Unemployment insurance fight continues
As many as 1.3 million long-term unemployed Americans lost benefits when Congress failed to extend legislation covering those who have been jobless for more than six months at the end of last year. Democrats in the Senate have made passing an extension of these benefits their first order of business since returning to work this week.
Early in the week, the Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) secured the 60 votes necessary to bring the unemployment insurance extension legislation authored by Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) and Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) to the floor. The prospects of Senate approval of the bill seemed good until negotiations began over how to pay for this extension of benefits.
On Thursday, Republicans in the Senate rejected the pay-fors proposed by Heller and Reed. As a result, Democratic leaders are still expected to put two different legislative extensions on the floor (a three-month extension, as well as a longer one-year extension), but absent some new agreement over how to pay for the measure - neither is likely to move forward.
Leadership in the GOP-controlled House hasn't completely ruled out extending unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed. They are, however, unlikely to take the issue up if it fails to pass in the Senate, and Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) has made it clear that any extension in the House will not only have to be paid for but will also have to include provisions aimed at creating private sector jobs.
Appropriators work to make deadline
Since passage of the Ryan-Murray budget deal in December, appropriators in both parties and in both chambers have been hard at work to meet a Jan. 15 deadline.
Earlier this week, appropriators on both sides of the Capitol were confident that a deal could be reached before the current continuing resolution expires next week, however it now appears that a short-term continuing resolution (CR) may be necessary to buy additional time to complete the appropriations work.
Members of the two Appropriations Committees have been working frantically to pull together a 12-part omnibus to fund the government through the remainder of fiscal 2014, which ends Sept. 30, ever since Budget Committee chairs Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) announced a deal setting their top-line spending figure at $1.012 trillion.
House and Senate appropriators, led by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Rep. Harold Rogers (R-KY), hoped to release the details of the omnibus spending bill this week, however, it appears that may not happen until as late as Sunday night now.
Under such a scenario, the earliest the House would likely act would be Tuesday of next week - just one day before the current spending legislation expires. A one or two-day temporary CR would be necessary to buy time for the Senate to act.
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Farm bill update
While Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) expressed public optimism this week that the long-debated farm bill was nearly done, behind the scenes tensions remained high over certain provisions. In particular, Rep. Colin Peterson (D-MN), the ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, has been pushing for a dairy provision that is opposed by Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH). Despite Boehner's outspoken opposition to the measure, Rep. Peterson has continued to push for its inclusion.
This week, Boehner again weighed in against the dairy provision with negotiators working to hammer out the final details of the farm bill in conference committee. The move infuriated Peterson who told reporters that Boehner's efforts threatened the entire process.
Obama turns his attention to income inequality
President Barack Obama is expected to use his Jan. 28 State of the Union address to focus on the issue of income inequality in the U.S. In the run-up to the critical mid-term elections, President Obama and Democrats in Washington will seek to champion economic fairness issues in 2014.
Democrats in the Senate have already begun their efforts to work on these "economic fairness" issues by making an extension of long-term unemployment benefits their top priority since returning from the holiday recess.
In addition to efforts to extend unemployment benefits, President Obama is expected to call for an increase in the federal minimum wage - possibly to as high as $10.10 per hour. The President is also calling for the creation of "promise zones" - zones where the federal government would provide tax incentives, housing assistance and education grants to fight persistent poverty.
President Obama and Congressional Democrats are hopeful that this new push on income inequality will take some of the attention away from the disastrous roll out of the Affordable Care Act.
On Monday, the Senate voted 56 to 26 to confirm Janet Yellen as the new Chair of the Federal Reserve. Yellen, who previously served as Vice Chair, succeeds Ben Bernanke and became the first woman ever to serve in this powerful position.
Comment period begins on EPA carbon emission rule
The Environmental Protection Agency's Administrator Gina McCarthy unveiled a draft proposal for limiting carbon emissions in power plants back in September, but this week the rule was officially published in the Federal Register.
The rule, which would set new source performance standards for yet-to-be-constructed power plants, is one of the central pillars of the president's climate-change agenda, second in importance only to an agency rulemaking for existing plants due out next summer.
Publication of the rule in the Federal Register is significant because it triggers the start of a 60-day public comment period. The agency will also hold a public hearing on the rule later this month in Washington.
Even though the rule has yet to be finalized, it has already proven extremely controversial. Environmental advocates have hailed it as a way forward on combating climate change, while industry groups say it will deal a deadly blow to the U.S. coal industry.
Lawmakers strike deal on trade
House Ways and Means Chair Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI), Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-MT) and ranking Republican Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) announced a proposal on Thursday aimed at making it easier for the White House to broker international trade agreements by preventing Congress from renegotiating those deals. The legislation would also establish congressional trade objectives and requires the White House to follow them.
New York 4th Congressional District: Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) announced this week that she would not seek re-election to her Long Island seat in Congress. Rep. McCarthy has not voted in Congress since she took a leave of absence for treatment of lung cancer. Democrats are expected to retain this seat.
Tuesday, January 14 – The House Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on Oversight of the Obama Administration's Questionable Application of Sequestration to the Secure Rural Schools Program and the Costs to States, Local Economies, and Rural School Children at 10:00 a.m. in 1324 Longworth.
Tuesday, January 14 – The House Financial Services Committee’s Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit Subcommittee will hold a hearing on How Prospective and Current Homeowners Will Be Harmed by the CFPB's Qualified Mortgage Rule at 10:00 a.m. in 2128 Rayburn.
Tuesday, January 14 – The Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on Examining Conference and Travel Spending Across the Federal Government at 10:30 a.m. in 342 Dirksen.
Washington by the numbers
31.9 - The percentage of 65-to-74-year-old Americans expected to be in the workforce by 2022.
34 - The temperature at which antifreeze freezes.
They said what?
“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” — Bridget Anne Kelly, a staffer to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, in an email that implicates his administration in a political retribution scandal. (Bergen Record)
"Clearly, somebody is getting thrown under the bus. Fortunately for them, the bus isn't moving. It's stuck in terrible traffic." –Jon Stewart, on Chris Christie vowing to hold people in his administration responsible for the traffic scandal.
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