Halloween week kicks off in Congress with two issues long haunted by delays, as House and Senate conferees start separate negotiations Wednesday on a budget plan and a farm-bill reauthorization.
Opening remarks from participants are expected to define most of the early action. But competition for the biggest spectacle in the Capitol that same day could come from The Who's Roger Daltrey, set to perform Wednesday at the dedication of a bust of Winston Churchill in National Statuary Hall.
Meanwhile, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will testify Wednesday before the House Energy and Commerce Committee about the rocky launch of HealthCare.gov.
And the week also will be marked by a memorial service Tuesday at the Capitol for former House Speaker Tom Foley, which President Obama and former President Clinton are expected to attend.
Here's a rundown of what's going on this week in Congress:
- The Senate on Monday will take a procedural vote on the nomination of Richard Griffin to be general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board.
- The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday will hold a hearing on the so-called Stand Your Ground laws, which dictate when individuals can use deadly force in self-defense without a duty to retreat.
- The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday on "The Culture of Mismanagement and Wasteful Spending" at the Veterans Affairs Department.
- The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will examine government clearances and background checks Thursday in the wake of last month's Navy Yard shooting.
- Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., is set to introduce a bill Tuesday to curtail the National Security Agency's bulk domestic-surveillance collection power.
In addition, the House Rules Committee may adopt procedures Monday for floor action later in the week on a bill dubbed "The Swaps Regulatory Improvement Act." The measure would open up new exemptions that critics complain would allow banks to maintain publicly funded backing for almost all of their derivatives activity.
The committee may also adopt procedures on Monday for later floor action on a Republican bill known as the "Retail Investor Protection Act." The bill would prohibit the Labor secretary from regulating certain investment advisers until the Securities and Exchange Commission sets standards of conduct for brokers and securities dealers. Critics say the act would cause regulatory delays.
Conference Committee Meets
The 29 members of the conference committee on the budget are set to hold their first meeting on Wednesday, with the panel facing a Dec. 13 deadline for coming up with a report of recommendations for the full House and Senate. After multiple failures at negotiating the federal budget, Democrats and Republicans alike are downplaying expectations for this next attempt.
The government is being funded now under the temporary spending bill approved earlier this month to end the shutdown. That expires Jan. 15, and some new funding mechanism for agencies will be needed by then.
Scheduled for a room on the House side of the Capitol, this initial meeting of the budget conferees starts at 10 a.m. and is open to the press and public. It also will be televised. Senate and House Budget Committee Chairs Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Paul Ryan, R‑Wis., as well as all other members of the panel, will be given an opportunity to give opening statements.
The committee will seek to find compromises between their widely divergent versions of a spending plan for fiscal 2014 that were passed by the two chambers. Any reconciliation would have to be approved by both chambers.
Working Out Differences
Also on Wednesday, House and Senate conferees are finally set to begin formal conference negotiations on a long-awaited bill covering agriculture and nutrition policy at 1 p.m. in the Longworth House Office Building.
The House and the Senate take turns chairing farm-bill conferences, and this time around House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., will be chairman. There is hope, but not necessarily confidence, that the conferees might finally finish a bill to replace the expired 2008 farm bill reauthorization.
As with the budget conference committee, the inaugural farm bill meeting Wednesday will begin with opening statements, the tone of which could provide early signals as to whether there is any chance the wide differences between conferees might be bridged.
One main difference between the Senate and House bills is that the Senate bill retains the 1938 and 1949 farm laws as the basis for agricultural programs while the House bill would make the 2013 commodity title permanent law.
Another big difference is that the Senate bill cuts only $4 billion over 10 years from food stamps—formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—while the House bill would cut $39 billion through a series of provisions that Democrats say will lead to increased hunger.
In what may be a sign of the turbulence ahead, Speaker John Boehner appointed Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Fla., to the conference committee even though he doesn't serve on the Agriculture Committee. And it is Southerland who has made food stamps his main issue and wrote the amendment to the House bill to which the Democrats object the most.
The Senate Banking and House Financial Services committees will each hold hearings on housing on Tuesday morning—the former on housing finance reform, the latter on the Federal Housing Administration.
Later in the day, a Financial Services subcommittee will look into legislative proposals to change the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Last week, the Securities and Exchange Commission released a long-awaited proposed rule that would allow individuals to invest in companies through crowd-funding platforms, a move enabled by the 2012 Jobs Act. A Banking subcommittee will hold a hearing on progress implementing the law on Wednesday, and Keith Higgins, who heads the SEC's Division of Corporation Finance, will be among those testifying.
Also on Wednesday, the Federal Reserve will release its latest policy statement. Many economists aren't expecting the central bank to pull back from its stimulus efforts after seeing September's tepid jobs data, released last week.
And the Senate Finance Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
Sebelius's planned appearance Wednesday before House Energy and Commerce Committee will follow last week's appearance by the contractors hired to create the HealthCare.gov website. They told the committee that the botched rollout was the ultimate responsibility of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the agency under HHS leading the implementation of the federal exchange.
Efforts to address concerns about the scope of domestic surveillance by the National Security Agency will go beyond the new bill that Sensenbrenner is expected to unveil in the House. The Senate Intelligence Committee is expected to vote Tuesday behind closed doors on legislation from Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Vice Chairman Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., that aims to protect the NSA's domestic-surveillance activity approved through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court by taking steps billed as increasing transparency and accountability. The bill is designed to head off critics and aims to protect the continuation of domestic surveillance rather than hinder it. It would make clear that collecting content of calls is prohibited and would limit access to phone records.
Also on Tuesday, the House Homeland Security Committee is slated to vote on a package of legislation including a bill to boost cybersecurity standards.
The president mixes foreign policy, politics, and economic policy this week. On Monday, he will go to the FBI headquarters for the installation of the bureau's new director, James Comey. On Tuesday, he will go to Capitol Hill for a memorial service for former Speaker Tom Foley. Wednesday, he is off to Boston to raise money for Democrats. And Thursday, he hosts an investment summit with attendees from 58 countries. On Friday, he will host the Iraqi Prime Minister at the White House.
Michael Catalini, George E. Condon Jr., Clare Foran, Catherine Hollander, Fawn Johnson, Stacy Kaper, Sophie Novack, and Clara Ritger contributed
This article appears in the October 28, 2013, edition of NJ Daily as Budget, Farm Bill Haunt Congress in Halloween Week.