Weekly Washington Outlook – December 9, 2013

White House at Night

What to Watch This Week:

Congress:

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The House: The House will reconvene Monday afternoon to consider under suspension of the rules the Kilah Davenport Child Protection Act (H.R. 3627), sponsored by Congressman Pittenger (R-N.C.).  The bill would direct the Attorney General to prepare a report detailing child abuse penalties in each state.  The balance of the week, the House will consider a number of Veteran Affairs and Foreign Affairs Committee-backed bills under suspension of the rules as well as the Gabriella Miller Kids First Research Act (H.R. 2019).  This bill redirects federal funding for conventions to pediatric research.  It is possible that the House will bring to the floor a budget conference report, a farm bill conference report, or legislation for the so-called “doc fix” this week as well.

The SenateOn Monday, the Senate will vote on a House-passed bill (H.R. 3626) that extends a ban on the manufacture, sale, and possession of entirely plastic guns for another ten years.  The Chamber will next resume consideration of the FY2014 defense authorization bill and will vote on the confirmation of Patricia Ann Millett for a vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.  Later in the week the Senate is expected to vote on several other pending judicial and executive nominees, including Congressman Mel Watt to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA).

White House: The President and the First Lady will be in South Africa this week attending Nelson Mandela’s funeral.  No other public events are scheduled for the week. 

Also this week and beyond:

Plastic Guns – The Senate this week will vote on a bill (H.R 3626) passed by the House last week that would extend for ten years a ban on the manufacture, sale, and possession of entirely plastic guns.  The measure is designed to address in part growing concerns about 3-D printing of plastic firearms that are not detectable through normal security procedures.  Senator Schumer has been pushing for additional language in the extension that would require all guns to have a permanent metal piece, and not one that could be removed.  This additional language is unlikely to pass given strong opposition from the National Rifle Association.  The current law that H.R. 3626 extends expires today.

Dodd-FrankOn Tuesday, the Federal Reserve, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., Commodity Futures Trading Commission, and Security and Exchange Commission are expected to act on the “Volcker Rule.”  The Volcker Rule, named for former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker who initially proposed the concept, essentially prohibits banks from making speculative bets with their own money.  President Obama has asked these five agencies to finalize the rule, part of the Dodd-Frank Act, by the end of the year.

Pediatric ResearchThe House this week will consider the Gabriella Miller Kids First Research Act, a central part of Majority Leader Cantor’s “Making Life Work” agenda.  The bill, which has been scaled-back from earlier versions, would end taxpayer contributions to political conventions and channel this funding instead into pediatric research programs for cancer, autism, and fragile X syndrome, among others.

Budget ConferenceConferees have until the end of the week to reach a deal on FY2014 spending, a self-imposed deadline.  As has been reported, the final budget conference report is expected to be small in scope, replacing the sequester for one year and using revenue from user fees and possible federal employee pension contributions as an offset.  Details, however, have not yet been finalized.  The expiration of emergency unemployment compensation at the end of December is complicating the discussions, as Democrats would like an extension to be included despite opposition from Republicans.  If an agreement is not reached, there are indications that Congressional leadership will push to pass a three-month continuing resolution to fund the government passed January 15th, when the current spending bill expires.

Farm BillFarm Bill conferees are still negotiating and are not likely to have a finished conference report until early January.  While an agreement in principle may be forthcoming in the next week or so, additional time is needed to craft legislative language.  Given the delay, there are rumors that House Leadership may be pursuing a short-term extension to allow more time.  Congressional staff members say that this is unlikely and unnecessary.  The largest consequence of the Farm Bill’s expiration will be felt in early 2014 when dairy prices more than double when the so-called “dairy cliff” is breached; Agriculture Secretary Vilsack is expected to delay implementing the shift in dairy policy to 1949 price support levels, however, to allow more time for the conferees to negotiate.  The nutrition title, as has been reported throughout the conference, remains a significant sticking point.  It is widely expected that some of the harsh eligibility restrictions relating to convicted felons and drug-testing requirements will either be eliminated altogether or significantly watered down.  Congressman Southerland’s language on “work requirements,” is likely to remain.  While conferees negotiate over these items, they also have not yet agreed on how much SNAP will be cut, although it is rumored that this number will at least be a single digit.

HealthcareHealth and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will appear again before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health on Wednesday.  Her testimony will focus on the Administration’s incremental progress in fixing some of the early flaws with the healthcare law’s rollout.  The House Small Business Committee on Wednesday will also hear from Gary Cohen, the Director and Deputy Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, on the delays of the health exchanges for small businesses.

Doc-Fix – The House may advance this week legislation drafted by House Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committee members that would address looming Medicare physician payment cuts.  The bipartisan measure would end periodic reimbursement cuts that result from a formula known as the sustainable growth rate that has forced Congress to pass a series of temporary deferrals – “doc-fix bills”.  The measure being discussed would repeal the formula and allow physicians to either stay in Medicare’s traditional fee-for-service system or mote to alternative payment models.

Education – The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Thursday will hold one of a series of hearings on the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.  This week’s hearing will focus on accreditation.

Minimum Wage – Action on raising the minimum wage is no longer looking likely in the next two weeks before the holiday recess.  Instead, a vote on a motion to proceed is tentatively on the schedule for early 2014.

NominationsIn 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 (FHFA) will likely take place as soon as Tuesday.  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.  The Senate Homeland Security Committee this week may also finally approve on Wednesday Alejandro Mayorkas’ stalled nomination to become the number two person at the Department of Homeland Security, allowing for a possible floor vote soon thereafter.  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 – Senator Baucus recently 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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After months of debate, both the House and Senate passed their versions of the farm bill earlier this year with notable differences, specifically around the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). […]