December 16, 2013

THE WEEK AHEAD

Legislative Focus:  Senate Wrap-up of Nominations, Budget Deal and Defense Authorization

With the House already in recess, the Senate returns this week to wrap up several nominations and consider the bipartisan budget deal and the defense authorization bill.

The Senate meets at 3:00 p.m. EST with votes expected to begin at 5:30 p.m

Today the Senate is expected to vote on the nomination of Anne Patterson to be Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs and on cloture for the nomination of Jeh Johnson to be the next Secretary of Homeland Security. Should cloture be invoked, the Senate will immediately proceed to vote on his confirmation. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) could file additional cloture motions on other pending nominations, such as Janet Yellen to be chairman of the Federal Reserve.

On Sunday, Reid filed cloture on both the bipartisan budget deal (H.J.Res. 59) and the compromise National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 3304) that were both passed by the House last Thursday. Reid indicated that Senate consideration on the budget deal would likely begin on Tuesday followed by the defense bill on Wednesday. The Senate may end the week with the Yellen confirmation before adjourning for the year.

The House convened a pro forma session at 11:00 a.m. The House has adjourned for the year and is scheduled to reconvene on Tuesday, January 7th.


KEY HEARINGS & MARKUPS

Banking, Housing & Urban Affairs:  The Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee will hold a series of hearings on the nomination of Arun M. Kumar to be Assistant Secretary of Commerce;
Tuesday, December 17th at 10:00 a.m. EST, 538 Dirksen Building.

Environment and Public Works:  The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a hearing on Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Commerce and Department of Interior nominations;
Tuesday, December 17th at 2:30 p.m. EST, 406 Dirksen Building.

Energy & Natural Resources:  The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing to consider nominations to the Departments of Energy and the Interior;
Tuesday, December 17th at 10:00 a.m. EST, 366 Dirksen Building.

Finance:  The Social Security, Pensions and Family Policy Subcommittee of the Senate Finance Committee will hold a hearing titled “The Role of Social Security, Defined Benefits and Private Retirement Accounts in the Face of the Retirement Crisis;”
Wednesday, December 18th at 10:00 a.m. EST, 215 Dirksen Building.

Health, Education, Labor and Pensions:  The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will hold a markup to consider a newborn screening bill and poison control legislation, as well as several nominations;
Wednesday, December 18th at 10:00 a.m. EST, 430 Dirksen Building.

Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs:  The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a markup of postal overhaul legislation and a cybersecurity bill;
Wednesday, December 18th at 10:00 a.m. EST, 342 Dirksen Building.

Judiciary:  The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing titled “Protecting Small Businesses and Promoting Innovation by Limiting Patent Troll Abuse;”
Wednesday, December 17th at 10:00 a.m. EST, 226 Dirksen Building.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing titled “The Federal Arbitration Act and Access to Justice: Will Recent Supreme Court Decisions Undermine the Rights of Consumers, Workers, and Small Businesses?”
Tuesday, December 17th at 2:30 p.m. EST, 226 Dirksen Building.

Small Business:  The Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee will hold a hearing to examine small business innovation research and technology;
Wednesday, December 18th at 2:00 p.m. EST, 428A Russell Building.

Special Aging Committee:  The Senate Special Aging Committee will hold a hearing titled “The Future of Long-Term Care Policy: Continuing the Conversation;”
Wednesday, December 18th at 2:15 p.m. EST, 562 Dirksen Building.



HOUSE PASSES BUDGET DEAL

   
Last week, the House passed the latest budget deal 332-94. The bill now moves to the Senate where opposition is mounting, including from Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). The deal, which raises spending limits by $62 billion while also reducing the deficit, is likely to be taken up by the Senate as early as Monday evening. The measure faces multiple cloture votes that will require the support of 60 senators to pass. If the deal is approved, appropriators are likely to put together an omnibus appropriations measure in January to specify spending for Fiscal Year 2014. The current continuing resolution is set to expire January 15, 2014.



HOUSE PASSES DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION BILL

 
Also last week, the House passed the Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), H.R. 3304, by a vote of 350-69. The bill authorizes a total of $625.1 billion in discretionary funding which is $3.1 billion less than the FY 2013 enacted level. National Guard-related provisions in the bill include authorization for personnel – $354,200 for the Army National Guard and $105,400 for the Air National Guard – and military construction funding of $316 million for the Army Guard and $120 million for the Air Guard. 

The bill also includes policy language addressing governors’ priority of strengthening the National Guard’s cybersecurity capabilities. Section 933 of the bill requires the Department of Defense to consider National Guard capabilities in its evaluation of cybersecurity operations department-wide. This evaluation must include engagement with governors through the Council of Governors to address states’ cybersecurity needs and an assessment of the Guard’s ability to support cyber missions under its state and federal authorities. 

