|MONDAY, MARCH 15, 2010|
THE WEEK AHEAD
The SENATE convened at 2:00 p.m. today to consider the HIRE Act. Tuesday, and for the balance of the week, the Senate is tentatively scheduled to take up the FAA reauthorization.
The HIRE Act, which the Senate initially passed February 24 on a vote of 70-28, would extend existing highway programs through the end of the year and expand the offering of “Build America Bonds” to fund state and local infrastructure projects. The legislation also includes $13 billion in tax cuts aimed at encouraging businesses to hire new workers. A cloture vote is scheduled to occur March 15 at 5:30 p.m. If cloture is invoked, a final vote on the legislation could occur as early as March 16.
Once the Senate completes work on the HIRE Act, it will likely continue consideration of the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act (H.R. 1586). The Senate began consideration of the $34 billion reauthorization legislation March 10, but was unable to finish work on it during the March 8 week. The FAA reauthorization bill includes a provision that would mandate that the FAA create new rules for pilot flight time maximums and rest requirements. Several amendments to the bill are pending, including an amendment that would place a moratorium on earmarks in fiscal years 2010 and 2011.
The HOUSE convened at 2:00 p.m. today to consider six measures under suspension of the rules. Tuesday, and for the balance of the week, the House is tentatively scheduled to consider an additional 17 measures under suspension of the rules as well as the health care reform measure and FAA reauthorization.
The House this week is expected to consider the Senate-passed health care reform legislation, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (H.R. 3590) as the first step of a two-step strategy to complete the legislation. The House Budget Committee met this afternoon to mark up the Reconciliation Act of 2010, which is the second step in the process. House leadership is hopeful that a vote on the Senate Health reform bill can be taken as early as March 16. Once the Budget Committee completes its work, a vote on the reconciliation package could come as soon as March 18.
The House schedule also includes a number of lands and government operation bills, including bills to simplify language in government documents, to put Congressional Budget Office estimates in a separate section of the Congressional Record, and to require lawmakers to return unused allowances for deficit or debt reduction.
KEY HEARINGS & MARKUPS
Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Insurance Subcommittee of the
Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will hold a
hearing titled “Financial Services and Products: The Role of the Federal
Trade Commission in Protecting Consumers, Part II.”
:The House Budget Committee will mark up the Reconciliation Act of 2010.
ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES:
The Water and Power Subcommittee of the Senate Energy and Natural
Resources Committee will hold a hearing on the Bureau of Reclamation’s
implementation of the SECURE Water Act, (Title 9501 of PL 111-11) and
the Bureau of Reclamation’s Water Conservation Initiative which includes
the Challenge Grant Program, the Basin Study Program and the Title XVI
National Parks Subcommittee of the Senate Energy and
Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on parks, trails, and
heritage sites legislation.
The House Energy and Environment Subcommittee of the
House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing titled “HomeStar:
Job Creation Through Home Energy Retrofits."
ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS: The
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a hearing on the
Government Accountability Office’s investigation of EPA’s efforts to
protect children’s health.
The Senate Environment an public Works Committee will
hold a hearing on mobility and congestion in urban and rural America.
The House Select Energy Indolence and Global Warming
Committee will hold a hearing titled “Clearing the Smoke: Black Carbon
EDUCATION AND LABOR:
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
Committee will hold a hearing on the reauthorization of the Elementary
and Secondary Education Act.
The House Workforce Protections
Subcommittee of the House Education and Labor Committee will hold a
hearing on legislation that would revise penalties under the
Occupational Safety and Health Act.
The House Education and Labor
Committee will hold a hearing on the reauthorization of the Elementary
and Secondary Education Act.
The House Early Childhood,
Elementary and Secondary Education Subcommittee of the House Education
and Labor Committee will hold a hearing titled “Elementary and Secondary
Education Act Reauthorization: Addressing the Needs of Diverse
The House Financial
Services Committee bill hold a hearing titled “Examining the Link
Between Fed Bank Supervision and Monetary Policy."
