Weekly Washington Outlook – November 11, 2013


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The House:

The House will vote on Tuesday on six bills under suspension of the rules, including one sponsored by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) that would reverse a ban on organ donations from individuals who are HIV-positive (S. 330).  On Wednesday, the House will consider the Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act (H.R. 982) and on Thursday it will take-up the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act of 2013 (H.R. 2655).  On Friday, the chamber will vote on the Keep Your Health Plan Act of 2013 (H.R. 3350), a measure that would allow individuals to keep their current health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act.

The Senate:

On Tuesday, the Senate will vote on advancing the nomination of Cornelia Pillard to be a judge for the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.  The Senate is also expected to take up the Drug Quality and Security Act (H.R. 3204), with a possible vote to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed this evening.  Later in the week, it is possible the Senate will begin consideration of a Defense Reauthorization measure (S. 1197).

White House:

Today, the president will meet with a group of American Indian tribal leaders in the morning and later meets with and hosts a dinner combatant commanders and senior military leadership.  On Wednesday, President Obama will deliver remarks at the 2013 Tribal Nations ConferenceOn Thursday, the president will travel to Philadelphia to participate in a DSCC event and will then attend unspecified meetings in the White House on Friday.

Also this week and beyond:

Pharmaceutical Compounding – The Senate this week is scheduled to take up a bipartisan bill with broad support, H.R. 3204, which would set national standards for monitoring drug distribution and expand federal regulation of compounding pharmacies.  Complicating this non-controversial measure is the return of the “Vitter Amendment,” an amendment backed by Senator Vitter (R-La.) which would eliminate the employer contribution to health insurance for Congressional staff members and certain other federal employees.

Budget ConferenceWith the House back in session this week, progress toward a budget conference report resumes with the committee’s second public meeting scheduled for Wednesday.  No agreement has yet been made on a minimum level on discretionary spending for FY 2014 or on repealing or replacing sequestration.  As always, the question of new revenue remains a significant stumbling block.

Farm BillThe Farm Bill conference continues this week, but there are not likely to be any additional public meetings of the committee.  No decisions have yet been made on overall spending levels and reductions, and the most difficult piece to reconcile remains the nutrition title.  Staff on Capitol Hill has said that decisions on the conference are largely being driven at the Leadership level and the details of any final deal or path to the floor remain unknown.  That said, Senator Stabenow, Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, has repeatedly said that she will not accept a double-digit SNAP cut and Congressman Lucas, her House counterpart, has likewise expressed a willingness to reach a final agreement.  Both are opposed to some of the restrictions in eligibility that passed the House.  Increasingly, however, it seems likely that any savings in spending from the Farm Bill may be incorporated into the negotiations surrounding the Budget Conference.

HealthcareThe House this week will hold at least five hearings on the troubled rollout of the Affordable Care Act.  The Oversight and Government Reform Committee has subpoenaed Todd Park, the Chief Technology Officer for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to testify tomorrow.  Also tomorrow, the House Homeland Security Committee will hear from Roberta Stempfley, the Department of homeland Security’s Acting Assistant Secretary for Cybersecurity and Communications on the website’s security.  On Thursday, the Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee will examine premiums, the Medicaid expansion, and doctor accessibility, while the Small Business, Health and Technology Subcommittee will examine the law’s effect on small businesses.  Finally, the House Education and Workforce Committee will look at the Affordable Care Act’s impact on colleges and universities, also on Thursday.  On the floor, the House will consider a measure Friday that would grandfather-in existing health insurance plans that no longer meet the Affordable Care Act’s guidelines so that individuals can keep their health insurance if they choose.  H.R. 3350 is a response to recent reports of insurers cancelling plans, despite the President’s repeated claims that those who liked their insurance could keep it.  While Senator Landrieu (D-La.) has proposed the Senate companion bill, Democrats are still being urged to reject any so-called tweaks or fixes to the law.

EducationOn Wednesday, Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Chairman Sen. Harkin (D-Iowa) and the Ranking Member of the House Education and Workforce Committee George Miller (D-Calif.), along with Congressman Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.) will introduce legislation to expand federal preschool programs.  The President made pre-k availability for all low and middle-income families a priority in his last State of the Union Address.

Consumer ProtectionOn Tuesday, Richard Cordray, Chairman of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will testify to the Senate Banking Committee, delivering his semi-annual report to Congress.

Minimum Wage Senate Democratic Leadership is working to convince its caucus to back a measure by Senator Harkin (D-Iowa) that would raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour incrementally over a two-year period.  In order to attract support from more moderate members of the caucus, Majority Leader Reid is considering attaching small business tax breaks to the proposal, to counter arguments that a minimum wage hike would hurt exactly these businesses.  It is also possible that there will be a side-by-side vote with a Republican alternative offered by Senator Collins (R-Maine) that would require individuals to work forty rather than 30 hours a week to count as covered under the Affordable Care Act’s mandate.  Some Republicans argue that this would increase hours and pay for workers indirectly.  A vote on a motion to proceed to the Harkin bill could come as soon as next week.

NominationsToday at the White House, President Obama will formally nominate Timothy Massad to replace outgoing Commodity Futures Trading Commission Chairman Gary Genslet.  Massad currently serves at the Treasury Department as Assistant Secretary for Financial Stability and was responsible for overseeing the rescue of banks and automakers after the financial crisis.  In the Senate, the Banking Committee will hold a hearing on Thursday on Janet Yellen’s nomination to Chair the Federal Reserve and the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday on Jeh Johnson to be Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

Tax Reform – Senator Baucus, Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, may finally introduce a detailed tax reform plan.  Senator Baucus has been working with his House counterpart Chairman Camp on pursuing an overhaul; they have agreed on broad principles to lower rates and eliminate loopholes, but have not yet shared specifics.  A blueprint for tax reform is similarly part of ongoing budget negotiations.