House Starts What Could Be a Bellwether Week

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HHS Secretary Sebelius
National Journal
Billy House
Oct. 20, 2013, 10:07 a.m.

The Sen­ate is out on re­cess, but the House re­turns to ses­sion Tues­day for the start of what could be a bell­weth­er week to gauge the polit­ic­al tone in Wash­ing­ton for the rest of the year.

Much of the at­ten­tion is already shift­ing to fo­cus on the form­al start of ne­go­ti­ations in the joint House-Sen­ate budget con­fer­ence. And the ac­tion will pick up in com­mit­tees and on the floor as well.

A vote could come as early as Thursday on the first Wa­ter Re­sources De­vel­op­ment Act since 2007, a sweep­ing bill to au­thor­ize fund­ing for im­prove­ments to ports, wa­ter­ways, and pro­jects tied to flood pro­tec­tion, drink­ing wa­ter, dams, and en­vir­on­ment­al res­tor­a­tion.

Also on this week’s agenda:

  • The En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee plans to hold a full com­mit­tee hear­ing Thursday re­gard­ing the rocky first few weeks of the Af­ford­able Care Act im­ple­ment­a­tion.
  • The Home­land Se­cur­ity Com­mit­tee is set for a full com­mit­tee markup on six bills, in­clud­ing a “Trans­port­a­tion Se­cur­ity Ac­quis­i­tion Re­form Act” and a “Home­land Se­cur­ity Cy­ber­se­cur­ity Boots-on-the-Ground Act.”
  • The House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee has set a hear­ing for Thursday to look in­to Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency pro­grams.
  • The Small Busi­ness In­vest­ig­a­tions, Over­sight, and Reg­u­la­tions Sub­com­mit­tee has sched­uled a hear­ing Thursday on the “Reg­u­lat­ory Land­scape: Bur­dens on Small Fin­an­cial In­sti­tu­tions.”
  • The Armed Ser­vices Seapower and Pro­jec­tion Forces Sub­com­mit­tee will hold a hear­ing Wed­nes­day on “An In­de­pend­ent As­sess­ment of the Navy’s 30-year Ship­build­ing Plan.”
  • An­oth­er Armed Ser­vices sub­com­mit­tee, Tac­tic­al Air and Land Forces, is hold­ing a hear­ing Wed­nes­day on the im­pacts of the con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion and se­quest­ra­tion on de­fense ac­quis­i­tion and mod­ern­iz­a­tion.

The fu­ture of the across-the-board se­quest­ra­tion cuts is ex­pec­ted to be a primary fo­cus of the up­com­ing budget talks.

BUDGET and FIN­ANCE

Find­ing Com­prom­ise

Last week’s deal to ex­tend the debt ceil­ing through Feb. 7 also re­star­ted fund­ing for gov­ern­ment agen­cies, but only through Jan. 15. However, it also called for a bi­par­tis­an, bicam­er­al budget con­fer­ence to get to work on find­ing com­prom­ise on a longer-term spend­ing plan, at least one to last through the end of the cur­rent fisc­al year on Sept. 30.

The new pan­el’s as­sign­ment is a tough one, giv­en the wide dif­fer­ences in the budgets passed sep­ar­ately by the two cham­bers. Those ex­tend not just to the re­spect­ive levels of pro­posed spend­ing, but to the treat­ment of en­ti­tle­ment pro­grams, the fu­ture of the se­quester cuts, and the pro­spect for taxes or oth­er new rev­en­ues.

The con­fer­ees are due to is­sue a re­port on or around Dec. 13. They will be led by Sen­ate Budget Com­mit­tee Chair­wo­man Patty Mur­ray, D-Wash., along with House Budget Chair­man Paul Ry­an, R-Wis., who did not even vote in fa­vor of the deal that sets this all in mo­tion. This week, as the Sen­ate is out, staffs are pre­par­ing for next week’s not-yet-sched­uled first of­fi­cial meet­ings, and con­fer­ees are talk­ing by phone, if not in per­son.

For now, ques­tions abound over re­l­at­ively simple mat­ters like wheth­er their de­lib­er­a­tions will be pub­lic — or even per­haps tele­vised. House Minor­ity Lead­er Nancy Pelosi, D-Cal­if., is among those already call­ing for live cov­er­age.

“If that table is closed down, if you are ex­cluded from that, if there isn’t live cov­er­age,” said Pelosi last week, “then it is hard to see how a product can come out of it that we can present to our mem­bers to say it was an hon­est de­bate.

“And you know what is con­tin­gent upon it, of course, is re­open­ing gov­ern­ment in Janu­ary and lift­ing the debt ceil­ing in Feb­ru­ary,” she said.

DE­FENSE

Spot­light on NSA

As the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s on­line and phone sur­veil­lance pro­grams con­tin­ue to get scru­tiny with new rev­el­a­tions — in­clud­ing that the agency is col­lect­ing hun­dreds of mil­lions of on­line con­tacts and “bud­dies” from in­stant mes­saging ser­vices — the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee is hold­ing a hear­ing on Thursday to look in­to Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency activ­it­ies.

