With their 17-day spring break beckoning at the end of the week, House and Senate lawmakers will have to scramble to reach agreement on restoring long-term unemployment insurance. But don’t bet on such a deal blooming.
A five-month extension is expected to pass in the Senate on Monday with some bipartisan support. But House Republicans were indicating Friday that they won’t follow suit, at least not on the Senate bill as written.
As many as 2 million unemployed Americans are now living without benefits, which expire after 26 weeks, since Congress let the emergency program expire in December. While some Republicans say the House should act on the Senate bill, many others argue that the economy is slowly recovering and the focus should be on alternatives to helping the longer-term unemployed.
“It doesn’t create any jobs,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said Friday. “And right now we are in the business of seeing how we can get people back to work.”
Meanwhile, the House is gearing up for a vote later this week on Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s proposed GOP spending plan for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. But that too is headed for one-chamber action, given that the Senate says it won’t pass a budget this year and spending levels were set in the December budget deal.
Still, House Republicans see Ryan’s plan as a way to spell out their spending priorities in an election year. In fact, the vote will provide both parties with ammunition for political messaging as they prepare to spend most of the rest of their month in their home districts.
The House Rules Committee will meet Monday to set procedures for a vote on the bill.
Among other plans Congress has for this week:
- Secretary of State John Kerry will testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday on the national security and foreign policy priorities in the president’s budget request.
- Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will testify Thursday before the Senate Finance Committee on the president’s budget proposal.
- The House Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing Tuesday on the Russian military and strategic implications. The Intelligence Subcommittee will also hold a hearing on combatting weapons of mass destruction.
- The House Homeland Security Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday on the Boston Marathon bombings.
- Just in time for the April 15 filing deadline, the Senate Finance Committee will hear Tuesday from top officials of the IRS and representatives of tax-preparation companies on how taxpayers can be protected from “incompetent and unethical” operators who offer to file their returns.
- The House Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday will debate problems caused for employers by extending tax provisions for short periods. The Senate Finance Committee has been considering a bill to restore some of the 55 provisions in the tax code that expired Dec. 31.
- Two nominations important to the business world will be considered Tuesday by the Senate Commerce Committee: Elliot F. Kaye to be chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission and Joseph Mohorovic to sit on the commission. Kaye is currently the CPSC’s executive director and Mohorovic is an executive at Intertek’s North America Consumer Goods division.
The Right Weighs Ryan
Aside from Democratic attacks on Ryan’s spending proposal, one thing to watch this week is how much support it gets from his own party’s conservatives.
The deadline for the House to act on a budget is April 15. But no one — even Ryan — really expects his budget to become law. Congressional appropriators on both sides of the Capitol are already working on spending bills based on the already-agreed-upon spending levels that Ryan and Senate Budget Chair Patty Murray worked out in December.
Nevertheless, Ryan’s budget is expected to goose some intense political back-and-forth.
Among other things, it calls for repeal of the Affordable Care Act (though it would still use some of its more than $700 billion in Medicare savings) to help achieve a cut of $5.1 trillion in spending to get to a balanced budget by 2024.
And while adhering to the overall spending levels and the split between discretionary nondefense and defense allotments in the Ryan-Murray deal, the bill ultimately pushes higher defense spending later, along with cuts and changes to Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, and other social-safety-net programs.
Entering this week, there remained concerns from some House conservatives about the spending levels — 62 Republicans had voted against the deal Ryan worked out with Murray.
But top conservatives predict there is enough support for the bill to pass, even given that Democrats who supported the Ryan-Murray deal may drop off. They explain that the longer-term path Ryan’s budget sets toward balance may outweigh conservative concerns about the 2015 top-line spending number.
Capital requirements for the nation’s biggest banks will be considered Tuesday afternoon by the Federal Reserve Board. The Fed, along with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, want the eight largest financial institutions, including JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup, to maintain equity capital equal to 6 percent of their total assets.
The proposed rule would go farther than what is required by an international agreement, Basel III, aimed at strengthening big banks for economic downturns.
Fed Governor Daniel Tarullo also speaks Wednesday on “Longer Term Challenges for the American Economy” during an evening event at the National Press Club.
Along with the Ways and Means hearing on the impact of tax extenders, other hearings on Capitol Hill this week will address U.S. economic issues and policies.
The House Financial Services Committee holds a hearing entitled, “Who’s in Your Wallet: Examining How Washington Red Tape Impairs Economic Freedom.” And on Wednesday, the House Small Business Committee will address “the biggest tax problems” for smaller companies at a 1 p.m. hearing.
On the Senate side, the Judiciary Committee is to hold a hearing Wednesday that was postponed last week on the proposed merger of Time Warner Cable and Comcast.
DEFENSE and NATIONAL SECURITY
Spotlight on USAID
On Wednesday, House Armed Services is to hold a hearing on national defense priorities for the National Defense Authorization Act.
Also that day, the Senate Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee holds a hearing on nuclear security.
And Rajiv Shah, the administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development, testifies on the international development priorities in the president’s budget request before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday and before Senate Foreign Relations on Thursday.
FDA and DEA Rules
On Monday, the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee will hold a hearing on improving transparency in regulations issued by the Food and Drug Administration and the Drug Enforcement Administration. Lawmakers will review three bills: the “Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act,” the “Improving Regulatory Transparency for New Medical Therapies Act,” and the “Sunscreen Innovation Act.”
The Health Subcommittee will meet again on Tuesday to consider the implementation of the Tobacco Control Act.
Later in the day, the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee will hear testimony from J. Mark Iwry, senior adviser to the secretary and deputy assistant Treasury secretary for retirement and health policy, on regulations for the employer mandate and employer-reporting requirements.
Congress will also consider defense health programs this week, beginning with a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on Wednesday. Surgeons general for the Army, Navy, and Air Force and the program executive officer for the Defense Healthcare Management System are scheduled to testify.
Also on Wednesday, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee is to hold a full committee hearing on “A Continued Assessment of Delays in VA Medical Care and Preventable Veteran Deaths.” Witnesses have not yet been announced.
Eye on EPA
The House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee on Tuesday is set to pore over the administration’s fiscal 2015 budget proposal for the Energy Department and the Environmental Protection Agency. On Wednesday, the sister subcommittee in the Senate will hold a similar hearing.
Also Wednesday, the Senate Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee will also consider the EPA proposed budget.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Tuesday will consider the nomination of Janet McCabe, the EPA official who will do most of the heavy lifting on President Obama’s climate action plan, to head the Office of Air and Radiation.
McCabe, the former deputy in the office, has been acting air chief since this summer but is seeking her formal confirmation — a process sure to be dogged with questions from Republicans about the administration’s pollution-reduction plans.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy will discuss the agency’s plans to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from existing power plants Monday at a workshop hosted by the Bipartisan Policy Center and the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners.
The Senate Agriculture Committee will meet Tuesday to discuss the development and economic potential of advanced biofuels, including testimony from former NASCAR driver and team owner Richard Childress.
On Monday, the president will hold an event on the economy in Prince George’s County in suburban Maryland. He will follow that up with an economy-themed White House event on Tuesday.
The next day, Obama and the first lady will depart for a two-day trip to Texas.
On Wednesday, the president will attend a pair of Democratic fundraisers in Houston and the following day, he will join former Presidents Carter and Clinton in speaking at the Lyndon B. Johnson presidential library to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
On Friday, Obama travels to New York to address the convention of the American Action Network.