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The Continuing Resolution

This week, the House of Representatives – by a wide bipartisan majority – passed a temporary measure to continue to fund the government for six months. Funding for the government was scheduled to expire on March 27th.

The legislation, known as a Continuing Resolution (CR), includes a full-year funding for Defense Appropriations, as well as a full-year funding for Military Construction/Veterans Affairs Appropriations on top of a six-month extension for the remainder of FY2013.

Except for the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Department of Veterans Affairs, the CR extends funding for other government agencies at last year’s levels. However, the funding within the bill is subject to sequestration cuts. This means that the funding rate within the legislation is approximately $982 billion – the level required by sequestration.

Virtually all policy and funding provisions included in currently enacted Appropriations legislation carry forward under this CR. There are some new provisions, however, including:

  • A provision allowing additional funding for nuclear weapons modernization efforts, to ensure the safety, security, and reliability of the nation’s nuclear stockpile.
  • A provision allowing Customs and Border Protection to maintain current staffing levels.
  • A provision providing additional funding for the FBI to ensure current staffing levels and critical increases in cybersecurity and surveillance.
  • A provision providing roughly $2 billion above the current level for embassy security, which supports the full fiscal year 2013 request and increased security needs identified after the Benghazi attack.
  • A provision allowing additional funding to ensure the safe and secure operation of federal prisons.
  • A provision requiring Immigration and Customs Enforcement to sustain the mandated capacity of 34,000 detention beds.
  • A provision extending the current pay freeze for federal employees, which includes members of Congress and Senators.
  • A provision allowing additional funding for the Department of Interior and the Forest Service for wildfire suppression efforts.
  • A provision allowing additional funding to maintain the launch schedule for new weather satellites, ensuring the continuation of data for weather warnings and forecasts, including forecasts of severe weather events.
  • A provision requiring every federal agency to provide spending plans to Congress to ensure transparency and the proper use of taxpayer dollars.

The CR now moves to the Senate where Senate Democrats plan on tacking three additional appropriations bills onto the House CR. Their version of CR will give Obama more flexibility to carry out the billions in sequestration cuts, and it would keep in place the $1.043 trillion spending cap that was included in the House bill. That number is automatically reduced by sequestration to $984 billion. Democrats are confident they haven't added anything Republicans can't support, even though they have added new spending priorities in agriculture, commerce, justice, science, and homeland security.

The bill will likely be introduced Monday, and Senate votes could come as early as Wednesday.

Centrists push back on Ryan budget proposal

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), Chairman of the House Budget Committee, has been floating a proposal that would abandon a previous Republican pledge not to touch Medicare benefits for anyone 55 or older. In meetings with Republican members over the last few weeks, Rep. Ryan has conceded that in order to get his yet-to-be-unveiled budget to balance in 10 years, it would require raising the age to 56, 57 or possibly even higher.

This proposal brought significant push back from House Republican centrists. After a meeting between GOP centrists and Ryan, Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA), one of the centrists worried about the proposal, said he believed the proposal would be dropped. "There's a fairly good shot that the budget will maintain no [Medicare] changes for anybody 55 and up," said Dent. "That was a concern that I think many members had."

Obama’s bipartisan dinner and lunch

In a break from his combative approach to dealing with House and Senate Republicans, President Obama invited key Republicans from both chambers to dine with him this week in hopes of reaching a deal on a deficit “grand bargain.”

On Wednesday night, Obama invited Republican Senators to dinner. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN), Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), Sen. Mike Johanns (R-NE), Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) were all on hand for the bipartisan dinner at the Jefferson hotel.

The President’s bipartisan outreach continued on Wednesday when he had lunch with House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI).

Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity legislation may be moving again on the Hill. Even in the wake of an executive order by President Obama on cybersecurity, both the House and Senate scheduled hearings on the issue this week, where Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was scheduled to testify. However, the House Cybersecurity hearing was delayed due to snow.

