President Obama’s proposed spending plan for fiscal 2015, to be unveiled Tuesday, will command much of the attention in Congress this week. Both the House and Senate Budget committees have set hearings for Wednesday to pore over its details.
The Senate also is expected to take up competing bills to combat military sexual assault. And House Republicans, after abruptly scrapping action last week on a measure to address skyrocketing flood-insurance premiums, believe they have resolved internal differences enough to proceed with a revision on Wednesday geared toward attracting some Democratic support.
Meanwhile, the drumbeat of the House GOP’s focus on the Affordable Care Act plays on, with the Rules Committee scheduling a Tuesday hearing to set floor action on a bill to eliminate the individual-mandate tax penalty under Obamacare.
Here’s what else is happening on Capitol Hill this week:
- Sylvia Mathews Burwell, director of the Office of Management and Budget, will testify Wednesday before both the Senate and House Budget committees on the White House spending plan.
- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker John Boehner, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and other lawmakers are to meet Monday at the Capitol with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. Earlier in the day, Netanyahu is to meet with the president at the White House to discuss, among other things, progress in talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
- On Thursday, the Senate Agriculture Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for Timothy Massad, who previously oversaw the Troubled Asset Relief Program at the Treasury Department, to be the next head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. The committee will also consider Sharon Bowen and Christopher Giancarlo to be commissioners at the CFTC.
- The House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing Tuesday to consider whether to empower states to tax online purchases. The Senate passed an online-sales-tax bill last year, and Chairman Bob Goodlatte has said he would consider legislation as long as it meets certain conditions.
- The House Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday will convene a hearing to examine the recent events in Ukraine and the next steps forward for U.S. foreign policy in the region.
- The Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday will consider the nominations of Lael Brainard, Stanley Fischer, and Jerome Powell to serve on the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors. The panel also will consider nominees for Housing and Urban Development assistant secretary and a member of the National Credit Union Administration Board.
- The Senate is expected to put the brakes on the partisan sniping next week and consider a bipartisan child-care development block grant bill that is expected to pass.
In addition, the Senate is scheduled to vote Monday on the nomination of Debo Adegbile as assistant attorney general for civil rights. Under the new confirmation rules approved in November, Republicans can no longer require 60 votes to confirm a nominee.
Nonetheless, Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania has mounted a vigorous protest to the nomination, even coauthoring a Wall Street Journal op-ed in opposition. Toomey opposes Adegbile on the grounds that he backed convicted murderer Mumia Abu-Jamal, who killed Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981.
“[It] is one thing to provide legal representation and quite another to seize on a case and turn it into a political platform from which to launch an extreme attack on the justice system,” Toomey wrote in The Journal. “When a lawyer chooses that course, it is appropriate to ask whether he should be singled out for a high-level national position in, of all things, law enforcement.”
BUDGET AND TAXES
Framework for Spending
As Obama and the White House lay out their budget framework for government spending on Tuesday, the House and Senate are taking different approaches on whether to do their own detailed budget plans for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
Last week, Boehner said House Republicans under Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan would write a balanced-budget plan of their own, and that the package would be brought to the floor for a vote. A day later, Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray announced the upper chamber would not be doing its own version.
At issue is whether either chamber needs to do a budget at all, given that the two-year budget plan deal forged by Murray and Ryan and passed in December already sets spending levels, with topline spending capped in fiscal 2015 at $1.014 trillion.
Murray and Senate Democrats argue that Appropriations committees are already working with their bipartisan spending levels, and that lawmakers should be working to build on the two-year bipartisan budget and, as Murray said, “not create more uncertainty for families and businesses by immediately relitigating it.”
But Boehner and some other House Republicans are hoping to use action on their own budget to lay out another vision — their vision — of government spending and reductions in this midterm election year. They want to do that even if it’s only a purely aspirational plan on such issues as energy policy and reforms to entitlements.
House Republican leaders, who abruptly pulled a bill last week from planned floor action that would have dealt with dramatic hikes to federal flood-insurance premiums, say they are ready to take up the bill this week.
Republicans have been trying to work out details amongst themselves and with Democrats, led by Financial Services Committee ranking member Maxine Waters. The aim is to address what they say are unintended consequences of a 2012 reform bill that was passed to address the deep debt of the National Flood Insurance Program.
An already-passed Senate bill that would put a halt to many of those reforms for four years has been blocked by House GOP leaders, who say that goes too far. But the issue has become a midterm-election quandary, in which the tea-party and fiscal-conservative philosophies of some House members must be squared with the demands of their own home-district communities to get something done.
A House Financial Services subcommittee will hold a hearing Wednesday on data security and protecting financial information. And the Fed will release its Beige Book, which provides a regional overview of economic conditions in the United States, at 2 p.m. Wednesday.
On Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics will release the jobs report for February. Expect the bad winter weather to muddle this number, as it has for much of the data released this winter, because a huge snowstorm struck the Eastern Seaboard during the week the BLS conducted its employment survey. “We are going to have to wait at least another month before receiving a ‘clean’ reading on payroll employment,” Paul Dales, an economist at macroeconomic research firm Capital Economics, wrote to clients.
DEFENSE AND NATIONAL SECURITY
Competing bills to combat military sexual assault from Democrats Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Claire McCaskill will both come before the Senate this week.
McCaskill’s bill enjoys wide bipartisan support. Gillibrand, too, has attracted a majority of the Senate, but with 55 publicly declared supporters, it is unclear whether she can attract 60 votes to overcome filibuster and clear a path for her bill.
