Ideology and Reality Clash in Fiscal Fight

Billy House
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Billy House
Sept. 22, 2013, 8:43 a.m.

Hard-line ideo­logy crashes in­to hard real­ity this week, as the House, Sen­ate, and White House must ar­rive at a tem­por­ary fund­ing deal in or­der to pre­vent a par­tial gov­ern­ment shut­down a week from Tues­day.

Sen­ate Demo­crats will un­ques­tion­ably keep their prom­ise to re­move lan­guage to de­fund Pres­id­ent Obama’s health care law, which is now tacked onto a House ver­sion of a bill to keep agen­cies op­er­at­ing bey­ond Sept. 30. Some Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans say they will kick up pro­ced­ur­al dust, but how force­fully they do so is un­cer­tain.

Then, as ur­gency builds, House mem­bers ar­rive back in Wash­ing­ton on Wed­nes­day and must re­spond to whatever changes the Sen­ate sends back.

Along the way, House Re­pub­lic­ans also plan to launch a second salvo in their fisc­al wars by un­veil­ing and vot­ing on their debt-ceil­ing bill. That will con­tain yet an­oth­er re­quire­ment to de­fund the Af­ford­able Care Act, and make oth­er de­mands.

Meet­ings between Obama and con­gres­sion­al lead­ers amid these show­downs may be in the works, and law­makers are braced to work in­to the week­end.

While that may be quite enough, Con­gress is poised to ad­dress oth­er is­sues this week. Among them:

  • The Sen­ate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee plans to hold con­firm­a­tion hear­ings Tues­day on To­masz Ma­lin­owski to be as­sist­ant sec­ret­ary of State for demo­cracy, hu­man rights, and labor, and Keith Harp­er to be the U.S. rep­res­ent­at­ive to the United Na­tions Hu­man Rights Coun­cil.
  • The Sen­ate Home­land Se­cur­ity and Gov­ern­ment­al Af­fairs Com­mit­tee on Thursday has sched­uled an­oth­er hear­ing on re­form­ing the U.S. Postal Ser­vice. The hear­ing comes as the ser­vice’s board of gov­ernors meets Tues­day and Wed­nes­day, with a po­ten­tial postal-rate in­crease on the agenda.
  • The Sen­ate Home­land Se­cur­ity Com­mit­tee will con­sider on Wed­nes­day the nom­in­a­tions of Car­ol Pope, Ern­est Dube­ster, and Patrick Pizzella as mem­bers of the Fed­er­al Labor Re­la­tions Au­thor­ity.
  • The House could vote again on a bill to avert an im­pend­ing shut­down of the fed­er­al he­li­um re­serve in early Oc­to­ber. A ver­sion ap­proved last week by the Sen­ate dif­fers slightly from one passed by the House in April.
  • Ron Binz, Obama’s choice to head the Fed­er­al En­ergy Reg­u­lat­ory Com­mis­sion, may have a pivotal week in his nom­in­a­tion pro­cess, which is gen­er­at­ing enough con­tro­versy to beg ques­tions about his chances.

In ad­di­tion, the House is ex­pec­ted to form­ally “marry” through a pro­ced­ur­al vote what are now two sep­ar­ate pieces of le­gis­la­tion that make up its farm bill. One piece, passed this sum­mer, ad­dresses ag­ri­cul­ture pro­grams. The oth­er, passed last week, cov­ers nu­tri­tion policy, in­clud­ing a pro­posed $39 bil­lion cut to food stamps over 10 years.

The Sen­ate has said it would re­ject such a big re­duc­tion for the Sup­ple­ment­al Nu­tri­tion As­sist­ance Pro­gram. But be­fore a com­plete bill can be sent over, and con­fer­ees from both cham­bers can be named to be­gin ne­go­ti­ations, a House vote on a “rule” mer­ging its two bills in­to one must take place.

That rule, an­ti­cip­ated this week, can be at­tached to any meas­ure, even if un­re­lated.


Spot­light on Spend­ing Bill

Ques­tions will build through mid­week on wheth­er House con­ser­vat­ives who de­man­ded the anti-Obama­care lan­guage in their ver­sion of a short-term spend­ing bill will go along with it be­ing stripped out of the Sen­ate re­vi­sion that is sent back. Wheth­er House Speak­er John Boehner, R-Ohio, will need — and if so, seek — Demo­crat­ic votes in or­der to pass a fi­nal meas­ure re­mains to be seen.

There also is the pos­sib­il­ity that the fight over Obama­care may not be the only hurdle to ne­go­ti­ations over a fi­nal bill. As it is now writ­ten, the Re­pub­lic­an ver­sion of the bill would con­tin­ue spend­ing bey­ond Sept. 30 through Dec. 15 at an an­nu­al­ized level of $986.3 bil­lion, main­tain­ing the se­quester cuts. Demo­crats in the Sen­ate have been writ­ing their spend­ing bills for the new fisc­al year at $1.057 tril­lion, re­flect­ing their de­sire for a re­peal of the se­quester, and they and House Demo­crats have in­dic­ated they might push for a top-line num­ber some­where in between.

