Whether merely an “aspirational” election-year messaging tool or a genuine effort at laying out a workable spending plan for fiscal 2015 and beyond, lawmakers this week are to get their first taste of Rep. Paul Ryan’s long-awaited proposed federal budget.
Meanwhile, Senate Democrats say they aren’t doing a budget framework. They say the $1.014 trillion spending cap already agreed upon to guide appropriators for the next fiscal year starting in October — part of the two-year deal brokered by the House and Senate in December — makes a new blueprint unnecessary.
But House Majority Leader Eric Cantor says Budget Chairman Ryan intends to hold a markup of a bill in his committee this week laying out Republican priorities. The GOP package then will be put on the House floor next week for a vote, before members break for the Easter recess.
Little drama is expected as the House votes Tuesday to finalize a bipartisan, bicameral bill providing aid to Ukraine. But the back-and-forth over the Ryan budget could be a test of GOP unity and the Wisconsin lawmaker’s influence, as there remain key differences within the party over spending priorities.
Also on the agenda this week:
- The Senate is set to take action Monday on the House-passed (in a controversial voice vote) one-year measure to prevent a massive cut to doctors’ Medicare payments. Physicians face a 24 percent cut in reimbursements on Tuesday if Congress doesn’t act. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says the bill would be brought up for a vote in a process that won’t allow amendments and would require 60 votes to pass. It would then go straight to President Obama to sign into law.
- The Senate Finance Committee as early as Monday could unveil legislation to renew many of the 55 tax breaks for businesses and individuals that expired at the end of 2013. A markup of the bill later in the week could offer some debate regarding the most controversial items, such as write-offs for NASCAR racetracks and federal rum rebates. But action on a final deal with the House is unlikely until after the November elections, perhaps in a lame-duck session.
- The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday is to receive an afternoon briefing on Russia.
- Appropriators continue to hear from top administration officials on their budget requests, with Attorney General Eric Holder, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins, and Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret Hamburg all scheduled to testify.
- The House is set to vote on a bill to require the Congressional Budget Office to provide detailed information on the economic impacts of major legislation as a supplement to CBO estimates.
- The House Foreign Affairs Committee is to hold a subcommittee hearing Wednesday on “The Crude Truth: Evaluating U.S. Energy Trade Policy.”
- Meanwhile, the House Administration Committee on Wednesday is to explore the state of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. Experts are to brief the panel by delving into the details of the research and conservation efforts there.
- On the so-called doc fix, a perennial issue for Congress as a result of a 1997 budget law aimed at reining in Medicare expenses, the House approved its bill last week amid some grumbling about the process. Democrats could have demanded a roll-call vote, but House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi had assured GOP leaders they wouldn’t do that. At the very least, the use of a voice vote does not provide the public with a record of who actually supported the measure and who opposed it.
BUDGET and TAXES
Tough Balancing Act
In his moves on the budget, Ryan could not only find it difficult to keep to the $1.014 trillion spending level for 2015 that he agreed to with Senate Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray, but he also must deal with fellow Republicans who want more military spending, perhaps at the cost of more savings from safety-net and health programs.
A problem is that fiscal-year budget resolutions also set longer-range spending and revenue goals. But by sticking to the amount of spending that he agreed to in December with Murray — a deal opposed by 62 House Republicans — Ryan will likely again need significant Democratic support to get his plan through the House.
Ryan has claimed his budget will achieve balance in a decade without raising taxes. To do that, he is expected to propose big cuts or changes in Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act, which would likely repel some Democratic support.
Even so, an aide close to the budget work said Ryan will stick to the overall funding number and that he also will adhere to the “firewall” between defense and nondefense spending — so that one category can’t be raided to pay for more spending in the other.
Even some Republicans say the House GOP’s budget effort is, in reality, more aspirational and a tool to express party priorities in an election year. As a result, there may be no urgency about pushing Ryan’s spending plan through the House. Yet the notion that the GOP’s 2012 vice presidential nominee would put such a bill on the House floor for a vote, expecting it to be defeated, is also seen by some as politically unlikely.
Meanwhile, as the Senate Finance Committee begins its consideration (with a markup) of a bill expected Wednesday of which of the 55 specialized tax breaks that expired Dec. 31 should be extended, some outside groups are seeking to highlight the intense pressure they say members are facing from more than 1,000 lobbyists.
