Budget, Farm Bill to Haunt Congress During Halloween Week

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius speaks at a mental health forum at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum October 23, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts. The event event marks the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's signing of the Community Mental Health Act.
National Journal
Oct. 27, 2013, 6:33 a.m.

Hal­loween week kicks off in Con­gress with two is­sues long haunted by delays, as House and Sen­ate con­fer­ees start sep­ar­ate ne­go­ti­ations Wed­nes­day on a budget plan and a farm-bill reau­thor­iz­a­tion.

Open­ing re­marks from par­ti­cipants are ex­pec­ted to define most of the early ac­tion. But com­pet­i­tion for the biggest spec­tacle in the Cap­it­ol that same day could come from The Who’s Ro­ger Dal­trey, set to per­form Wed­nes­day at the ded­ic­a­tion of a bust of Win­ston Churchill in Na­tion­al Statu­ary Hall.

Mean­while, Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sec­ret­ary Kath­leen Se­beli­us will testi­fy Wed­nes­day be­fore the House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee about the rocky launch of Health­Care.gov.

And the week also will be marked by a me­mori­al ser­vice Tues­day at the Cap­it­ol for former House Speak­er Tom Fo­ley, which Pres­id­ent Obama and former Pres­id­ent Clin­ton are ex­pec­ted to at­tend.

Here’s a run­down of what’s go­ing on this week in Con­gress:

  • The Sen­ate on Monday will take a pro­ced­ur­al vote on the nom­in­a­tion of Richard Griffin to be gen­er­al coun­sel of the Na­tion­al Labor Re­la­tions Board.
  • The Sen­ate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee on Tues­day will hold a hear­ing on the so-called Stand Your Ground laws, which dic­tate when in­di­vidu­als can use deadly force in self-de­fense without a duty to re­treat.
  • The House Over­sight and Gov­ern­ment Re­form Com­mit­tee will hold a hear­ing Wed­nes­day on “The Cul­ture of Mis­man­age­ment and Waste­ful Spend­ing” at the Vet­er­ans Af­fairs De­part­ment.
  • The Sen­ate Home­land Se­cur­ity and Gov­ern­ment­al Af­fairs Com­mit­tee will ex­am­ine gov­ern­ment clear­ances and back­ground checks Thursday in the wake of last month’s Navy Yard shoot­ing.
  • Rep. Jim Sensen­bren­ner, R-Wis., is set to in­tro­duce a bill Tues­day to cur­tail the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency’s bulk do­mest­ic-sur­veil­lance col­lec­tion power.

In ad­di­tion, the House Rules Com­mit­tee may ad­opt pro­ced­ures Monday for floor ac­tion later in the week on a bill dubbed “The Swaps Reg­u­lat­ory Im­prove­ment Act.” The meas­ure would open up new ex­emp­tions that crit­ics com­plain would al­low banks to main­tain pub­licly fun­ded back­ing for al­most all of their de­riv­at­ives activ­ity.

The com­mit­tee may also ad­opt pro­ced­ures on Monday for later floor ac­tion on a Re­pub­lic­an bill known as the “Re­tail In­vestor Pro­tec­tion Act.” The bill would pro­hib­it the Labor sec­ret­ary from reg­u­lat­ing cer­tain in­vest­ment ad­visers un­til the Se­cur­it­ies and Ex­change Com­mis­sion sets stand­ards of con­duct for brokers and se­cur­it­ies deal­ers. Crit­ics say the act would cause reg­u­lat­ory delays.


Con­fer­ence Com­mit­tee Meets

The 29 mem­bers of the con­fer­ence com­mit­tee on the budget are set to hold their first meet­ing on Wed­nes­day, with the pan­el fa­cing a Dec. 13 dead­line for com­ing up with a re­port of re­com­mend­a­tions for the full House and Sen­ate. After mul­tiple fail­ures at ne­go­ti­at­ing the fed­er­al budget, Demo­crats and Re­pub­lic­ans alike are down­play­ing ex­pect­a­tions for this next at­tempt.

The gov­ern­ment is be­ing fun­ded now un­der the tem­por­ary spend­ing bill ap­proved earli­er this month to end the shut­down. That ex­pires Jan. 15, and some new fund­ing mech­an­ism for agen­cies will be needed by then.

Sched­uled for a room on the House side of the Cap­it­ol, this ini­tial meet­ing of the budget con­fer­ees starts at 10 a.m. and is open to the press and pub­lic. It also will be tele­vised. Sen­ate and House Budget Com­mit­tee Chairs Patty Mur­ray, D-Wash., and Paul Ry­an, R”‘Wis., as well as all oth­er mem­bers of the pan­el, will be giv­en an op­por­tun­ity to give open­ing state­ments.

The com­mit­tee will seek to find com­prom­ises between their widely di­ver­gent ver­sions of a spend­ing plan for fisc­al 2014 that were passed by the two cham­bers. Any re­con­cili­ation would have to be ap­proved by both cham­bers.


Work­ing Out Dif­fer­ences

Also on Wed­nes­day, House and Sen­ate con­fer­ees are fi­nally set to be­gin form­al con­fer­ence ne­go­ti­ations on a long-awaited bill cov­er­ing ag­ri­cul­ture and nu­tri­tion policy at 1 p.m. in the Long­worth House Of­fice Build­ing.