Re­gard­less, anti-Obama­care lan­guage will get at least one oth­er shot, be­cause House Re­pub­lic­ans are also in­tend­ing to at­tach it to their debt-ceil­ing bill, which could be voted on this week. That bill also will con­tain de­mands for spend­ing cuts and a raft of oth­er re­quire­ments, such as ad­vance­ment of the Key­stone XL pipeline and a re­write of the na­tion’s tax code.

The na­tion’s $16.7 tril­lion bor­row­ing lim­it will not re­quire an ex­ten­sion un­til mid-Oc­to­ber. And Demo­crats and Obama have said they will not ne­go­ti­ate over the need for the na­tion to pay its bills. But Re­pub­lic­ans feel the pos­sib­il­ity of de­fault might of­fer them bet­ter lever­age in mak­ing de­mands than would the po­ten­tial for be­ing blamed for a gov­ern­ment shut­down.


Eyes on Ir­an

There is grow­ing spec­u­la­tion that Obama might speak with Ir­an’s new pres­id­ent Has­san Rouh­ani — with po­ten­tially game-chan­ging res­ults. Act­ively seek­ing a meet­ing with Obama, Rouh­ani told NBC News last week he has “suf­fi­cient polit­ic­al lat­it­ude” to ne­go­ti­ate, lead­ing some ex­perts to won­der if the coun­tries can fi­nally find a way for Ir­an to halt urani­um en­rich­ment and open up its fa­cil­it­ies.

Of course, Syr­ia’s chem­ic­al weapons will re­main high on the agenda at the United Na­tions. Wash­ing­ton called on the Se­cur­ity Coun­cil to pass a bind­ing res­ol­u­tion to en­sure Syr­i­an Pres­id­ent Bashar al-As­sad des­troys his weapons; the agree­ment may call for pun­ish­ment — pos­sibly mil­it­ary ac­tion — if he fails to com­ply.


Binz Faces Up­hill Battle

After last week’s gruel­ing con­firm­a­tion hear­ing for Ron Binz be­fore the Sen­ate En­ergy and Nat­ur­al Re­sources Com­mit­tee, Obama’s pick to chair the ob­scure but power­ful Fed­er­al En­ergy Reg­u­lat­ory Com­mis­sion is fa­cing one obstacle after an­oth­er. This week could be pivotal.

Binz faces ac­cus­a­tions that he pri­or­it­izes re­new­able en­ergy over fossil fuels, and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell, R-Ky., both voiced their op­pos­i­tion to his nom­in­a­tion last week. The only re­main­ing wild card is Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La. But even if Landrieu does even­tu­ally sup­port Binz — which seems un­likely — he still faces at best a tie vote in the com­mit­tee. While Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id, D-Nev., can tech­nic­ally still ad­vance Binz’s nom­in­a­tion to the floor des­pite a tie or un­fa­vor­able re­port from the com­mit­tee, Binz’s chances of even­tu­al con­firm­a­tion at that point are slim.

Mean­while, after get­ting bogged down in fights over Obama­care and oth­er ex­traneous amend­ments offered by Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans, a pop­u­lar, bi­par­tis­an en­ergy-ef­fi­ciency bill was put on the back burn­er last week. It tech­nic­ally re­mains on the Sen­ate’s sched­ule, but a Sen­ate Demo­crat­ic lead­er­ship aide says the cham­ber will not re­turn to this de­bate un­til at least after the spend­ing battle lead­ing up to Oct. 1. Even then, noth­ing is cer­tain, and it re­mains un­likely this bill will pass any time soon.

Also, fol­low­ing the En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency’s an­nounce­ment Fri­day of the first-ever na­tion­al car­bon reg­u­la­tions for power plants, ex­pect Re­pub­lic­ans and coal-state Demo­crats in Con­gress to push le­gis­la­tion aimed at lim­it­ing these rules. Such ef­forts are un­likely to suc­ceed as long as Demo­crats con­trol the up­per cham­ber, but that won’t stop law­makers from rais­ing a ruck­us any­way.


Mar­ket­place Count­down

The Obama­care in­sur­ance mar­ket­places are sched­uled to open in just eight short days. A Wall Street Journ­al re­port Fri­day about a pri­cing glitch on the ex­changes raised con­cerns about their read­i­ness, provid­ing fresh fod­der to the GOP law­makers call­ing for a delay of the law. But Gary Co­hen, who heads the Cen­ter for Con­sumer In­form­a­tion and In­sur­ance Over­sight at the Cen­ters for Medi­care and Medi­caid Ser­vices, as­sured mem­bers of a House En­ergy and Com­merce sub­com­mit­tee on Thursday that the gov­ern­ment is ready for the Oct. 1 launch, even if there are some glitches. Ex­pect ever-louder cries from Re­pub­lic­ans for the start date to be pushed off as it nears.


Go­ing Nuc­le­ar

Obama’s vis­it to New York on Monday and Tues­day will in­clude at­tend­ing the open­ing of the United Na­tions Gen­er­al As­sembly and ad­dress­ing the Clin­ton Glob­al Ini­ti­at­ive on health care.

Back in Wash­ing­ton, on Fri­day he will host In­di­an Prime Min­is­ter Man­mo­han Singh for dis­cus­sions on ci­vil­ian nuc­le­ar co­oper­a­tion and the next steps in Afgh­anistan.

Sara Sorcher, Catherine Hollander, Amy Harder, George E. Condon and Michael Catalin contributed to this article.
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