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House & Senate/Schedule: Both chambers are in session this week, and both will recess next week, March 17-21.
Legislative Highlight of the Week: The major bill in the House this week is H.R. 4015, the SGR Repeal and Medicare Provider Payment Modernization Act. Sponsored by Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX), this bill would permanently repeal the Medicare Sustainable Growth Rate formula, which was passed back in 1997 as a cost-saving measure for Medicare. Poor design and unforeseen economic circumstances resulted in Medicare being scheduled to pay less and less to doctors for their services each year, which lead the House to pass constant one-year fixes for years.
Repealing the SGR is necessary but expensive, and the House has claimed that they will pay for it by repealing ObamaCare’s individual mandate. Given that the Senate would certainly strip any language that harms ObamaCare from the bill, it remains to be seen whether the House is actually serious about either fighting against ObamaCare or even just offsetting the cost of the bill. The vote is scheduled for this Friday.
House/Government Reform: The House is scheduled to vote this week on two bills that seek to provide Congress with some recourse against an increasingly untouchable executive branch:
House/Natural Resources: The House will vote this week on H.R. 3189, the Water Rights Protection Act. Sponsored by Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CO), this bill would stop the government from seizing water rights from states when grants on federal lands come up for renewal.
House/Taxation: On Wednesday, March 12th, at 10 AM, the House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the internet sales tax issue, seeking alternative plans to the controversial Marketplace Fairness Act, which FreedomWorks has vigorously opposed.
Senate/Unemployment: There is a possibility that the Senate may take up another version of the bill to further extend the length of time that individuals can receive federal unemployment insurance payments. Indefinitely extending unemployment benefits creates perverse incentives that can actually lead to unemployed individuals having a harder time finding a job. In addition, the Senate is refusing to find a serious “pay-for”, which has led to the bill being rejected on several votes so far this year.
Senate/Welfare: The Senate is likely to finish considering a bill that was delayed from last week, the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act S. 1086. Sponsored by Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), this bill would renew a number of welfare programs geared towards helping families with children, the funding for which is distributed as block grants to the states. The federal government has little business in a number of these programs, particularly early childhood education (Head Start), but the bill enjoys bi-partisan support and is likely to pass.
Senate/Foreign Aid: The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations will be considering a bill to offer aid to the government of the Ukraine this week. Aside from the question of the aid itself, the Senate may include a trouble provision, requested by President Obama, that would increase the United States’ financial commitment to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The U.S. already provides more than 17 percent of the total funding for the IMF, which has in turn used its money for such questionable practices as the fruitless bailout of Greece.