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Healthcare deadline delayed (again)

Late Tuesday night, the Obama administration announced it was giving some consumers more time to sign up for health insurance. While it's not technically moving the March 31 deadline, the administration is offering an extension--of unknown length--for people who had problems trying to meet the deadline.

According to a guidance document the Health and Human Services Department released Wednesday, you can apply for an extension for the following reasons:

  1. You experienced a natural disaster
  2. You have a medical emergency, such as an unexpected hospitalization
  3. HealthCare.gov or its supporting systems had a planned outage when you tried to enroll
  4. Someone who helped you sign up for coverage put you in the wrong plan
  5. Someone who helped you sign up for coverage didn't actually enroll you
  6. You didn't get the tax credits or cost-sharing reductions you're eligible for
  7. The insurance company didn't get your information from HealthCare.gov
  8. The insurance company got your information from HealthCare.gov, but it contained errors
  9. You're an immigrant, and HealthCare.gov told you that you weren't eligible for coverage or tax credits but you are
  10. Incorrect plan data were displayed when you selected a plan, and it might not be the plan you want
  11. Your family couldn't enroll together due to system errors
  12. HealthCare.gov said you were ineligible for Medicaid or CHIP, but you are and need to get into the program
  13. HealthCare.gov said you were eligible for Medicaid or CHIP, but you aren't and need to get private coverage
  14. You're still getting error messages on HealthCare.gov
  15. A caseworker doesn't resolve errors with your application for coverage by March 31
  16. You are a victim of domestic abuse (you get until May 31 to sign up)
  17. Other system errors stopped you from signing up

Russia sanctions/Ukraine aid package

After Senate Democrats backed down on the inclusion of language aimed at reforming the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the House and Senate both passed legislation aimed at punishing Russia and providing aid to Ukraine in response to the situation in Crimea.

Senate Democrats had been pushing for the IMF reform provisions, which are backed by the Obama administration. The IMF language, however, was opposed by many conservative organizations and conservatives in the House.

The final legislation passed by both chambers would freeze the assets and revoke the visas of Russian officials and their associates who are complicit in or responsible for corruption in Ukraine. The legislation also includes $1 billion in loan guarantees to Ukraine. The cash-strapped country says it needs more than $35 billion over the next two years to avoid defaulting on its debt. 

Click here to view the Washington Business Brief video, No Thaw in D.C.

House Republicans to produce budget

Majority Leader Eric Cantor said Friday that House Republicans will, in fact, produce a budget resolution this year. Speaker John Boehner said so last month. But doubts persisted, and some Republicans even suggested it would be better not to do one.

But in a memo sent out Friday by Cantor to fellow House Republicans about the remaining March and April agenda, he wrote, "We owe it to the American people to demonstrate how we will allocate their tax dollars and balance the budget."

Cantor's announcement comes amid nagging questions about whether such a plan could pass in the House, and whether Republicans should—or even have to—produce a budget as they head toward November's elections.

The House doesn't necessarily have to touch the budget issue, because the two-year budget agreement already set top-line numbers for 2015. Democrats who control the Senate already have said they won't pass their own budget resolution. 

The congressional timetable sets the deadline at April 15—about three weeks away—for completing action on the annual budget resolution for the new fiscal year that starts Oct. 1. 

House Democrats launch discharge petition on immigration

After launching a so-far unsuccessful discharge petition seeking to force a vote in the House on raising the minimum wage, House Democrats announced a similar effort aimed at forcing a vote on comprehensive immigration reform.

A discharge petition forces House leaders to put legislation on the floor for a vote. It needs a majority of House members, or 218 signatures, to succeed. Such efforts are rarely successful because signing the petition is considered a sign of disloyalty for a member of the majority party. Even if all 199 sitting Democrats endorse the immigration discharge petition, it would still need 19 GOP signatures.

It is highly unlikely that the discharge petition will garner the signatures necessary to force a vote - despite the fact that a majority of House members have indicated they support immigration reform. 

Doc fix update

After failing to come to an agreement on how to pay for a permanent repeal of the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR), the House - by voice vote - passed another temporary "doc fix." The move on Thursday is aimed at preventing a 24 percent cut in Medicare reimbursements to physicians.

The Senate is expected to take up, and pass, a one-year "doc fix" today.

The temporary measure is a disappointment for physicians who have been pushing for a permanent repeal of the SGR. A bipartisan, bicameral deal was reached earlier on how to permanently repeal and replace SGR, but the Republicans and Democrats could not come to an agreement on how to pay for such a move. 

Camp's first step in tax reform: Make certain extenders permanent

Recently, House Ways and Means Committee Chair Dave Camp (R-MI), unveiled his comprehensive tax reform plan. Camp's ambitious plan, however, was essentially dead on arrival in both chambers.

Recognizing the political realities of trying to move legislation like comprehensive tax reform in an election year, Chairman Camp will try the incremental approach instead. In a memo to Ways and Means Committee members this week, Camp promised to take several steps over the next couple of months, "paving the way for tax reform by making incremental progress towards full reform."

