Weekly Washington Outlook – Oct. 21, 2013

White House at Night

What to Watch This Week:

Congress:

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The House:

This week, the House will meet on Tuesday to consider three bills under suspension of the rules.  These would name a courthouse (H.R. 185), incentivize adoption (H.R. 3205), and require criminal background checks for school employees (H.R. 2083).  On Wednesday and Thursday, the House will meet to consider the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (H.R. 3080), a reauthorization bill determining Army Corps of Engineers priorities for waterway projects.

The Senate:

The Senate is not in session this week.

White House:

On Monday, the president will host a health care event at the White House.  In his remarks, he is expected to address some of the technical flaws affecting the rollout of the healthcare exchanges.  On Tuesday, the Mr. Obama will attend unspecified meetings at the White House.  On Wednesday, he will welcome Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan to the White House. The meeting will highlight the importance and resilience of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship and provide an opportunity to strengthen cooperation on issues of mutual concern, such as energy, trade and economic development, regional stability, and countering violent extremism.  On Thursday, the president will again attend unspecified meetings at the White House and on Friday he will travel to NY for a DCCC event. 

Also this week and beyond :

Budget Conference – Last week, the Chairs and Ranking Members of the House and Senate Budget Committees met in preparation for the budget negotiations called for in the bargain to re-open the federal government and raise the debt limit.  Both sides indicated that these preliminary talks were constructive, but were open about the challenges ahead.  One of the principal such challenges conferees will face will involve the future of sequestration – whether this will be repealed and if so, replaced by potential cuts to entitlement spending that is currently exempt.  Once again, new revenue will be an important part of these negotiations, possibly establishing a framework for a long-awaited tax overhaul.  The deadline for a committee report is December 13th.

Farm Bill The House and Senate are moving forward reconciling their distinct versions of a Farm Bill reauthorization.  Both Chambers have appointed conferees and these are expected to meet next week to begin what is universally recognized as a challenging activity, particularly given stark ideological differences over the SNAP program.  While SNAP will sure to be a point of contention in the conference, in the interim, benefits are expected to fall starting next week when a temporary increase provided by the stimulus expires.  Yet, in his remarks following last week’s budget agreement, the president listed reauthorizing the farm bill as one of three top legislative priorities.

ImmigrationLast week, President Obama nominated Jeh Johnson to be the next Secretary of Homeland Security.  Previously, Johnson served as chief counsel at the Department of Defense from 2009-2012.  Already, several Senators have commented that implementation of immigration reform will be an important consideration during his confirmation process.

HealthcareThe House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on Thursday examining the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.  The witness list has not yet been announced.

Education – The Administration this week is highlighting in several speeches by Department of Education officials its plan to rate colleges and universities through the college scorecard. The focus of the scorecard is to encourage institutions of higher education to be more transparent and incentivize affordability.

NominationsNow that this fall’s fiscal fits are at least temporarily set aside, the Senate may begin to move forward with several Executive Branch nominees, including Mel Watt to head the Federal Housing Finance Administration (FHFA), and committee and floor votes on Janet Yellen to Chair the Federal Reserve, Alejandro Mayorkas to take the number two position at the Department of Homeland Security, and Jeh Johnson as Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.  The exact timing of any of these votes remains unknown.

Consumer ProtectionThe House Financial Services Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit Subcommittee holds a hearing Thursday on proposed changes to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Tax Reform – Senator Baucus and Congressman Camp, the Chairmen of the Senate Finance Committee and House Ways and Means Committee respectively, indicated over the weekend that they were open to pursuing their long-discussed plans for tax reform within the budget conference process.  Senator Baucus reiterated his commitment to release a draft plan before the end of the year.  For his part, Congressman Camp is continuing to hold member-level working group meetings on a draft plan as well.

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