Along with the president’s budget plan, lawmakers this week will also start reviewing the Defense Department’s Quadrennial Defense Review, which details the Pentagon’s strategies and priorities as it struggles to meet future threats in the constrained budget environment.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey give back-to-back testimony on the budget Wednesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee and Thursday before the House Armed Services Committee.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee looks into Iran’s support for worldwide terrorism with a hearing Tuesday and terrorist funding and trade threats to Israel on Wednesday. Meanwhile, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee examines the threat of spillover terrorism from Syria on Thursday.
ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT
Energy-efficiency legislation is to hit the House floor this week.
The House Rules Committee has set a hearing for Tuesday to set floor action on a bill sponsored by Reps. David McKinley, R-W.Va., and Peter Welch, D-Vt., nicknamed “Tenant Star,” which has been packaged with a series of other legislative proposals aimed at boosting energy savings. Those include a measure authored by Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., to promote energy efficiency in federal agencies, and one by Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., to increase efficiency standards for grid-enabled water heaters. The legislation is expected to pass. It remains to be seen, however, whether House passage of energy-conservation legislation will spur Senate action.
Crude-by-rail gets the limelight once again, this time on the opposite side of Capitol Hill with a hearing in the Senate Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security.
The Thursday hearing is set to feature testimony from representatives of the Federal Railroad Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board, the American Petroleum Institute, and other interest groups and regulatory agencies with a stake in passenger and freight rail safety.
House Republicans are slated to resume their assault on Obama administration environmental regulations this week. The House is likely to debate GOP legislation that would prevent the Interior Department from toughening regulation of mountaintop-removal coal mining projects.
The House may also consider legislation that would block EPA’s plans to set carbon emissions standards for power plants. The bill’s 81 cosponsors are mostly Republicans, but seven Democrats have also signed on.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee on Monday is to convene a hearing about generic-drug labeling. The Food and Drug Administration’s proposed changes have come under fire from generic-drug companies that prefer keeping generic-drug labels the same as their brand-name counterparts.
The companies argue that consumers won’t know that they’re the same drug if the labels look different, and they’ll be open to more lawsuits if consumers claim they weren’t sufficiently warned of risks. But allowing generic-drug companies to update the safety information on the labels is seen as a big consumer protection, given that some 80 percent of drugs dispensed in the U.S. are generics.
The House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee on Tuesday will hold a hearing on how to better manage Medicare to protect benefits and save money.
As for the president’s budget, industry lobby groups are taking a keen interest in effects to the Health and Human Services sections. Already industry lobby groups are lining up press calls to give their reaction to the budget, specifically on how it deals with Medicare, a program which has come under the eye of Congress in recent weeks as insurance companies seek to protect their payment for offering private Medicare Advantage coverage.
Also, Insurers and doctors are descending on Capitol Hill next week, as Wednesday and Thursday mark both the America’s Health Insurance Plans Annual Conference and the American Medical Association’s National Advocacy Conference. AHIP plans to focus its agenda on the Affordable Care Act’s implementation in 2014, while the AMA hopes to shift attention toward a permanent “doc-fix,” the annual move in Washington that staves off cuts to the rates doctors get paid by Medicare.
Eyes on Israel
Obama will have a jam-packed week, beyond the meeting with Netanyahu on Monday and the release of his budget on Tuesday.
Later Tuesday, Obama will appear at a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee fundraiser in Washington.
The following day, the president will journey to Hartford, Conn., for an event centered on his proposed increase in the minimum wage. He’ll then head to Boston for two Democratic National Committee fundraisers.
Thursday will feature a health care event at the White House. Obama will end the week by heading to Miami for an event on middle-class opportunity, and the president will do what many of us would like to do in early March — he’ll spend the weekend in Florida before returning to D.C.
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The US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday overturned North Carolina's 2013 voter ID law, saying it was passed with “discriminatory intent." The decision sends the case back to the district judge who initially dismissed challenges to the law. "The ruling prohibits North Carolina from requiring photo identification from voters in future elections, including the November 2016 general election, restores a week of early voting and preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds, and ensures that same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting will remain in effect."
An oil pipeline almost as long as the much-debated Keystone XL has won final approval to transport crude from North Dakota to Illinois, traveling through South Dakota and Iowa along the way. "The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gave the final blessing to the Dakota Access pipeline on Tuesday. Developers now have the last set of permits they need to build through the small portion of federal land the line crosses, which includes major waterways like the Mississippi and the Missouri rivers. The so-called Bakken pipeline goes through mostly state and private land."
The U.S. economy grew at an anemic 1.2% in the second quarter, "well below the 2.6% growth economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal had forecast." Consumer spending was "robust," but it was offset by "cautious" business investment. "Since the recession ended seven years ago, the expansion has failed to achieve the breakout growth seen in past recoveries. "The average annual growth rate during the current business cycle, 2.1%, remains the weakest of any expansion since at least 1949."
Sen. Chuck Schumer, the majority leader in waiting, not only thinks his party will take the Senate this fall, but that it's on the cusp of an era of "electoral dominance." He told Politico: “We’re going to have a Democratic generation. [President Barack Obama] helped create it. But it’s just where America’s moving demographically, ideologically and in every way. We’ll have a mandate to get something done.”
"Vice President Joe Biden will appear in an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit that will mention the backlog of untested rape kits in many cities, as well as efforts to end violence against women—an issue close to Biden, who authored the Violence Against Women Act in 1994." He'll be in New York to tape the episode today.