Republicans block extenders in Senate
It was believed that even if Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) blocked Republican amendments on legislation to extend expired tax provisions, known as tax extenders, Republicans weren't likely to prevent the bill from coming to the floor. However, that is exactly what Republicans did on Thursday, heightening the chances that Congress won't work the issue out until the lame-duck session after the November elections.
Republican senators voted against moving forward despite general support for the underlying legislation.
Reid offered to have Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and ranking member Orrin Hatch (R-UT) work out a plan for amendments if the Senate mustered the 60 votes needed to end debate on the bill, but nearly all Republicans refused to go along. The cloture motion failed, 53 to 40.
Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) traded pointed speeches before the vote, with each blaming the other for holding up the legislation.
"This is completely out of control," McConnell said, as many Republicans stood and watched his speech from near the dais. "It's a gag order on the American people we represent."
Reid called McConnell the "guardian of gridlock" in a short speech objecting to McConnell's request for amendments.
The setback for the bill, which the Finance Committee approved on a voice vote last month, likely means the tax extenders won't be taken up again until after the election. Reid voted no for procedural reasons so that he could bring the legislation up again.
Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois was the only Republican to vote with Democrats on the motion. Kirk voted for cloture because he was a cosponsor in the Senate of the Hire More Heroes Act—the House legislation being used as a legislative vehicle in this case, his office said in a statement.
Hatch sounded pessimistic when asked before the vote if a defeat would give Reid any incentive to bring the bill to the floor again. "Well, maybe he won't bring it up before the election," Hatch said. "Then we'll have to do it after the election."
Meanwhile, the House is pursuing a piece-by-piece approach, having passed one tax extender before this week's recess.
Republicans seeking Obamacare vote on extenders
Tax extenders failed in the Senate Thursday after no deal could be reached on amendments. Senate Republicans wanted to offer a spate of amendments on the bipartisan tax-extenders package, with a repeal of a medical-device tax chief among them.
Majority Leader Harry Reid was unwilling to commit to allowing the medical-device tax vote. Moreover, Reid has ruled Obamacare amendments out of bounds in the past and has said he is not concerned about the effect the tax is having on the medical-device industry.
“I’m not going to cry any big tears over the device folks,” Reid said. “Their profits were huge last year.”
The medical-device provision places a 2.3 percent tax on the sale of devices and helps pay for the Affordable Care Act’s insurance exchanges and Medicaid expansion, according to Kaiser Health News. Repealing that provision could cost the government $30 billion in revenue over 10 years.
For Republicans, repealing the tax fits with their critique of Obamacare and offers an opportunity to suggest that Democrats are behaving hypocritically. Senate Republican leaders, for example, pointed to a nonbinding vote on repeal of the tax in March of last year that passed with the support of 34 Democrats.
“When it really matters, they’re saying, ‘Oh, I don’t think I want to take that vote,’” said Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming. “You’re either for it or against it.”
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Bipartisan energy efficiency bill dies in Senate
Amid a dispute about amendments, a bipartisan bill on energy efficiency has fallen short in the Senate, and with it the chamber's opportunity to vote on the Keystone XL oil-sands pipeline.
The energy bill from Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) fell by a 55 to 36 vote, with just three Republicans voting to end debate on the bill. Among those voting against it were Republicans John Hoeven of North Dakota, Roger Wicker of Mississippi, and Johnny Isakson of Georgia, who were all sponsors on the bill.
The energy bill had been paired with an up-or-down vote to approve the Keystone pipeline, a longtime Republican priority.
Republicans had hoped to also offer four or five energy amendments to the bill, including measures related to the Environmental Protection Agency's emission rules for power plants and natural-gas exports. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid filled the tree, a procedural maneuver that prevents amendments from being offered, saying repeatedly that Republicans were moving the goalposts on the bill, and that both sides had agreed to vote on Shaheen-Portman and then Keystone, with no other amendments.
That led to Republicans shedding their support for the bill, which had gotten 79 votes to open debate last week.
Portman said before the vote that he was hopeful a deal could eventually be worked out, saying it was "a reasonable request" to get energy amendments on the bill and that there was a chance the energy-efficiency language could come back.
New net neutrality rules move forward
On Thursday, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted 3 to 2, along party lines, to move forward with new net neutrality rules. The new rules would allow broadband providers to create "fast lanes" for Internet traffic.
