Weekly Washington Outlook – Sept. 23, 2013

U.S. Capitol

What to Watch This Week:


The House:

This week, the House commences its legislative business with a series of non-controversial bills considered under suspension of the rules on Wednesday.  On Thursday, the House will resume consideration of H.R. 687, the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act of 2013 sponsored by Rep. Paul Gosar R-Ariz..  On Friday, the House may vote on legislation that would raise the debt ceiling through the 2014 mid-term elections and also delay the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.  Majority Leader Cantor has indicated that weekend votes are possible to take up any Senate-passed spending measure.

The Senate:

The Senate will begin the week with a unanimous consent agreement to bring the House-passed continuing resolution to the floor.  It is likely that Majority Leader Reid will file a motion to proceed today with a vote on ending debate as soon as Wednesday.  The Senate will also consider a judicial nomination tomorrow.

White House:

On Monday, the president and the First Lady will travel to New York for the 68th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).  President Obama will meet with Nigerian President Goodluck JonathonOn Tuesday, the president will deliver remarks to the UNGA.  Later in the day, he will visit the Clinton Global Initiative where he and President Clinton will discuss the benefits and future of health care reform in America and access to quality health care around the world.  In the evening, Mr. Obama will attend an event for the DNC before returning to the White House.  On Friday, the president will welcome Prime Minister Singh of India to the White House for a meeting to focus on enhanced trade, investment, and development

Also this week and beyond:

AppropriationsThe House last week in a party-line vote passed H. J. Res 59, a stopgap spending measure, or Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government at current sequestration levels through mid-December.  The approved CR would also defund the Affordable Care Act and prioritize certain interest payments in the event of a government default.  This week, the Senate will take up the spending bill, and despite Democratic opposition to the sequester, Majority Leader Reid is moving forward with accepting the overall limit and timeframe but will undertake a series of procedural steps to remove the language relating to ACA and limit the GOP’s ability to derail passage.  Unless the House and Senate reach an agreement on spending by next Monday, the federal government will be forced to shut-down.  While the Office of Management and Budget has already sent guidance to federal agencies should this occur, certain members of both parties remain adamant they will reach a solution.

Debt Limit – House Republicans are expected to unveil a bill this week that would raise the debt ceiling through the 2014 mid-term elections.  Rather than setting a specific number, the bill is expected to suspend the limit, pegging it to the amount incurred during that time period.  While the White House is insisting on a “clean” debt limit increase, House Leaders are likely to attach a number of policy riders, most notably a measure to delay the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and a mandate to construct the Keystone XL Pipeline.  Other changes to mandatory spending remain possible.

ImmigrationLast week, three of the remaining seven members of the House Bipartisan Group walked away from their comprehensive bill.  Congressman Gutierrez (D-Ill.) did so saying the bill no longer enjoyed the support of House Leadership. Congressmen Sam Johnson and John Carter, both Republicans from Texas, however, blamed the White House for their failed effort.  In the wake of the Group’s collapse, several proposals for alternative bills have emerged but the details are still somewhat nebulous.

Farm BillThe House last week in a party-line vote passed the Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act (H.R. 3102).  The bill, as has been widely reported, would cut roughly $40 billion over ten years out of food assistance programs, notably SNAP, and would more closely align eligibility criteria with those for federal welfare.  This week, the House will take a number of procedural steps to join the nutrition bill with its agricultural counterpart, passed early this summer, to set up a conference with the Senate-passed Farm Bill.  It is unclear, however, if the differences between the two can be reconciled by the September 30 deadline, or at all.

EducationThis week, Majority Leader Cantor will deliver a “major policy speech,” at a Philadelphia charter school on school choice.  The speech, part of his “Making Life Work” agenda is designed to reach a diverse audience to frame the issue of school vouchers in terms of civil rights and equality of opportunity.  His remarks are likely to criticize the recent Justice Department lawsuit against the Louisiana Education Opportunity program.

Nominations – Prior to the August recess, the Senate Banking Committee confirmed Congressman Mel Watt to head FHFA.  Senate sources have said that his nomination will not be brought to the floor at least until after debates over spending and the debt limit have been concluded.  This will push his consideration until mid-October, at the earliest.  The Congressman still faces stiff opposition from Senate Republicans and without extra involvement from the White House, his prospects remainuncertain.

Tax ReformIn the House, Chairman Camp has been meeting regularly with his fellow conference members to chart a path forward for tax reform in the House in advance of an anticipated release of a discussion draft as soon as later this week.   In the Senate, the Finance Committee has remained non-committal about when they plan to release the results of their “blank form” tax exercise, but staff continues to say a draft will be circulated sometime this fall.  Of course, all discussions of tax reform are complicated by ongoing discussions of reaching a “grand bargain” on spending questions.  Both Chairmen nonetheless remain optimistic that tax reform will happen this Congress.

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