Sep­ar­ately, as the re­cent deal to al­le­vi­ate the gov­ern­ment shut­down and lift the debt ceil­ing did not re­move se­quest­ra­tion, a House Armed Ser­vices sub­com­mit­tee is hold­ing a hear­ing on the im­pacts of a con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion and se­quest­ra­tion on de­fense ac­quis­i­tion and mod­ern­iz­a­tion.

De­fense and mil­it­ary of­fi­cials from the Army, Navy, Mar­ine Corps, and Air Force will be testi­fy­ing on Wed­nes­day.

EN­ERGY and EN­VIR­ON­MENT

Wa­ter Re­sources Re­form

Bi­par­tis­an­ship is show­ing its green roots in Con­gress in some ways, as the House will vote this week on a re­l­at­ively easy lift — the Wa­ter Re­sources Re­form and De­vel­op­ment Act.

It’s not an eye-pop­per like, say, a po­ten­tial debt de­fault, but it is im­port­ant to busi­ness groups like the U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce. It is a bi­par­tis­an bill to re­work the man­ner in which wa­ter, dam, and port-in­fra­struc­ture pro­jects are pro­cessed through the Army Corps of En­gin­eers.

The floor de­bate will likely fo­cus on en­vir­on­ment­al is­sues. The Na­tion­al Wild­life Fed­er­a­tion claims it “guts the na­tion’s bed­rock en­vir­on­ment­al laws.”

The Sen­ate has already passed its wa­ter re­sources bill, at a price tag the Con­gres­sion­al Budget Of­fice has scored at about $12.5 bil­lion in spend­ing over the next 10 years that needs $135 mil­lion in off­sets. CBO had not yet scored the House bill as of Fri­day.

But House Trans­port­a­tion and In­fra­struc­ture Com­mit­tee Chair­man Bill Shuster, R-Pa., has sought to point out that while, in his view, the House bill au­thor­izes about $8 bil­lion in pro­jects and $2 bil­lion in modi­fic­a­tions, the bill should also be cred­ited for deau­thor­iz­ing about $12 bil­lion in pro­jects. He also un­der­scores that it has no ear­marks.

Sen­ate En­vir­on­ment and Pub­lic Works Chair­wo­man Bar­bara Box­er, D-Cal­if., says she looks for­ward to a con­fer­ence com­mit­tee to work out the dif­fer­ences between the two cham­bers’ ver­sions of the le­gis­la­tion.

HEALTH CARE

Obama­care Hear­ing

The House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee will hold a full com­mit­tee hear­ing on Thursday re­gard­ing the rocky first few weeks of the Af­ford­able Care Act’s im­ple­ment­a­tion. Com­mit­tee lead­ers have sent let­ters to the ad­min­is­tra­tion and to IT con­tract­ors re­gard­ing the tech­nic­al prob­lems, and have re­ques­ted that the ad­min­is­tra­tion re­lease en­roll­ment fig­ures. Thus far, ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials do not plan to testi­fy, and com­mit­tee lead­ers sent a let­ter to Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sec­ret­ary Kath­leen Se­beli­us ur­ging her to re­con­sider.

The Part­ner­ship for Safe Medi­cines will hold its an­nu­al In­ter­change Con­fer­ence on Thursday to ad­dress pre­scrip­tion-drug safety and coun­ter­feit medi­cines. In re­lated news, nu­mer­ous pub­lic-health and ad­vocacy or­gan­iz­a­tions have sent let­ters press­ing the Sen­ate to hurry to pass the bi­par­tis­an Drug Qual­ity and Se­cur­ity Act on drug com­pound­ing and dis­tri­bu­tion se­cur­ity that passed with bi­par­tis­an sup­port in the House a few weeks ago. A Sen­ate vote is ex­pec­ted after next week.

The Food and Drug Ad­min­sitra­tion will hold meet­ings of the Cel­lu­lar, Tis­sue, and Gene Ther­apies Ad­vis­ory Com­mit­tee on Tues­day and Wed­nes­day, and of the An­ti­vir­al Drugs Ad­vis­ory Com­mit­tee Thursday and Fri­day, to re­view new drug ap­plic­a­tions. The agency will hold its third an­nu­al FDA Health Pro­fes­sion­al Or­gan­iz­a­tions con­fer­ence Thursday to fur­ther its pub­lic-health mis­sion.

WHITE HOUSE

Back to Busi­ness

The pres­id­ent moves off a shut­down-in­spired, crisis-dom­in­ated sched­ule this week to something closer to nor­mal. That means a health care event on Monday, a for­eign vis­it­or on Wed­nes­day and an out-of-town fun­draiser on Fri­day. The for­eign vis­it­or is Pakistani Prime Min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif. The fun­draiser, for the Demo­crat­ic House cam­paign com­mit­tee, is in New York.

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