Government shutdown averted?
House Republicans are poised to avert a government shut down, but likely not without the help of House Democrats.
A plan being pushed by Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) would fund the government through September 30th of next year, with the exception of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). DHS is the agency with primary responsibility for immigration policy and, under the Boehner plan, funding for it would only be extended until March of next year, setting up a battle over the president's controversial immigration action then.
Several dozen Republicans are expected to buck the party's leadership and oppose the bill because they believe that the speaker’s plan does not go far enough. They would prefer to fund the entire government through a short-term plan that expires early next year so they can redo the whole spending plan to Republican liking, rather than relying on one negotiated this year with Democrats.
Others, like Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH), want to attach language to the spending bill that would prohibit United States Citizenship and Immigration Services from using the fees it collects to carry out the president’s action. This has been a sticking point for Republicans because Congress cannot simply cut off funding from the agency; it is self-funded through those fees.
Rep. Steve King (R-OH), an outspoken immigration reform critic, has said as many as 50 Republicans could vote no. While most believe the actual number will be lower than that, it does appear that Speaker Boehner will rely on the votes of Democrats to pass this package.
While House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) opposes Boehner's plan, he and others in Republican leadership are confident they will secure enough crossover Democratic votes to ensure passage.
If the legislation passes the House, it is expected to pass in the Senate and the White House has signaled that the president would be willing to sign it.
Tax extenders pass in House, move on to Senate
This week, by a wide 378 to 46 margin, the House approved legislation retroactively extending for one year a package of tax extenders for more than four-dozen provisions in the tax code that had expired.
In the Senate, some Democrats were still mulling a broader package. But, a broader package is unlikely given the limited time left in the lame duck, as well as President Obama's threat to veto an earlier plan.
Negotiations on that earlier plan, led in part by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, were leaning toward making permanent some popular business provisions—and extending many other breaks for two years, through 2015.
However, the White House last week said the package was too tilted in favor of business breaks, and didn't do enough for workers and the poor. For instance, it didn't extend an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit.
What has been left for lawmakers to do is to again enact a one-year extender package, which includes more than 50 provisions benefiting businesses, individuals, and others, Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.) said in an appearance before the Rules Committee. Most expired at the end of 2013, but could be claimed on 2014 tax forms if Congress acts now.
This was not the end to 2014 that Camp, who is retiring from Congress, and others had envisioned on the tax front. Lawmakers, including Boehner, had said that a priority at the start of this two-year session would be a wide tax-code revision.
Senate Finance Committee Democrats met behind closed doors Monday. Committee member Jay Rockefeller said he would like a two-year tax extender and raised concerns that the House's bill doesn't do enough for the population he's looking to help—the poorest 40 percent.
Finance Chairman Ron Wyden also has concerns with the House bill, chief among them the future of tax-break extensions for low-income, working-class families.
Click here to view the Washington Business Brief video, “LaTourette on the Lame Duck.”
House rebukes Obama on immigration
On Thursday, the House passed a bill, by 219-179, rebuking President Obama for his executive action that will grant legal work status to millions of undocumented immigrants living in the United States. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL).
"The president thumbed his nose at the American people with his actions on immigration, and the House will make clear today that we are rejecting his unilateral actions," Boehner said at a press conference before the vote. "The Unites States Senate should take up this bill and pass it. For the outgoing Senate Democrat majority to do anything less would be an act of monumental arrogance."
Yet many in the GOP Conference view the measure as largely symbolic as it will certainly not be taken up by the Senate. House Republican leaders brought it up to give their rank and file an avenue to channel their frustration over what they see as a constitutional violation in Obama's executive order.
Instead, members are channeling their frustration at leadership. The legislation was meant to ease passage of an omnibus appropriations bill, but the Republicans who voted against Yoho's bill — and other conservatives who voted for it — are demanding that leadership do more in the appropriations package to block Obama's order.
