Gay-Rights Milestone Could Pass in the Senate

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) (L) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speak during a ceremony to celebrate the life Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former South Africa President Nelson Mandela on the occasion of his 95th birthday in the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center July 18, 2013 in Washington, DC. July 18 is Nelson Mandela Day, during which people are asked to give 67 minutes of time to charity and service in their community to honor the 67 years Mandela gave to public service. Mandela was admitted to a South African hospital June 8 where he is being treated for a recurring lung infection.
National Journal
Nov. 3, 2013, 7:29 a.m.

The Sen­ate this week could achieve a le­gis­lat­ive mile­stone on gay rights if it passes a ma­jor civil-rights bill that would bar em­ploy­ers from dis­crim­in­at­ing against gays, les­bi­ans, and trans­sexu­als in the work­place.

The GOP-led House, away from Wash­ing­ton on a one-week re­cess, is un­likely to take up the Em­ploy­ment Non-Dis­crim­in­a­tion Act when it re­turns. But Sen­ate pas­sage would rep­res­ent a ma­jor step for­ward for the le­gis­la­tion that has been in the works for two dec­ades — and could give Pres­id­ent Obama polit­ic­al cov­er to in­sti­tute nondis­crim­in­a­tion rules for fed­er­al con­tract­ors.

Mean­while, Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sec­ret­ary Kath­leen Se­beli­us is set to re­turn to Cap­it­ol Hill on Wed­nes­day to provide an up­date on the troubled rol­lout of the Af­ford­able Care Act’s in­sur­ance ex­changes, this time be­fore the Sen­ate Fin­ance Com­mit­tee.

Some oth­er high­lights this week:

  • After con­ven­ing Monday af­ter­noon, the Sen­ate will move to vote on the nom­in­a­tions of Gregory Woods to be a U.S. Dis­trict judge for the South­ern Dis­trict of New York and Debra Brown to be a dis­trict judge for the North­ern Dis­trict of Mis­sis­sippi.
  • The Sen­ate En­vir­on­ment and Pub­lic Works Com­mit­tee on Tues­day holds a sub­com­mit­tee hear­ing on meth­ane emis­sions from oil- and gas-drilling op­er­a­tions.
  • Sens. Di­anne Fein­stein, D-Cal­if., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla., will likely put for­ward le­gis­la­tion this week to elim­in­ate the corn-eth­an­ol man­date in the re­new­able-fuel stand­ard.
  • The Sen­ate Bank­ing Com­mit­tee on Tues­day holds a hear­ing on hous­ing-fin­ance re­form. The hear­ing comes after Sen­ate Demo­crats could not se­cure the needed votes to ad­vance the nom­in­a­tion of Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., to head the Fed­er­al Hous­ing Fin­ance Agency.
  • The Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee on Thursday will hear from seni­or mil­it­ary lead­ers on the im­pact of se­quest­ra­tion on de­fense.

The Sen­ate is ex­pec­ted to vote on the mo­tion to pro­ceed on the Non-Dis­crim­in­a­tion Act on Monday after dis­patch­ing with the ju­di­cial nom­in­a­tions of Woods and Brown.

Some polls sug­gest that most Amer­ic­ans already think the concept of bar­ring em­ploy­ers from dis­crim­in­at­ing against gays, les­bi­ans, and trans­sexu­als in the work­place is already writ­ten in­to law. In­deed, the House passed a sim­il­ar bill in 2007 that died in the Sen­ate. The prin­ciple dif­fer­ence between the House bill and the cur­rent Sen­ate bill is that the Sen­ate bill cov­ers trans­gender in­di­vidu­als, a con­tro­ver­sial omis­sion in the 2007 bill.

Ad­voc­ates have down­played the gay-rights theme of the le­gis­la­tion, talk­ing in­stead about the min­im­al im­pact it would have on busi­nesses, many of which already have nondis­crim­in­a­tion policies in place. Some Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans com­plain that the le­gis­la­tion would in­vite more law­suits. But sev­er­al prom­in­ent Re­pub­lic­ans are on board, in­clud­ing Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Mark Kirk of Illinois, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Or­rin Hatch of Utah. Sen. Rob Port­man, R-Ohio, says he is lean­ing to­ward sup­port­ing it.

Pas­sage of the bill be­came more as­sured last week when three Demo­crat­ic hol­d­outs — Sens. Joe Manchin of West Vir­gin­ia, Mark Pry­or of Arkan­sas, and Bill Nel­son of Flor­ida — signed onto the le­gis­la­tion. With the ad­di­tion of Sen. Cory Book­er, D-N.J., they are with­in one or two votes of passing the 60-vote mar­gin. Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id says he is com­fort­able that it will pass.


