 5325 — Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2013

Senate – On Monday, the chamber approved the nomination of Paul Watford to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals (article).  After a brief delay (see last week’s edition), the Senate finally (unanimously) passed legislation strengthening economic sanctions against Iran in an effort to prevent them from developing nuclear weapons (article). The legislation still needs to be reconciled with a version passed by the House.

The Senate spent the first half of the week debating a motion to proceed to legislation reauthorizing the FDA’s power to collect the user fees that finance reviews of all new drugs and medical devices. On Wednesday, the chamber dispensed with the motion to proceed and actually started to debate the bill.  It passed on Thursday by a vote of 96-1 (article).   The major stumbling block to final passage was which amendments would be considered.  Senate Leaders finally came to an agreement allowing 17 amendments to be considered (none of which passed).  While this article has a little more information on the agreement and the amendments, here are a couple of the more notable ones:

  • A Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) amendment to allow Americans to import prescription drugs from Canada (article);
  • A Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) amendment to address “pay for delay” agreements between generic and brand drug manufacturers (article);
  • A Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) amendment that would require additional study of genetically modified salmon before it can be approved by FDA; and
  • A Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) amendment that would strip exclusive marketing rights from drugmakers if a company is found to be at fault for fraud involving a particular drug.

On Thursday, the Senate voted on two proposals (one Democrat, one Republican) that would extend the student interest rate of 3.4 percent through July 1, 2013.  Neither received the necessary support (60 votes) so the negotiations continue (article).  The chamber also passed a two-month extension of the National Flood Insurance Program, which the House is scheduled to take up next week (article). 

Other Congressional News.

  • While the Senate will hold a Constituent Work Period during the week of May 28, Majority Leader Reid announced the Senate agenda for the month of June:  legislation that would give more options to women who aren’t paid the same as men for doing equivalent work; the farm bill; cybersecurity legislation; one or more appropriations bills; legislation reauthorizing federal flood insurance system; and legislation on the student loan interest rates.  It is unclear how much will actually get done.
  • Although both chambers have passed the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, the two versions differ and must be reconciled in a conference committee.  While that poses its own problems, there’s more.  As summarized by Talking Points Memo: “An obscure parliamentary snafu has stymied Democrats’ aggressive efforts to extend Violence Against Women Act protections to same-sex couples, illegal immigrants, and tribal communities, and provided the GOP leverage to keep those provisions out of legislation to reauthorize that law. … Constitution’s Origination Clause requires revenue raising bills to have their first reading in the House — not the Senate. A provision in the Senate’s VAWA bill generates revenue by imposing a fee for visas that go to immigrant victims of domestic abuse. Normally, the Senate can work around this requirement by amending House bills or by using House-passed revenue bills as vehicles for their own legislation. Senate Dems didn’t regard the visa fee as a revenue provision and have thus fallen into a trap. For all intents and purposes they don’t have a bill to bring to a conference committee with House Republicans.” (Thanks to Politico for the summary)
  • The Hill provides a status report on legislation that would give the president a line item veto.  Congress approved the line item veto during the Clinton Administration but the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional.  The new bill addresses those concerns, passed the House with bipartisan support and now awaits action in the Senate. 

Appropriations.  The State-Foreign Ops Subcommittee approved its FY13 spending bill on Tuesday (article).  The full Committee approved the Homeland Security Appropriations and the Military Construction-VA appropriations bills; they now await Senate action.    

Health Care.  A study Health Care Cost Institute found that costs rose 3.3 percent in 2010 even though people actually used fewer services in many categories.  This report challenges the basic premise of President Obama’s approach to controlling health costs – that spending will come down if doctors don’t give patients as much unnecessary medical care (report/article). 

Committee Action.

  • On Monday, the Senate Armed Services Committee’s subcommittees marked up their sections of the Defense Authorization bill; the full committee marked up the entire bill on Wednesday and passed it on Thursday (article).  It is unclear when the full Senate will take it up, and, of course, it will have to be reconciled with the House-passed version.    
  • On Tuesday, the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs held a hearing on J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. financial losses and on financial regulation oversight.  The witness was Securities and Exchange Commission Chairwoman Mary L. Schapiro.  Here is an article about it. 

Other News.

  • On Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruled that twins conceived through in vitro fertilization after their father’s death are not eligible for Social Security survivor benefits (Washington Post).
  • The Hill reports that the Congressional Budget Office sees recession in 2013 unless Congress acts on fiscal issues.
  • USA Today reports that the auto industry is seeing higher demand for its vehicles. 
  • Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko announced he would resign once the Senate confirms his replacement (article).

Elections.

  • Romney won the Arkansas and Kentucky presidential primaries on Tuesday.
  • Politico has an interesting article about how little Romney speaks about his role as Governor of Massachusetts.  The article points out, “The result is one of the oddest political story lines in an oddball year. No candidate in modern history has so aggressively undersold what has been seen as the most desirable qualification for the presidency since the 1970s — running a state — nor downplayed a string of victories, tough calls and man-up moments that a typical politician would highlight in a heartbeat.”

Quote of the Week.  “I am afraid that one of these days, there’s a fire that’s gonna break out in the Senate and they’re gonna suffocate from the smoke because they won’t get 60 votes to adjourn. The degree to which that Senate filibuster has locked them down, that’s very debilitating.” Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) commenting on excessive partisanship in the Senate (note: Frank said this in an interview on C-Span, but we noticed it on Washington Post’s website). 

Editors’ Note.  Unfortunately, this is the last edition of The NonPartisan Post.  It has been a pleasure writing it each week for the past several months and we hope you found it beneficial.  But, writing it each week on top of holding down a full time job and pursuing life’s interests, proved to be too much.  We urge you to stay engaged in current affairs, to vote and work, in some form or fashion, to improve our country. 

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