December 17, 2012

THE WEEK AHEAD

Legislative Focus: Fiscal Cliff, Sandy Supplemental, Suspension Measures, Newtown, CT

As lawmakers continue to negotiate a compromise to avoid the fiscal cliff, the House will focus on numerous suspension measures, while the Senate is expected to spend the majority of the week on the Hurricane Sandy supplemental package. Conferees from both chambers also continue work on the FY 2013 Department of Defense authorization bill (H.R. 4310).

The Senate convened at 2:00 P.M. and is scheduled to begin the week debating a supplemental spending bill (H.R. 1) to provide disaster relief funds to states affected by Hurricane Sandy. The Obama administration requested the $60.4 billion legislation, which has been agreed to by Senate appropriators. The Senate majority and minority leaders last week reached an agreement to avoid a cloture vote on the measure.

The Senate will also consider two judicial nominations: the nomination of Fernando Olguin to be a U.S. district judge for the Central District of California and Thomas Durkin to be a U.S. district judge for the Northern District of Illinois.

The House convened at 2:00 P.M. and is set to consider several measures under suspension of the rules, including several bills out of the House Natural Resources Committee, as well as a bill (H.R. 6504) that would amend the Small Business Investment Act of 1958. The House could also take up the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) conference report. House conferees were appointed December 13. 

Both the House and the Senate also are expected to consider a resolution regarding the Dec. 14 mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. 



KEY HEARINGS & MARKUPS

Banking, Housing & Urban Affairs: The Securities, Insurance and Investment Subcommittee of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee will hold a hearing titled “Computerized Trading Venues: What Should the Rules of the Road Be?”
Tuesday, December 18 at 9:30 a.m., 538 Dirksen Building.

Judiciary:  The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing titled “The State of the Right to Vote After the 2012 Election.” 
Wednesday, December 19 at 10:00 a.m., 226 Dirksen Building.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will mark up pending legislation and vote on pending nominations. Agenda: S. 1560- A bill to enhance access to controlled substances for residents of institutional long-term care facilities, and for other purposes. 
Thursday, December 20 at 10:00 a.m., 226 Dirksen Building.

Education & the Workforce:  The Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions Subcommittee of the House Education and the Workforce Committee will hold a hearing titled “Challenges Facing Multiemployer Pension Plans: Evaluating PBGC’s [Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation] Insurance Program and Financial Outlook.” 
Wednesday, December 19 at 10:00 a.m., 2175 Rayburn Building.


HOUSE PANEL SEEKS ANSWERS ON ACA EXCHANGES AND MEDICAID EXPANSION

Last Thursday, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health held a hearing to discuss the state and federal implementation of health insurance exchanges and Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The hearing sought to address a key set of questions around implementation readiness. 

On Monday, the Administration released a bulletin in response to the questions asked on behalf of states immediately after the Supreme Court decision on ACA. The bulletin spells out the Administration’s likely approach and allows states to comment in key areas where regulatory guidance has not been provided.



FISCAL CLIFF TALKS CONTINUE

The past week brought little public progress in the fiscal cliff talks.  The House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) seemed to budge a little on revenues, floating the possibility of raising taxes on those making more than $1 million per year in exchange for greater reforms of entitlement programs.  The White House has rejected the Speaker’s latest offer, a sign that the talks are continuing.

Little is known publically about the details of the talks, which will likely continue past Christmas and into the last week of the year.  Congressional leaders have told their members to expect a call to return to the Capitol that week.


SENATE PANEL UPDATED ON DUALS DEMONSTRATION PROJECTS

Last Thursday, the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing to discuss progress being made toward federal efforts to improve care and reduce costs associated with care for dual eligible beneficiaries—those eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid. The hearing was a follow up to a hearing held last year on a proposal to test new ways to provide health care to those eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid.



REPORT INDICATES U.S. TEACHER PENSION SYSTEMS ARE $390 BILLION IN DEBT

The National Council on Teacher Quality released a comprehensive teacher pension report, No One Benefits, which found that teacher pension systems in the U.S. are $390 billion in debt. The report found that ten states have teacher pension systems that are considered to be adequately funded. Instead of basing retirement eligibility on age, 38 states have retirement eligibility rules for teachers based on years of service. 

In an effort to curb unsustainable pension systems, 15 states have adopted rules requiring teachers to wait for ten years before they can vest in their pension plans. The report recommends comprehensive reforms of teacher pensions, including that teachers vest no later than in their third year of employment and that state benefit formulas provide incentives for teachers to continue working until conventional retirement ages.



SENATE RELEASES DISASTER SUPPLEMENTAL BILL
 
Last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee released a draft Disaster Assistance Supplemental bill to aid communities that were affected by Superstorm Sandy in October. The bill requests $60.4 billion in emergency spending, equal to the Administration’s request, and includes $11.5 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Disaster Relief Fund. 

In addition, the bill contains several provisions amending the Stafford Act intended to streamline state and local recovery efforts, such as amending FEMA’s Public Assistance program requirements to expedite rebuilding that has been well planned and includes mitigation measures for future disasters and relieving certain administrative burdens for very small projects. 

The bill also contains a provision that would allow federally-recognized tribes to request disaster assistance directly from the federal government. Under current federal law, tribes are required to request disaster assistance through the state. A similar provision was included in H.R. 2903, the FEMA Reauthorization Act, which passed the House in September. 



FIRSTNET HOLDS SECOND BOARD OF DIRECTORS MEETING

The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) Board of Directors, which was created to oversee the development and implementation of the nationwide public safety broadband network, held its second public meeting last week. The Board began by considering and adopting several resolutions related to the organizational structure of FirstNet, including a resolution outlining the roles and responsibilities of the Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC). The PSAC resolution, which was agreed to by voice vote, is intended to provide a basic framework of how FirstNet and the PSAC will interact with each other and how certain issues will be assigned to the committee. 

In addition to the resolutions, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) provided a summary of the feedback received from the Notice of Inquiry on FirstNet’s Conceptual Architecture Design. NTIA received feedback from 133 respondents, including state and local governments and public safety entities, the majority of which cited the lack of specific details in FirstNet’s proposal and the need for FirstNet to leverage existing state and commercial infrastructure during network build-out. FirstNet Chairman Sam Ginn acknowledged that FirstNet’s intent is to pursue an architecture that utilizes national standardization with local control and management. 

NTIA Board members also heard presentations regarding FirstNet’s ongoing outreach efforts with state and local stakeholders, including jurisdictions awarded Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) grants and future regional meetings with state representatives. The next meeting of the FirstNet Board of Directors will be on February 12, 2013, in Boulder, Colorado.