Weekly Washington Outlook – April 7, 2014

U.S. Capitol

What to Watch This Week:

Congress:

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The House:

The House will meet Monday afternoon to consider the Budget and Accounting Transparency Act of 2014 (H.R. 1872).  This bill would change the way the Congressional Budget Office scores legislation.  The House will also take up three bills under suspension of the rules:

On Tuesday and the balance of the week, the House will vote on the Baseline Reform Act of 2013 (H.R. 1871) and H. Con. Res. 96, Congressman Ryan’s FY2015 budget.  The former would require the Congressional Budget Office to use “fair value” as the basis for its cost estimates for programs that make direct loans or provide loan guarantees.  The measure also would require the income and expenses of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to be treated as “on budget,” meaning that budget authority and outlays would be counted when determining the government’s spending and deficits.

The Senate:

The Senate will vote on passage Monday evening for a bill that would extend lapsed unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed.  Later in the week, the Senate will take-up S. 2199, a bill sponsored by Sen. Mikulski (D-Md.) that would impose tougher standards on employers defending themselves against accusations of wage discrimination based on gender.  The bill would require employers to pay punitive damages and would also establish a grant program to train women in negotiating skills.  Several judicial nominations are likely to be considered throughout the week as well.

White House:

On Monday, the president will travel to Prince George’s County, Md. to host an event announcing the winners of a competition he launched last fall to bring together educators and employers to redesign the high school experience to give students access to real-world career skills and college-level courses.  On Tuesday, President Obama will host an event at the White House, joined by Lilly Ledbetter, to announce two new executive actions to strengthen enforcement of equal pay laws for women.  On Wednesday, the president and the First Lady will travel to Houston to attend Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee events.  The president is also expected to visit Ft. Hood, Texas.  On Thursday, President Obama and the First Lady will travel to the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library in Austin, Texas.  The president will deliver remarks at a Civil Rights Summit to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act.  On Friday, Mr. Obama will travel to New York to deliver remarks at the National Action Network’s 16th Annual Convention.

Also this week and beyond:

Emergency Unemployment Compensation – This week, the Senate is expected to pass a five-month retroactive extension (through May) of unemployment benefits that expired at the end of December.  The measure had previously stalled over disagreements about how to pay for the extension.  A bipartisan group of Senators reached an agreement several weeks ago to offset the cost through “pension smoothing.”  This 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, he recently expressed concerns with the feasibility of a retroactive extension.  Majority Leader Eric Cantor did not include this in his legislative agenda memo to members.

Paycheck FairnessTo commemorate Equal Pay Day on Tuesday, the Senate and the Administration will focus on pay equity issues.  Following passage of the unemployment extension, the Senate will turn to the Paycheck Fairness Act.  The bill would direct the Department of Labor to work with employers to eliminate pay disparities, largely through allowing employees to discuss compensation openly.  It would also set up a grant program to provide negotiating training to women.  In tandem with Senate consideration of the Paycheck Fairness Act, the president will sign an Executive Order prohibiting federal contractors from retaliating against employees who choose to discuss their compensation.  The Executive Order does not compel workers to discuss pay nor require employers to publish or otherwise disseminate pay data – but does provide a critical tool to encourage pay transparency, so workers have a potential way of discovering violations of equal pay laws and able to seek appropriate remedies.  The president will also sign a Presidential Memorandum instructing the Secretary of Labor to establish new regulations requiring federal contractors to submit to the Department of Labor summary data on compensation paid to their employees, including data by sex and race.  The Department of Labor will use the data to encourage voluntary compliance with equal pay laws and allowing more targeted enforcement by focusing efforts where there are discrepancies, reducing burdens on other employers.

ImmigrationThe discharge petition of H.R. 15 is up to 191 signatories (all Democrats).  Elsewhere, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus last week outlined administrative actions the Obama Administration should take to suspend, delay, or dispense with the deportations of immigrants who would qualify for legal status under the Senate-passed immigration overhaul bill.

Budget/Appropriations – The House this week will vote on Congressman Ryan’s FY2015 budget, released and marked-up last week. While the budget adheres to the spending limits established in the Bipartisan Budget Agreement, the substance of this budget is nearly identical to years past and will not be taken up the Senate. Much like the president’s budget request, this bill is primarily a messaging document to establish priorities and principles. In addition to the Ryan Budget, the House will consider two bills that would change the way the Congressional Budget Office makes budgetary projections.  Elsewhere, administration officials are continuing this week to appear before House and Senate committees of jurisdiction.  Before House Appropriations Subcommittees, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen will appear Tuesday; OMB Director Sylvia Matthews Burwell and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker on Wednesday; and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan on Thursday.  Senate Appropriations Subcommittees will also hear from Secretary Pritzker this week, along with Labor Secretary Tom Perez, and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

HealthHealth and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will appear Thursday before the Senate Finance Committee to speak to the President’s FY2015 budget request.  In the House, the Ways and Means Health Subcommittee will hold a hearing Tuesday on the ACA’s employer mandate and reporting requirements.

Housing Finance ReformThe Senate Banking Committee has scheduled a mark-up of the Johnson-Crapo housing finance overhaul bill for April 29.

EducationHouse Education and Workforce Committee Chairman Kline (R-Minn.) will hold a hearing Tuesday morning on the recently introduced Success and Opportunity through Quality Charter Schools Act (H.R. 10).  The bipartisan bill from the Chairman and Ranking Member of the committee would reauthorize charter programs.  From the Administration, President Obama on Monday will hold an event in Maryland to announce the winners of a competition to reshape high schools to better prepare students for college and career as part of the Youth CareerConnect program.  Vice President Biden will also speak on Monday on similar issues announcing the Registered Apprenticeship College Consortium.  The Consortium is designed to help students earn credit for apprenticeships that will transfer to community colleges.

Minimum Wage – A procedural vote to advance a minimum wage hike has been postponed again and is now expected in the Senate closer to the end of April or early May.

Tax ReformLast week, the Senate Finance Committee marked-up an “extenders” bill to revive nearly all of the tax credits that expired at the end of last year retroactively.  The House Ways and Means Committee will hold a hearing this week to examine making permanent certain business tax credits.  This is the first of several hearings planned in the House on extenders.  Elsewhere, the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday will hold a hearing on unenrolled tax preparers, those who lack professional certification, and is expected to show the need for greater oversight.

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