Spending Bill Looks Good to Go, as Congress Fights Over Everything Else

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 08: House of Representatives Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) delivers remarks about his support of charter schools and tax-funded voucher programs that help pay for private and parochial schools at the Brookings Institution January 8, 2014 in Washington, DC. 'Right now, school choice is under attack,' Cantor said. He also said that the House Republicans will work to prevent anything that 'could devastate the growth of education opportunity,' including New York Mayor Bill de Blasio's pledge to charge rent to the wealthiest charter schools. 
National Journal
Billy House
Jan. 12, 2014, 7:35 a.m.

Con­gres­sion­al lead­ers enter this week con­fid­ent they can com­plete work on a bi­par­tis­an spend­ing bill to fund gov­ern­ment through the end of the fisc­al year. But that’s the only piece of le­gis­la­tion that seems cer­tain to ad­vance.

There is less cer­tainty about the time­frame for passing a farm bill, though lead­ers con­tin­ue to in­sist they would like to wrap up con­fer­ence ne­go­ti­ations by the end of Janu­ary. And the Sen­ate is set to pick up where it left off on le­gis­la­tion to ex­tend un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance, with Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id poised to bring meas­ures to the floor without Re­pub­lic­an sup­port.

Even on the spend­ing bill, there is some bet-hedging. The House as early as Monday plans to take up a short-term spend­ing meas­ure to en­able gov­ern­ment to keep op­er­at­ing through mid­night Sat­urday — bey­ond Wed­nes­day’s form­al dead­line for a spend­ing bill to be locked in place.

House Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Eric Can­tor says this strategy is simply a pro­cess to give the Sen­ate ad­ded days to “fin­ish their busi­ness” on the bill, which he seemed sure the House will pass early in the week.

The om­ni­bus spend­ing pack­age con­tains what would nor­mally be 12 sep­ar­ate an­nu­al fund­ing bills, and will re­flect an an­nu­al­ized spend­ing level of $1.1 tril­lion for fisc­al 2014. It will carry the gov­ern­ment through Sept. 30, the end of the fisc­al year.

Here’s what else Con­gress is fa­cing this week:

  • House Re­pub­lic­ans will con­tin­ue to fo­cus on Obama­care this week, vot­ing on a bill that would re­quire re­ports on en­roll­ment data and web­site traffic for Health­Care.gov, in­clud­ing a weekly state-by-state break­down of unique vis­it­ors.
  • Sen. Kirsten Gil­librand, a New York Demo­crat, and House Budget Com­mit­tee Chair­man Paul Ry­an will each de­liv­er speeches on how to pro­mote so­cial mo­bil­ity at a sum­mit held at the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion on Monday.
  • The polit­ic­al battle over Pres­id­ent Obama’s cli­mate agenda will be front-and-cen­ter at a Sen­ate hear­ing Thursday. En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency Ad­min­is­trat­or Gina Mc­Carthy will testi­fy be­fore the En­vir­on­ment and Pub­lic Works Com­mit­tee.
  • The Sen­ate is set on Monday to take up the nom­in­a­tion of Robert Wilkins as a judge for the U.S. Cir­cuit Court for the Dis­trict of Columbia. Wilkins’s nom­in­a­tion, along with two oth­ers, were among those Re­pub­lic­ans sought to block be­fore Re­id changed Sen­ate rules to stream­line the pro­cess for his Demo­crat­ic ma­jor­ity.
  • Law­makers will dig this week in­to China’s high-pro­file mari­time dis­putes, and con­sider sev­er­al na­tion­al se­cur­ity nom­in­a­tions.

Out­side Con­gress, the Su­preme Court will hear or­al ar­gu­ments Monday in a mat­ter in­volving the pres­id­ent’s re­cess ap­point­ment power. The case, Na­tion­al Labor Re­la­tions Board v. Noel Can­ning, is an ap­peal of a lower fed­er­al court rul­ing that Obama’s ap­point­ment of three mem­bers to the board was un­con­sti­tu­tion­al.

In ad­di­tion, Fed­er­al Re­serve Chair­man Ben Bernanke is ex­pec­ted to make news in what is ex­pec­ted to be his fi­nal pub­lic ap­pear­ance as the head of the Fed on Thursday. And on Fri­day, Obama is to give a speech out­lining the res­ults of the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­view of na­tion­al se­cur­ity sur­veil­lance policy.

