Congress might have left town on a high note earlier this month, passing a debt ceiling increase and restoring military pension cuts. But veterans issues will be on the radar again this week as senators take up an omnibus bill — including a cost-of-living adjustment and other measures — with an uncertain fate.
Meanwhile, Republican leaders in the House are planning to advance a bill to address sharp increases in flood insurance rates, after blocking a Senate bill that would delay the hikes for four years.
In addition, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp is expected to unveil his long-awaited tax-reform draft, which is likely to call for a lower corporate tax rate and a simpler code. But it is unclear whether the effort can get beyond the discussion stage.
Here's what else is happening this week:
- On Wednesday, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee, will restart the military sexual-assault debate with a hearing on the relationship between crimes, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicide.
- The House Rules Committee will hold a hearing Tuesday to set floor procedures for a measure to delay new rules recommended by the Internal Revenue Service to curb a surge in political spending and activity by nonprofits. The bill is called the Stop Targeting of Political Beliefs by the IRS Act of 2014.
- The Rules Committee will also set floor procedures for a bill to require federal agencies to provide more public information regarding proposed and final regulations. The bill would require agencies to submit information for a monthly supplement to the Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions, a semiannual compilation of the federal regulations under development, and post that information on the Internet.
- Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson is set to testify Wednesday before the House Homeland Security Committee, just two months into his tenure.
- The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing Tuesday on a spate of defense nominations, including Robert Work to be deputy Defense secretary and Michael McCord to be undersecretary of Defense (comptroller).
- On Monday, the Senate will vote on the nominations of Jeffrey Alker Meyer to be a U.S. district judge for the District of Connecticut and James Maxwell Moody Jr. to be U.S. district judge for the Eastern District of Arkansas; on Tuesday, there will be votes on the nominations of James Donato and Beth Labson Freeman to be U.S. district judges for the Northern District of California.
- On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee will mark up the Recidivism Reduction and Public Safety Act of 2013, sponsored by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse. Among the bills' provisions is a measure that would direct the Bureau of Prisons to offer recidivism programs.
- The Judiciary Committee will also mark up the STOP Identity Theft Act of 2013 on Thursday.
In the Senate, the 352-page veterans omnibus measure, authored by Veterans' Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders of Vermont, is expected to face a procedural vote as soon as Tuesday. Sanders has been looking for support across the aisle, aides say, but whether the bill will clear the 60-vote threshold could depend on the amendments process, which has dogged the Democratic majority lately.
At least one amendment, it appears, would need to be made to conform with current law. Before leaving for the break, Congress restored the military pension cuts made in the Ryan-Murray budget for current military retirees, but not for future pensioners. Sanders would seek an amendment to bring his bill in line with the law, spokesman Michael Briggs said.
The cost of restoring the benefits would be paid for through savings from overseas contingency operations, according to Senate aides. Republicans have balked at using such savings in the past because the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have wound down, and they argue budgeting cuts for wars that are ending isn't a true offset. A Congressional Budget Office ruling on the cost isn't due until after Sanders offers his amendment.
The sweeping legislation also includes measures to permit veterans to receive in-state tuition benefits should they change their state of residence; provide a broader dental program; and require additional congressional oversight for the Veterans Administration's new digital tracking system for disability claims.
The bill is expected to face procedural headwinds, which could take up much of the Senate's floor time next week, according to a senior Democratic aide.
BUDGET AND TAXES
Camp's release of his tax-reform draft is anticipated to call for a lower corporate tax rate and a simpler code. But it is unclear how comprehensive Camp's proposal will be beyond a "discussion draft format," or whether his plan — or those that were contained in former Sen. Max Baucus's own draft releases of his tax-reform ideas in December — is destined to go much further.
Whatever Camp does announce threatens to be upstaged a bit this week by the other tax-related bill headed to the floor, the Stop Targeting of Political Beliefs by the IRS Act of 2014, which Democrats dismiss as purely a political messaging maneuver. The measure would delay new rules recommended by the IRS to curb a surge in political spending and activity by nonprofits, with critics saying the rules are too broad.
House Democrats complain Camp and other Republicans have pursued a totally partisan approach, and they predict from earlier discussions that his plans won't add up. Last year, they say, Republicans were pressing them to agree to go along with lowering the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent, and also lowering the rate for top individual earners from 39.6 percent to 25 percent — but had no plan to make up about $5 trillion in lost revenue.
