Congress Set to Grill Phony CIA Employee

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House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., speaks  on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, June 6, 2013, ahead of witness testimony before the committee's hearing regarding IRS conference spending.
National Journal
Billy House
Sept. 29, 2013, 7:53 a.m.

While the House and Sen­ate re­main fo­cused on fund­ing the gov­ern­ment and ad­dress­ing the debt ceil­ing, this week’s ac­tion in Con­gress won’t be lim­ited to fisc­al fights.

The health in­sur­ance ex­changes cre­ated by the Af­ford­able Care Act are set to open for en­roll­ment Tues­day, which is sure to prompt a wave of mes­saging from law­makers in both parties.

In ad­di­tion, two com­mit­tees will hold hear­ings tied to a case in which a former En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency of­fi­cial pre­ten­ded to work for the CIA for the last 13 years and im­prop­erly billed the gov­ern­ment for more than $880,000.

Here a glimpse of what Con­gress will be up to this week:

  • The Sen­ate Home­land Se­cur­ity and Gov­ern­ment­al Af­fairs Com­mit­tee will ex­am­ine gov­ern­ment clear­ances and back­ground checks on Tues­day in the wake of the Navy Yard shoot­ing.
  • The House Rules Com­mit­tee may ad­opt a rule that would lim­it the amend­ment pro­cess in floor ac­tion 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 Rules Com­mit­tee may also ad­opt pro­ced­ures for floor ac­tion on a Re­pub­lic­an bill known as the Re­tail In­vestor Pro­tec­tion Act. The bill would pro­hib­it the sec­ret­ary of Labor from reg­u­lat­ing cer­tain in­vest­ment ad­visers un­til the Se­cur­it­ies and Ex­change Com­mis­sion sets stand­ards of con­duct for brokers and se­cur­it­ies deal­ers. Crit­ics say the act is mis­named be­cause it would cause reg­u­lat­ory delays.
  • The House For­eign Af­fairs Com­mit­tee will hold a hear­ing on Thursday to ex­am­ine the “grow­ing threat” of al-Shabab, an al-Qaida-af­fil­i­ated group, in the wake of the shop­ping-mall at­tack in Kenya.

In a set of hear­ings that are sure to draw at­ten­tion, two com­mit­tees, one on each side of the Cap­it­ol, will probe how former EPA of­fi­cial John Beale was able to pre­tend to work for the CIA.

Beale, who was a seni­or policy ad­viser at EPA, pleaded guilty Fri­day to charges brought by the Justice De­part­ment for steal­ing the money over more than 10 years, ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments re­leased by Re­pub­lic­ans on the Sen­ate En­vir­on­ment and Pub­lic Works Com­mit­tee. Beale was first hired in the 1980s.

Sen­ate En­vir­on­ment and Pub­lic Works will hear testi­mony Monday from the EPA In­spect­or Gen­er­al’s of­fice, and on Tues­day the House Over­sight and Gov­ern­ment Re­form Com­mit­tee will hear from Beale him­self, along with four oth­er of­fi­cials from EPA, in­clud­ing Deputy Ad­min­is­trat­or Bob Per­ciasepe.

BUDGET AND FIN­ANCE

Debt Ceil­ing Looms

The fight over keep­ing gov­ern­ment fun­ded isn’t the only fisc­ally re­lated battle. Treas­ury Sec­ret­ary Jac­ob Lew last Wed­nes­day urged Con­gress to raise the na­tion’s $16.7 tril­lion debt cap “no later than Oct. 17.” He warned that the na­tion’s bor­row­ing au­thor­ity would be ex­hausted by then.

Pres­id­ent Obama and con­gres­sion­al Demo­crats have said they will not ne­go­ti­ate over the need to al­low the coun­try to keep bor­row­ing to pay its bills. But House Re­pub­lic­ans are in­tent on at­tach­ing some strings, per­haps in­clud­ing a de­mand to delay the in­di­vidu­al-man­date por­tion of the Af­ford­able Care Act.

The ex­act House GOP strategy was un­settled late last week, as some con­ser­vat­ives re­mained re­luct­ant to go along with any debt-ceil­ing hike at all. An early ver­sion of a pro­posed bill from GOP lead­ers would have simply sus­pen­ded the cap through next year — rather than lift it by a spe­cif­ic dol­lar in­crease. But that pro­pos­al hit the skids when House con­ser­vat­ives pressed for more-ex­act de­tails of its spend­ing cuts and sav­ings.

Ac­cord­ing to those con­ser­vat­ives, the lead­ers’ bill would lead to $1 tril­lion more in bor­row­ing, and the sav­ings and spend­ing cuts did not come close to off­set­ting that. The con­ser­vat­ives have em­phas­ized that they agreed in Janu­ary to post­pone the debt-ceil­ing de­bate un­til the fall only on the prom­ise that any fisc­al policies en­acted would put the fed­er­al budget on the path to 10-year bal­ance. They were also hold­ing tight to Speak­er John Boehner’s prom­ises that any hike in the debt ceil­ing would have to be matched “dol­lar-for-dol­lar” in cuts or re­forms. But they said that it was not cer­tain the pro­posed lead­ers’ bill cir­cu­lated last week did either.

Along with the Obama­care pro­vi­sion, Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers have said their debt-ceil­ing bill may in­clude lan­guage to force the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion to move for­ward with the Key­stone XL oil pipeline, cut back vari­ous gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tions, means-test for Medi­care, re­form med­ic­al-mal­prac­tice law, and oth­er items.

