Weekly Washington Outlook – December 2, 2013

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What to Watch This Week:

Congress:

The House: The House will reconvene Monday afternoon to consider three bills under suspension of the rules. The most notable among these is a measure by Rep. Howard Coble (R-N.) that would extent an existing law for ten years requiring guns to be manufactured with metal components to ensure they can be detected by X-ray machines and security devices. On Tuesday the House will take up nine more minor bills under suspension of the rules that relate to the Transportation Security Administration and natural resources issues. The remainder of the week, the House will consider the Small Business Capital Access and Job Preservation Act (H.R. 1105) sponsored by Rep. Robert Hurt (R-Va.) and may also take-up a patent troll bill sponsored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA).

The Senate: The Senate is in recess, returning December 9th.

White House: On Monday, the president will deliver remarks from the White House in observance of World AIDS Day. On Tuesday, Mr. Obama will welcome President Santos of Colombia to the White House. On Wednesday, the president will deliver remarks on the economy at the Center for American Progress. On Thursday, he will host a Hanukkah reception at the White House. The president and the First Family on Friday will attend the National Christmas Tree Lighting also at the White House. 

Also this week and beyond:

Patent Trolls – It is possible that the House will bring Chairman Goodlatte’s Judiciary Committee-backed patent troll bill to the floor at the end of this week. The measure is aimed at curbing patent litigation from companies labeled “trolls,” that buy patents for the purpose of suing other firms for royalties. Critics of the bill say that it restricts judicial discretion and only addresses the needs of defendants in cases brought by patent abusers. The White House is backing a narrower version of the bill in the Senate, sponsored by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah). Both versions, however, call on patent owners to disclose more information in an effort to ensure that infringement claims are legitimate and would provide legal relief to customers who can be dragged into infringement suits for using products or services that are being contested.

Dodd-Frank – The House this week is scheduled to consider Rep. Robert Hurt’s (R-N.C.) Small Business Capital Access and Job Preservation Act (H.R. 1105). This measure would exempt investment advisers for private equity funds with debts that are less than twice the capital under investment from Dodd-Frank’s registration and reporting requirements. This bill is another in a series of piecemeal attempts to chip away at the financial regulatory law.

Budget Conference – With the self-imposed December 13th deadline for a budget conference report quickly looming, committee members do not seem to be close to an agreement. While discussions are reportedly ongoing, there is no agreement on the topline spending number for the next fiscal year. The focus of the negotiations is primarily centered on repealing at least part of sequestration and it has been suggested that user fees, asset sales, and modest changes to certain entitlement programs could be used to offset the increase in spending. Yet, nothing concrete has emerged from conferees except an acknowledgement that the deal will be relatively small and will likely come sometime after the 13th.

Farm Bill – As with the budget conference, the Farm Bill conference seems poised to miss its end-of-the-year target completion date. While talks continued during the Thanksgiving recess, it is not clear that any significant progress was made in resolving differences over the nutrition title and some of the commodities provisions.

Healthcare – The House this week is scheduled to hold at least three hearings on Wednesday on the Affordable Care Act in the Ways and Means Health Subcommittee, the Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee, and the Small Business Committee. All are expected to focus on different perceived failures of the law related to its implementation, Medicare Advantage, and the impact on small employers. From the Administration, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services touted Sunday dramatic progress in meeting its goal to fix the healthcare.gov website. Read the progress report released over the weekend.

Minimum Wage – A vote on the motion to proceed to Sen.Harkin’s bill to raise the minimum wage incrementally over two years is possible when the Senate returns from its recess. Even with a number of small business tax measures attached to the minimum wage hike, at this point it seems unlikely that there are the 60 votes needed to advance the bill.

Nominations – In light of the invocation of the so-called “nuclear option” in the Senate, a vote on Congressman Mel Watt’s confirmation to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) will likely take place when the Senate reconvenes the week of December 9th. Quick action is also expected on Janet Yellen to Chair the Federal Reserve and Jeh Johnson to become Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. As background, the nuclear option changed the rules of the Senate so that only a majority vote (rather than 60) is required to proceed to confirm executive and judicial nominations. The rule change does not apply to nominees to the Supreme Court or legislation.

Tax Reform – Sen. Baucus recently released three discussion drafts that will be part of tax reform. These deal with corporate tax rates, international business taxes, and then a number of administrative rules. The Committee is accepting comments until January 17th on these. Additional discussion drafts are expected in the coming weeks. In the House, Speaker Boehner has allegedly asked Chairman Camp to slow down on a tax overhaul; the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee had been preparing to release a discussion draft as well.

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