A key component of this incremental approach will be an effort to make certain tax extenders, which expire and have to be renewed every year, permanent. Camp writes,

"I have heard from many Members on this issue, all of whom recommended taking an approach similar to that of the Administration, i.e., that certain tax extenders should be considered, and treated, as permanent parts of the baseline off of which tax reform is enacted."

The language used by Camp suggests that he may abandon looking for offsets to pay for making these extenders permanent.

Transportation in focus

Merger results in new low cost carrier flights from D.C.

One of the criticisms of mergers of large airlines is that the result is less competition and therefore higher airfare costs to consumers. For travelers in and out of DC’s Reagan National Airport, however, the high profile merger of US Air and American Airlines will likely result in lower fares.

As a result of the merger, American Airlines was forced to give up 52 slot pairs at Reagan National Airport. The lion’s share of those slots were awarded to low-cost carrier Southwest Airlines. This week, Southwest announced it was using those slots to add new round-trip flights daily to Chicago, Nashville, New Orleans, Tampa, Akron-Canton, Dallas, and Indianapolis. The carrier also announced plans to add flights on existing routes to Houston and St. Louis.

Business travel is big business

This week, the Global Business Travel Association released a study on the economic impacts of business travel. According to the study, business travel in the U.S. was responsible for roughly 3 percent of the nation’s GDP – with business travelers accounting for $491 billion. Additionally, the study shows that for every 1 percent increase in travel spending, the U.S. economy adds an additional 71,000 jobs, nearly $5 billion in GDP, $3 billion in wages and $1.2 billion in tax collections.

The study also broke down the average business travel trip. In 2012, the average business traveler spent $540 per trip: $147 on lodging, $230 on transportation, $100 on food and beverage, $28 on shopping, and $22 on entertainment. The average for those business trips that utilized air travel was much higher - $1100 in total per trip.

TSA rejects calls to arm security screeners

In the wake of the shootings at LAX, there have been calls to arm TSA security screening agents. This week, the TSA released a 26-page report that recommends local and airport police place armed personnel at security checkpoints during peak times but rejected calls to actually arm TSA agents.

According to the report by TSA, only 51 of the 447 airports have law enforcement present at security checkpoints and about a quarter of them have no police officers directly assigned to the airport.

The union that represents TSA agents, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), has urged that armed law enforcement be present at security checkpoints and other key locations in every airport.

 

Political bits

House

California 7th Congressional District: Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) endorsed former Congressional aide Igor Birman (R-CA). Birman faces former Rep. Doug Ose (R-CA) and former Senate nominee Elizabeth Emken (R-CA) in the primary.

Illinois 10th Congressional District: Planned Parenthood announced it would endorse Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL) over former Rep. Bob Dold (R-IL). The organization stayed neutral in this race in 2012 when Dold was the incumbent.

Idaho 2nd Congressional District: Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID) launched a television ad attacking his Club for Growth supported opponent, Bryan Smith, for being a personal injury lawyer who has “enriched himself by filing over 10,000 lawsuits.”

New York 22nd Congressional District: State Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney (R-NY) will mount a primary challenge to Rep. Richard Hanna (R-NY).

Senate

Colorado: Incumbent Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) launched a web ad hitting challenger Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO) over his switch on abortion and personhood legislation.

Georgia: A new poll shows a very tight race in the GOP Senate primary in the Peach State. Businessman David Perdue leads the pack with 17 percent, followed by Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA) 15 percent, Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) 10 percent, Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) 8 percent and former Georiga Secretary of State Karen Handel 5 percent. A second poll this week showed similar results with Perdue at 21 percent, Kingston and Broun at 15 percent and the rest of the pack trailing.

Iowa: A conservative group, Priorities for Iowa, launched a $250,000 television ad campaign attacking Democrat Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA) for comments he made about Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) being a “farmer from Iowa who never went to law school.”

Iowa: Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK) endorsed State Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) who earlier this week made news for launching a television ad that touted her background as someone who had castrated hogs growing up.

Virginia: A new poll shows incumbent Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) leading likely opponent Ed Gillespie (R-VA) by 15 points (46 to 31 percent). Gillespie is the former Chair of the Republican National Committee.


A look ahead            

House 

Tuesday, April 2 – The Senate Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Insurance will hold a hearing on Examining the GM Recall and NHTSA's Defect Investigation Process at 10:00 a.m. in 253 Russell. General Motors CEO Mary Barra is scheduled to testify.

Senate

Wednesday, April 2 – The House Education and the Workforce Committee will hold a hearing on Keeping College Within Reach: Meeting the Needs of Contemporary Students at 10:00 a.m. in 2175 Rayburn. 
      

Washington by the numbers                        

26 – The percent of Americans who see Russia as an adversary

15 – The percentage advantage candidates had among left-handed voters when listed on the left side of the ballot, in a recent experiment.

They said what?

“Do I have the best credentials? Probably not. ‘Cause you know, whatever. But I have long and strong ties to this state. People know.” – Former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown, who is now running for a Senate seat in New Hampshire (AP).

Washington humor

"This morning Toronto Mayor Rob Ford tackled a journalist on his way into City Hall. The craziest part of that story is that Rob Ford is still going to City Hall." –Seth Meyers

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