Obama’s Budget Blueprint Heads to the Hill

The White House spending plan for fiscal 2015 arrives Tuesday.

US President Barack Obama pauses while speaking to the Democratic National Committee at the Capital Hilton February 28, 2014 in Washington, DC. Obama spoke about the 2014 midterm elections. 
National Journal
March 2, 2014, 9:06 a.m.

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.”


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.


Flood-Bill Flurry

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.


Bat­tling Bills

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.


Boost­ing Ef­fi­ciency

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.


Drug-La­beling De­cisions

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.

Michael Catalin, Clare Foran, Catherine Hollander, Stacy Kaper, James Oliphant, Clara Ritger, Brendan Sasso and Ben Geman contributed to this article.
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