Weekly Washington Outlook – January 6, 2014

White House at Night

What to Watch This Week:

Congress:

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The House:

The House returns for the Second Session of the 113th Congress on Tuesday.  After considering three bills under suspension of the rules, the House will take up H.R. 2279, sponsored by Rep. Gardner (R-Colo.) which would eliminate an EPA requirement to review and revise financial responsibility rules for hazardous material storage and waste sites every three years.  On Friday, the House will consider two ACA-related provisions.  The Exchange Information Disclosure Act (H.R. 3362), sponsored by Rep. Terry (R-Neb.) would require HHS to issue weekly reports on the healthcare website’s enrollment numbers, site visits, and errors.  The Health Exchange Security and Transparency Act of 2014 (un-numbered), sponsored by Rep. Pitts (R-PA), would require HHS to notify individuals if their personal data has been compromised through the health exchanges.

The Senate:

The Senate returns for the Second Session of the 113th Congress on Monday to vote to confirm Janet Yellen to Chair the Federal Reserve.  Following her confirmation, the Senate will vote on a motion to proceed to the consideration of S. 1845, the Unemployment Extension Act; this bill would extend emergency unemployment compensation for three months.

Later in the week, the Senate may consider Judge Robert Wilkins for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Judge Wilkins’ nomination was blocked before the change in the Senate rules. It is also possible that they will take up S. 1864, a measure which would delay increases in flood insurance premiums for residents in flood zones based on revised maps.

White House:

The White House has not released a public schedule for the week.  On Tuesday, however, the President is expected to hold an event at the White House on unemployment insurance, featuring individuals from across the country who have lost benefits.    

Also this week and beyond:

NominationsThe Senate will confirm Janet Yellen to be Chair of the Federal Reserve on Monday evening.  Off the Hill, Mel Watt will be sworn in Monday morning as Director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

AppropriationsAppropriators in the House and Senate are planning to meet early this week to finalize the details of an omnibus spending bill based on the framework established by December’s bipartisan budget agreement.  The most recent stopgap spending measure expires January 15, and the principals (Chairs and Ranking Members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees) are eager to pass their bill by this date to avoid another short-term continuing resolution or another shutdown.  It seems that details are not likely to be available to members until the last minute and few, if any, amendments will be allowed on the floor.

Emergency Unemployment Compensation –On December 28, 1.3 million people immediately stopped receiving emergency unemployment compensation when the program’s authorization expired.  The Senate will vote this week to proceed to three-month extension sponsored by Senator Reed (D-R.I.).  The measure has one Republican co-sponsor, Senator Heller (D-Nev.) and it is not clear if four more Republican votes will join Democrats to advance the bill.  In the House, Speaker Boehner has indicated a willingness to take up an extension, but only if the $6.4 billion cost is offset.

Farm BillFarm Bill conferees are expected to finalize lingering details and announce a conference report in the next few days.  Congressional staff has indicated that many of the remaining issues are more technical in nature and being worked through with the Congressional Budget Office and the Department of Agriculture.  The nutrition title has been particularly contentious given dramatically different starting points in the House and the Senate.  There has been a great deal of speculation, however, that conferees have coalesced around an approximately $8 billion cut to SNAP over 10 years.  Negotiations over some of the restrictive eligibility language relating to convicted felons and the so-called “work requirements,” remain ongoing but constructive.

Tax Reform – On January 1, 55 tax credits expired. Typically these are extended together, frequently retroactively, in a so-called “extenders package.”  While there has been some discussion of attaching this package to legislation relating to the “doc fix,” it remains unclear whether there is sufficient political appetite given the current fiscal climate to do so.  Tax reform broadly, also appears somewhat stalled given Senator Baucus’ recent appointment by President Obama to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to China.  Senator Wyden (D-Ore.) is expected to take the gavel of the Finance Committee, but he and Congressman Camp are further ideologically apart on principles of tax reform.  It is believed, however, that there will be a pivot in the Spring to focus on issues relating to international corporate taxation and the repatriation of income, leaving a more robust overhaul for the next Congress.

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