Americans for Tax Fairness and Public Campaign are to release a joint report Monday about a large corporate lobbying campaign regarding “tax extenders.”
Syria and Russia
The House and Senate Armed Services committees continue to dig into the defense budget with a series of hearings on aspects of the fiscal 2015 request while the Senate Foreign Relations Committee looks at the U.S. posture on Syria and Russia.
On Tuesday the Foreign Relations panel considers a resolution declaring that the humanitarian crisis in Syria and neighboring countries demands a political solution.
On Wednesday the Senate Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee holds a hearing on the ballistic-missile-defense budget. Also on Wednesday the SASC Readiness Subcommittee holds a hearing on military construction and base closures.
The House Armed Services Committee will examine the Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review on Thursday and the panel’s Intelligence Subcommittee will hold a hearing Friday on the budget for intelligence activities.
ENERGY and ENVIRONMENT
Drill, Baby, Drill
Conservatives will make the case for expanded oil production both onshore and off in California as well as Alaska during a hearing set for Friday in the House Natural Resources Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee.
Two House Energy and Commerce subcommittees will examine the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2015 budget proposal at a Wednesday hearing. The Energy and Power Subcommittee also plans a look at the Energy Department budget request on Thursday. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz are scheduled to testify.
Moniz also goes before the House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee on Wednesday.
The House Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee will look at fiscal 2015 budget proposals for the U.S. Forest Service on Tuesday and for the National Park Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service on Thursday.
Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen is scheduled to deliver a keynote address on Monday at the 2014 National Interagency Community Reinvestment Conference in Chicago. The San Francisco Fed, one of the conference’s sponsors, describes the event as a “training and networking event for community development professionals.”
On Tuesday, the Senate Budget Committee will hold a hearing on “opportunity, mobility, and inequality in today’s economy.” Democrats have made the country’s income inequality a key issue in the run-up to the 2014 midterm elections. Columbia University economist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard University economist Raj Chetty will testify.
In a similar theme, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee will hold a separate hearing Tuesday on the Paycheck Fairness Act, which aims to close the wage gap between men and women.
On Wednesday, the House Financial Services Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee will hold a hearing on “allegations of discrimination and retaliation within the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.” Nine Democratic members of the committee sent a letter on March 24 to the Federal Reserve’s inspector general asking for his office to look into allegations of discrimination in the way the bureau ranks its employees. The accusations were reported by American Banker.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics is to release its monthly jobs report for March on Friday.
The past few months’ reports proved difficult to read as weird and terrible winter weather across much of the country clouded economists’ understanding of what was going on beneath the surface. “The weather didn’t quite return to seasonal norms in March, but it was nowhere near as bad as it was between December and February,” analysts at Capital Economics said in a recent note to clients. They expect payrolls to have grown by 200,000 in March, even though a big snowstorm struck the Midwest and Northeast during the week BLS conducted its employment survey.
The House is to vote on a bill to undo language in the Affordable Care Act that defines full-time work as a 30-hour week. Republicans say that creates an incentive for companies that are required to provide health coverage to keep employees from working more hours, and is causing them to lose up to 25 percent of their wages.
Patent issues will dominate the tech world this week, as the Supreme Court has a hearing Monday in Alice v. CLS, a closely watched case on the eligibility of software patents. Also, the Senate Judiciary Committee is still working to forge a consensus on patent-reform legislation, and could take action during its executive business session on Thursday.
The Federal Communications Commission plans to vote on a controversial media-ownership proposal at its open meeting on Monday. The measure would crack down on TV stations that share marketing staff.
The Obama administration’s plan to give up oversight of the Internet’s address system will come under scrutiny at two House hearings this week. The Commerce Committee’s Communications and Technology Subcommittee will scrutinize the proposal on Wednesday and the Judiciary Intellectual Property and Internet Subcommittee will have its turn on Thursday.
The Senate Commerce Communications Subcommittee will hold a hearing Tuesday on whether to reauthorize a satellite TV bill known as STELA. A House subcommittee advanced a version of the bill last week.
It’s back to domestic issues and domestic politics this week for Obama after he spent most of last week overseas.
The president will oversee what press secretary Jay Carney calls “an all-out push” at the beginning of the week to get people signed up for health care coverage, his main message being that people are “out of luck until November” if they don’t sign up for coverage now.
On Wednesday, the president will return for the first time this year to his hometown of Chicago to raise money for the Democratic National Committee. He will also make a stop in Ann Arbor, Mich.