Plates Are Full in House and Senate as Congress Rushes Toward Easter Recess

Congressman Paul Ryan (C), R-Wisconsin, gestures towards Congressman Kevin Bradf (R), R-Texas, as he speaks with Congressman Devin Nunes, R-California, as the Secretary of Health and Human Services testifies before the House Ways and Means Committee on US Capitol in Washington, DC, March 12, 2014. Sebelius is at the Capitol to make the case for her agency's proposed 2015 budget, including the millions it is asking for to continue implementing the Affordable Care Act. AFP PHOTO / Jim WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
National Journal
March 30, 2014, 8 a.m.

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.


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.


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.


Spring Break­out

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.


ACA Ac­tion

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.


Mixed Bag

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.


Home Again

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.

Stacy Kaper, Clare Foran, Catherine Hollander, Sophie Novack, Brendan Sasso, Dustin Volz and George E. Condon Jr. contributed to this article.
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