"Instead of the Yoho bill, I think it would be a lot cheaper and cost-effective and quicker to just send the president a Hallmark card," said Rep. Paul Gosar, who voted against the bill. "Everybody knows it's going to end up in Harry Reid's drawer anyway. It's just one more symbolic gesture."
That sentiment is causing problems for final passage of the spending bill, which funds the entire government for the remainder of the fiscal year with the notable exception of the Department of Homeland Security, which would only be funded for a few months so the GOP can stage another showdown with Obama over immigration next year. Republicans will more than likely have to rely on at least some Democratic votes to pass it. The bill is expected to come to the floor next week.
Obama nominates Ashton Carter as new secretary of defense
President Obama has nominated Ashton Carter to be the next defense secretary. If confirmed by the Senate, Carter would succeed Chuck Hagel, who announced his resignation last week.
Carter was previously the deputy defense secretary, serving from October 2011 to December 2013 under secretaries Hagel and Leon Panetta. Before that, he was in charge of procurement for the Pentagon.
Republican Sen. James Inhofe, the ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he's in favor of the nomination. "I support it very strongly. I've known him for a long time. …I can't imagine there'll be significant opposition."
"He would be a great choice," said Democratic Sen. Carl Levin, currently the committee's chairman.
Sen. John McCain, who will likely take over as chairman in January, also said he would support Carter. He said he expects a smooth confirmation process, but wants to put Carter through full questioning. Carter is "qualified" for the job, McCain said, but the confirmation hearings will likely center on the administration's strategy against the Islamic State rather than on Carter's background.
When he became deputy secretary in 2011, Carter was charged with overseeing military budget cuts, experience that will likely come in handy as the military faces another round of sequestration. He also was responsible for managing the Pentagon's 2.2 million employees. Previously, when he was assistant secretary of defense for international security policy under President Clinton, Carter played an active role in nuclear arms control issues.
Sen. Ted Cruz, who has suggested blocking executive nominees over Obama's use of executive action on immigration, said last week that he wouldn't stand in the way of a defense secretary successor because that position is vital to national security.
Carter has a background in academia in addition to his work in government. He was chair of Harvard's International and Global Affairs faculty and holds a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from Oxford University, where he studied as a Rhodes scholar.
Terrorism insurance deal close
House and Senate negotiators are closing in on a compromise plan to renew the terrorism-risk insurance program, a federal backstop to help businesses and other groups to continue obtaining coverage for damages in a catastrophic attack.
The measure has been a source of division on Capitol Hill for months, as a band of fiscal conservatives, led by House Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), has battled Democrats, some Republicans, and a host of industry groups over the government's role as an insurer of last resort. In the end, neither side of the fight got everything it wanted.
Initially enacted after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, the program is set to expire at the end of 2014.
An apparent compromise being finalized would continue the program for another six years, and raise the threshold at which the federal cost-sharing for insurance kicks in to $200 million in damages from a terrorist strike.
A Senate approach would maintain the existing $100 million threshold for another seven years, under a bill sponsored by Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) that passed 93-4 in June with overwhelming bipartisan support. In other words, if insurance losses incurred in a terrorist attack exceeded $100 million, the federal government would pay the balance of the claims.
But Hensarling and other House conservatives had been pushing a bill that would have raised the trigger from $100 million to $500 million.
The compromise of a $200 million threshold for six years taking shape could be attached to spending legislation anticipated next week to keep the government funded beyond Dec. 11.
Transportation in focus
Lone House GOPer comes out for gas tax increase
With gas prices dropping nationwide, some transportation advocates believe there is an opportunity to talk about the possibility of raising the federal gas tax, something that hasn't happened since 1993.
Supporters of a hike in the tax, which is used to fund federal transportation initiatives, got a small–albeit largely symbolic–boost recently when Rep. Tom Petri (R-WI) became the first GOP House member to co-sponsor legislation that would raise the gas tax.