BUDGET AND UN­EM­PLOY­MENT IN­SUR­ANCE

Om­ni­bus Rolls For­ward

Ap­pro­pri­at­ors en­ter­ing this week­end were wrap­ping up their ne­go­ti­ations over the 12-part om­ni­bus spend­ing bill — which will fund the gov­ern­ment through the re­mainder of fisc­al 2014 — with a vote in the House on the pack­age ex­pec­ted as early as Tues­day.

However, ap­pro­pri­at­ors must com­plete their work in or­der to pre­vent a gov­ern­ment shut­down by Wed­nes­day, when the cur­rent fund­ing mech­an­ism ex­pires, leav­ing little time for the Sen­ate to take up the meas­ure. An­ti­cip­at­ing a mid-week vote in the House, House Ap­pro­pri­ations Com­mit­tee Chair­man Har­old Ro­gers, R-Ky., filed a three-day con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion on Fri­day to buy more time for Sen­ate pas­sage after Wed­nes­day, al­low­ing it to keep gov­ern­ment fun­ded through Sat­urday.

The House is ex­pec­ted to take up the CR on its non­con­tro­ver­sial sus­pen­sion cal­en­dar Monday, with mem­bers and aides an­ti­cip­at­ing that it will eas­ily pass both cham­bers. Then mem­bers will have to con­tend with the om­ni­bus.

Though dis­agree­ments re­main on both sides of the aisle over a few key is­sues, Ro­gers said that 10 of the 12 bills are largely fin­ished that will make up the fi­nal om­ni­bus, which would re­flect an an­nu­al­ized spend­ing level of $1.1 tril­lion. Ro­gers said he is con­fid­ent that all 12 bills will make it in­to the fi­nal le­gis­la­tion, without the need for a CR for any of the pro­grams. “It will be 12 bills,” Ro­gers said Fri­day.

Ro­gers said that he ex­pects to re­lease the fi­nal le­gis­la­tion Sunday night or Monday, set­ting up a House vote Tues­day or Wed­nes­day. The meas­ure is ex­pec­ted to pass eas­ily.

“There’ll be some people that think it’s too much spend­ing from $967 [bil­lion, the level in the House-passed budget last year] and there’ll be some people that think, no, there’s too many cuts,” Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Tom Cole, who heads the Le­gis­lat­ive Branch Sub­com­mit­tee, said Fri­day. “But I think at the end of the day, there will be a ma­jor­ity of the ma­jor­ity on our side and there will be a ma­jor­ity of the minor­ity on their side.”

The om­ni­bus will then head to the Sen­ate, where, thanks to the CR, they will have un­til mid­night Sat­urday to pass it.

On the un­em­ploy­ment amend­ment ex­pec­ted to be taken up in a pro­ced­ur­al vote by the Sen­ate on Monday, the meas­ure pays for it­self by ex­tend­ing the se­quester for a year and by in­cor­por­at­ing part of a pro­pos­al from Re­pub­lic­an Sen. Rob Port­man of Ohio that cuts off Amer­ic­ans who get un­em­ploy­ment and dis­ab­il­ity be­ne­fits.

It’s a bit of le­gis­lat­ive jujitsu, be­cause Re­pub­lic­ans have signaled they’ll block it. Re­id would then likely ar­gue that he gave the GOP what it wanted — an off­set — but they still re­buffed him. Re­pub­lic­ans are not amused. It’s their right, they say, to have their amend­ments voted on, and Re­id is shut­ting them out. Sen. John Mc­Cain of Ari­zona has even likened Re­id to a dic­tat­or.

Mean­while, Re­pub­lic­ans who con­trol the House are mak­ing no prom­ises, point­ing in­stead to the delays in the Sen­ate. “We are watch­ing what the Sen­ate is do­ing,” said Can­tor on Fri­day, not­ing what he called “some dif­fi­culty” over the meas­ure there.

DE­FENSE

As­sess­ing Coun­terter­ror­ism

On Tues­day, the Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee’s Emer­ging Threats and Cap­ab­il­it­ies Sub­com­mit­tee will host a closed-door brief­ing on De­fense De­part­ment coun­terter­ror­ism op­er­a­tions with Mi­chael Vick­ers, the un­der­sec­ret­ary of De­fense for in­tel­li­gence; Mi­chael Lump­kin, the as­sist­ant sec­ret­ary of De­fense for spe­cial op­er­a­tions; and Lt. Gen. Wil­li­am Mayville Jr., the dir­ect­or for op­er­a­tions with the Joint Staff.