The House and the Sen­ate take turns chair­ing farm-bill con­fer­ences, and this time around House Ag­ri­cul­ture Com­mit­tee Chair­man Frank Lu­cas, R-Okla., will be chair­man. There is hope, but not ne­ces­sar­ily con­fid­ence, that the con­fer­ees might fi­nally fin­ish a bill to re­place the ex­pired 2008 farm bill reau­thor­iz­a­tion.

As with the budget con­fer­ence com­mit­tee, the in­aug­ur­al farm bill meet­ing Wed­nes­day will be­gin with open­ing state­ments, the tone of which could provide early sig­nals as to wheth­er there is any chance the wide dif­fer­ences between con­fer­ees might be bridged.

One main dif­fer­ence between the Sen­ate and House bills is that the Sen­ate bill re­tains the 1938 and 1949 farm laws as the basis for ag­ri­cul­tur­al pro­grams while the House bill would make the 2013 com­mod­ity title per­man­ent law.

An­oth­er big dif­fer­ence is that the Sen­ate bill cuts only $4 bil­lion over 10 years from food stamps — form­ally known as the Sup­ple­ment­al Nu­tri­tion As­sist­ance Pro­gram — while the House bill would cut $39 bil­lion through a series of pro­vi­sions that Demo­crats say will lead to in­creased hun­ger.

In what may be a sign of the tur­bu­lence ahead, Speak­er John Boehner ap­poin­ted Rep. Steve South­er­land, R-Fla., to the con­fer­ence com­mit­tee even though he doesn’t serve on the Ag­ri­cul­ture Com­mit­tee. And it is South­er­land who has made food stamps his main is­sue and wrote the amend­ment to the House bill to which the Demo­crats ob­ject the most.


Hous­ing Re­form

The Sen­ate Bank­ing and House Fin­an­cial Ser­vices com­mit­tees will each hold hear­ings on hous­ing on Tues­day morn­ing — the former on hous­ing fin­ance re­form, the lat­ter on the Fed­er­al Hous­ing Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Later in the day, a Fin­an­cial Ser­vices sub­com­mit­tee will look in­to le­gis­lat­ive pro­pos­als to change the Con­sumer Fin­an­cial Pro­tec­tion Bur­eau.

Last week, the Se­cur­it­ies and Ex­change Com­mis­sion re­leased a long-awaited pro­posed rule that would al­low in­di­vidu­als to in­vest in com­pan­ies through crowd-fund­ing plat­forms, a move en­abled by the 2012 Jobs Act. A Bank­ing sub­com­mit­tee will hold a hear­ing on pro­gress im­ple­ment­ing the law on Wed­nes­day, and Keith Hig­gins, who heads the SEC’s Di­vi­sion of Cor­por­a­tion Fin­ance, will be among those testi­fy­ing.

Also on Wed­nes­day, the Fed­er­al Re­serve will re­lease its latest policy state­ment. Many eco­nom­ists aren’t ex­pect­ing the cent­ral bank to pull back from its stim­u­lus ef­forts after see­ing Septem­ber’s tep­id jobs data, re­leased last week.

And the Sen­ate Fin­ance Com­mit­tee will hold a hear­ing Wed­nes­day on the Transat­lantic Trade and In­vest­ment Part­ner­ship.


Obama­care Show­down

Se­beli­us’s planned ap­pear­ance Wed­nes­day be­fore House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee will fol­low last week’s ap­pear­ance by the con­tract­ors hired to cre­ate the Health­Care.gov web­site. They told the com­mit­tee that the botched rol­lout was the ul­ti­mate re­spons­ib­il­ity of the Cen­ters for Medi­care and Medi­caid Ser­vices, the agency un­der HHS lead­ing the im­ple­ment­a­tion of the fed­er­al ex­change.


Sur­veil­lance Con­cerns

Ef­forts to ad­dress con­cerns about the scope of do­mest­ic sur­veil­lance by the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency will go bey­ond the new bill that Sensen­bren­ner is ex­pec­ted to un­veil in the House. The Sen­ate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee is ex­pec­ted to vote Tues­day be­hind closed doors on le­gis­la­tion from Chair­wo­man Di­anne Fein­stein, D-Cal­if., and Vice Chair­man Saxby Cham­b­liss, R-Ga., that aims to pro­tect the NSA’s do­mest­ic-sur­veil­lance activ­ity ap­proved through the For­eign In­tel­li­gence Sur­veil­lance Court by tak­ing steps billed as in­creas­ing trans­par­ency and ac­count­ab­il­ity. The bill is de­signed to head off crit­ics and aims to pro­tect the con­tinu­ation of do­mest­ic sur­veil­lance rather than hinder it. It would make clear that col­lect­ing con­tent of calls is pro­hib­ited and would lim­it ac­cess to phone re­cords.

Also on Tues­day, the House Home­land Se­cur­ity Com­mit­tee is slated to vote on a pack­age of le­gis­la­tion in­clud­ing a bill to boost cy­ber­se­cur­ity stand­ards.


Full Plate

The pres­id­ent mixes for­eign policy, polit­ics, and eco­nom­ic policy this week. On Monday, he will go to the FBI headquar­ters for the in­stall­a­tion of the bur­eau’s new dir­ect­or, James Comey. On Tues­day, he will go to Cap­it­ol Hill for a me­mori­al ser­vice for former Speak­er Tom Fo­ley. Wed­nes­day, he is off to Bo­ston to raise money for Demo­crats. And Thursday, he hosts an in­vest­ment sum­mit with at­tendees from 58 coun­tries. On Fri­day, he will host the Ir­aqi Prime Min­is­ter at the White House.

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

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