Full Slate for Congress as End of Year Looms

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 14: Nominee for the Federal Reserve Board Chairman Janet Yellen testifies during her confirmation hearing November 14, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Yellen will be the first woman to head the Federal Reserve if confirmed by the Senate and will succeed Ben Bernanke.
National Journal
Billy House
Nov. 17, 2013, 7 a.m.

With Thanks­giv­ing break start­ing in just four days, this week will set the table for what is likely to be a con­ten­tious year-end, as the Sen­ate takes up the Na­tion­al De­fense Au­thor­iz­a­tion Act and anxi­ety builds over the slow pace of budget talks.

The Sen­ate Bank­ing Com­mit­tee could also vote this week on Janet Yel­len to be the next chair of the Fed­er­al Re­serve Board, and the Sen­ate Home­land Se­cur­ity and Gov­ern­ment­al Af­fairs Com­mit­tee might vote Wed­nes­day on Pres­id­ent Obama’s nom­in­a­tion of Jeh John­son to head the Home­land Se­cur­ity De­part­ment.

The Sen­ate on Monday is ex­pec­ted to pass a bill tight­en­ing rules on com­poun­ded phar­ma­ceut­ic­als, send­ing the meas­ure to the White House for Obama’s sig­na­ture.

With just four sched­uled le­gis­lat­ive days this month in the House and eight days sched­uled in Decem­ber, the fo­cus may turn to a range of oth­er items that need to be dealt with by the end of 2013, in­clud­ing ex­tend­ing un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance, ad­dress­ing the rate for­mula that’s used to re­im­burse phys­i­cians un­der Medi­care, and a few oth­er Medi­care and tax ex­tenders.

Here’s some of what Con­gress will be do­ing this week:

  • The Sen­ate For­eign Re­la­tions pan­el’s Sub­com­mit­tee on East Asia meets Tues­day morn­ing to dis­cuss Typhoon Haiy­an. Nearly 5,000 people in the Phil­ip­pines were killed in the storm, ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions.
  • The Sen­ate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee will hold a hear­ing Wed­nes­day and Thursday on in­tel­li­gence over­sight. Ex­pect Dir­ect­or of Na­tion­al In­tel­li­gence James Clap­per, NSA Dir­ect­or Keith Al­ex­an­der, and Deputy At­tor­ney Gen­er­al James Cole to testi­fy.
  • The House is set to take up votes on three bills this week aimed at do­mest­ic en­ergy pro­duc­tion. The le­gis­la­tion will ad­dress pro­tec­tions for states’ rights, activ­ity on fed­er­al lands, and nat­ur­al-gas-pipeline per­mit­ting. The House Rules Com­mit­tee has set a hear­ing for Tues­day to set floor pro­ced­ures on the pipeline bill.
  • The Sen­ate Fin­ance Com­mit­tee will hold a hear­ing Wed­nes­day on Sarah Raskin to be deputy Treas­ury sec­ret­ary and Rhonda Schmidtlein to be a mem­ber of the U.S. In­ter­na­tion­al Trade Com­mis­sion.

The phar­ma­ceut­ic­al bill ex­pec­ted to pass in the Sen­ate on Monday, known as the Drug Qual­ity and Se­cur­ity Act, would in­crease fed­er­al over­sight of large com­pound­ing phar­ma­cies, which mix and pack­age drugs.

The bill it­self may not have gen­er­ated con­tro­versy, but it was held up for more than a week by Sen. Dav­id Vit­ter, R-La. Vit­ter wanted the Sen­ate to vote on an un­re­lated pro­pos­al to re­quire con­gres­sion­al of­fices to dis­close which staffers are al­lowed to keep their fed­er­al health be­ne­fits us­ing a loop­hole in the Af­ford­able Care Act rules.

Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id re­fused, and Vit­ter re­fused to budge. The Sen­ate lost a week of floor time be­fore the cham­ber voted 97-1 to ad­vance the meas­ure. The House passed the le­gis­la­tion in Septem­ber.

The only thing stand­ing in the way of pas­sage of the com­pound­ing bill is yet an­oth­er of the pres­id­ent’s nom­in­a­tions for the U.S. Dis­trict Court of the Dis­trict of Columbia. The Sen­ate is poised to vote on wheth­er to pro­ceed to Robert Le­on Wilkins’s nom­in­a­tion. But that re­quires a 60-vote threshold, and Re­pub­lic­ans have already said they will not agree to any more nom­in­ees for the D.C. Dis­trict Court.

BUDGET AND TAXES

Loom­ing Dead­lines

Fri­day marks the dead­line that was floated by chairs of the House and Sen­ate Ap­pro­pri­ations com­mit­tees for when they hope the budget con­fer­ence com­mit­tee can come up with top-line budget fig­ures — at least through fisc­al 2014.

