Time Running Out on Debt Ceiling

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House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) makes remarks during a news briefing at the U.S. Captiol March 25, 2010 in Washington, DC. Cantor said that leaders from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee have turned threats against Democrats who voted for the health care reform package into a political issue.
National Journal
Billy House Michael Catalini
Feb. 9, 2014, 7:30 a.m.

House Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers enter this short le­gis­lat­ive week say­ing they are con­fid­ent the na­tion will not de­fault on its debts, but a deal with Demo­crats to en­sure that won’t hap­pen re­mains elu­sive.

Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Eric Can­tor has an­nounced a floor ac­tion sched­ule that in­cludes the pos­sib­il­ity of a vote on the debt ceil­ing by Wed­nes­day.

GOP House mem­bers are still con­sid­er­ing a num­ber of pre­con­di­tions for rais­ing the debt ceil­ing, in­clud­ing a short-term ex­ten­sion of the cur­rent sus­tain­able-growth-rate for­mula through which phys­i­cians are re­im­bursed un­der Medi­care, as well as a res­tor­a­tion of mil­it­ary pen­sion cuts that were in­cluded in the Decem­ber budget agree­ment.

By Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon, however, House Demo­crats leave for Cam­r­bidge, on Mary­land’s East­ern Shore, for their an­nu­al is­sues and policy re­treat, where both Pres­id­ent Obama and Vice Pres­id­ent Joe Biden will make ap­pear­ances. After that, House mem­bers aren’t sched­uled to re­turn to ses­sion un­til Feb. 25.

Already, the Treas­ury De­part­ment has be­gun in­sti­tut­ing the first of sev­er­al “ex­traordin­ary meas­ures” to stay un­der the cur­rent $17.2 tril­lion debt lim­it, and there is little cer­tainty as to how long that ap­proach can con­tin­ue. Treas­ury Sec­ret­ary Jac­ob Lew late last week warned law­makers in a let­ter that his de­part­ment will all but com­pletely ex­haust its abil­ity to pay its bills by Feb. 27.

Sen. Patty Mur­ray and oth­er Demo­crats in­sist they will not ac­cede to any GOP de­mands in re­turn for rais­ing the debt lim­it, and they con­tin­ue to press for an up-or-down vote on a clean bill.

Without some break­through, ten­sions could rise Tues­day at a hear­ing of the Sen­ate Budget Com­mit­tee, chaired by Mur­ray, at which Con­gres­sion­al Budget Of­fice Dir­ect­or Douglas El­men­d­orf is sched­uled to testi­fy.

Here’s what else is hap­pen­ing in Con­gress this week:

  • Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id plans to move for­ward with a clo­ture vote Monday on the re­peal of part of the budget le­gis­la­tion that cut mil­it­ary pen­sion­ers’ cost-of-liv­ing ad­just­ments.
  • The Sen­ate Health, Edu­ca­tion, Labor, and Pen­sions Com­mit­tee will hold a hear­ing Thursday on the min­im­um wage, which Demo­crats have iden­ti­fied as a key elec­tion-year is­sue. Re­id and Chair­man Tom Har­kin plan to move a min­im­um-wage bill later this year, likely after the debt-ceil­ing le­gis­la­tion, law­makers say.
  • The House Rules Com­mit­tee on Monday will hold a hear­ing to set floor pro­ced­ures for a vote later in the week on the Con­sumer Fin­an­cial Pro­tec­tion and Sound­ness Im­prove­ment Act, con­tain­ing what Re­pub­lic­ans de­pict as re­forms the Con­sumer Fin­an­cial Pro­tec­tion Bur­eau.
  • The House Sci­ence Com­mit­tee’s En­vir­on­ment Sub­com­mit­tee will hold a hear­ing Tues­day on the Secret Sci­ence Re­form Act of 2014, aimed at En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency reg­u­la­tions.
  • The Sen­ate also could move for­ward with a meas­ure to re­quire the Bur­eau of Land Man­age­ment and the Forest Ser­vice to keep lands open to hunt­ing and re­cre­ation­al fish­ing. It would also reau­thor­ize a wet­lands con­ser­va­tion meas­ure and al­low states to is­sue elec­tron­ic duck stamps, among oth­er pro­vi­sions.