Seek­ing Com­mon Ground

Fol­low­ing last week’s in­aug­ur­al meet­ing, the bi­par­tis­an, bicam­er­al budget con­fer­ence com­mit­tee has not sched­uled an­oth­er get-to­geth­er as a group un­til Nov. 13. But mem­bers and staffs are plan­ning to con­tin­ue this week to work be­hind the scenes to find some com­mon ground between Sen­ate Demo­crats and House Re­pub­lic­ans on spend­ing, per­haps rev­en­ues, and how to ad­dress the auto­mat­ic budget cuts un­der the se­quester.

The 29-mem­ber pan­el co­chaired by Rep. Paul Ry­an and Sen. Patty Mur­ray has un­til Dec. 13 to pro­duce re­com­mend­a­tions for the full House and Sen­ate on how to keep fund­ing the gov­ern­ment after Jan. 15, when the cur­rent stop-gap meas­ure ex­pires.

Most of the work of House and Sen­ate con­fer­ences — as is also the case with a farm-bill con­fer­ence sim­ul­tan­eously un­der­way — typ­ic­ally gets done in private dis­cus­sions between the two prin­cipals, the House and Sen­ate chairs, some­times along with the rank­ing mem­bers and staff.

At the open­ing meet­ing last week of the budget con­fer­ence, Ry­an warned that if it be­comes a fight over taxes, “we’re not go­ing to get any­where.”

Mean­while, Mur­ray, who is the Sen­ate Budget Com­mit­tee chair­wo­man, urged Re­pub­lic­ans at the ini­tial hear­ing to help “scour the bloated tax code” to close loop­holes and spe­cial-in­terest sub­sidies. There have been pub­lished re­ports that Obama is in­dic­at­ing that he may not in­sist on rais­ing taxes as part of a deal to re­place some of the se­quester cuts.

Budget ex­perts have pre­dicted to Na­tion­al Journ­al that the con­fer­ence will wind up with a minor agree­ment on something far less sub­stant­ive than “tax re­form” that could in­clude in­dex­ing So­cial Se­cur­ity be­ne­fits to the so-called chained con­sumer price in­dex.

Mur­ray told NJ that lead­ing up to the next full con­fer­ence meet­ing Nov. 13, “we’ll be work­ing, try­ing to fig­ure out how we can move for­ward on this.”

“Ob­vi­ously we all need to get it done fairly quickly. The time is very short,” Mur­ray said, re­gard­ing the goal of mak­ing pro­gress well be­fore the com­mit­tee’s Dec. 13 end date, stress­ing time was of the es­sence.

The struggles over Mel Watt’s con­firm­a­tion also are likely to con­tin­ue draw­ing fo­cus. After the fail­ure last week of Sen­ate Demo­crats to get enough votes to ad­vance Watt’s nom­in­a­tion, Re­id pledged on Thursday to have the Sen­ate re­con­sider Watt’s nom­in­a­tion “in the very near fu­ture.”

On Fri­day — and a week late — the Bur­eau of Labor Stat­ist­ics will re­lease the closely watched Oc­to­ber jobs re­port. The delay is due to last month’s par­tial gov­ern­ment shut­down, which tem­por­ar­ily sus­pen­ded the agency’s reg­u­larly sched­uled data col­lec­tion and ana­lys­is, and is ex­pec­ted to push up the un­em­ploy­ment rate. The BLS re­port will come one day after the Bur­eau of Eco­nom­ic Ana­lys­is re­leases its first es­tim­ate of third-quarter GDP.

Wrap­ping up the week, out­go­ing Fed­er­al Re­serve Chair­man Ben Bernanke will par­ti­cip­ate in a pan­el dis­cus­sion on Fri­day af­ter­noon about the fin­an­cial crisis at a con­fer­ence hos­ted by the In­ter­na­tion­al Mon­et­ary Fund in D.C. One of the oth­er pan­el­ists is Lawrence Sum­mers, who with­drew his name from con­sid­er­a­tion to re­place Bernanke at the Fed earli­er this fall.


Se­quest­ra­tion Up­date

As the con­fer­ence com­mit­tee works to forge a budget deal, the Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee will hear Thursday from Chief of Nav­al Op­er­a­tions Jon Green­ert, Mar­ine Corps Com­mand­ant James Amos, Air Force Chief of Staff Mark Welsh, and Army Chief of Staff Ray Odi­erno on the im­pact of se­quest­ra­tion.