DE­FENSE AND NA­TION­AL SE­CUR­ITY

Gov­ern­ment Clear­ances

The Sen­ate Home­land Se­cur­ity and Gov­ern­ment­al Af­fairs Com­mit­tee’s ex­am­in­a­tion on Tues­day of gov­ern­ment clear­ances and back­ground checks in the wake of the Navy Yard shoot­ing will fea­ture as wit­nesses the Of­fice of Man­age­ment and Budget’s Joseph Jordan, an ad­min­is­trat­or of the of­fice of fed­er­al pro­cure­ment policy, as well as Elaine Ka­plan of the Of­fice of Per­son­nel Man­age­ment. In ad­di­tion, testi­mony will come from Frank Mon­toya, na­tion­al coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence ex­ec­ut­ive at the Of­fice of the Dir­ect­or of Na­tion­al In­tel­li­gence.

Sep­ar­ately, the Sen­ate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee plans to take up le­gis­la­tion Tues­day to strengthen and ex­tend au­thor­it­ies un­der the Pres­id­ent’s Emer­gency Plan for AIDS Re­lief, known as PEP­FAR. The bi­par­tis­an bill from Chair­man Robert Men­en­dez, D-N.J., and rank­ing mem­ber Bob Cork­er, R-Tenn., would con­tin­ue re­quire­ments to con­duct mul­tia­gency audits of the pro­gram, study its costs per pa­tient, and cap U.S. par­ti­cip­a­tion.

EN­ERGY AND EN­VIR­ON­MENT

Cross-Bor­der Pro­jects

The Key­stone XL pipeline isn’t called out by name in a new bill the House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee will con­sider on Wed­nes­day, but you can ex­pect a good deal of de­bate about the con­tro­ver­sial pro­ject at the hear­ing any­way.

The bill, titled the North Amer­ic­an En­ergy In­fra­struc­ture Act, re­moves the pres­id­en­tial au­thor­ity cur­rently re­quired to ap­prove cross-bor­der en­ergy pro­jects like Key­stone XL, which as pro­posed would send more than 700,000 bar­rels of oil a day from Al­berta to the Gulf Coast. This bill is writ­ten pro­spect­ively, so it would not ap­ply to pending ap­plic­a­tions like Key­stone, ac­cord­ing to a spokes­wo­man for the com­mit­tee.

The bill would also re­move the En­ergy De­part­ment from the reg­u­lat­ory re­view pro­cess for ex­port­ing nat­ur­al gas to Canada and Mex­ico, two coun­tries that the U.S. has free-trade agree­ments with. Right now, the law heav­ily fa­vors DOE ap­prov­al of such pro­jects, but it non­ethe­less still re­quires the re­view to oc­cur. This bill would re­move the need to go through the pro­cess at all. The full re­view pro­cess at DOE would still be re­quired for coun­tries with which the U.S. doesn’t have free-trade agree­ments.

Mean­while, ex­pect de­vel­op­ments in the sur­pris­ingly con­tro­ver­sial saga of Obama’s pick to chair the Fed­er­al En­ergy Reg­u­lat­ory Com­mis­sion. The White House is re­portedly con­sid­er­ing oth­er can­did­ates, but for now the of­fi­cial nom­in­ee re­mains Ron Binz, former chair of the Col­or­ado Pub­lic Util­it­ies Com­mis­sion. Binz has drawn the ire of con­ser­vat­ive groups and The Wall Street Journ­al ed­it­or­i­al board for past com­ments and po­s­i­tions al­legedly pro­mot­ing re­new­able en­ergy over fossil fuels.

HEALTH

Mar­ket­places Open

It’s here! It’s here! Obama­care’s big day is Tues­day, when the health re­form law’s on­line in­sur­ance mar­ket­places open. Will at­tempts to buy cov­er­age on­line be a cata­strophe? A re­sound­ing suc­cess? You’ll hear about it either way. The open­ing of the ex­changes will also provide a closer look at the al­ways polit­ic­ally con­ten­tious premi­um prices un­der the law.

Also on the Af­ford­able Care Act front, Na­tion­al Journ­al on Thursday will host a count­down to Jan. 1, the day the new man­date to buy in­sur­ance un­der the law ac­tu­ally goes in­to ef­fect. Ken­tucky Gov. Steve Be­s­hear and Reps. Mi­chael Bur­gess, R-Texas, and Rosa De­Lauro, D-Conn., will speak about the law’s im­pact along­side a num­ber of health policy ex­perts and in­dustry rep­res­ent­at­ives at the Ron­ald Re­agan Build­ing.

Last week, lead­ers from the House En­ergy and Com­merce and Sen­ate Health, Edu­ca­tion, Labor, and Pen­sions com­mit­tees re­leased bi­par­tis­an le­gis­la­tion that would im­pose new over­sight over the so-called com­pound­ing phar­ma­cies that cus­tom-mix med­ic­a­tion, one of which was re­spons­ible for a re­cent men­ingit­is out­break that killed more than 60 people. The bill would also im­pose more rig­or­ous track­ing of pre­scrip­tion drugs as they travel through the na­tion’s sup­ply chain. Swift floor ac­tion was an­ti­cip­ated in both the House and Sen­ate. If it passes, the le­gis­la­tion would rep­res­ent a rare mo­ment of bi­par­tis­an­ship amid the fer­vor over Obama­care.

WHITE HOUSE

Mis­sion to Asia

Pres­id­ent Obama’s week will be dom­in­ated by wrest­ling with Con­gress over fisc­al is­sues and by the im­ple­ment­a­tion of Obama­care. He also is set to meet with Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Net­an­yahu. And he plans to leave at the end of the week on a four-na­tion Asi­an trip.

George E. Con­don Jr., Amy Harder, Cath­er­ine Hol­lander, Stacy Kaper, and Sara Sorch­er con­trib­uted

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