House GOP CR would extend Ex-Im bank
House Republicans on Tuesday unveiled details of a stopgap spending bill to keep the government operating through Dec. 11. The temporary solution includes money to fight the Ebola outbreak, reauthorizes the controversial Export-Import Bank through the end of June 2015, and extends the moratorium on taxing the Internet.
The Export-Import bank's current authorization is set to expire on Oct. 1. And though generally supported by Democrats, conservatives led by Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) have opposed its renewal. Critics say it is a form of "crony capitalism," that it interferes with the free market, and that it puts taxpayers on the hook for loans.
Even new Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) had said in June, shortly after his leadership election, that he intended to let the bank's charter expire. And internal party counts have had as much as half of the entire House Republican conference opposed to renewal.
But the prospect of shuttering the bank was upsetting many business leaders. Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and others were able to convince Hensarling and others to go along with the temporary extension through June 30, to allow more time for deciding what to do on a more permanent basis.
The decision to move forward with an Ex-Im renewal—even a short-term one—prompted criticism from the conservative Heritage Action for America, which has said it will score the vote on Ex-Im as a key vote for lawmakers in its ratings.
Democrats, meanwhile, have lobbied Republicans to extend the Ex-Im Bank for at least five years, and it's unclear how many votes the minority party will contribute when the measure hits the House floor.
The CR continues the level of government spending at the current fiscal 2014 annual rate of $1.012 trillion. Along with the Ex-Im reauthorization and funding to fight the Ebola crisis, Rogers said that the CR will also include some other changes to existing law:
- A provision to extend the Internet Tax Freedom Act through Dec. 11;
- A provision to extend expiring Department of Defense activities, including counter-drug operations and rewards for assistance in battling terrorism;
- A provision to continue the surge in funding for State Department programs to counter regional terrorism against Ukraine and other former Soviet Union countries;
- Several items regarding continued oversight of the Department of Veterans Affairs;
- Additional flexibility for Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement to maintain staffing levels and border-security operations, detention space, and immigration enforcement activities;
- A provision to allow funding flexibility to maintain weather-satellite programs;
- A continuation of current funding for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program;
- Added funds to offset food-price increases in the Commodity Supplemental Food Program.
Obama doesn't act on Immigration
President Barack Obama had promised he would take executive action on immigration when Congress returned from the August recess. However, the President reversed course and announced he wouldn't take any executive action until after the November midterms.Immigration reform advocates expressed disappointment with the President's decision and accused him of playing politics. Red state Senate Democrats at risk of losing their seats in the November elections pressed the White House to hold off any executive order.
Immigration advocates had been expecting the White House to ease deportations of undocumented immigrants, while wary Senate Democrats were concerned that any executive action by the President could cause them to lose control of the upper chamber in November.
The Senate last year passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill that would have provided a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. but that bill went nowhere in the Republican controlled House.
In an interview with NBC's "Meet the Press," President Obama said he would still take executive action but would work to build public support before doing so.
Click here to view the Washington Business Brief video, “They’re Back! Congress Returns.”
FCC may include cell service in net neutrality rules
The Federal Communications Commission is considering expanding net-neutrality rules to cover cell phone service. FCC Chair Tom Wheeler said this week that “[i]nternet access on smartphones is a ‘key component’ of the investment and innovation that net-neutrality regulations are intended to protect.”
In 2010, the FCC enacted net-neutrality regulations that barred home broadband providers like Comcast from blocking or "unreasonably" discriminating against any Internet traffic. But the rules were much weaker for Internet service on smartphones.
Wireless providers like Verizon and AT&T couldn't outright block websites, but they were free to speed up or slow down certain services or exempt others from monthly data caps.
A federal court struck the rules down earlier this year, and the FCC is now trying to come up with new regulations that can survive future court challenges.
Wheeler reiterated his criticism of cell phone service providers for throttling Internet speeds for customers with unlimited data plans in certain circumstances. He also said the providers may have misled the customers by promising them unlimited data.
He argued that just because consumers have more choices for cell phone service than their home Internet connection doesn't mean that the cellular providers won't restrict online freedom.
Expanding net-neutrality regulations to cell phone service would outrage the wireless providers. In a filing to the FCC, wireless lobbying group CTIA warned that applying the rules to wireless networks would risk stifling the industry's growth.
Wireless Internet is different, the group wrote, because of constraints on how much data the networks can handle.
Democrats unveil legislation to prevent tax inversions
This week, two of the Senate's top Democrats introduced legislation that would deter the surge in U.S. overseas inversion deals by deterring a practice known as earnings stripping. One of the main incentives driving a surge in U.S. corporations' tax-driven overseas inversion deals would be pared back under a plan unveiled on Wednesday by two top Senate Democrats.
Earnings stripping is the process by which U.S. companies avoid paying U.S. taxes by shifting their U.S. profits to jurisdictions with lower tax rates - like Canada.