The House Financial Services Committee bill hold a
hearing titled “The Administration’s Proposal to Revitalize Severely
Distressed Public and Assisted Housing: The Choice Neighborhoods
HOMELAND SECURITY AND GOVERNMENTAL AFFAIRS :
:The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a series of hearings titled “The Lessons and Implications of the Christmas Day Attack."
The House Emergency Communications,
Preparedness, and Response Subcommittee of the House Homeland Security
Committee will hold a hearing titled “Ensuring Strong FEMA Regional
Offices: An Examination of Resources and Responsibilities."
The House Emerging Threats, Cybersecurity, and
Science and Technology Subcommittee of the House Homeland Security
Committee will mark up legislation that would authorize programs of the
Directorate of Science and Technology of the Department of Homeland
Security for FY 2011 and 2012.
The House Intelligence, Information Sharing and
Terrorism Risk Assessment Subcommittee of the House Homeland Security
Committee will hold a hearing titled “Working with Communities to
Disrupt Terrorist Plots."
The House Transportation Security and
Infrastructure Protection Subcommittee of the House Homeland Security
Committee will hold a hearing titled “An Assessment of Checkpoint
Security: Are Our Airports Keeping Passengers Safe"
JUDICIARY:The House Administrative Oversight and the Courts Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing titled “Could Bankruptcy Reform Help Preserve Small Business Jobs?”
HEALTH CARE :
:The Senate Special Aging Committee will hold a hearing on how the Medicare Part D program rising drug prices affect seniors.
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY: The
House Research and Science Education Subcommittee of the House Science
and Technology Committee will hold a hearing on broadening participation
in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education.
The House Science and Technology Committee will hold a
hearing on the role of the U.S. government in spurring innovation in
OUSTING EARMARKS: NEW DIVIDE IN CONGRESS
Decisions by both parties in the House to "crack down" on earmarks this year have changed the landscape for the appropriations season. Following a Democratic Caucus decision to no longer approve earmarks directed to for-profit organizations, House Republicans announced that they would forego all earmarks for the year. Because Senators have not followed suit, the Senate will have an enhanced "power of the purse" this year as the appropriations bills move forward.
Critics both on and off the hill have noted that the decision to suspend certain earmarks by the House Democrats, and all earmarks by House Republicans cedes power to the Senate. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-HI) has "scoffed" at the House bans and has indicated that the Senate has little interest in changing their ways.
Although a handful of senators have pushed for more restrictive earmarking, Senate leaders from both parties have argued that it is the constitutional job of Congress - not the executive branch - to dictate where money is spent in the states.
Since earmarks are most often "carve-outs" from programmatic funding, any reduction in earmarks will not likely reduce overall spending; rather, it will allow Departments in the Obama Administration to determine how the money should be best spent through competitive grant offerings.
TRUST AND THE BATTLE ON HEALTH CARE
This past week will be marked by a final push for an historic health care bill in which Democratic leaders will be whipping votes and gearing up for a final hour, down-to-the-wire vote.
House Democrats will be forced to take a leap of faith in the process of passing a Senate health care bill, passed on Christmas Eve, that includes carve-outs such as the “Cornhusker Kickback” and the “Louisiana Purchase,” which, since initial passage in the Senate, have been viewed as largely unpopular appeasements for key senators in the pursuit of 60 votes.
Now that Senate Democrats have lost their 60-vote majority, the House is unable to make amendments to the "flawed" Senate bill, as any amendments would require another Senate vote of approval, which seems impossible without a supermajority.
House Democrats instead must rely on the second step: using the budget reconciliation process (more below) to "fix" the flaws in the Senate bill after it's been signed into law. Some House Members worry the Senate won’t be able to incorporate the agreed-upon changes to their bill which have been brokered over months of intense negotiations between party leaders in the two chambers. Additionally, the House does not feel comfortable casting votes for a bill they largely do not like on the faith that their home-state colleagues will be able to acquire enough votes to correct their issues in reconciliation.