Also on Tues­day, the House For­eign Af­fairs Com­mit­tee holds a joint hear­ing with the House Armed Ser­vices Seapower Sub­com­mit­tee on China’s mari­time dis­putes.

On Thursday, SASC holds a hear­ing on the nom­in­a­tion of Madelyn Creedon to be prin­cip­al deputy ad­min­is­trat­or for the Na­tion­al Nuc­le­ar Se­cur­ity Ad­min­is­tra­tion. It also will hear testi­mony from Brad Car­son to be un­der­sec­ret­ary of the Army and Wil­li­am LaPlante Jr. to be as­sist­ant sec­ret­ary of the Air Force for ac­quis­i­tion.

On the oth­er side of Cap­it­ol Hill, HASC’s per­son­nel sub­com­mit­tee hosts a hear­ing Thursday on fu­ture re­cruit­ing chal­lenges in the fisc­ally con­strained en­vir­on­ment.

ECO­NOMY

Fed­speak Flu­ency

There’s lots of eco­nom­ic ac­tion this week, which will be heavy on the Fed­speak as a num­ber of cent­ral bank of­fi­cials are sched­uled to make pub­lic ap­pear­ances. Key data in­clude in­fla­tion meas­ure­ments re­leased on Wed­nes­day and Thursday, and the Job Open­ings and Labor Turnover Sur­vey and Thom­son Re­u­ters/Uni­versity of Michigan con­sumer sen­ti­ment gauge Fri­day.

On Thursday, Bernanke is sched­uled to speak about the chal­lenges fa­cing cent­ral banks — something he’s quite fa­mil­i­ar with after eight tur­bu­lent years as Fed chief — at an event launch­ing the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion’s new Hutchins Cen­ter on Fisc­al and Mon­et­ary Policy. San Fran­cisco Fed Pres­id­ent John Wil­li­ams and a num­ber of former cent­ral bank of­fi­cials will also speak at the event.

On Tues­day, a House Fin­an­cial Ser­vices sub­com­mit­tee will hold a hear­ing on the im­pact of the Con­sumer Fin­an­cial Pro­tec­tion Bur­eau’s qual­i­fied mort­gage rule on homeown­ers, part of the Dodd-Frank Act, which re­quires lenders to make a good-faith de­term­in­a­tion of wheth­er con­sumers can re­pay their loans. The QM rule went in­to ef­fect Fri­day.

The next day, the full Fin­an­cial Ser­vices Com­mit­tee will hold a hear­ing on the Vol­ck­er Rule’s im­pact on job cre­at­ors. Fin­an­cial reg­u­lat­ors last month fi­nal­ized the con­tro­ver­sial pro­vi­sion of Dodd-Frank that would ban banks from mak­ing spec­u­lat­ive bets on their own ac­counts, and com­mit­tee Chair­man Jeb Hensarling and mem­ber Shel­ley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., in­tro­duced le­gis­la­tion last week to amend it.

The Joint Eco­nom­ic Com­mit­tee will pick up on a ma­jor theme for Demo­crats in 2014 when it holds a hear­ing on in­come in­equal­ity on Thursday. Robert Reich, the former Labor sec­ret­ary, is among the wit­nesses testi­fy­ing. Pres­id­ent Obama is ex­pec­ted to make the coun­try’s rising wealth dis­par­ity a theme in his State of the Uni­on ad­dress at the end of the month.

EN­ERGY AND EN­VIR­ON­MENT

Power-Plant Pol­lu­tion

House con­ser­vat­ives will rail against the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ef­forts to im­pose air-pol­lu­tion con­trols on power plants next week when the House En­ergy and Power Sub­com­mit­tee takes up le­gis­la­tion in­tro­duced by Sub­com­mit­tee Chair­man Ed Whit­field, R-Ky., and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

The le­gis­la­tion, which was form­ally in­tro­duced by the bi­par­tis­an pair in both cham­bers of Con­gress this week, would do away with the En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency’s pro­posed man­date of car­bon cap­ture and stor­age tech­no­logy for ex­ist­ing power plants. It would also al­low Con­gress to de­term­ine when forth­com­ing EPA reg­u­la­tions to lim­it car­bon emis­sions from ex­ist­ing power plants would take ef­fect.

Sub­com­mit­tee mem­bers will vote on the bill on Tues­day, after of­fer­ing open­ing state­ments on Monday.

