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Capitol Hill Update, 13 January, 2014
House & Senate/Schedule: The House and Senate are both in session this week, and both chambers will be in recess next week.
Legislative Highlight of the Week: The most recent Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the federal government runs out on the 15th (Wednesday), and Congress will quickly pass a three-day CR to give them the rest of the week to work on a longer-term funding bill to prevent a government shutdown.
The details on this longer-term, “omnibus” government funding bill have not yet been released, but presumably it will conform to the increased spending levels authorized by the Ryan/Murray budget deal reached in December. This increased spending is already unacceptable, and omnibus appropriations bills always raise the concern about what other surprises may be tucked within. Stay tuned for more about this bill.
House/ObamaCare: Since the House didn’t get to it last week, this Thursday they are scheduled to vote on H.R. 3362, The Exchange Information Disclosure Act. This bill requires that the federal government report the actual number of people who have received health insurance under the federal health insurance exchanges, as opposed to merely how many people have applied for said insurance. It would also require that HHS make public a full list of people and organizations who have signed up as “Navigators” to help push people to buy insurance through the exchanges.
House/ObamaCare: Congressman Kerry Bentivolio (R-MI) has introduced H.R. 3635, the Safe and Secure Federal Websites Act. This bill addresses the dangerously inadequate security protections of the health insurance exchange websites by requiring a complete security test of the site (which has thus far not been done). The Federal Data Services Hub which conducts the data used by the exchange contains all of the personal data necessary to steal someone’s identity, yet IT experts continue to testify that the site’s security is completely inadequate, making the exchanges a shiny target for hackers.
The bill would also require HHS to conduct background checks on all of the “navigators” who are being hired in the states to direct people into ObamaCare. Currently these navigators, who each have access to massive quantities of data on the people they sign up, are not subject to any background check whatsoever.
Senate/Unemployment: S. 1845, the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act, did not receive a final vote to end debate last week as scheduled, largely due to Republican resistance. The main political problems with the bill should be familiar – Harry Reid is refusing to allow any Republican amendments to even receive a vote. Senator Reid has attempted to address the other main GOP concern – that the nearly $19 billion cost of the bill is not offset – by making a timid attempt to crack down on those who “double-dip” into both unemployment and disability benefits, and by making some further sequester cuts in 2024.
Besides the major policy concerns involved with indefinitely extending what was meant to be a very temporary safety net program, these “pay-for” offerings by Reid are mostly meaningless – yet another attempt to spend more now in exchange for some restraint “later”. FreedomWorks has issued a Key Vote NO against this bill, which we’ll score on our Online Congressional Scorecard.
Senate/Flood Insurance: S. 1846, the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act, could still possibly see the Senate floor this week after. This bill would delay (for four years) reforms that were made to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) that were intended to make the program more sustainable. Currently, the federal government operates all flood insurance, and the program is already $25 billion under water. Having all flood insurance under government control hides the price signals for people who build in flood-prone areas, which will only increase the costs that the program incurs. At this rate, NFIP is going to require a taxpayer bailout in the tens of billions of dollars, and this bill makes the problem worse.