Most Americans have never heard of the little-known legislative procedure called "reconciliation," but it is taking center stage this week as the Congressional Democrats' best hope to end the stalemate over health care reform. Reconciliation is a fast-track legislative process — specifically designed to reduce deficits — that cannot be blocked or filibustered. Congress created the procedure in 1974, amid concerns that legislation cutting popular social programs like Medicare and Medicaid would never get the 60 votes necessary to break a filibuster. Early last year, Democrats began examining the possibility of passing the health care bill using reconciliation, which requires a simple 51-vote majority.
While a simple majority vote to pass reconciliation may seem to be a foregone conclusion in a 59-41 Senate, speculation abounds that Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid may have a tougher time receiving the 51-votes needed to make changes during the process.
Realizing the sensitivity involved in the matter, President Obama has not only postponed a scheduled trip to Asia in attempt to monitor the health care bill’s activity, but he also has been trying to assuage key House Democrats to have faith in their counterparts in the Senate.
Although most Democrats are learning to swallow their concerns under the realization that this may be their last and best chance to pass the legislation, Democratic leaders in the House are reportedly still working around the clock to gather the necessary 216 votes needed to pass the bill.
RECLAIMING RURAL NEVADA'S GEOTHERMAL REVENUES
Last week, the Senate adopted an amendment offered by Nevada Senators Harry Reid and John Ensign to HR 4213, the "Tax Extenders" package. The provision would restore the 25 percent county share of geothermal revenue for the FY10 fiscal year. The 25 percent was eliminated by the Interior Department Appropriations Act for FY10, passed late last year.
At issue is the way the federal government divvies up royalty and lease payments from geothermal power companies that are using federal land. Nearly five years ago, the 2005 Energy Policy Act allocated a quarter of that revenue to counties where geothermal plants are located, half to those counties’ states and a quarter to the federal government.
Since the law was first implemented in 2007, Nevada counties have taken in nearly $17.8 million from royalties and leases, and the state has gotten nearly $35.6 million. With expectations that Nevada will see a boom in geothermal plants, many rural counties in Northern Nevada were counting on getting even more of this money this year to bolster their budgets.
With Nevada possibly being able to add as much as 3,743 megawatts of geothermal energy in the next decade on top of the already 1,207 megawatts of energy already in the final stages of construction, the state leads the nation in geothermal exploration and development. When the nearly $73.6 million in Energy Department funding is put towards the development of future demonstrations and projects, the sky seems to be the limit for the future of renewables in the Silver State.
Their amendment will send 50% of geothermal royalties back to the state, while 25% will go to the county, and the remaining 25% will go to the federal government.
KEEPING UP WITH THE SAGE-GROUSE
The Interior Department announced earlier this month that it won't list sage grouse as endangered or threatened but will classify the bird among species that are candidates for federal protection. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a news release that listing is warranted but precluded by higher priorities -- other species that are in greater danger.
The finding opens the way for continued development by the West's wind energy, oil and gas industries, which will still face scrutiny in sage grouse habitat but much less so than if the bird were listed. Especially in Wyoming, large areas of sage grouse habitat also are prime spots for booming natural gas development. In Nevada, the birds are challenged by an invasive species, cheatgrass, which is prone to frequent wildfires that burn up native sagebrush.
"The sage grouse's decline reflects the extent to which open land in the West has been developed in the last century," Salazar said in a release. "This development has provided important benefits, but we must find common sense ways of protecting, restoring, and reconnecting the western lands that are most important to the species' survival."
Last week, the Secretary’s failure to list the bird was met with heavy criticism from environmentalists. The Western Watersheds Project, an Idaho-based environmental group, has filed a legal complaint challenging the “precluded” aspect of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s finding. The group wants the sage grouse to be fully listed under the ESA.
While the announcement appears to be a blessing for renewable energy
businesses, many are perplexed by the precise wording of the Secretary.
In the current situation in which the bird isn't officially
listed for protection but is being unofficially protected by state
policies, many believe energy businesses seeking to capitalize on the abundance of
green opportunities out West are left in a state of limbo.
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