Sen­ate En­vir­on­ment and Pub­lic Works Com­mit­tee Chair­wo­man Bar­bara Box­er said she’s form­ing a new Cli­mate Ac­tion Task Force, and mem­bers of the new group plan to hold a press con­fer­ence on Tues­day.

FARM BILL

Food-Stamp Fric­tion

House and Sen­ate con­fer­ees con­tin­ue to ne­go­ti­ate fi­nal de­tails of a farm-bill reau­thor­iz­a­tion. But they now ap­pear to be mov­ing for­ward with an as­sump­tion it is likely to re­duce food-stamp be­ne­fits, form­ally known as the Sup­ple­ment­al Nu­tri­tion As­sist­ance Pro­gram, by about $8.7 bil­lion over 10 years.

That is more than twice the $4 bil­lion in cuts ini­tially pro­posed in a Sen­ate ver­sion of the bill, but sig­ni­fic­antly lower than the al­most $40 bil­lion pro­posed cut con­tained in a House-passed ver­sion. There still re­mains fric­tion with­in the con­fer­ence over how that is­sue — which had been seen as the most con­ten­tious in the bill — is be­ing re­solved.

However, a big­ger obstacle to a fi­nal deal might now be the fight over wheth­er to con­tin­ue a pro­gram to bol­ster the price of milk for dairy farm­ers, when prices drop. House Speak­er John Boehner is among those who have long back­han­dedly called this “a So­viet-style” pro­gram, and he re­it­er­ated last week that he would not al­low it to be part of a fi­nal bill. But law­makers from big milk-pro­du­cing states want it to re­main.

Hopes per­sist that a fi­nal con­fer­ence agree­ment can be reached by this month, but how that pro­cess will play out is un­cer­tain. Wheth­er un­re­solved is­sues with­in the con­fer­ence will be voted on by way of amend­ments in an open, pub­lic hear­ing is also among the is­sues un­der dis­pute.

For a con­fer­ence re­port to be­come law, it must have the sig­na­tures of a ma­jor­ity of the con­fer­ees from each cham­ber. Then both houses must ap­prove it, gen­er­ally by a up-or-down vote.

HEALTH CARE

Obama­care Over­sight

House Re­pub­lic­ans will also con­tin­ue to fo­cus on the Af­ford­able Care Act with two hear­ings on the se­cur­ity of Health­Care.gov sched­uled for Thursday.

The Over­sight and In­vest­ig­a­tions Sub­com­mit­tee of En­ergy and Com­merce will again hear testi­mony from Gary Co­hen, deputy ad­min­is­trat­or and dir­ect­or of the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment’s Cen­ter for Con­sumer In­form­a­tion and In­sur­ance Over­sight  on the im­ple­ment­a­tion of the health care law.

Co­hen last ap­peared be­fore the com­mit­tee on Sept. 19, a few weeks be­fore the Oct. 1 launch of the ex­changes. At the 9:30 a.m. hear­ing, titled “2014: Seek­ing PPACA An­swers,” mem­bers will ques­tion Co­hen on why he did not fore­see or re­veal prob­lems with the web­site dur­ing his first testi­mony in Septem­ber.

The House Sci­ence, Space, and Tech­no­logy Com­mit­tee will also hear testi­mony re­gard­ing the se­cur­ity of the Obama­care web­site, in a hear­ing titled “Health­Care.gov: Con­sequences of Stolen Iden­tity” at 9 a.m.

ACA en­roll­ment data for Decem­ber is also ex­pec­ted to be re­leased this week. The num­bers are sure to be the highest yet, as states saw en­roll­ment surge ahead of the Dec. 23 en­roll­ment dead­line for cov­er­age be­gin­ning Jan. 1.

WHITE HOUSE

Sketches of Spain

Obama will con­tin­ue the buildup to his Jan. 28 State of the Uni­on ad­dress this week with a mix of for­eign policy and do­mest­ic policy.

Along with his speech Fri­day out­lining the res­ults of the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­view of na­tion­al se­cur­ity sur­veil­lance policy, he will host Span­ish Pres­id­ent Mari­ano Ra­joy Brey on Monday for a dis­cus­sion of NATO and transat­lantic trade is­sues.

On Tues­day, he will hold his first Cab­in­et meet­ing of the new year. On Wed­nes­day, he hits the road, tak­ing his eco­nom­ic mes­sage to the Raleigh-Durham, N.C., area.

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