Monday, December 5, 2011

THE WEEK AHEAD

Legislative Focus: Federal Regulations, Farm Dust, Judicial Nominations, Year-End Spending Measures

The House is expected to continue work on deregulation legislation while the Senate is set to work on judicial nominations and may turn to a balanced budget amendment and appropriations.

Following last week’s votes on regulatory reform bills (H.R. 527 and H.R. 3010), the House is set to take up the Regulations from the Executive In Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act (H.R. 10). The bill would require a vote in Congress before any regulation issued by the executive branch with an economic impact of more than $100 million could go into effect. The measure was reported out of the House Judiciary Committee November 10 and out of the House Rules Committee November 18. The House Rules Committee met December 1 to approve a structured rule for floor debate, and the measure could be considered by the full House early as Wednesday.

The HOUSE convened at 2:00 p.m. today for legislative business and to take up 8 measures under suspension of the rules. Tuesday, and for the remainder of the week, the House will take up 10 measures under suspension of the rules and two measures subject to a rule.

The measures under suspension of the rules this week include a bill (H.R. 2360) related to the production of oil and gas from the Outer Continental Shelf and legislation (H.R. 1021) that would prevent the termination of the temporary office of bankruptcy judges in certain judicial districts. In addition, the House is expected to take up the Farm Dust Regulation Prevention Act (H.R. 1633), which would prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from proposing changes to the national ambient air quality standards for one year and would allow states and localities, rather than EPA, to regulate particulates termed “nuisance dust”.

The SENATE convened at 2:00 p.m. today and is expected to spend the week on several judicial nominations, with votes set to begin today at 5:30 p.m.

Throughout the week, Senate leadership is expected to continue behind-the-scenes negotiations on legislation regarding payroll tax, unemployment insurance, and votes on the remaining fiscal year 2012 appropriations legislation.  The Senate could also take up a balanced budget amendment.


KEY HEARINGS & MARKUPS

Banking, Housing & Urban Affairs: The Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee will hold a hearing titled “Continued Oversight of the Implementation of the Wall Street Reform Act”
Tuesday, December 6 at 10:00 a.m., 538 Dirksen Building

The Financial Institutions and Consumer Protection Subcommittee of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on enhanced supervision, focusing on a new regime for regulating large, complex financial institutions
Wednesday, December 7 at 2:00 p.m., 538 Dirksen Building

Energy & Natural Resources: The Water and Power Subcommittee of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on opportunities and challenges to address domestic and global water supply issues
Thursday, December 8 at 2:30 p.m., 366 Dirksen Building

Health, Education, Labor & Pensions: The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will hold a hearing titled “Tales from the Unemployment Line: Barriers Facing the Long-Term Unemployed”
Thursday, December 8 at 9:45 a.m., 106 Dirksen Building

Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs: The Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies Subcommittee of the House Homeland Security Committee will hold a hearing on a draft Cybersecurity legislative proposal
Tuesday, December 6 at 10:00 a.m., 311 Cannon Building

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and the House Homeland Security Committee will hold a hearing titled “Homegrown Terrorism: The Threat to Military Communities Inside the United States”
Wednesday, December 7 at 9:30 a.m., H-210 Capitol Visitors Center

Judiciary: The Immigration Policy and Enforcement Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing titled “Visa Waiver Program Oversight: Risks and Benefits of the Program”
Wednesday, December 7 at 1:00 p.m., 2141 Rayburn Building

Natural Resources: The House Natural Resources Committee will hold an oversight hearing titled “The Endangered Species Act: How Litigation is Costing Jobs and Impeding True Recovery Efforts”
Tuesday, December 6 at 10:00 a.m., 1324 Longworth Building

Oversight & Government Reform: The Government Organization, Efficiency and Financial Management Subcommittee of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hold a hearing titled “A Medicaid Fraud Victim Speaks Out: What’s Going Wrong and Why?”
Wednesday, December 7 at 10:00 a.m., 2154 Rayburn Building

Transportation & Infrastructure: The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will hold a hearing titled “The Federal Railroad Administration’s High Speed Intercity Rail Program: Mistakes and Lessons Learned”
Tuesday, December 6 at 11:00 a.m., 2167 Rayburn Building


SENATE PASSES DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION BILL

The Senate passed S. 1867, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, late last week by a vote of 93-7 after reaching a compromise on terrorist detainee provisions that the President had threatened to veto.

