Weekly Washington Outlook – February 3, 2014

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What to Watch This Week:

Congress:

The House:

On Monday, the House will take up two measures under suspension of the rules, the Medical Preparedness Allowable Use Act (H.R. 1791) and the GI Tuition Fairness Act of 2013 (H.R. 357).  On Tuesday and Wednesday, the House will consider the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act of 2013 (H.R. 3590) and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Emergency Water Delivery Act (H.R. 3964).  Finally, on Thursday, the House will vote on the Public Access and Lands Improvement Act (H.R. 2954).  No votes are expected Friday.

The Senate:

The Senate on Monday evening will vote to invoke cloture on the Farm Bill conference report.  A vote on final passage is expected on Tuesday.  Following passage, it is possible that the Senate will return to its consideration of unemployment insurance.

White House:

On Monday, the president will meet with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and will attend other unspecified meetings at the White House.  On Tuesday, President Obama will deliver remarks on education.  In the evening, the president will host the House Democratic Caucus for a roundtable and reception at the White House. The Vice President will also attend.  On Wednesday, Mr. Obama will deliver remarks at the Senate Democratic Issues Conference.  On Thursday, he will deliver remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast. The vice president and the First Lady will also attend.  Later, the president will meet with President Martelly of Haiti at the White House.  Details about Friday’s schedule have not yet been released. 

Also this week and beyond:

Farm BillLast week, House and Senate conferees unveiled a negotiated Farm Bill conference report.  The final compromise included over $8 billion in cuts to SNAP over ten years by ending automatic eligibility in some states for those qualifying for home heating assistance.  The final language did not contain overly restrictive eligibility language related to convicted felons and work requirements included in earlier versions.  The House passed the conference report last week before Republican members left for their annual retreat and the Senate is expected to clear the measure on Tuesday.    

Emergency Unemployment Compensation –On December 28, 1.3 million people immediately stopped receiving emergency unemployment compensation when the program’s authorization expired.  Senate Majority Leader Reid has said that negotiators are close to reaching agreement on a 3 month extension of benefits that will be fully offset through changes to pension rules referred to as “pension smoothing.”  Finding a suitable way to pay for the extension is thought to be the key to finding the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster the measure.  Previous efforts to advance an extension failed to attract enough Republican support and stalled.

Immigration – Last week, Republican Leadership released their long-awaited principles for immigration reform.  As expected, these were fairly broad and were the subject of considerable discussion at the Republican retreat in Maryland.  Reaction to these principles has been mixed and the precise next step remains somewhat unclear.

Dodd-Frank – On Wednesday, the House Financial Services Committee will hold a hearing on the so-called Volcker Rule, a provision under the Dodd-Frank Act that bans banks with federally insured deposits from trading with their own accounts.

Education – This week, the House will vote on the GI Bill Tuition Fairness Act of 2013 (H.R. 357), sponsored by Congressman Miller (R-Fla.).  The measure would provide in-state tuition for veterans for state-run higher education institutions regardless of residency.  Elsewhere, the House Education and Workforce Committee will also hold a hearing on early childhood education on Wednesday and the Senate HELP Committee will address the same topic Thursday.  The president is also expected on Tuesday to share details at Buck Lodge Middle School in Maryland about e-rate and the pledge from a number of private companies to provide more than $500 million to help connect 15,000 schools and 20 million students to faster internet.

Healthcare – The House Ways and Means Committee is scheduled to mark-up two ACA-related bills this week.  H.R. 2575 would repeal the 30-hour threshold for classification of full-time employees under the employer mandate section of the law.  H.R. 3979 would ensure that emergency service personnel are not considered employees under the shared-responsibility portion of the law.  In the Senate, the HELP Committee will move to advance the President’s nominee for Surgeon General, Vivek Murphy.

Debt Limit – As part of the deal to re-open the federal government in October, the debt limit was raised until February 7.  The Treasury was granted authority to exercise “extraordinary measures” to extend borrowing authority for a limited time after to avoid default.  Secretary Lew is urging Congress to move swiftly to raise the debt limit as soon as possible, saying these measures will only last through the end of February.  While some members of Congress have threatened to try to extract concessions, it seems increasingly likely that the debt limit increase will be relatively clean.

Data Breaches – This week, Target’s Chief Financial Officer John Mulligan will appear before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on preventing data breaches and combatting cyber-crime. His testimony comes after the retail store chain announced that nearly 40 million customers’ data was compromised following a security breach.  Several other committees in the House and Senate will hold related hearings.

Economic Outlook – The Congressional Budget Office will release its annual economic outlook this week.  CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf will appear before the House Budget Committee to discuss the report.

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