The con­fer­ence com­mit­tee, led by its co­chairs — Sen. Patty Mur­ray, D-Wash., and Rep. Paul Ry­an, R-Wis. — has an in­form­al dead­line of Dec. 13 to pro­duce its re­com­mend­a­tions to the full House and Sen­ate on a spend­ing plan or strategy with an ex­ist­ing fund­ing mech­an­ism for gov­ern­ment set to ex­pire Jan. 15. But the ap­pro­pri­at­ors say they will need dir­ec­tion be­fore then from the com­mit­tee in the form of at least a top-line spend­ing num­ber — be­fore the end of the year — in or­der to be­gin the pro­cess of writ­ing spend­ing bills.

In a press con­fer­ence this week, House Minor­ity Lead­er Nancy Pelosi echoed those calls for the com­mit­tee to come to some sort of agree­ment ahead of the Thanks­giv­ing hol­i­day. With the House de­part­ing Thursday and the Sen­ate leav­ing Nov. 27, that puts the likely dead­line for a deal at this week. “There’s no reas­on we shouldn’t. There’s no good reas­on that we shouldn’t,” she said Thursday of a pre-Thanks­giv­ing deal.

Sen­ate and House Ap­pro­pri­ations Chairs Bar­bara Mikul­ski, D-Md., and Har­old Ro­gers, R-Ky., left open the pos­sib­il­ity of ex­tend­ing their dead­line un­til Dec. 2.

But neither date seems likely, as the con­fer­ence com­mit­tee mem­bers con­tin­ue to spar over wheth­er to in­clude the clos­ure of some tax loop­holes — a Demo­crat­ic pri­or­ity — in­to a fi­nal deal. Re­pub­lic­ans would rather put off those dis­cus­sions and in­clude them in a tax-re­form plan be­ing pur­sued in the Sen­ate Fin­ance and House Ways and Means com­mit­tees.

Sen­ate Fin­ance Com­mit­tee Chair­man Max Baucus is slated to meet with mem­bers Tues­day, po­ten­tially to put out a draft of the pan­el’s tax-re­form plan. But with the House un­likely to move for­ward with a plan this year, the Sen­ate may hold off as well. House Ways and Means Com­mit­tee mem­bers, mean­while, say it is un­likely that they will re­lease any in­form­a­tion on their tax-re­form plan be­fore Thanks­giv­ing.

DE­FENSE AND NA­TION­AL SE­CUR­ITY

Bill Be­comes Battle­ground

The Na­tion­al De­fense Au­thor­iz­a­tion Act routinely makes its way in­to law every year. But be­cause it is viewed as one of the few guar­an­teed-to-pass bills, it has be­come a tar­get for a host of con­ten­tious is­sues. Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee Chair­man Carl Lev­in, D-Mich., is try­ing to get the bill over the fin­ish line with as few con­tro­ver­sial amend­ments as pos­sible.

Lev­in is coax­ing the Sen­ate Bank­ing Com­mit­tee to lay out a course on Ir­an sanc­tions to take the heat off that is­sue on the de­fense bill. Wheth­er he will be suc­cess­ful re­mains to be seen. In ad­di­tion to sanc­tions, mem­bers are eye­ing the de­fense bill as a pos­sible battle­ground for a host of oth­er high-pro­file is­sues.

Among them is the con­cern about the range of the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency’s sur­veil­lance, which Lev­in is also try­ing to fend off.

One fight that is sure to come up is the ques­tion of how to com­bat mil­it­ary sexu­al as­saults. Sen. Kirsten Gil­librand, D-N.Y., plans to of­fer her amend­ment, which would take the de­cision of wheth­er to pro­sec­ute out of the chain of com­mand. She is hop­ing to find a path to 60 votes. Lev­in is also an­ti­cip­at­ing a de­bate over the Guantanamo Bay. Law­makers were hop­ing to fin­ish the bill be­fore Thanks­giv­ing, but that is look­ing in­creas­ingly un­likely.

ECO­NOMY

Fed Con­firm­a­tion Hear­ing

Fol­low­ing the pos­sible vote by the Sen­ate Bank­ing Com­mit­tee this week on Yel­len to be the next Fed chair, she is ex­pec­ted to clear any pro­ced­ur­al hurdles and be con­firmed by the Sen­ate, al­though sev­er­al sen­at­ors have vowed to put a hold on her nom­in­a­tion to force votes on oth­er is­sues.

But cur­rent Fed Chair­man Ben Bernanke isn’t done yet; his term runs through Janu­ary. On Tues­day even­ing, Bernanke will speak at the Na­tion­al Eco­nom­ists Club An­nu­al Din­ner at the U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce on com­mu­nic­a­tion and mon­et­ary policy. Dur­ing his ten­ure, the cent­ral bank has de­veloped a num­ber of new com­mu­nic­a­tions strategies in an ef­fort to more clearly ar­tic­u­late its goals and strategies; last week, Yel­len made clear dur­ing her nom­in­a­tion hear­ing that she would con­tin­ue with those ef­forts.

