Weekly Washington Outlook – March 24, 2014

White House at Night

What to Watch This Week:


The House:

On Monday, the House will meet in the afternoon to name seven post offices.  Under suspension of the rules, the House will also vote on the Philippines Charitable Giving Assistance Act (H.R. 3771) and the Cooperative and Small Employer Charity Pension Flexibility Act (H.R. 4275).  These measures would provide a charitable deduction for those contributing to typhoon relief before April 15 and provide a permanent exemption to coop and charity organizations with multiple employer pensions from a 2006 pension law that required more rigorous funding standards and would allow groups to opt out of the exemption, respectively.  On Tuesday, the House will consider the Preventing Government Waste and Protecting Coal Mining Jobs in America (H.R. 2824).  This bill would require the Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement to implement a 2008 rule governing the disposal of mining waste near streams and waterways and bar the office from implementing any new rules without conducting a five-year assessment.  On Wednesday and Thursday, the House will take up the Ensuring Public Involvement in the Creation of National Monuments Act (H.R. 1459), a bill aimed to limit the president’s authority to designate National Monuments under the Antiquities Act to one per state for each term.  It is possible that the House could also consider legislation relating to the so-called “doc fix” and a Ukrainian aid package combining Russian sanctions.

The Senate:

The Senate returns Monday and will consider S. 2124, the Ukraine Act, which is aimed at supporting the sovereignty and democracy in Ukraine, among other purposes.  The Senate on Monday and throughout the week will vote on several judicial nominations.  Following passage of S. 2124, the Senate will proceed to S. 2148, a bill to retroactively extend lapsed unemployment benefits.

White House:

On Monday, the president will arrive in The Netherlands. In the morning, he will tour the Rijksmuseum and hold a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Rutte of The Netherlands. In the afternoon, President Obama will participate in a bilateral meeting with President Xi Jinping of China at the United States Ambassador’s residence before arriving at the World Forum to participate in the Nuclear Security Summit.  In the evening, the President will attend a G-7 leaders meeting on Ukraine at Catshuis, the official residence of the Prime Minister. Afterwards, he will join His Majesty King Willem-Alexander for dinner at the Royal Palace.  On Tuesday, the president will visit the World Forum to participate in the Nuclear Security Summit. Afterwards, Mr. Obama will hold a bilateral press conference with Prime Minister Rutte.  In the evening, he will participate in a bilateral meeting with the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates, at the United States Ambassador’s residence, and a trilateral meeting with President Park Geun-Hye of the Republic of Korea and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan.  President Obama will then meet with employees and family members of the U.S. Embassy to The Netherlands. The president will then travel to Brussels, Belgium where he will remain overnight.  On Wednesday, the president will visit Flanders Field Cemetery with Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo of Belgium and His Majesty King, Philippe. In the afternoon, he will participate in the EU-U.S. Summit at the Council of the European Union. Afterwards, President Obama will meet with employees and family members of the U.S. Tri-Mission to Belgium, EU, and NATO before meeting with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. In the evening, he will deliver remarks at The Centre for Fine Arts (BOZAR) and then travel to Rome, Italy where he will remain overnight.  On Thursday, the president will visit the Vatican where he will meet with His Holiness Pope Francis followed by a meeting with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin. Afterwards, the Mr. Obama will participate in a bilateral meeting with President Giorgio Napolitano of Italy at the Quirinal Palace. Later, the president will participate in a bilateral meeting and joint press conference with Prime Minister Matteo Renzi of Italy at Villa Madama. In the evening, the president will tour the Colosseum and meet with employees and families of the U.S. Tri-Mission to Italy, The Holy See, and the UN Agencies in Rome.  Finally, on Friday, the president will travel from Rome to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. While in Saudi Arabia, the president will participate in a bilateral meeting with His Majesty Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  He will remain overnight in Saudi Arabia.

Supreme Court:

The Supreme Court on Tuesday will hear oral arguments on Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius.  Both cases address religious freedom and access to contraception under the Affordable Care Act. 

Also this week and beyond:

ImmigrationOn Friday, Majority Leader Eric Cantor circulated the legislative agenda for the next three weeks.  Action on immigration reform was not listed.  House Democrats, in contrast, plan to introduce their discharge petition likely on Wednesday.

Budget/Appropriations – Administration officials will continue to appear this week before the House Appropriations Subcommittees to discuss their budget requests and other committees of jurisdiction.  Notably, Labor Secretary Tom Perez will provide testimony to the Education and Workforce Committee on Wednesday.  Elsewhere, in Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s memo to House members, he indicated that the House would adhere to the overall spending allocations provided in the Bipartisan Budget Agreement for FY2015 appropriations bills.  He also wrote that during this three-week work period, the House will consider three bills related to the budget process:

  • Representative Rob Woodall’s Baseline Reform Act (H.R. 1871). This bill would require the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), when scoring legislation, to assume that the baseline does not increase or decrease for discretionary programs. Under current law, CBO and OMB must assume that current spending will continue and grow by inflation. In 2013, this added $1.2 trillion to the base line.
  • Representative Tom Price’s Pro-Growth Budgeting Act (H.R. 1874). Current CBO estimates do not take into account the overall impact on the economy. This legislation would require CBO, when scoring major legislation, to create a secondary report detailing the economic impact on key aspects of the economy.
  • Representative Scott Garrett’s Budget and Accounting Transparency Act (H.R. 1872). Fair value accounting will bring off-budget programs on-budget to provide a more accurate accounting of these programs.

Healthcare – The open-enrollment period to purchase insurance on an exchange under the Affordable Care Act ends next Monday!

Housing Finance ReformThe Senate Banking Committee recently released a draft bill to unwind Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  A mark-up of the proposal is expected in the coming weeks.

Emergency Unemployment Compensation – This week, the Senate will try again to advance a five-month retroactive extension of unemployment benefits that expired at the end of December.  A bipartisan group of Senators announced shortly before last week’s recess they had reached an agreement to pay for the extension, which should allow the measure to finally move forward.  The cost of the extended benefits would be offset by extending so-called “pension smoothing” that was set to phase out this year. That maneuver would give companies more time to make payments to their pension funds, meaning their short-term taxable income would increase because they could claim fewer deductions. Other offsets include extending customs user fees through 2024 and allowing single-employer pension plans to prepay their flat-rate premiums to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.  While Speaker Boehner has previously said that he would bring an unemployment insurance extension to the floor if it was offset, the timing remains unclear.  Majority Leader Eric Cantor did not include this in his legislative agenda memo to members.

Minimum Wage – A procedural vote to advance a minimum wage hike is expected in the Senate next week.  In the House, House Democrats are considering using a discharge petition to force a vote, but the details and timing of this remain unclear.  Republican Leadership, alternatively, plans to bring the Save American Workers Act (H.R. 2575) to the floor to “stop Obamacare from cutting the wages of haring working Americans and put the middle class back to work.”  The bill would amend Affordable Care Act’s thirty-hour work-week provision to be forty-hours to allegedly restore up to 25 percent of wages for effected workers.

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