Weekly Washington Outlook – March 10, 2014

U.S. Capitol

What to Watch This Week:


The House:

The House meets Tuesday to vote on eight measures under suspension of the rules.  These include several health-related bills passed out of the Ways and Means Committee, a measure to commemorate former Czech President Vaclav Havel, and a resolution condemning Russian interference in Ukraine.  On Wednesday and Thursday the House will consider a bill (H.R. 3973) that would require the Attorney General to submit a report to Congress if any federal official foregoes enforcing an enacted law.  On these days the House will also take-up a measure (H.R. 4138) that would allow Congress to take legal action against the Administration for failing to execute laws and another (H.R. 3189) that would bar the Departments of Agriculture and Interior from requiring private entities from transferring water rights as a condition for using federal lands.  Finally, on Friday, the House will vote on H.R. 4015, a permanent “doc fix.”  This bill would alter the Medicare Sustainable Growth Rate, the formula used to reimburse physicians.

The Senate:

The Senate convenes Monday evening and is scheduled to vote on passage of S. 1917 (Sen. McCaskill), a bill that addresses sexual assault in the military by changing the way these cases are handled within the military chain of command.  This week the Senate will also consider a series of judicial and Executive nominations and will begin resume consideration of S. 1086, the reauthorization of the Childcare and Development Block Grant program.

White House:

On Monday, the president will host a reception for the 2012 and 2013 NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Champions.  On Tuesday, President Obama will travel to New York City to attend DNC and DSCC events.  The president will also attend unspecified meetings in the White House the balance of the week

Also this week and beyond:

Military Sexual Assault: The Senate last week invoked cloture on a bill sponsored by Sen. McCaskill (D-Mo.) (S.1917) that aims to reduce instances of sexual assault in the military and change the way that these cases are prosecuted within the military chain of command.  The Senate is expected on Monday to vote on passage of the measure, which requires military judges and attorneys to be involved in sexual-assault cases, provides additional counseling services for victims, and  directs the Justice and Defense departments to develop a framework for collaboration.  Cloture was not invoked last week on a competing measure sponsored by Senator Gillibrand which would have taken sexual assault cases out of the chain of command.

Childcare Development Block Grant – The Senate this week will take-up a re-authorization of the Childcare and Development Block Grant program.  The legislation would require states to set some money aside to benefit low-income infants and toddlers. States also would have to have licensing and inspection requirements, according to a committee news release.

Budget – Following last week’s release of the President’s FY2015 Budget Request, members of the Cabinet and senior Administration Officials are scheduled to testify on Capitol Hill.  Some highlights include appearances by Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson on Tuesday before the House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee and its Senate counterpart Wednesday, CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf and GAO Comptroller General Gene Dodaro on Tuesday before the Senate Appropriations Legislative Branch Subcommittee, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew on Wednesday before the House Budget Committee, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Wednesday before the House Ways and Means Committee, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan on Wednesday before the Senate Banking Housing, Transportation, and Community Development Subcommittee and Thursday before the House Appropriations Transportation-HUD Subcommittee, and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Friday before the House Appropriations Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration Subcommittee.

Federal ReserveThe Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee will hold a hearing Thursday on Stanley Fischer to be vice chairman of the Federal Reserve and Jerome Powell and Lael Brainard to be members of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors.

Education – The House Education and Workforce Committee will hold a hearing on Wednesday on the role of charter schools.  Deborah McGriff, the President of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, is scheduled to testify.

Healthcare – The House on Tuesday is scheduled to take up a series of bills related to the Affordable Care Act.  Among these, H.R. 1814 would provide a religious exemption under the individual mandate; H.R. 3474 would allow employers from excluding employees receiving health insurance from the Defense Department or Veterans Affairs Department when determining whether they meet the threshold for the employer mandate; H.R. 3979 would exclude volunteer firefighters and other volunteer emergency personnel under the employer mandate; and H.R. 4160 would prevent the Department of Health and Human Services from taking any further action on proposed regulatory changes to Medicare Part D and Medicare Advantage prescription-drug programs.  In addition to these, the House will also vote Friday to enact a permanent “doc fix” – a change in the way that Medicare reimburses physicians.  The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the proposed replacement of the Sustainable Growth Rate will cost $138 billion over ten years, but offsets are allegedly being added in the House Rules Committee earlier this week.  Finally, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius is returning to the House this week to justify the agency’s $1 trillion budget request.  She is expected to face questions about enrollment challenges under ACA and delays in implementation.

Emergency Unemployment Compensation –On December 28, 1.3 million people immediately stopped receiving emergency unemployment compensation when the program’s authorization expired.  Several procedural votes to move forward with a three-month extension have failed.  While Senator Reid remains committed to advancing an extension, the path forward is not clear and additional action is not expected until sometime in March.

Minimum Wage – A procedural vote to advance a minimum wage hike is expected in the Senate at some point in April.  In the House, House Democrats are considering using a discharge petition to force a vote, but the details and timing of this remain unclear.

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