CROmnibus passes House
On Thursday morning, House Republican leadership narrowly cleared a major hurdle in their race to keep the government open, winning a key procedural vote on a massive spending bill. Passage of the rule governing debate for the "CROmnibus" bill occurred by a razor-thin, 214-212, margin; it occurred only after leadership convinced two Republican no votes to switch their votes.
After recessing the House for several hours as they hunted for more support, GOP leaders finally called for a vote just after 9:00 p.m. The victory was earned by another razor-thin margin, 219 to 206, this time on the backs of 58 Democratic votes, despite opposition by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
The House will now likely pass a two-day spending resolution that will give the Senate time to consider the House-passed bill and keep the government open past the midnight deadline.
The White House gave the omnibus bill a key boost Thursday, announcing that the Obama administration supported its passage, despite "the inclusion of ideological and special interest riders" as well as the decision to offer only short-term funding for the Department of Homeland Security. That support from Obama made it easier for at least some congressional Democrats to back the measure.
Opposition to the bill has grown since it was unveiled on Tuesday night. Most of the opposition is driven by discontent that it does not directly attempt to block Obama's executive action, which will grant work visas to millions of undocumented immigrants living in the United States.
The $1 trillion dollar spending bill will keep most of the government funded through September of 2015, with the exception of the Department of Homeland Security, which will only be funded through February 27, 2015.
The spending bill's passage was complicated by opposition to the President's immigration executive order as well as, policy riders relating to women's health, the environment, healthcare, and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law.
Terrorism risk insurance extension passes House, likely to die in Senate
In the battle to avoid a government shutdown there were plenty of thorny issues for both chambers to wade through, but one issue in particular threatened to grind the entire effort to a halt: the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA).
TRIA was created in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks to provide a federal backstop to insurance claims that arise in the event of terrorist attacks. The battle over extending the program pitted Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer (D-NY) against House Finance Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX). The debate over the future of the program became so contentious that it threatened to bring down the bill to fund the government. As a result, TRIA was splintered off to be dealt with separately.
On Wednesday, after an agreement between Schumer and Hensarling was reached, the House passed a bill to extend the program through 2020 by a wide 417-7 margin. All seven no votes were from Republicans, even though many Democrats had objected to the inclusion of a provision that makes changes to the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul bill.
The bipartisan deal provides for a six-year reauthorization and doubled the damage threshold to $200 million.
Despite the overwhelming vote in the House, the extension is likely to die in the Senate.
Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) has pledged to object to the extension. His objection alone could kill the legislation because of the massive amount of work left to do in the Senate and the limited time left in this lame duck session.
Coburn not only has problems with the TRIA program itself, but also objects to the addition of another rider to create a federal bureaucracy that would streamline licensing for insurance producers: the National Association of Registered Agents and Brokers Reform Act.
Pension deal reached
Part of the more than $1 trillion dollar CROmnibus spending bill is a provision that would allow multi employer pension plans to cut the benefits of current retirees and raise premiums in order to save the plan from insolvency.
Payments to backstop these so-called multiemployer pension plans have run up to hundreds of millions of dollars in the last decade. The federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp, which serves as the backstop to these plans, has warned it may run out of funds unless Congress implements reforms.
As many as 200 multiemployer plans covering 1.5 million workers are in danger of running out of money over the next two decades. Half of those are thought to be in such bad shape that they could seek pension reductions for retirees in the near future.
The provision is the result of a bipartisan deal struck by Rep. George Miller (D-CA) and Rep. John Kline (R-MN). The deal was reluctantly supported by some unions, but opposed by many Democrats.
Scientists vs. Inhofe
Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) is an outspoken critic of much of the modern environmental movement; he is also the incoming Chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and the fireworks have already begun.
A group of 48 scientists, science writers, and other experts, including popular educator Bill Nye, issued a statement last week taking the media to task for using the phrase "climate skeptic," saying that the word "denier" is more accurate. In the statement, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry disapprovingly cites a November piece in The New York Times that described GOP Sen. James Inhofe, who calls global warming a "hoax," as a "prominent skeptic of climate change."
The science advocacy group says that the terms "skeptic" and "denier" have been wrongly conflated in the press. "Proper skepticism promotes scientific inquiry, critical investigation, and the use of reason in examining controversial and extraordinary claims. It is foundational to the scientific method. Denial, on the other hand, is the a priori rejection of ideas without objective consideration," writes the group, which also includes Nobel Prize winner Harold Kroto and Ann Druyan, who helped create both Cosmos TV series and was the wife of the late Carl Sagan.
The letter arrives at a time when political battles over climate change policy are escalating. One of the biggest fights will come when ascendant Capitol Hill Republicans launch efforts to thwart Obama administration greenhouse-gas regulations.
The overwhelming view of scientists is that greenhouse-gas emissions from burning fossil fuels and other human activities are the main driver of global warming. For instance, the American Meteorological Society states: "It is clear from extensive scientific evidence that the dominant cause of the rapid change in climate of the past half century is human-induced increases in the amount of atmospheric greenhouse gases."
The December 5 statement from Nye and the others says the distinction between "skeptic" and "denier" is important in political debates. "As scientific skeptics, we are well aware of political efforts to undermine climate science by those who deny reality but do not engage in scientific research or consider evidence that their deeply held opinions are wrong. The most appropriate word to describe the behavior of those individuals is 'denial,'" the science experts write.
"Not all individuals who call themselves climate change skeptics are deniers. But virtually all deniers have falsely branded themselves as skeptics. By perpetrating this misnomer, journalists have granted undeserved credibility to those who reject science and scientific inquiry," the statement adds.
Click Here to view the Washington Business Brief video, “The Not so Lame, Lame Duck.”
Transportation in focus
T&I considers drones
This week, the House Transportation and Infrastructure's Aviation subcommittee held a hearing on drone integration. The subcommittee heard testimony from Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) officials, the Department of Transportation, and the Government Accountability Office, among others.
The hearing comes as the FAA is expected to release its much anticipated regulations on drones sometime soon. The FAA has been developing rules for drones since Congress set a deadline of September 2015. The agency set up six experimental sites across the country to learn more about how they operate.
The key safety element is to prevent drones from colliding with other aircraft or with people on the ground. That means ensuring ways for other aircraft to detect and avoid drones, and for drones to land safely if they lose contact with remote pilots.
This week, four companies won FAA approval to fly commercial drones to conduct aerial surveys, monitor construction sites, and inspect oil flare stacks.
Louisiana: Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) notched a commanding victory over Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) in a December 5 runoff, capturing 56 percent of the vote over the three-term incumbent and ousting the chamber’s last remaining Democrat from the Deep South.
A LOOK AHEAD
WASHINGTON BY THE NUMBERS
30 - Number of senators remaining in the 114th Congress who voted for the Affordable Care Act in 2009, following 19 retirements or resignations, eight electoral defeats, and three deaths in office.
THEY SAID WHAT?
"Oh Lord, no." -- Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., asked whether she would run again for public office, though she later clarified that it was not entirely out of the question (Politico)
"Time magazine named their person of the year today. It was not a member of Congress." – Jimmy Kimmel
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