Weekly Washington Outlook – February 10, 2014

White House at Night

What to Watch This Week:


The House:

On Monday, the House will take up the National Integrated Drought Information Systems Reauthorization (H.R. 2431) and a resolution (H.Res. 447) supporting the democratic and European aspirations of the people of Ukraine.  On Tuesday and Wednesday, the House will consider under suspension of the rules a measure on regulations relating to sleep disorders among airman and air traffic controllers (H.R. 3578) and the Small Liquidity Reform Act of 2013 (H.R. 3448).  The House will also vote on the Consumer Financial Protection and Soundness Improvement Act of 2013 (H.R. 3193).  This bill bundles together five CFPB-related bills and would fundamentally change its structure.  While no votes are scheduled for Thursday or Friday, it is also possible that legislation related to the debt ceiling could be considered.

The Senate:

The Senate on Monday evening will take a procedural vote to advance the Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act (S. 1963), sponsored by Senator Pryor (D-Ark.).  Later in the week, the Senate may consider legislation on the legal processes for handling sexual assault cases in the military.  It is also possible competing bills from Senator Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Senators McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Ayotte (R-N.H.) could be offered as amendments to Senator Pryor’s measure, if it advances.

White House:

On Monday, the president will welcome President Hollande of France to Washington for a State Visit.  During the visit, they will discuss opportunities to further strengthen shared security; grow our economic and commercial partnership; and partner on the environment, climate change, and development.  On Monday, they will tour Monticello, the residence of Thomas Jefferson, one of the United States’ earliest envoys to France.  On Tuesday, the president and First Lady will officially welcome President Hollande with an arrival ceremony, after which the presidents will have a bilateral meeting and press conference.  That evening, the President and First Lady will host a State Dinner for President Hollande.  On Wednesday and Thursday, the President will attend unspecified meetings at the White House.  On Friday, the president will deliver remarks at the House Democratic Issues Conference in Cambridge, Maryland.  Following the conference the president will depart for Rancho Mirage, California, for a meeting with His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan at Sunnylands, the Walter and Leonore Annenberg Estate. 

Also this week and beyond:

CFBPThe House will consider on Wednesday legislation that would change the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to an independent commission led by a five-member board. The newly named Financial Product Safety Commission would be removed from the Federal Reserve System and subject to annual appropriations under a modified version of H.R. 3193. The bill wraps in five measures the Financial Services Committee approved on Nov. 21 that also would make changes to the agency’s rulemaking and data-collection processes.

Debt LimitLast Friday, the U.S. technically reached the debt limit and the Treasury is currently employing “extraordinary measures” to stave off default.  These measures can only last until the end of the month.  While Majority Leader Eric Cantor left open the possibility that legislation relating to the debt limit could be on the floor this week, there is not yet a consensus on whether to bring up a clean debt limit increase or attach policy riders.  At the end of last week, it seemed as if House Leadership would attempt to raise the debt limit until February or March of 2015 and attach a repeal of the military pension COLA cut and a “doc fix” to change Medicare reimbursement rates.  It is not definite, however, that this will occur.  Senate Leadership and the White House, for their parts, continue to insist that the debt ceiling should be raised with no strings attached.

Military Pensions – As part of the bipartisan budget deal at the end of last year, the cost of living adjustment for certain military pensions was marginally reduced.  A consensus has emerged, at least in the Senate, on both sides of the aisle that this COLA cut should be restored and substituted with a different offset.  There was some movement to attach a restoration earlier in the year to the extension of unemployment benefits.  Now, in the Senate, a procedural vote on a stand-alone bill by Senator Pryor is scheduled Monday evening to advance an unpaid for bill.  If this measure moves forward, there is an expectation that amendments will be offered to fully pay for the restoration.  Senator Shaheen (D-N.H.) has a version that would pay for the restoration through closing certain corporate tax “loopholes.”  Senator Sanders (I-Vt.) has another that would cut off-book military spending.  Neither of these is expected to garner Republican support.  Instead, Senator Ayotte (R-N.H.) has proposed disqualifying undocumented immigrants filing their taxes with an ITIN from eligibility for the child tax credit.  Similarly, this amendment is unlikely to pick up significant Democratic support.  It is unclear how the military pension COLA issue, given these dynamics, will ultimately be resolved.  In the House, several stand-alone measures have been introduced to repeal the COLA cut, some including eligibility restrictions to the child tax credit, but there seems to be a desire to deal with this with the debt limit increase.

Economic Outlook – Janet Yellen, Chair of the Federal Reserve, will give her first semi-annual report to Congress on the state of the economy this week.  She will appear before the House Financial Services Committee on Tuesday and the Senate Banking Committee on Thursday.  Elsewhere, Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Elmendorf will appear before the Senate Budget Committee on Tuesday to further discuss CBO’s recently released annual economic outlook. 

Emergency Unemployment Compensation –On December 28, 1.3 million people immediately stopped receiving emergency unemployment compensation when the program’s authorization expired.  A procedural vote on an amendment to pay for a three month extension through “pension smoothing” failed by just one vote last week.  Senator Reid has indicated he is committed to finding a path forward for an unemployment extension, but it is unclear how exactly this can transpire.

Minimum Wage – The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will hold a hearing Thursday on raising the minimum wage.  A procedural vote to advance a minimum wage hike is expected in the Senate in early March.

Education – At a speech at Miami-Dade College, Senator Rubio (R-Fla.) will announce a plan for a higher-education overhaul, including changes to accreditation, expanded income-based repayment, and a focus on innovation.  Similarly, Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) will speak at Heritage Action Conservative Policy Summit on changes to accreditation requirements that would allow states, corporations, and other entities to accredit courses.

TransportationThe Senate this week continues work to reauthorize a surface transportation bill that will expire September 30th.  The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday.  Thomas Donohue, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce, Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, Mike Hancock, president of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, Peter Ruane, American Road and Transportation Builders Association, and Jay Timmons, president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers are all scheduled to testify.

Nominations – The Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday on the nomination of Maria Contreras-Sweet to be the Administrator of the Small Business Administration.

Montana Senate Vacancy – On Tuesday, February 11, Montana Lieutenant Governor John Walsh will be sworn-in to fill the Senate seat vacated by the recently confirmed Ambassador Max Baucus.  Ambassador Baucus’ departure from the Senate has also prompted a round of musical chairs with Committee leadership positions.  Senator Wyden (D-Ore.) will take the gavel of the Finance Committee, vacating the top position on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.  Senator Landrieu (D-La.) will leave the Small Business Committee to Chair the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.  Senator Cantwell (D-Wash.) is next in line for the Small Business Committee gavel, leaving Senator Tester (D-Mont.) to take over Indian Affairs.