With the House out this week, the Senate is poised to put its energy debate in the rearview mirror and move tax extenders to the top of its list.
The Senate will take up Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden’s tax-extenders legislation after passing it out of committee last month, and just days after the House passed a bill to make the so-called R&D tax credit permanent.
The House and Senate are pursuing different approaches to tax extenders, with the Senate putting dozens of the provisions into one bill while the House follows a more piecemeal strategy.
The Senate’s Expire Act would cut government revenues by $81.3 billion over 10 years and increase deficits by $84.1 billion, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates. It would extend several dozen provisions through December 2015.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid filed a procedural motion on the House bill last week, setting up a possible vote on the Senate Finance Committee markup later in the week.
Also taking place in Congress this week:
- The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will consider a host of nominees, including two for key international economic posts: Mark Sobel to serve as an executive director of the International Monetary Fund and Sunil Sabharwal to serve as an alternate director at the IMF.
- The Senate will hold a procedural vote Tuesday or Wednesday on a House bill to tweak the Affordable Care Act employer mandate for veteran employees. The Hire More Heroes Act of 2014 would allow employers to leave veterans out of the 50-count threshold to qualify for the employer mandate, as long as they have health insurance through TRICARE, the federal health program for veterans. The bill passed the House in March.
- On Wednesday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee will mark up the Strong Start for America’s Children Act, a bill that directs the Education secretary to allot grants to state and local authorities for low-income families.
- Leading up to the Senate Appropriations Committee’s markups later this month, there are a pair of subpanel hearings this week. On Wednesday, the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee will hold a hearing on research and innovation. And the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee is holding a hearing on the integrity of financial markets and the needs of the agencies that regulate them.
- Also on Wednesday, the Senate Rules Committee is holding a hearing on the use of election data.
As a coda to the energy and Keystone XL pipeline debate from last week, the Senate will vote Monday to end debate over the energy-efficiency bill sponsored by Sens. Rob Portman and Jeanne Shaheen. It looks unlikely that enough Republicans will vote with Democrats to end debate and get to an up-or-down vote on the bipartisan measure, GOP aides say.
Such a defeat would mark the second time the legislation, which has broad support in both parties, went down for procedural reasons. Last year, senators could not agree over which amendments — or indeed, whether any amendments — would make the cut. This time, too, the fight is over amendments.
If the bill goes down, Republicans say, the reason is that Reid will not allow them to make even germane amendments to the legislation. Last year, the issue was a non-germane Obamacare amendment. In this round, Republicans said they had only relevant amendments, but Reid still rebuffed them.
Reid put another offer on the table: a binding vote on the Keystone XL pipeline in exchange for passage of the energy bill. But Republicans rejected that offer as an affront to their right to offer amendments in the Senate. If enough Republicans don’t vote for cloture, then Reid will say they’ve filibustered the bill, a claim he has already made.
Focus on Veterans
The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee will hold a full committee hearing on “The State of VA Health Care” on Thursday.
The Veterans Affairs Department has been under scrutiny recently amid allegations that delays in care at VA hospitals have led to veteran deaths. The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee voted Thursday to subpoena VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, and Shinseki ordered an audit of every VA clinic later that day.
The Senate HELP Committee will also hold a hearing looking into tobacco use and regulation. The issue has received significant attention recently with the Food and Drug Administration’s recent release of long-awaited proposed guidelines to regulate e-cigarettes.
ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT
In addition to the energy bill and Keystone drama expected on the Senate floor, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will wade into confirmation hearings Tuesday.
The panel will convene to vet the nominations of Suzette Kimball to become the director of the U.S. Geological Survey; Estevan Lopez as commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation; and Monica Regalbuto as the Energy Department’s assistant secretary for environmental management.
On the armed-services front, most of the action will take place behind the scenes this week on the committees’ No. 1 priority: the National Defense Authorization Act.
With the House out, staff will be working to prepare for the floor fights ahead on the $600 billion annual bill, which is expected to hit the floor when lawmakers return and will decide which weapons systems, benefits programs, and defense priorities the Pentagon must keep or cut.
In the Senate, work will continue behind the scenes too, with the Armed Services Committee preparing for its markup of the bill next week. Among the issues that are certain to come up are the fate of the A-10 attack plane, which the Pentagon wants to retire but many members in Congress want to keep, and the fate of proposed cuts in service-member benefits that the House panel voted to nix.
Spotlighting Net Neutrality
The Federal Communications Commission will vote Thursday on whether to move ahead with controversial net-neutrality regulations that would allow Internet service providers to charge websites extra for faster service.
Liberals fear the new rules would tilt the Internet in favor of the largest corporations and stifle free speech. The FCC is drafting the new rules after a federal court struck down stronger regulations earlier this year.
Also at Thursday’s meeting, the FCC will vote on whether to cap the ability of AT&T and Verizon to bid in an upcoming auction of wireless spectrum licenses.
On the Road
President Obama will spend two days this week at the White House before hitting the road again to raise money for Democrats.
On Monday, he meets with President Jose Mujica Cordano of Uruguay in the morning and will honor police who have won Top Cops awards in the afternoon. On Tuesday, he will award the Medal of Honor to Kyle J. White, a former active-duty Army sergeant, in honor of his courageous actions in Afghanistan in 2007.
Then it’s off to New York on Wednesday to raise political money. On Thursday, he will talk about the economy and help dedicate the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.
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President Obama became a surprise topic of contention toward the end of the Democratic debate, as Hillary Clinton reminded viewers that Sanders had challenged the progressive bona fides of President Obama in 2011 and suggested that someone might challenge him from the left. “The kind of criticism that we’ve heard from Senator Sanders about our president I expect from Republicans, I do not expect from someone running for the Democratic nomination to succeed President Obama,” she said. “Madame Secretary, that is a low blow,” replied Sanders, before getting in another dig during his closing statement: “One of us ran against Barack Obama. I was not that candidate.”
It’s all about the 1% and Wall Street versus everyone else for Bernie Sanders—even when he’s talking about race relations. Like Hillary Clinton, he needs to appeal to African-American and Hispanic voters in coming states, but he insists on doing so through his lens of class warfare. When he got a question from the moderators about the plight of black America, he noted that during the great recession, African Americans “lost half their wealth,” and “instead of tax breaks for billionaires,” a Sanders presidency would deliver jobs for kids. On the very next question, he downplayed the role of race in inequality, saying, “It’s a racial issue, but it’s also a general economic issue.”
It’s been said in just about every news story since New Hampshire: the primaries are headed to states where Hillary Clinton will do well among minority voters. Leaving nothing to chance, she underscored that point in her opening statement in the Milwaukee debate tonight, saying more needs to be done to help “African Americans who face discrimination in the job market” and immigrant families. She also made an explicit reference to “equal pay for women’s work.” Those boxes she’s checking are no coincidence: if she wins women, blacks and Hispanics, she wins the nomination.
Under pressure from a judge, the State Department will release about 550 of Hillary Clinton’s emails—“roughly 14 percent of the 3,700 remaining Clinton emails—on Saturday, in the middle of the Presidents Day holiday weekend.” All of the emails were supposed to have been released last month. Related: State subpoenaed the Clinton Foundation last year, which brings the total number of current Clinton investigations to four, says the Daily Caller.