Weekly Washington Outlook – November 25, 2013

White House at Night

What to Watch This Week:

Congress:

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The House: The House is in recess, returning December 2nd.

The Senate: The Senate is in recess, returning December 9th.

White House: On Monday, the president will travel to San Francisco for an event on immigration at the Betty Ann Ong Chinese Recreation Center as well as an event for the DNC. In the afternoon, he will travel to Los Angeles where he will take part in two DCCC/DSCC events. On Tuesday, the president will attend an event for the DNC followed by an event on the economy at Dreamworks Animation. The President will return to Washington on Tuesday night. On Wednesday, he will pardon the National Thanksgiving Turkey at the White House. On Thursday, the President will celebrate Thanksgiving at the White House. No public events are scheduled on Thursday or Friday. 

Also this week and beyond:

Budget Conference – There are signs that the budget conferees are narrowing the scope of their discussions to a plan that would provide limited sequester relief and new discretionary spending levels for appropriators for two years. While there is no deal yet, a broad framework has emerged that would reduce the next two rounds of sequestration cuts by $65 billion. The framework would also include roughly $85 billion in deficit reduction generated by federal asset sales, user fee increases, and mandatory spending cuts. The details of the ongoing negotiations remain fluid and have not fully been agreed upon by either side. The self-imposed deadline to submit a conference report is December 13th.

Farm Bill – Despite negotiations on a Farm Bill reportedly stalling before the recess, talks are expected to continue while Congress is not in session. The committee had earlier set an end-of-the-year target date to complete its work before both Chambers recessed for holidays, but it does not appear as if this deadline will be met. Deep disagreements over spending levels and eligibility requirements persist in the nutrition section of the bill that will be difficult to reconcile in a way that can pass the House and the Senate. Furthermore, while there were early indications that savings from a Farm Bill conference would be incorporated into a budget conference, staff members say this is no longer very likely.

Immigration – President Obama today is planning on giving a speech in California on the importance of overhauling our immigration system. In DC, the fast on the Mall is continuing and a number of local members of Congress are expected to drop by during the recess to show their support.

Healthcare – During the recess, Congressman Issa (R-Calif.), Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is holding field hearings on Affordable Care Act implementation. These are the first of several planned and will focus on the increase in premiums and the impact to rural America. In the Senate after the recess, Sen. Reid (D-Nev.) may bring to the floor a bill (S. 1693) sponsored by Sen. Shaheen (D-N.H.) that would give individuals an additional two months to sign-up through the exchanges before being penalized. As an alternative, Sen. Reid may instead bring up Sen. Mark Udall’s (D-Colo.) bill (S. 1699) to allow individuals to keep their current coverage for two more years.

Minimum Wage – A vote on the motion to proceed to Senator Harkin’s bill to raise the minimum wage incrementally over two years is likely when the Senate returns from its recess. Even with a number of small business tax measures attached to the minimum wage hike, at this point it seems unlikely that there are the 60 votes needed to advance the bill.

Nominations – In light of the invocation of the so-called “nuclear option” in the Senate, a vote on Congressman Mel Watt’s confirmation to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency will likely take place when the Senate reconvenes the week of December 9th. Quick action is also expected on Janet Yellen to Chair the Federal Reserve and Jeh Johnson to become Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. As background, the nuclear option changed the rules of the Senate so that only a majority vote (rather than 60) is required to proceed to confirm executive and judicial nominations. The rule change does not apply to nominees to the Supreme Court or legislation.

Tax Reform – Last week, Sen. Baucus (D-Mont.) released three discussion drafts that will be part of tax reform. These deal with corporate tax rates, international business taxes, and then a number of administrative rules. The Committee is accepting comments until January 17th on these. Additional discussion drafts are expected in the coming weeks. In the House, Speaker Boehner has allegedly asked Chairman Camp to slow down on a tax overhaul; the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee had been preparing to release a discussion draft as well.

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