Ex­pect a lot of doom and gloom, but it’s not likely to move the needle. To­ward the end of the week, Ir­an talks in Geneva will re­sume with world powers to re­solve the dec­ade-long dis­pute over its nuc­le­ar pro­gram.

Mean­while, Sen. Kirsten Gil­librand, D-N.Y., plans to start try­ing to lay the ground­work to lobby for her bill that would take the de­cision of wheth­er to pro­sec­ute sexu­al as­saults in the mil­it­ary out of the chain of com­mand. She has her eye on of­fer­ing her bill as an amend­ment to the de­fense au­thor­iz­a­tion bill, which Sen­ate lead­ers are hop­ing to take up be­fore Thanks­giv­ing, and she plans to hold a Wed­nes­day press con­fer­ence on the is­sue.


Push for En­roll­ment Num­bers

Se­beli­us’s testi­mony is set for Wed­nes­day be­fore the Sen­ate Fin­ance Com­mit­tee, and it will al­most cer­tainly add fuel for more head­lines re­gard­ing the Health­ web­site prob­lems and the news of mil­lions of policy can­cel­la­tions.

On Fri­day, House Ways and Means Com­mit­tee Chair­man Dave Camp, R-Mich., wrote to Cen­ters for Medi­care and Medi­caid Ser­vices Ad­min­is­trat­or Mar­ilyn Taven­ner re­quest­ing that CMS make all in­form­a­tion re­gard­ing en­roll­ment in the Obama­care ex­changes im­me­di­ately avail­able.

That move came after re­ports were aired that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion does have daily en­roll­ment fig­ures — which Camp de­pic­ted as a con­tra­dic­tion to testi­mony that Taven­ner provided the com­mit­tee last week when she stated that en­roll­ment num­bers would not be avail­able un­til mid-Novem­ber. Camp’s let­ter de­mands that each day’s en­roll­ment data be avail­able no later than 5 p.m. the fol­low­ing busi­ness day “be­gin­ning im­me­di­ately.”


Spot­light on Meth­ane

The Sen­ate En­vir­on­ment and Pub­lic Works Com­mit­tee’s sub­com­mit­tee hear­ing on meth­ane emis­sions from oil- and gas-drilling op­er­a­tions comes at a time when meth­ane has largely flown un­der the radar as Obama doubles down on lim­its for car­bon pol­lu­tion un­der the cli­mate-ac­tion plan.

The hear­ing will shift the spot­light, however briefly, from car­bon to meth­ane as the pan­el ex­am­ines the po­ten­tial en­vir­on­ment­al ef­fects of the green­house gas. Testi­mony is ex­pec­ted by an En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency of­fi­cial from the Of­fice of Air and Ra­di­ation, as well as rep­res­ent­at­ives of the oil and gas in­dustry and the Nat­ur­al Re­sources De­fense Coun­cil.

Fein­stein’s and Coburn’s plan to put for­ward le­gis­la­tion next week to elim­in­ate the corn-eth­an­ol man­date in the re­new­able-fuel stand­ard comes as EPA is still pre­par­ing its man­dated bio­fuel levels for next year. Many in Con­gress have urged the agency to drop eth­an­ol pro­duc­tion be­low the 14 bil­lion-gal­lon level set to go in­to ef­fect. 


On the Road

Pres­id­ent Obama has a mixed sched­ule this week, ran­ging from a speech on the eco­nomy and hon­or­ing wounded troops to sa­lut­ing sports cham­pi­ons and rais­ing money for his party. On Monday, the pres­id­ent gets to wel­come his ho­met­own Chica­go Black­hawks to the White House to re­cog­nize their Stan­ley Cup cham­pi­on­ship. After that, he will talk to sup­port­ers at Or­gan­iz­ing for Ac­tion. On Tues­day, he goes to Wal­ter Reed Na­tion­al Mil­it­ary Med­ic­al Cen­ter to vis­it with troops who were wounded in ac­tion. He also will vis­it one of his fa­vor­ite char­it­ies, the Fish­er House, a pro­gram that helps out mil­it­ary fam­il­ies dur­ing treat­ment. On Wed­nes­day, Obama is off to Dal­las for Demo­crat­ic fun­drais­ing. Thursday, he is back at the White House, but Fri­day he hits the road again, go­ing to New Or­leans to talk about the im­port­ance of in­creas­ing ex­ports to cre­ate more jobs. From New Or­leans, he flies to Miami for more fun­drais­ing.

Michael Catalin, George E. Condon Jr., Clare Foran, Catherine Hollander, Stacy Kaper, Sara Sorcher and Alex Brown contributed to this article.
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