The FCC vote now opens it up to public comment for 120 days.
Two commissioners criticized the FCC Chair's decision to push forward with the proposal, despite public outcry. Opponents of moving forward at this point say the commission should have taken more time to listen to concerns.
Proponents of the move, however, say there is a need to move forward because of a U.S. Court of Appeals decision in January that invalidated old net neutrality rules.
One of the FCC commissioners who voted against the new rules said that the FCC should defer to Congress on the issue.
Transportation in focus
Senate EPW bill finally unveiled
The much anticipated bipartisan transportation bill from the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee was finally unveiled this week. The legislation, called the MAP-21 Reauthorization Bill, is a 6-year bill that guarantees current funding levels + inflation through 2020.
The bill was authored by EPW Chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA), ranking member David Vitter (R-LA), Senator Tom Carper (D-DE), and Senator John Barrasso (R-WY). In all, spending on highway programs would come to $38.44 billion in 2015 and rise to $42.59 billion by 2020.
The EPW bill includes nothing on how to pay for this spending, instead leaving it up to the Senate Finance Committee to devise those funding mechanisms. And the rub is that there is still no consensus on how to do that.
In the House, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hasn’t yet produced a companion bill, and Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) does not expect it will do so until later this spring or summer. But Republicans led by Shuster and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) already have ruled out any move to raise tolls or taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel, which no longer provide enough funding.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) also has questioned the idea of new tolls on existing roads, or such things as charging motorists based on the miles they drive. He also says temporary fixes or emergency patches are not the answer, either, and that it will take up to $100 billion just to keep the trust fund solvent for the next six years.
Even a short-term fix will require $10 billion to keep the fund solvent through the calendar year, says Wyden, and getting through fiscal 2015 will take another $8 billion. One idea that he has floated is a resurrection of the Build America Bonds program that was part of the stimulus strategy in 2009. By the time the program ended after two years, he said, it had helped finance more than $180 billion worth of projects from one end of America to the other.WRDA conference report agreement reached
The Conference Committee hashing out the differences between the Senate and House versions of the Water Resources and Development Act (WRDA) announced this week that an agreement had been reached.
“We are proud to deliver what the American public wants and needs,” said Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA), Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Senator David Vitter (R-LA), EPW Committee Ranking Member, and Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV), Transportation Committee Ranking Member in a statement. “This conference report maintains ports and navigation routes for commerce and the movement of goods, provides flood control that protects lives and property, and restores vital ecosystems to preserve our natural heritage. This important measure will strengthen our Nation’s infrastructure and keep America competitive in the global marketplace.”
The full text of the report is expected soon.
Florida 13th Congressional District: Marine Corps Reserve colonel Ed Jany (I-FL), who Democratic leaders hailed as an ideal candidate to take on newly elected Rep. David Jolly (R-FL), dropped out of the race suddenly after news reports about him padding his educational background and resume surfaced.
Nebraska: Tea Party backed Ben Sasse (R-NE) won his primary to be the GOP nominee on Tuesday. Cruising to a surprisingly easy victory. Sasse captured 49 percent of the vote in a five-way primary.
West Virginia: Rep. Shelley Moore-Capito (R-WV) was easily nominated for the Senate this week, winning 87 percent of the vote despite having been the recipient of early criticism from outside groups like the Club for Growth.
Nebraska: Businessman Pete Ricketts (R-NE) edged Attorney General Jon Bruning (R-NE) in the Republican gubernatorial primary, garnering 26.5 percent of the vote to Bruning's 25.5 percent.
A look aheadBoth the House and Senate are in session next week, but no hearings have been formally scheduled as of yet.
Washington by the numbers53 percent - The portion of voters who are less enthusiastic about the midterms than past elections, the highest rate in decades.
10 percent - Portion of California’s water that goes to almond farming.
They said what?
“The truth of the matter is the United States is a country, it is not a planet.” -- Sen. Marco Rubio, arguing the U.S. can do little about climate change (National Journal)
"Here's an update on our pal, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. In a new interview, Ford said that he's enjoying rehab because it reminds him of the football camp he went to as a kid. Then the counselors said, 'Actually, this IS a football camp. You wandered in here last night at 3 a.m.' Please leave.'" –Jimmy Fallon
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