Military Pension Issue Is Front and Center — Again

Omnibus Senate bill on veterans issues faces an uncertain future.

Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee Dave Camp (L), R-Michigan, listens to testimony by Marilyn Tavenner, Administrator for Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, US Department of Health and Human Services as she speaks during a hearing with the House Ways and Means Committee in Washington, DC, October 29, 2013.
National Journal
Michael Catalini and Billy House
Add to Briefcase
Michael Catalini Billy House
Feb. 24, 2014, 7 a.m.

Con­gress might have left town on a high note earli­er this month, passing a debt ceil­ing in­crease and restor­ing mil­it­ary pen­sion cuts. But vet­er­ans is­sues will be on the radar again this week as sen­at­ors take up an om­ni­bus bill — in­clud­ing a cost-of-liv­ing ad­just­ment and oth­er meas­ures — with an un­cer­tain fate.

Mean­while, Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers in the House are plan­ning to ad­vance a bill to ad­dress sharp in­creases in flood in­sur­ance rates, after block­ing a Sen­ate bill that would delay the hikes for four years.

In ad­di­tion, House Ways and Means Com­mit­tee Chair­man Dave Camp is ex­pec­ted to un­veil his long-awaited tax-re­form draft, which is likely to call for a lower cor­por­ate tax rate and a sim­pler code. But it is un­clear wheth­er the ef­fort can get bey­ond the dis­cus­sion stage.

Here’s what else is hap­pen­ing this week:

  • On Wed­nes­day, Sen. Kirsten Gil­librand, who chairs the Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Per­son­nel Sub­com­mit­tee, will re­start the mil­it­ary sexu­al-as­sault de­bate with a hear­ing on the re­la­tion­ship between crimes, post-trau­mat­ic stress dis­order, and sui­cide.
  • The House Rules Com­mit­tee will hold a hear­ing Tues­day to set floor pro­ced­ures for a meas­ure to delay new rules re­com­men­ded by the In­tern­al Rev­en­ue Ser­vice to curb a surge in polit­ic­al spend­ing and activ­ity by non­profits. The bill is called the Stop Tar­get­ing of Polit­ic­al Be­liefs by the IRS Act of 2014.
  • The Rules Com­mit­tee will also set floor pro­ced­ures for a bill to re­quire fed­er­al agen­cies to provide more pub­lic in­form­a­tion re­gard­ing pro­posed and fi­nal reg­u­la­tions. The bill would re­quire agen­cies to sub­mit in­form­a­tion for a monthly sup­ple­ment to the Uni­fied Agenda of Fed­er­al Reg­u­lat­ory and De­reg­u­lat­ory Ac­tions, a semi­an­nu­al com­pil­a­tion of the fed­er­al reg­u­la­tions un­der de­vel­op­ment, and post that in­form­a­tion on the In­ter­net.
  • Home­land Se­cur­ity Sec­ret­ary Jeh John­son is set to testi­fy Wed­nes­day be­fore the House Home­land Se­cur­ity Com­mit­tee, just two months in­to his ten­ure.
  • The Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee will hold a hear­ing Tues­day on a spate of de­fense nom­in­a­tions, in­clud­ing Robert Work to be deputy De­fense sec­ret­ary and Mi­chael Mc­Cord to be un­der­sec­ret­ary of De­fense (comp­troller).
  • On Monday, the Sen­ate will vote on the nom­in­a­tions of Jef­frey Al­k­er Mey­er to be a U.S. dis­trict judge for the Dis­trict of Con­necti­c­ut and James Max­well Moody Jr. to be U.S. dis­trict judge for the East­ern Dis­trict of Arkan­sas; on Tues­day, there will be votes on the nom­in­a­tions of James Donato and Beth Lab­son Free­man to be U.S. dis­trict judges for the North­ern Dis­trict of Cali­for­nia.
  • On Thursday, the Sen­ate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee will mark up the Re­cidiv­ism Re­duc­tion and Pub­lic Safety Act of 2013, sponsored by Sen. Shel­don White­house. Among the bills’ pro­vi­sions is a meas­ure that would dir­ect the Bur­eau of Pris­ons to of­fer re­cidiv­ism pro­grams.
  • The Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee will also mark up the STOP Iden­tity Theft Act of 2013 on Thursday.