Petri, who is retiring, said that while no one likes to raise taxes, raising the gas tax was the most responsible way to fund transportation spending.
The legislation that Petri co-sponsored is authored by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and would raise the gas tax by 15 cents over the next three years, and then increases according to inflation.
In the Senate, Bob Corker (R-TN) has come out in favor of a gas tax hike, and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) warned that the tax needs to be raised. But the overwhelming majority of Republicans in both chambers remain opposed to such a move.
Republicans aren't the only ones who oppose raising the gas tax. President Obama has repeatedly rejected the idea of a hike in the gas tax.
Louisiana: Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) is expected to be defeated by Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) in the Louisiana Senate runoff on Saturday December 5th. This week, Landrieu claimed the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee had "abandoned her."
Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) informed allies that he would not seek the Republican Presidential nomination in 2016. Portman's decision is a boon to Governor John Kasich (R-OH), who is said to be mulling a run.
Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) announced his intention to run for re-election to the Senate in 2016. Despite Paul's announcement, it is still widely expected that Paul will run for President despite a Kentucky law that bars a candidate from appearing on a ballot for more than one office.
A LOOK AHEAD
Tuesday, December 9th
9:30 am House Oversight and Government Reform Committee - Hearing, Full committee hearing on "Health Law Deceptions."
10:30 am House Energy and Commerce Committee - Hearing, Health Subcommittee hearing on "Setting Fiscal Priorities," focusing on fiscal challenges and opportunities for savings within the federal health care budget.
1:00 pm House Veterans' Affairs Committee - Hearing, Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs Subcommittee hearing on "Timeless Honor: Reviewing Current Operations of our National Cemeteries."
Wednesday, December 10th
9:30 am House Oversight and Government Reform Committee - Hearing, Energy Policy, Health Care, and Entitlements Subcommittee hearing on "Examining EPA's Management of the Renewable Fuel Standard Program."
10:00 am House Foreign Affairs Committee - Hearing, Full committee hearing on "Countering ISIS: Are We Making Progress?"
10:00 am House Science, Space, and Technology Committee - Hearing, Space Subcommittee hearing on "An Update on the Space Launch System and Orion: Monitoring the Development of the Nation's Deep Space Exploration Capabilities."
10:00 am House Select Committee on the Events Surrounding the 2012 Terrorist Attack in Benghazi - Hearing, Full committee hearing on "Reviewing Efforts to Secure U.S. Diplomatic Facilities and Personnel."
10:00 am House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee - Hearing, Aviation Subcommittee hearing on "U.S. Unmanned Aircraft Systems: Integration, Oversight, and Competitiveness."
10:00 am House Veterans' Affairs Committee - Hearing, Economic Opportunity Subcommittee hearing on "A Review of the Transition Assistance Program (TAP)."
10:00 am House Veterans' Affairs Committee - Hearing, Economic Opportunity Subcommittee hearing on "A Review of the Transition Assistance Program."
10:15 am House Energy and Commerce Committee - Hearing, Health Subcommittee hearing on "Examining FDA's Role in the Regulation of Genetically Modified Food Ingredients."
2:00 pm House Foreign Affairs Committee - Hearing, Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats Subcommittee hearing on "The United States as an Arctic Nation: Opportunities in the High North."
2:00 pm House Foreign Affairs Committee - Hearing, Asia and the Pacific Subcommittee and Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee joint hearing on "After the Withdrawal: The Way Forward in Afghanistan and Pakistan (Part III)."
2:00 pm House Foreign Affairs Committee and House Armed Services Committee - Hearing, House Foreign Affairs Committee Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade Subcommittee and House Armed Services Committee Strategic Forces Subcommittee joint hearing on "Russian Arms Control Cheating and the Administration's Responses."
2:00 pm House Judiciary Committee - Hearing, Immigration and Border Security Subcommittee hearing on "The Impact on Local Communities of the Release of Unaccompanied Minors and the Need for Consultation and Notification."