The Sen­ate’s planned clo­ture vote on vet­er­ans be­ne­fits Monday is ex­pec­ted to set off a de­bate over the fate of $6 bil­lion in cuts in­cluded in the budget agree­ment that has caused a mael­strom with vet­er­ans or­gan­iz­a­tions. The le­gis­la­tion from Arkan­sas Demo­crat Mark Pry­or, who faces a tough reelec­tion race, would re­verse the cuts without pay­ing for them.

If the bill fails that test vote as ex­pec­ted — Re­pub­lic­ans want the meas­ure to con­tain an off­set to ad­dress the cost — the Sen­ate is likely to pro­ceed to a broad­er pack­age from Vet­er­ans’ Af­fairs Com­mit­tee Chair­man Bernie Sanders later in the week.

That bill re­verses the cost-of-liv­ing ad­just­ment re­duc­tion and ex­pands ac­cess to oth­er vet­er­ans be­ne­fits. But it too is ex­pec­ted to face chal­lenges from Re­pub­lic­ans, who op­pose the bill’s re­li­ance on off-budget Over­seas Con­tin­gency Op­er­a­tions funds.

BUDGET AND FIN­ANCE

Fo­cus­ing on Fu­ture

While the main fo­cus now is on the debt ceil­ing, budget-re­lated activ­it­ies are also gear­ing up.

While the debt-cap de­bate may come up, the Sen­ate Budget Com­mit­tee hear­ing on Tues­day high­lighted by El­men­d­orf’s ap­pear­ance is of­fi­cially to be fo­cused on the eco­nom­ic out­look for the next dec­ade.

But he also is sure to be asked about CBO’s re­port last week that the Af­ford­able Care Act would re­duce the labor force by the equi­val­ent of 2 mil­lion work­ers by 2017.

In the House, the Budget Com­mit­tee chaired by Rep. Paul Ry­an is set to mark up two budget-pro­cess re­form bills Tues­day. One is called the Budget and Ac­count­ing Trans­par­ency Act, and the oth­er is the Bi­en­ni­al Budget­ing and En­hanced Over­sight Act.

ECO­NOMY

Bit­coin Tax­ing Tips

Janet Yel­len’s first semi­an­nu­al Humphrey-Hawkins testi­mony on mon­et­ary policy and the eco­nomy as Fed­er­al Re­serve chair will hap­pen on Tues­day and Thursday be­fore the House Fin­an­cial Ser­vices and Sen­ate Bank­ing com­mit­tees, re­spect­ively. Law­makers will likely fo­cus on the Fed’s plans to un­wind its sprawl­ing bond-buy­ing pro­gram as well as its as­sess­ment of the eco­nom­ic out­look.

The ar­rest of Charles Shr­em, a bit­coin en­tre­pren­eur and vo­cal ad­voc­ate for the cur­rency, last month shined a light on some of the reg­u­lat­ory and leg­al con­cerns with the in­creas­ingly well-known vir­tu­al cur­rency.

On Tues­day, Ben­jamin Lawsky, the su­per­in­tend­ent of the New York State De­part­ment of Fin­an­cial Ser­vices, and Jen­nifer Shasky Cal­very, dir­ect­or of the Fin­an­cial Crimes En­force­ment Net­work at the Treas­ury De­part­ment, are sched­uled to speak at a New Amer­ica Found­a­tion event on crypto­cur­ren­cies like bit­coin. Sen. Tom Carp­er, D-Del., who chairs the Home­land Se­cur­ity and Gov­ern­ment­al Af­fairs Com­mit­tee, has called for the In­tern­al Rev­en­ue Ser­vice to cla­ri­fy its guid­ance when it comes to tax­ing bit­coin, and for reg­u­lat­ors to en­sure their rules keep up with the tech­no­logy.

The Sen­ate Com­mit­tee on Health, Edu­ca­tion, Labor, and Pen­sions hear­ing Tues­day on rais­ing the min­im­um wage comes as Obama has ex­pressed his sup­port for a bill in­tro­duced by HELP Com­mit­tee Chair­man Tom Har­kin, D-Iowa, and Rep. George Miller, D-Cal­if., to raise the level to $10.10 over the com­ing years.