In the Sen­ate, the 352-page vet­er­ans om­ni­bus meas­ure, au­thored by Vet­er­ans’ Com­mit­tee Chair­man Bernie Sanders of Ver­mont, is ex­pec­ted to face a pro­ced­ur­al vote as soon as Tues­day. Sanders has been look­ing for sup­port across the aisle, aides say, but wheth­er the bill will clear the 60-vote threshold could de­pend on the amend­ments pro­cess, which has dogged the Demo­crat­ic ma­jor­ity lately.

At least one amend­ment, it ap­pears, would need to be made to con­form with cur­rent law. Be­fore leav­ing for the break, Con­gress re­stored the mil­it­ary pen­sion cuts made in the Ry­an-Mur­ray budget for cur­rent mil­it­ary re­tir­ees, but not for fu­ture pen­sion­ers. Sanders would seek an amend­ment to bring his bill in line with the law, spokes­man Mi­chael Briggs said.

The cost of restor­ing the be­ne­fits would be paid for through sav­ings from over­seas con­tin­gency op­er­a­tions, ac­cord­ing to Sen­ate aides. Re­pub­lic­ans have balked at us­ing such sav­ings in the past be­cause the wars in Afgh­anistan and Ir­aq have wound down, and they ar­gue budget­ing cuts for wars that are end­ing isn’t a true off­set. A Con­gres­sion­al Budget Of­fice rul­ing on the cost isn’t due un­til after Sanders of­fers his amend­ment.

The sweep­ing le­gis­la­tion also in­cludes meas­ures to per­mit vet­er­ans to re­ceive in-state tu­ition be­ne­fits should they change their state of res­id­ence; provide a broad­er dent­al pro­gram; and re­quire ad­di­tion­al con­gres­sion­al over­sight for the Vet­er­ans Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s new di­git­al track­ing sys­tem for dis­ab­il­ity claims.

The bill is ex­pec­ted to face pro­ced­ur­al head­winds, which could take up much of the Sen­ate’s floor time next week, ac­cord­ing to a seni­or Demo­crat­ic aide.


Dead-End Street?

Camp’s re­lease of his tax-re­form draft is an­ti­cip­ated to call for a lower cor­por­ate tax rate and a sim­pler code. But it is un­clear how com­pre­hens­ive Camp’s pro­pos­al will be bey­ond a “dis­cus­sion draft format,” or wheth­er his plan — or those that were con­tained in former Sen. Max Baucus’s own draft re­leases of his tax-re­form ideas in Decem­ber — is destined to go much fur­ther.

Whatever Camp does an­nounce threatens to be up­staged a bit this week by the oth­er tax-re­lated bill headed to the floor, the Stop Tar­get­ing of Polit­ic­al Be­liefs by the IRS Act of 2014, which Demo­crats dis­miss as purely a polit­ic­al mes­saging man­euver. The meas­ure would delay new rules re­com­men­ded by the IRS to curb a surge in polit­ic­al spend­ing and activ­ity by non­profits, with crit­ics say­ing the rules are too broad.

House Demo­crats com­plain Camp and oth­er Re­pub­lic­ans have pur­sued a totally par­tis­an ap­proach, and they pre­dict from earli­er dis­cus­sions that his plans won’t add up. Last year, they say, Re­pub­lic­ans were press­ing them to agree to go along with lower­ing the cor­por­ate tax rate from 35 per­cent to 25 per­cent, and also lower­ing the rate for top in­di­vidu­al earners from 39.6 per­cent to 25 per­cent — but had no plan to make up about $5 tril­lion in lost rev­en­ue.

Last week, there was talk Camp had re­vised those earli­er frame­works and that his top rate may not be lowered be­low 30 per­cent, after all. But Demo­crats say they ex­pect the need for gim­micks to sug­gest it is paid for, any­way. One big gim­mick an­ti­cip­ated, they say, is ex­pand­ing the Roth IRA — which could raise a lot of money now but cost a lot of money in com­ing years.

Re­gard­less, few law­makers see any­thing but dim pro­spects for pas­sage of any sig­ni­fic­ant tax pack­age this midterm elec­tion year — in­clud­ing some of Camp’s fel­low Ways and Means Com­mit­tee Re­pub­lic­ans.

