|MONDAY, MARCH 29, 2010|
THE WEEK AHEAD
The SENATE and HOUSE have begun their Spring Recess and will return on Monday, April 12, 2010.
KEY HEARINGS & MARKUPS
A hearing schedule will be published in our next edition on Monday, April 12, 2010.
HEALTH CARE APPROVED AND EXPECTED TO BE SIGNED INTO LAW TUESDAY
The health care saga finally came to an end last Thursday night, as the House signed off on a package of fixes to the newly minted law that the Senate had approved earlier that same day. The President is expected to sign the bill tomorrow (Tuesday).
With that approval, the year-long legislative battle over remaking the American health care system gave two twin victories to President Barack Obama: the health care overhaul on which he staked his first year of his presidency and a less noticed provision for a major reconfiguring of the student loan industry.
Democrats reveled in their expected win—a victory that just two months ago seemed well out of reach—while Republicans warned that Obama had overreached in his effort to pass the bill, which employed fast-track rules to get around the possibility of a Republican filibuster.
With Vice President Joe Biden presiding over the chamber, the Senate took the first step Thursday, passing the package of fixes, 56-43. The House followed with a vote late in the evening on Thursday.
No Republicans voted for the reconciliation bill in the House or the Senate, just as no Republican voted in December for the underlying health reform law.
While Republicans have vowed to follow the mantra, “Repeal and Replace,” the President has already stated that he welcomes the chance to debate them on the merits of the plan throughout the process.
CONGRESSIONAL FOCUS ON YUCCA; BLUE RIBBON COMMISSION CONVENES
The Obama Administration's plan to shut down the Yucca Mountain project this year and start over with a blue-ribbon commission on nuclear waste was met with serious concern from House appropriators who questioned whether Department of Energy funds can be spent on the closure without congressional approval.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu was questioned by a House subcommittee not only on the President's decision to close down the unfinished Nevada site, but also on the Administration's plans to make personnel and funding changes in the fiscal 2011 budget to carry out the closing of the Yucca Mountain repository.
Some appropriators argued that DOE's proposed budget changes regarding Yucca cannot be implemented without statutory changes that only Congress can make. “I don't think you have the statutory authority to do it,” declared Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), ranking member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development.
Yucca Supporters Seeks GAO Review
Frelinghuysen has asked the Government Accountability Office for an analysis of the administration's budget proposals regarding the Yucca program and whether they conflict with statutory requirements.
Chu responded that the DOE general counsel has advised him that the budget and personnel changes regarding Yucca will be able to withstand any legal challenges once Congress passes the appropriations bill funding DOE programs. The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
Several Republicans on the subcommittee questioned whether DOE has the unilateral authority to terminate DOE's Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, which oversees the Yucca program. The office termination was included in the president's fiscal 2011 budget request, submitted to Congress in February.
Frelinghuysen said the office and a director are required by the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 and the 1993 Defense Authorization Act.
Appropriators also questioned a DOE budget proposal to shift $115 million in current funds to the Yucca closure effort, saying that would violate language inserted in every appropriations bill for decades that blocks the agency from “workforce restructuring” for any DOE program without congressional approval.
Lawmakers also questioned DOE's authority to send a March 10 letter to about 180 workers in Nevada and at DOE headquarters assigned to the Yucca project, notifying them that their jobs will be eliminated and they can apply for reassignment.
Rep. Marion Berry (D-AR) questioned whether the government should continue to collect fees on nuclear energy generation from consumers for the Nuclear Waste Fund when the administration has no place to put the waste from nuclear power plants.
Rep. Ed Pastor (D-AZ), subcommittee vice chairman, questioned why the administration already has taken Yucca “off the table” as one of the solutions that the new blue-ribbon panel of experts can consider as a long-range solution to nuclear waste.
Chu responded that he has informed the panel that the Obama administration intends to close the Yucca project, and Yucca is not an option. Pastor said the charter for creating the commission, which was approved and funded by Congress, does not exclude Yucca as part of the solution.
Blue Ribbon Commission Convenes
Last week, the first meeting of the Administration's new blue-ribbon convened with many of Capitol Hill's sentiments echoed, including concern that Yucca Mountain change in approach is the result of politics trumping science. The work of the Commission, however, is expected to be focused on alternatives to Yucca Mountain, including reprocessing and other storage solutions.
Sense of the House Resolution Introduced
As a precursor to the Blue Ribbon Commission's meeting, a bipartisan coalition of Members introduced a resolution of disapproval in the House (H.Res.1209) on March 23 that would seek to compel DOE to stop its efforts to withdraw its license application for a nuclear waste repository.
EPA ANNOUNCES NEW STRATEGY ON DRINKING WATER
On March 23rd, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson announced the Agency is developing a broad new set of strategies to enhance public health protection from contaminants in drinking water.
EPA is seeking a new approach to expand public health protection for drinking water by going beyond the traditional framework that addresses contaminants one at a time. The Agency is initiating a national conversation to identify better ways to address contaminants in groups, improve drinking water technology, and more effectively address potential risks to give Americans greater confidence in the quality of their drinking water.EPA will focus on four principles that they believe will provide greater protection of drinking water. The four principles are:
EPA will engage the public and stakeholders, including utilities, rural communities, and states, in developing the new approach. Over the next few months, the Agency will:
TANF ECF PROVISION ADDED TO SMALL BUSINESS JOBS BILL
A provision extending the TANF Emergency Fund for one year and adding $2.5 B for 2011 was added to the small business jobs bill (H.R. 4849 – The “Small Business and Infrastructure Jobs Tax Act of 2010.” ) and passed by the House last week. It now goes to the Senate which is not expected to take it up until after the Spring recess.
The Emergency Fund provision in the House bill provides for a full year extension with $2.5 billion dollars, with the maximum amount that a state can receive under the TANF Emergency Fund or the regular Contingency Fund for 2011 capped at 30 percent of the state’s Block Grant amount.
The House provision does not include all of the changes that the President’s budget proposal had included; specifically, it does not raise the subsidized employment reimbursement to 100 percent and it does not add a fourth category of employment services.
The provision also specifies that the subsidized employment category can include a member of a needy family (whether or not receiving TANF cash assistance) or an individual that has exhausted or will soon exhaust all UI benefits and who is needy (regardless of whether the household includes a child). This will allow states to serve childless adults as part of their TANF ECF-funded subsidized employment programs.
The Nevada Weekly is published when Congress is in session.
The next edition of the Nevada Weekly will be published on Monday, April 12, 2010.
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