H.R. 3304 is a compromise package agreed to by Armed Services committee leadership late last week in an effort to pass an authorization bill before both chambers adjourn for the holidays. The Senate is expected to consider the bill next week. Bill text and report language may be found here



HOUSE PASSES SHORT-TERM FARM BILL EXTENSION; SENATE CONSIDERATION UNLIKELY

   
Thursday night, the House passed H.R. 3695 by voice vote, which extends the current Farm Bill through January 31, 2014. The bill, sponsored by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK), faces an uncertain future in the Senate, as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said earlier this week that the Senate would not take up the temporary extension. Although the House has adjourned for holiday recess, leadership of the Farm Bill conference will continue to meet next week in order to reconcile differences over crop subsidy calculations and the size of cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The negotiators goal is having a final deal in place that can be voted on when the House and Senate return to Washington the week of January 6, 2014. 



HOUSE PASSES BILL REQUIRING REPORTING ON DEATHS IN CUSTODY
  
On Thursday, the House, by voice vote, passed H.R. 1447, a bill requiring state law enforcement to report on the deaths of individuals in custody. The bill requires state law enforcement agencies to provide information to the Department of Justice on the death of any individual in custody in local jails or state prisons after their arrest, or face up to a 10 percent reduction in certain federal criminal justice grant funding. The bill is an update to a similar law which lapsed in 2006 and also extends the reporting requirements to federal law enforcement agencies. 



SENATE FINANCE COMMITTEE APPROVES MENTAL HEALTH AMENDMENT
  
Last week, during markup of a bill to repeal the Medicare Sustainable Growth Rate, the Senate Finance Committee adopted an amendment sponsored by Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) that would establish a 10-state demonstration to promote access to community mental health services. Under the demonstration, states would have to certify that community mental health providers meet new criteria and offer specific behavioral health services. For those services, providers would receive Medicaid reimbursement based on the Prospective Payment System for Federally Qualified Community Health Centers. Those services would also be eligible for the same enhanced federal match rate provided under the Children’s Health Insurance Program. 



HHS ANNOUNCES ONE-MONTH EXTENSION OF HIGH-RISK POOLS
 
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that individuals currently enrolled in the federal Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan (PCIP) operating in 39 states can extend their coverage through January 31, 2014, if they have not yet signed up for another health insurance plan. The Affordable Care Act established the PCIP for people with pre-existing conditions as a bridge to the health insurance exchanges. The program, which was originally set to expire by the end of 2013, is administered by either the state or the federal government. For state-by-state PCIP enrollment and administration information, click here



HHS ANNOUNCES NEW CHILD CARE RESOURCES FOR STATES, TERRITORIES

On Friday the Administration for Children and Families Office of Child Care announced a new online tool to help states and territories develop and align early childhood program standards for licensing, quality rating and improvement systems, and/or pre-kindergarten programs. The National Program Standards Crosswalk Tool is an online database that allows users to search and compare national standards for early childhood programs such as Head Start. Program standards describe the structure and practices of early care and education settings that positively impact children’s learning and development. 



HOUSE PASSES BILL TO REVIEW STATE CHILD ABUSE LAWS
 
On Monday the House passed a bill requiring the Department of Justice to review states’ child abuse laws and determine if states provide enhanced penalties in the most egregious cases. The Kilah Davenport Child Protection Act of 2013, H.R. 3267, requires the U.S. Attorney General to publish and submit a report to Congress within six months on the penalties for child abuse in all 50 states, territories and the District of Columbia and determine if states apply additional penalties when the victim has suffered serious or permanent injury. The bill also adds domestic assault against children to the list of crimes eligible for enhanced federal penalties for repeat offenders when the offense occurs on federal property or tribal lands. The bill passed by voice vote under suspension of the rules. 



HOUSE REAUTHORIZES VETERANS PROGRAMS

The House passed two veterans-related bills under suspension of the rules – one extending a series of expiring veterans’ programs and the other authorizing leases for medical facilities in 19 states. The amended VA Expiring Authorities Extension Act, H.R. 1402, reauthorizes U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) programs providing veterans with transportation to and from VA facilities; certain nursing home care; rehabilitation and mental health treatment; housing for the homeless; and support to sports-related activities for the disabled such as the Paralympics. 

The Authorize VA Medical Facility Leases Act, H.R. 3521, authorizes $237 million in Fiscal Year 2014 for VA leases at 27 major medical facilities in 19 states. Federal law requires Congress to authorize leases for VA medical facilities over $1 million and the bill includes new reporting requirements related to the VA’s administration and budgeting for these leases.