DE­FENSE AND NA­TION­AL SE­CUR­ITY

Com­bat­ing Sexu­al As­sault

Along with the Sen­ate’s de­bate on cuts to vet­er­ans be­ne­fits in the budget agree­ment, the up­per cham­ber is also gear­ing up to re­turn to the dis­cus­sion about ways to com­bat mil­it­ary sexu­al as­sault.

It could hold votes as soon as this week on com­pet­ing bills from Demo­crat­ic Sens. Kirsten Gil­librand of New York and Claire Mc­Caskill of Mis­souri.

In the House, the Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee plans to keep pres­sure on the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s se­cur­ity policy and de­fense pos­ture in the Middle East with a hear­ing Tues­day with De­fense and State De­part­ment of­fi­cials.

Mean­while, a House Home­land Se­cur­ity Com­mit­tee sub­pan­el holds a hear­ing on al-Qaida’s ex­pan­sion in Egypt and what se­cur­ity con­cerns that presents to the U.S.

The House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee on Wed­nes­day will hold a hear­ing on chal­lenges fa­cing ac­quis­i­tion re­form at the Pentagon. Also on Wed­nes­day, the House Home­land Se­cur­ity Com­mit­tee holds a hear­ing on the chal­lenges and fu­ture of the agency.

HEALTH

Bat­tling Drug Short­ages

The House En­ergy and Com­merce Health Sub­com­mit­tee is to hold a hear­ing Monday on “Ex­amin­ing Drug Short­ages and Re­cent Ef­forts to Ad­dress Them.”

Law­makers will hear testi­mony from Mar­cia Crosse, dir­ect­or of health care at the Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­ab­il­ity Of­fice; and Douglas Throck­mor­ton, deputy dir­ect­or of reg­u­lat­ory pro­grams at the Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

EN­ERGY AND EN­VIR­ON­MENT

Spot­light­ing Rail Safety

A Sen­ate sub­com­mit­tee will take up the is­sue of freight and pas­sen­ger rail safety on Thursday, an event that’s sure to spark dis­cus­sion of re­cent crude-by-rail ac­ci­dents.

Ac­cord­ing to Sen. John Ho­even, R-N.D., fed­er­al reg­u­lat­ors will be present at the hear­ing set to be con­vened by the Sur­face Trans­port­a­tion and Mer­chant Mar­ine In­fra­struc­ture, Safety and Se­cur­ity Sub­com­mit­tee. Rail, oil, and nat­ur­al-gas in­dustry stake­hold­ers will also of­fer testi­mony.

Mean­while, the Sen­ate En­ergy and Nat­ur­al Re­sources En­ergy Sub­com­mit­tee will hold a hear­ing Wed­nes­day to ex­am­ine les­sons learned from ef­fi­ciency and re­new­able-en­ergy pro­grams. Al­tern­at­ive en­ergy may take a back­seat on the com­mit­tee soon, however, with oil and nat­ur­al gas sup­port­er Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., poised to take over the gavel from cur­rent com­mit­tee Chair­man Ron Wyden, D-Ore., when he de­parts for the Sen­ate Fin­ance Com­mit­tee Chair­man­ship.

The “Secret Sci­ence” bill to be con­sidered by the en­vir­on­ment­al sub­com­mit­tee of the House Sci­ence Com­mit­tee at a hear­ing Tues­day is billed as pro­hib­it­ing EPA from pro­pos­ing reg­u­la­tions based upon sci­ence that is not trans­par­ent or re­pro­du­cible.

WHITE HOUSE

French Flair

For­eign policy and for­eign lead­ers dom­in­ate Obama’s agenda this week. On Monday, he is giv­ing a tour of Monti­cello to vis­it­ing French Pres­id­ent Fran­cois Hol­lande. Then he will host Hol­lande at a State Din­ner on Tues­day night. On Fri­day, after speak­ing at the Demo­crat­ic Is­sues Con­fer­ence in Cam­bridge, Md., he flies to Fresno, Cal­if., where he will meet with King Ab­dul­lah of Jordan.

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