The battle of Brennan and drones

The nomination of John Brennan to head the CIA hit a bump in the road this week in the form of a filibuster led by Senator Rand Paul (R-KY). After his nomination passed out of the Senate Intelligence Committee by a wide bipartisan 12 to 3 vote, the Brennan nomination stalled on the floor of the Senate.

Paul – joined by a handful of Republican Senators and Democratic Senator Ron Wyden (OR) – led a 13-hour filibuster of the Brennan nomination over the issue of drones. On Thursday, after receiving a short letter from Attorney General Eric Holder – which said the US does not have the authority to use drones to attack noncombatant U.S. citizens on American soil – Paul ended his objection to moving ahead on a confirmation vote.

On Thursday afternoon, Brennan was confirmed by a vote of 63 to 34.

New EPA rule could raise gas prices

The Obama administration is preparing to roll out a controversial new regulation for gasoline that could raise costs at the pump and ignite pushback from Republicans and the oil industry. The regulation will require oil refineries to install new equipment to strip gasoline blends of sulfur, which when burned forms a smog-producing chemical linked to respiratory diseases. It’s also expected to raise the cost of gasoline by one to six cents per gallon, according to early estimates. The Environmental Protection Agency, already a primary target for Republican political attacks, is preparing to release the proposed rule sometime in March, sources familiar with the agency’s plans say.

Obama taps new Energy, EPA and OMB heads

On Monday, President Obama announced that he has selected Ernest Moniz to be the next Secretary of Energy, Gina McCarthy to be the next head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Sylvia Matthews Burwell to head the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

Moniz and Burwell are expected to win relatively easy confirmation, but McCarthy is expected to get a fight from Senate Republicans who are skeptical of her views on climate change and critical of the administration's policies on coal.

State Department issued Keystone/XL environmental review

This week, the State Department issued an environmental review of the proposed Keystone/XL pipeline. The review, which found the pipeline would have little effect on climate change, was a blow to the environmentalists who oppose it.

"Approval or denial of the proposed project is unlikely to have a substantial impact on the rate of development in the oil sands, or on the amount of heavy crude oil refined in the Gulf Coast area," the nearly 2,000-page document says.

Levin will not seek another term

On Thursday, 79 year-old Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) announced that he will not seek another term in 2014. Levin, first elected to the Senate in 1978, is Chair of the powerful Armed Services Committee.

On tap for next week:

In the House:

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) is expected to unveil his budget early next week.

Tuesday, March 12 — The House Appropriations Committee will hold a Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee hearing titled “Oversight Hearing–Securities Exchange Commission,” at 3 p.m. in 2359 Rayburn.

Wednesday, March 13 — The House Appropriations Committee will hold a Homeland Security Subcommittee hearing titled “FEMA Hurricane Sandy Funding Oversight,” at 10 a.m. in 2359 Rayburn.

In the Senate:

Senate Democrats are expected to unveil and mark up their first budget in years next week.  Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), Chair of the Senate Budget Committee, will have to "thread the needle" between more-conservative Democrats, particularly red state Democrats in cycle in 2014,  who want deeper spending cuts and liberals who don’t want to touch entitlement programs.

A Senate version of the continuing resolution (CR) will likely be introduced Monday, and Senate votes could come as early as Wednesday.

Tuesday, March 12 — The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on the U.S. Strategic Command and U.S. Cyber Command in review of the Defense Authorization Request for FY2014 and the Future Years Defense Program at 9:30 a.m. in G-50 Dirksen.

Tuesday, March 12 — The Senate Intelligence Committee will hold a hearing titled “Current and Projected National Security Threats to the United States,” at 10 a.m. in 216 Hart.

Washington humor:

“A guide to U.S. newspapers:

  1. The Wall Street Journal is read by the people who run the country.
  2. The New York Times is read by the people who think they run the country.
  3. The Washington Post is read by the people who think they should run the country.
  4. USA Today is read by people who think they ought to run the country but don’t really understand the Washington Post.  They do, however, like the smog statistics shown in pie charts.” – from About.com Political Humor

 

 Steven C. LaTourette, President | 202.737.8933

McDonald Hopkins Government Strategies LLC

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