The Schumer-Durbin bill came as at least nine U.S. companies were in the final stages of inversions, which involve buying a smaller foreign company in a lower-tax country and then reincorporating the combined operation there.
Schumer and Durbin said they would work with top Senate tax-writers to include their proposal in a package of reforms aimed at inversions, which they said could help push Congress toward enacting broader corporate tax legislation.
Their proposal would reduce the amount of interest deductions a company can claim to 25 percent from 50 percent of income, even for companies that inverted years ago. It also would eliminate a rule that lets less-leveraged companies avoid interest deduction limits.
Currently, companies that cannot use a tax deduction because they have hit the annual limit may apply the benefit the next year. The Schumer-Durbin bill would eliminate that as well.
Republicans have criticized Democratic inversion proposals as election-year gimmicks and said lawmakers should instead focus on lowering corporate tax rates.
Transportation in focus
A Surface Transportation Board hearing last week raised concerns about railcar shortages and service delays in rural areas of the country.
The BNSF Railway Company and the Canadian Pacific Railway Company move commodities from the northern tier of states stretching from Minnesota through the Dakotas and Montana to the ports in Washington state and to processing facilities elsewhere. But if the carriers do not provide cars to ship wheat, corn, soybeans, and other commodities this fall, farmers and agribusiness risk losing billions of dollars and the U.S. reputation as a reliable supplier of agricultural products will be tarnished, a wide range of witnesses testified at last week's hearing.
Citing a study showing that North Dakotans have already lost almost $67 million due to rail delays and could lose another $95.4 million, North Dakota Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple told the board the situation "is about the individual elevators and farmers out there who have no place to go—they have no power, no influence over the situation except for you."
The problems began last winter when BNSF (formerly the Burlington Northern Santa Fe) and Canadian Pacific fell way behind schedule in providing railcars to ship the 2013 crop and there were fears that the rails would not provide fertilizer before spring planting. The railroad executives have blamed last winter's severe weather and congestion at rail yards in Minneapolis-St. Paul and Chicago, but the farm leaders say the railroads are favoring the growing energy industry in the Bakken area of western North Dakota, or at least have made more promises of service than they can deliver.
At the end of the nine-hour hearing, BNSF and Canadian Pacific officials promised to provide more cars and speedier service, but it was unclear whether the STB would take any further action. Elliott noted that the STB has broad powers to act in the case of emergency, but said he does not want to take actions that could make the situation worse. He said in a brief interview that the STB will continue to require the reports on commodity rail shipments and the backlog "until we get significant improvement."
The harvest months should determine whether the combination of congressional pressure and regulatory action can indeed force the railroads to move the commodities to ports and processing—or whether the hearing was only an opportunity for the farmers and others to get their complaints off their chests.
Massachusetts 6th Congressional District: Marine veteran Seth Moulton (D-MA), defeated Democratic incumbent John Tierney (D-MA), 49 to 41 percent. Experts believe Moulton will have a better chance to fend off former State Sen. Richard Tisei (R-MA) in November.
New Hampshire 1st Congressional District: Former Rep. Frank Guinta (R-NH) defeated University of NH professor Dan Innis (R-NH), 49 to 41 percent, and will face Rep. Carol Shea Porter (D-NH) in November.New Hampshire 2nd Congressional District: State Rep. Marilinda Garcia (R-NH) won the GOP nomination with 50 percent of the vote and will take on Rep. Ann Kuster (D-NH) in November.
New Hampshire: Former Senator Scott Brown (R-NH) defeated former Senator Bob Smith (R-NH) for the right to take on Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) in November.
Massachusetts: Attorney General Martha Coakley (D-MA) captured the Democratic nomination this week, surviving a surprisingly close primary against state Treasurer Steve Grossman. Coakley captured 42 percent to Grossman's 36 percent.
New York: Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) won a closer than expected race
against Fordham University law professor Zephyr Teachout (D-NY). Cuomo
won 62 to 34 percent.
A look ahead
Tuesday, Sept. 16 at 2:30 p.m. – House Foreign Affairs Committee -
Hearing Full committee hearing on The ISIS Threat: Weighing the Obama
Monday, Sept. 15 – Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
Committee - Hearing Full committee hearing on Equality for the District
of Columbia: Discussing the Implications of S.132, the 'New Columbia
Admission Act of 2013.'
Tuesday, Sept. 16
$1 million – Price of an underground parking space at a forthcoming condo development in New York’s SoHo.
They said what?
“A lot of people would like to stay on the sideline and say, ‘just bomb
the place and tell us about it later.’ It’s an election year. A lot of
Democrats don’t know how it would play in their party, and Republicans
don’t want to change anything. We like the path we’re on now. We can
denounce it if it goes bad, and praise it if it goes well and ask what
took him so long.” – Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., on what House
Republicans want President Obama to do about ISIS (New York Times)
"Reportedly the identity of Jack the Ripper, who killed five people in
London, finally has been revealed. After hearing about it, the
commissioner of the NFL suspended him for two games." - Conan O'Brien
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