Thursday, December 11th
10:00 am House Veterans' Affairs Committee - Meeting, Full committee meeting to approve the Second Annual Activities Report for the 113th Congress.
10:00 am House Energy and Commerce Committee - Hearing, Energy and Power Subcommittee hearing on "The Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975: Are We Positioning America for Success in an Era of Energy Abundance?"
10:00 am House Veterans' Affairs Committee - Hearing, Full committee hearing on "Evaluating Federal and Community Efforts to Eliminate Veteran Homelessness."
Monday, December 8th
2:30 pm Senate Armed Services Committee - Hearing, Full committee hearing on the nominations of Robert Scher to be assistant Defense secretary for strategy, plans and capabilities; Elissa Slotkin to be assistant Defense secretary for international security affairs; David Berteau to be assistant Defense secretary for logistics and material readiness; and Alissa Starzak to be general counsel of the Department of the Army.
Tuesday, December 9th
10:00 am Senate Foreign Relations Committee - Hearing, International Operations and Organizations, Human Rights, Democracy and Global Women's Issues Subcommittee hearing on "ISIL's Reign of Terror: Confronting the Growing Humanitarian Crisis in Iraq and Syria."
10:00 am Senate Finance Committee - Hearing, Full committee hearing on "Social Security: Is a Key Foundation of Economic Security Working for Women?"
10:30 am Senate Judiciary Committee - Hearing, Crime and Terrorism Subcommittee hearing on "Campus Sexual Assault: the Roles and Responsibilities of Law Enforcement."
11:00 am Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee - Hearing, Housing, Transportation, and Community Development Subcommittee hearing on "Inequality, Opportunity, and the Housing Market."
2:30 pm Senate Judiciary Committee - Hearing, The Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights Subcommittee hearing on "The State of Civil and Human Rights in the United States."
Wednesday, December 10th
10:00 am Senate Judiciary Committee - Markup, Full committee markup to vote on pending executive nominations.
10:00 am Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee - Hearing, Full committee hearing on "The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC): Effective Enforcement and the Future of Derivatives Regulation."
10:00 am Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee - Hearing, Full committee hearing on "Cybersecurity: Enhancing Coordination to Protect the Financial Sector."
10:30 am Senate Foreign Relations Committee - Hearing, African Affairs Subcommittee hearing on "The Ebola Epidemic: The Keys to Success for the International Response."
2:30 pm Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee - Hearing, Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security Subcommittee hearing on "Passenger Rail: Investing in our Nation's Future."
2:30 pm Senate Judiciary Committee - Hearing, Full committee hearing on "Keeping Families Together: The President's Executive Action on Immigration and the Need to Pass Comprehensive Reform."
Thursday, December 11th
10:00 am Senate Judiciary Committee - Markup, Full committee markup of pending calendar business.
10:00 am Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee - Hearing, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee joint hearing on "Oversight of the Implications of the President's Executive Order on Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security."
WASHINGTON BY THE NUMBERS
$27,673 - Cost to purchase one set of the gifts listed in each verse of "The 12 Days of Christmas," according to the PNC Wealth Management Christmas Price Index. Buying all items each time they are mentioned would cost $116,273.
60 percent - Increase in online video streaming during the third quarter of 2014—compared with a 4-percent decline in traditional television viewing.
THEY SAID WHAT?
"When Obama first got elected, he should have let it all just drop.... Just let the country flatline. Let the auto industry die. Don't bail anybody out. In sports, that's what any new GM does. They make sure that the catastrophe is on the old management, and then they clean up. They don't try to save old management's mistakes." – Comedian Chris Rock (New York)
"A political action committee trying to raise money for a 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign is selling 'Ready for Hillary' champagne glasses and Christmas ornaments. Because if one thing improves the holidays, it's drinking mixed with politics." – Jimmy Fallon
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