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Capitol Hill Update, 9 December, 2013
House & Senate/Schedule: The House is in session this week, and still plans to adjourn for the year by this Friday afternoon. The Senate is also in sessions, and will remain in town at least through next week.
Legislative Highlight of the Week: The House and Senate Budget Committee Chairs, Rep. Paul Ryan, and Senator Patty Murray, are supposedly close to reaching a deal on a budget for the federal government. The problem is, their likely deal as reported in the media is basically a waste of time, at best. Most of the proposals that have been publicly leaked involve reducing the amounts cut by "sequestration" in exchange for some token cuts elsewhere and some increases in "fees". These fee hikes essentially equal tax hikes, and in any case the sequester cuts should not be traded for anything less than some level of stuctural entitlement or discretionary spending reform.
House & Senate/Farm Bill: After several months of negotiating the "Farm Bill", it is reported that a compromise could be reached shortly, but may equally be punted until next Congress. Given how antiproductive this year's agricultural policy reform has been, it may be better if Congress is forced to pass a temporary extension of current law rather than enacting the new entitlements of this year's Farm Bill.
House/Health Care: The House is also expected to vote at some point on a bill to fix the “Sustainable Growth Rate” (SGR), an annual affair that is better known inside the beltway as the “doc fix”. The SGR is a part of the 1997 Balanced Budget Act, put in place to keep the cost of doctor reimbursements under Medicare from spiraling out of control. By the early 2000s, however, it became apparent that the result of this formula would result in an annual cut to what doctors get paid for serving Medicare patients. In order to prevent doctors from abandoning Medicare en masse, Congress has passed a “doc fix” every year since 2003. The SGR fix is generally considered a “must-pass” bill – the one issue being that it costs more and more each year. FreedomWorks hopes that Congress will offset the increased cost of the doc fix with spending cuts from elsewhere in the budget.
House/ObamaCare: This Wednesday, the House Committee on Energy & Commerce will have another hearing on what officials at the Department of Health & Human Services in advance of the disastrous launch of ObamaCare’s exchanges this October. New emails show that HHS officials knew well in advance that the website was not going to work as scheduled, and yet they kept asserting publicly that everything was on track.
Senate/Nominations: Now that Harry Reid has used the “nuclear option” allow a simple majority to pass executive nominations in the Senate, he is going to try to jam through as many controversial nominations as possible before the end of the year. The most troublesome of the nominations likely to be processed either this week or the next are Mel Watt for the Federal Housing Finance Agency and Janet Yellen to chair the Federal Reserve.
Senate/Defense: The Senate is also expected to bring up the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) again, S. 1197. The bill was defeated by enraged Republicans after they were denied an open amendment process, as has been allowed on this bill in past years. For more on the several objections that FreedomWorks has to this bill, read my article HERE.