Fi­nally, the Fed on Wed­nes­day will re­lease minutes from its latest meet­ing. The cent­ral bank kept its policy steady then, but the minutes are al­ways stud­ied for clues as to what the policy-set­ting com­mit­tee mem­bers are likely to do next — in this case, at its meet­ing sched­uled for Dec. 17-18, Bernanke’s last as chair­man. A stronger-than-ex­pec­ted Oc­to­ber jobs re­port has raised ex­pect­a­tions the cent­ral bank could con­sider taper­ing its $85 bil­lion-a-month bond-buy­ing pur­chases.

Also ex­pec­ted to grab at­ten­tion will be a joint hear­ing held by two Sen­ate Bank­ing sub­com­mit­tees Tues­day af­ter­noon on vir­tu­al cur­rency, with bit­coins ex­pec­ted to fea­ture prom­in­ently. The wit­nesses in­clude Jen­nifer Shasky Cal­very, dir­ect­or of the Fin­an­cial Crimes En­force­ment Net­work, and An­thony Gal­lippi, the cofounder and CEO of Bit­Pay.

Fi­nally, the Bank­ing Com­mit­tee will con­tin­ue its fo­cus on hous­ing fin­ance re­form and will hold a hear­ing on trans­fer­ring cred­it risk on Tues­day morn­ing.

Data-wise, the biggest re­ports out next week are on in­fla­tion, which has been muted: The con­sumer price in­dex will be re­leased by the Bur­eau of Labor Stat­ist­ics on Wed­nes­day, fol­lowed by the pro­du­cer price in­dex on Thursday.

HEALTH CARE

Fo­cus on Fixes

At­ten­tion will con­tin­ue this week on the troubles sur­round­ing the rol­lout of Obama­care, and vari­ous in­sur­ance can­cel­la­tion “fixes.”

In ad­di­tion, the House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee will hold an­oth­er hear­ing Tues­day on Health­Care.gov, in which the Over­sight and In­vest­ig­a­tions Sub­com­mit­tee ill look in­to the se­cur­ity of the ex­change web­site.

En­ergy’s Sub­com­mit­tee on Health will hold a hear­ing next Wed­nes­day titled “Ex­amin­ing Pub­lic Health Le­gis­la­tion to Help Loc­al Com­munit­ies.”

EN­ERGY AND EN­VIR­ON­MENT

Parks Pay­back

On Thursday, the House Nat­ur­al Re­sources pan­el’s Sub­com­mit­tee on Pub­lic Lands and En­vir­on­ment­al Reg­u­la­tion holds a hear­ing to con­sider le­gis­la­tion in­tro­duced by Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont., re­quir­ing the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment to pay states back for money spent to re­open parks and monu­ments dur­ing the shut­down.

One of the bills would re­fund $465,000 in dona­tions made by Ari­zona busi­nesses and oth­ers to re­open the Grand Canyon Na­tion­al Park for five days dur­ing the gov­ern­ment shut­down.

Na­tion­al parks be­came a sym­bol of the deep par­tis­an di­vide dur­ing the shut­down, with both Demo­crats and Re­pub­lic­ans at­tempt­ing to as­sign blame to the oth­er party for deny­ing vis­it­ors ac­cess to the parks.

House Re­pub­lic­ans also are ex­pec­ted to call a vote on a bill from Rep. Bill Flores, R-Texas, that would cur­tail In­teri­or De­part­ment reg­u­la­tions on hy­draul­ic frac­tur­ing. The bill would ex­empt states that have their own stand­ards from fed­er­al rules. An­oth­er bill would lim­it the de­part­ment to 60 days to re­ject on­shore drilling per­mits be­fore they are con­sidered auto­mat­ic­ally ap­proved; that plan is sponsored by Rep. Doug Lam­born, R-Colo.

WHITE HOUSE

Close to Home

Obama is ex­pec­ted to stay close to the White House this week, with no out-of-town trips sched­uled.

On Tues­day, he will speak at the an­nu­al meet­ing of The Wall Street Journ­al’s CEO Coun­cil.

On Wed­nes­day, he will present the Pres­id­en­tial Medal of Free­dom to 16 in­di­vidu­als at a ce­re­mony that will draw to the White House a var­ied group. Those at­tend­ing in­clude former Pres­id­ent Clin­ton; base­ball le­gend Ernie Banks; TV mag­nate Oprah Win­frey; former Wash­ing­ton Post ed­it­or Ben Bradlee; coun­try sing­er Lor­etta Lynn; former Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind.; and former North Car­o­lina bas­ket­ball coach Dean Smith. On Fri­day, the pres­id­ent meets with King Mo­hammed VI of Mo­rocco.

Mi­chael Cata­lini, George E. Con­don Jr., Clare For­an, Cath­er­ine Hol­lander, Fawn John­son, and Stacy Kaper con­trib­uted

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