Weekly Washington Outlook – January 13, 2014

STOCK PHOTO capitol building

What to Watch This Week:

Congress:

The House:

On Monday and Tuesday, the House will consider several non-controversial bills under suspension of the rules.  Also on Tuesday, the House will take-up a three-day spending bill to fund the government while appropriators finalize their work on an omnibus appropriations bill.  The hope is that an omnibus will be ready for floor consideration on Wednesday or Thursday at the latest.  The House in this period will also take-up the Exchange Information Disclosure Act (H.R. 3362), sponsored by Congressman Terry (R-Neb.).  This measure would require HHS to issue weekly reports on the healthcare website’s enrollment numbers, site visits, and errors.

The Senate:

On Monday, the Senate is scheduled to vote on an amendment to the unemployment insurance extension measure currently under consideration.  The amendment offered by Sen. Reed (D-R.I.), the base bill’s sponsor, would extend UI through mid-November and offers various means to offset the cost.  The Senate will also vote to confirm Judge Robert Wilkins to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.  The balance of the week is somewhat contingent on the progress made in negotiating a path forward for the UI extension.  It is likely, however, that Senators will vote on a three-day continuing resolution to continue to fund the government while appropriators complete work on a longer-term measure that will be voted on at the end of the week.

White House:

Today, the president will welcome the President of the Government of the Kingdom of Spain Mariano Rajoy Brey to the White House.  The president and President Rajoy will discuss promoting economic growth and new jobs, support for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, cooperation within NATO, Latin America, shared challenges in North Africa and the Middle East, and other topics of mutual interest.  On Tuesday, Mr. Obama will hold a Cabinet Meeting. The Vice President will attend. In the afternoon, President Obama will welcome the 2013 NBA Champion Miami Heat to the White House to honor the team on winning their second-straight Championship title.  On Wednesday, the president will travel to Raleigh, North Carolina for an event on the economy.  On Thursday, the president and First Lady will host an event at the White House with a number of university presidents on expanding college opportunity.  On Friday, the president will give a speech presenting the outcomes of the Administration’s review of our signals intelligence programs, and how, in light of new technologies, we can use them in a way that optimally protects our national security while supporting our foreign policy, respecting privacy and civil liberties, maintaining the public trust, and reducing the risk of unauthorized disclosures. Further details on the speech will be released as they become available.

Supreme Court:

Today, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning, a case challenging the constitutionality of several of President Obama’s recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board.  NPR has a good summary of the legal questions and background of the case.

Also this week and beyond:

AppropriationsAppropriators are finalizing the details of an omnibus spending bill to fund the government from January 16 to September 30, based on the guidelines established by the Bipartisan Budget Agreement passed in December.  Given House rules that an appropriations bill must be available for three days prior to voting, the House is expected to vote Tuesday on a three-day spending bill to allow additional time.  Appropriators have completed most of ten of the twelve spending bills that make up the omnibus, with work ongoing on Labor-HHS-Education, Financial Services, State-Foreign Operations, and Interior-Environment.  Policy riders related to ACA, abortion, and financial regulations reportedly remain challenges.  Appropriators nonetheless are confident that all twelve bills will be included and that there will not be another federal government shutdown.  The text of the bill could be introduced later today.

Emergency Unemployment Compensation –On December 28, 1.3 million people immediately stopped receiving emergency unemployment compensation when the program’s authorization expired.  Last week, the Senate took a procedural step to advancing a three-month extension.  Since Tuesday’s vote to end debate on the motion to proceed, however, the measure has stalled over disagreements on how to pay for the extension.  In response, the bill’s sponsor Senator Reed offered a substitute amendment that would extend UI for a longer period of time (mid-November) and pay for this through an extension of sequestration, some modifications to UI benefits, and changes to the Social Security Disability Insurance program.  While some Republican Senators have proposed similar offsets, Senator Reed’s measure is modified from these.  While Senator Reid has previously said he would not allow votes on amendments and would advance the measure without an offset, to attract several Republican votes he is negotiating to find the best path forward.  There is significant speculation that a vote on a measure that would disqualify ITIN filers from receiving the Child Tax Credit could still be on the table in these negotiations.  In the House, Speaker Boehner has consistently said that UI must be paid for, or an extension will not come to the floor.

Farm BillFarm Bill conferees are expected to finalize lingering details and announce a conference report in the next few days.  It is likely that this report will include a roughly $8 billion cut to SNAP over the next ten years by ending a program in some states that automatically qualifies recipients of home heating assistance for nutrition assistance.  It has also been reported that Congressman Southerland’s so-called “work requirements” have morphed into pilot programs for job training.  If this is correct, it is a positive outcome.  However, Conferees remain bogged down over differences in dairy policy, complicating the conference report’s path forward.

Dodd-Frank – The House Financial Services Committee this week will hold two hearings Dodd-Frank related regulatory actions.  The first on Tuesday will examine the impact of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s qualified mortgage.  On Wednesday, the Committee will examine the Volcker Rule, a recently released rule which prohibits proprietary trading by banks and restricts their investments in hedge funds and private equity funds.  Chairman Hensarling is said to be preparing legislation on this matter.

Education – On Thursday, the White House is hosting an event with a number of college and university presidents.  To attend, each president was asked to bring one idea that they could implement on their own on how to make higher education more affordable.

Healthcare – The House this week is scheduled to vote on H.R. 3362, a measure that would require HHS to issue weekly reports on the healthcare website’s enrollment numbers, site visits, and error rates.  In Committee, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee will hold a hearing Thursday on healthcare.gov and security protections for users.  The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations will also convene Thursday for a hearing related to ACA.

Highway Bill – The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will begin its work reauthorizing the latest surface transportation bill with a hearing Tuesday.  On Thursday, the Senate Banking Committee will hold a hearing on the progress of public transit programs under the last reauthorization.  The so-called highway bill expires September 30th.

Tax Reform – On January 1, 55 tax credits expired.  Typically these are extended together, frequently retroactively, in a so-called “extenders package.”  While there has been some discussion of attaching this package to legislation relating to the “doc fix,” it remains unclear whether there is sufficient political appetite given the current fiscal climate to do so.  Tax reform broadly, also appears somewhat stalled given Senator Baucus’ recent appointment by President Obama to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to China.  Senator Wyden (D-Ore.) is expected to take the gavel of the Finance Committee, but he and Congressman Camp are further ideologically on principles of tax reform.  It is believed, however, that there will be a pivot in the spring to focus on issues relating to international corporate taxation and the repatriation of income, leaving a more robust overhaul for the next Congress.

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