GOP lead­ers and oth­er Re­pub­lic­ans have been wor­ried that act­ing on a tax over­haul plan with elec­tions com­ing this fall could gen­er­ate fierce cri­ti­cism from groups who be­lieve they will be un­fairly or wrongly hit by the pro­posed changes. And with no chance of their plan be­ing backed by Demo­crats in the House and Sen­ate, many Re­pub­lic­ans have little ap­pet­ite to draw any elec­tion-year fo­cus away from their at­tacks on the Af­ford­able Care Act.


Busi­ness Mat­ters

On Monday, Con­gres­sion­al Budget Of­fice Dir­ect­or Douglas El­men­d­orf, former Treas­ury Sec­ret­ary Larry Sum­mers, and former Fed­er­al Re­serve Chair­man Alan Green­span are sched­uled to speak at the Na­tion­al As­so­ci­ation for Busi­ness Eco­nom­ics’ an­nu­al eco­nom­ic policy con­fer­ence in Ar­ling­ton, Va. White House Coun­cil of Eco­nom­ic Ad­visers Chair­man Jason Fur­man and Fed Gov­ernor Daniel Tarullo will de­liv­er re­marks Tues­day at the same con­fer­ence.

On Wed­nes­day, House Fin­an­cial Ser­vices sub­com­mit­tees will ex­am­ine the 2010 Dodd-Frank fin­an­cial re­form law’s im­pact on as­set-backed se­cur­it­ies and an in­spect­or gen­er­al’s re­port on “al­leg­a­tions of im­prop­er lob­by­ing and ob­struc­tion at the De­part­ment of Hous­ing and Urb­an De­vel­op­ment” in sep­ar­ate hear­ings.

Fed Chair Janet Yel­len will de­liv­er the delayed second round of her semi­an­nu­al Humphrey-Hawkins testi­mony on mon­et­ary policy and the eco­nomy to the Sen­ate Bank­ing Com­mit­tee on Thursday morn­ing; the ori­gin­al hear­ing was sched­uled to take place on Feb. 13 but was can­celed due to the bad winter weath­er. If Yel­len de­liv­ers a sim­il­ar per­form­ance to her Feb. 11 ap­pear­ance be­fore the House Fin­an­cial Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, she will in­dic­ate con­tinu­ity of the work of her pre­de­cessor Ben Bernanke and make little news.

Cap­ping the week will be a second read­ing of fourth-quarter gross do­mest­ic product from the Bur­eau of Eco­nom­ic Ana­lys­is, sched­uled to be re­leased at 8:30 a.m. Fri­day.


Eye­ing Fisc­al Fu­ture

On Thursday, the full Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee holds a hear­ing on the U.S. Stra­tegic Com­mand and U.S. Cy­ber Com­mand in re­view of the de­fense au­thor­iz­a­tion re­quest for fisc­al 2015 and fu­ture years de­fense.

The House mean­while has a slate of hear­ings.

The House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee is to hold a hear­ing Wed­nes­day on the U.S. North­ern and South­ern Com­mand. Gen. Charles Jac­oby Jr., the com­mand­er of the U.S. North­ern Com­mand, and Gen. John Kelly, the com­mand­er of the U.S. South­ern Com­mand, are slated to testi­fy.

HASC will hold a hear­ing in­to the U.S. Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions Com­mand and U.S. Trans­port­a­tion Com­mand on Thursday, with Gen. Wil­li­am Fraser and Adm. Wil­li­am McRaven.


Jobs for Vet­er­ans

House con­ser­vat­ives will tout the job-cre­at­ing be­ne­fits of the do­mest­ic-en­ergy boom on Wed­nes­day when the House Nat­ur­al Re­sources En­ergy and Min­er­al Re­sources Sub­com­mit­tee holds a hear­ing titled “Amer­ic­an En­ergy Jobs: Op­por­tun­it­ies for Vet­er­ans.”

On Thursday, the sub­com­mit­tee con­venes an over­sight hear­ing to ex­am­ine a re­cently re­leased Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­ab­il­ity Of­fice re­port con­clud­ing that the In­teri­or De­part­ment has faced ser­i­ous head­winds in ef­forts to hire and re­tain staff to su­per­vise oil and gas pro­duc­tion on pub­lic lands.