Last week, there was talk Camp had revised those earlier frameworks and that his top rate may not be lowered below 30 percent, after all. But Democrats say they expect the need for gimmicks to suggest it is paid for, anyway. One big gimmick anticipated, they say, is expanding the Roth IRA — which could raise a lot of money now but cost a lot of money in coming years.
Regardless, few lawmakers see anything but dim prospects for passage of any significant tax package this midterm election year — including some of Camp's fellow Ways and Means Committee Republicans.
GOP leaders and other Republicans have been worried that acting on a tax overhaul plan with elections coming this fall could generate fierce criticism from groups who believe they will be unfairly or wrongly hit by the proposed changes. And with no chance of their plan being backed by Democrats in the House and Senate, many Republicans have little appetite to draw any election-year focus away from their attacks on the Affordable Care Act.
On Monday, Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Elmendorf, former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, and former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan are scheduled to speak at the National Association for Business Economics' annual economic policy conference in Arlington, Va. White House Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Jason Furman and Fed Governor Daniel Tarullo will deliver remarks Tuesday at the same conference.
On Wednesday, House Financial Services subcommittees will examine the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law's impact on asset-backed securities and an inspector general's report on "allegations of improper lobbying and obstruction at the Department of Housing and Urban Development" in separate hearings.
Fed Chair Janet Yellen will deliver the delayed second round of her semiannual Humphrey-Hawkins testimony on monetary policy and the economy to the Senate Banking Committee on Thursday morning; the original hearing was scheduled to take place on Feb. 13 but was canceled due to the bad winter weather. If Yellen delivers a similar performance to her Feb. 11 appearance before the House Financial Services Committee, she will indicate continuity of the work of her predecessor Ben Bernanke and make little news.
Capping the week will be a second reading of fourth-quarter gross domestic product from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, scheduled to be released at 8:30 a.m. Friday.
Eyeing Fiscal Future
On Thursday, the full Senate Armed Services Committee holds a hearing on the U.S. Strategic Command and U.S. Cyber Command in review of the defense authorization request for fiscal 2015 and future years defense.
The House meanwhile has a slate of hearings.
The House Armed Services Committee is to hold a hearing Wednesday on the U.S. Northern and Southern Command. Gen. Charles Jacoby Jr., the commander of the U.S. Northern Command, and Gen. John Kelly, the commander of the U.S. Southern Command, are slated to testify.
HASC will hold a hearing into the U.S. Special Operations Command and U.S. Transportation Command on Thursday, with Gen. William Fraser and Adm. William McRaven.
ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT
Jobs for Veterans
House conservatives will tout the job-creating benefits of the domestic-energy boom on Wednesday when the House Natural Resources Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee holds a hearing titled "American Energy Jobs: Opportunities for Veterans."
On Thursday, the subcommittee convenes an oversight hearing to examine a recently released Government Accountability Office report concluding that the Interior Department has faced serious headwinds in efforts to hire and retain staff to supervise oil and gas production on public lands.
On the other side of the Capitol, climate crusader Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., convenes a hearing Tuesday of the Senate Environment and Public Works Oversight Subcommittee to discuss the importance of ecosystem protection to a variety of commercial industries.
On Thursday, a House Energy and Commerce Committee panel will convene a hearing titled "Benefits of and Challenges to Energy Access in the 21st Century: Electricity."
Look for Republicans to argue that Environmental Protection Agency rules to curb power-plant emissions will raise consumer costs and, by prompting retirement of coal-fired power plants, make the grid less reliable.
Spotlight on CMS
On Wednesday, the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee will hold a hearing about "Messing with Success: How CMS' Attack on the Part D Program Will Increase Costs and Reduce Choices for Seniors."
The convening follows proposed changes — which have fallen under criticism from key stakeholders and Republican leaders — to the Medicare Part D program from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The changes would allow the agency to participate in negotiations between insurance companies and pharmacies, in an effort to save money in the entitlement program.
'My Brother's Keeper'
President Obama's focus this week will be on the economy with a dose of politics. On Monday, he will meet with the nation's governors during their annual winter meeting. Tuesday and Wednesday will feature events on the economy, including a trip to Minneapolis-St. Paul on Wednesday.
On Thursday, he will follow up on one of the proposals he laid out in his State of the Union address, a "My Brother's Keeper" program to persuade foundations, businesses, and community groups to work to help African-American and Hispanic men who suffer from unusually high rates of unemployment. On Tuesday and on Friday, the president will also attend political events in Washington.