Military Pension Issue Is Front and Center — Again

Omnibus Senate bill on veterans issues faces an uncertain future.

Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee Dave Camp (L), R-Michigan, listens to testimony by Marilyn Tavenner, Administrator for Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, US Department of Health and Human Services as she speaks during a hearing with the House Ways and Means Committee in Washington, DC, October 29, 2013.
National Journal
Billy House Michael Catalini
Feb. 24, 2014, 7 a.m.

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.


Dead-End Street?

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.


Busi­ness Mat­ters

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.


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.

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