On the oth­er side of the Cap­it­ol, cli­mate cru­sader Sen. Shel­don White­house, D-R.I., con­venes a hear­ing Tues­day of the Sen­ate En­vir­on­ment and Pub­lic Works Over­sight Sub­com­mit­tee to dis­cuss the im­port­ance of eco­sys­tem pro­tec­tion to a vari­ety of com­mer­cial in­dus­tries.

On Thursday, a House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee pan­el will con­vene a hear­ing titled “Be­ne­fits of and Chal­lenges to En­ergy Ac­cess in the 21st Cen­tury: Elec­tri­city.”

Look for Re­pub­lic­ans to ar­gue that En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency rules to curb power-plant emis­sions will raise con­sumer costs and, by prompt­ing re­tire­ment of coal-fired power plants, make the grid less re­li­able.


Spot­light on CMS

On Wed­nes­day, the House En­ergy and Com­merce Health Sub­com­mit­tee will hold a hear­ing about “Mess­ing with Suc­cess: How CMS’ At­tack on the Part D Pro­gram Will In­crease Costs and Re­duce Choices for Seni­ors.”

The con­ven­ing fol­lows pro­posed changes — which have fallen un­der cri­ti­cism from key stake­hold­ers and Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers — to the Medi­care Part D pro­gram from the Cen­ters for Medi­care and Medi­caid Ser­vices. The changes would al­low the agency to par­ti­cip­ate in ne­go­ti­ations between in­sur­ance com­pan­ies and phar­ma­cies, in an ef­fort to save money in the en­ti­tle­ment pro­gram.


‘My Broth­er’s Keep­er’

Pres­id­ent Obama’s fo­cus this week will be on the eco­nomy with a dose of polit­ics. On Monday, he will meet with the na­tion’s gov­ernors dur­ing their an­nu­al winter meet­ing. Tues­day and Wed­nes­day will fea­ture events on the eco­nomy, in­clud­ing a trip to Min­neapol­is-St. Paul on Wed­nes­day.

On Thursday, he will fol­low up on one of the pro­pos­als he laid out in his State of the Uni­on ad­dress, a “My Broth­er’s Keep­er” pro­gram to per­suade found­a­tions, busi­nesses, and com­munity groups to work to help Afric­an-Amer­ic­an and His­pan­ic men who suf­fer from un­usu­ally high rates of un­em­ploy­ment. On Tues­day and on Fri­day, the pres­id­ent will also at­tend polit­ic­al events in Wash­ing­ton.

George E. Condon Jr., Clare Foran, Catherine Hollander, Stacy Kaper, Clara Ritger and Ben Geman contributed to this article.
What We're Following See More »
Trump to Begin Covering His Own Legal Bills
16 hours ago
Steele Says Follow the Money
17 hours ago

"Christopher Steele, the former British intelligence officer who wrote the explosive dossier alleging ties between Donald Trump and Russia," says in a new book by The Guardian's Luke Harding that "Trump's land and hotel deals with Russians needed to be examined. ... Steele did not go into further detail, Harding said, but seemed to be referring to a 2008 home sale to the Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev. Richard Dearlove, who headed the UK foreign-intelligence unit MI6 between 1999 and 2004, said in April that Trump borrowed money from Russia for his business during the 2008 financial crisis."

Goldstone Ready to Meet with Mueller’s Team
17 hours ago

"The British publicist who helped set up the fateful meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a group of Russians at Trump Tower in June 2016 is ready to meet with Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller's office, according to several people familiar with the matter. Rob Goldstone has been living in Bangkok, Thailand, but has been communicating with Mueller's office through his lawyer, said a source close to Goldstone."

Kislyak Says Trump Campaign Contacts Too Numerous to List
18 hours ago

"Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak said on Wednesday that it would take him more than 20 minutes to name all of the Trump officials he's met with or spoken to on the phone. ... Kislyak made the remarks in a sprawling interview with Russia-1, a popular state-owned Russian television channel."

Sabato Moves Alabama to “Lean Democrat”
1 days ago

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.