Included in the bill were several provisions of interest to states including codification of the role of a National Guard officer as a Dual Status Commander during the response to a disaster and providing a seat for the National Guard on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The House and Senate must now resolve differences in their respective bills before these provisions can become law.


HOUSE SUBCOMMITTEE PASSES D BLOCK LEGISLATION

The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology passed the Jumpstarting Opportunity with Broadband Spectrum Act of 2011 on Thursday by a vote of 17-6. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), would reallocate the D block of spectrum to public safety and help fund the development of the nation’s first interoperable public safety broadband network through the proceeds of incentive auctions of other spectrum. In addition to helping fund the network, the incentive auctions would help raise an estimated $15 billion for deficit reduction. During the markup, Rep. Eshoo (D-Calif.) offered the text of a bill introduced on Tuesday by several Democratic members of the Committee, entitled the Wireless Innovation and Public Safety Act, as a substitute amendment. This legislation is very similar to the bipartisan Senate legislation that passed the Senate Commerce Committee in June. Rep. Eshoo’s substitute amendment was defeated, however, five additional amendments were approved by voice vote, including an amendment by Reps. Eshoo and Shimkus (R-Ill.) to create a new grant program to facilitate the development of Next Generation 9-1-1 systems and prohibit states from diverting fees collected to support 9-1-1 systems for other purposes. A full committee markup is expected soon. This legislation and the markup will be discussed in greater detail on Monday immediately following the Washington Representatives meetin


EPA PROPOSES CLEAN AIR STANDARDS FOR BOILERS AND INCINERATORS

On December 2, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed new standards under the Clean Air Act for boilers and certain incinerators. In February, EPA had finalized new standards to control toxic air emissions from industrial boilers and incinerators.

The Agency also finalized the Non-Hazardous Secondary Materials (NMSM) rule which identified which materials, including biomass, are or are not solid wastes when burned in combustion units. In May 2011, the EPA announced a reconsideration process through which it would propose changes to the rules it had just finalized. The rules stem from EPA’s authority under sections 112 and 129 of the Clean Air Act to set technology-based standards for toxic air pollutants. There are 1.5 million boilers in the United States of which 86% are not affected by the rule because they burn clean natural gas and emit little pollution. EPA’s new proposed rule affects largely boilers at refineries, chemical plants and other industrial facilities. The compliance requirements range from routine maintenance and tune-ups to making necessary changes to come into compliance. The Agency is proposing subcategories to account for light and heavy industrial liquids, setting new limits for Particulate Matter and carbon monoxide and replacing numeric dioxin standards with work practice standards. The Agency also clarifies what types of secondary materials are considered non-waste fuels and thus given greater flexibility under the Act. Existing boilers will have three years to comply with the new standards and can request a one year extension; existing incinerators will have three years from approval of a state plan or five years from the rule’s finalization. The rules are open for public comment for 60 days from their publication in the federal register. For more information on the rule, go to:
http://www.epa.gov/airquality/combustion.


NATIONAL UNEMPLOYMENT RATE DROPS TO 8.6%

The Department of Labor reported this morning that the nation’s unemployment rate fell last month to 8.6%; down from 9% in October. Employers added 120,000 jobs last month and the previous two months were revised up to show that 72,000 more jobs added. The new rate is the lowest level in more than two and a half years. However, the report shows that roughly 315,000 people gave up looking for work and were no longer counted as unemployed.


HOUSE JUDICIARY EXAMINES REMOTE SALES TAX ISSSUEYesterday, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing to discuss the multiple bills that have been introduced to give states the authority to require remote vendors to collect sales taxes. Witnesses at the hearing included a small businessman from Michigan; representatives from eBay, Amazon and Overstock.com; a legislator from Texas; and the head of the Streamlined Sales Tax Governing Board.  Most of the testimony focused on the inequity created by past Supreme Court cases which have kept states from requiring remote vendors to collect and remit sales taxes like in-state brick and mortar stores.  The disparity means that states cannot effectively collect more than $20 billion annually on remote sales.  The witnesses tended to favor a grant of authority to states with the exception of Overstock.com who sees the compliance burden as too high. Several members focused their questions on the size of a potential small business exception. The National Governors Association submitted a statement for the record which can be found here.