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    What's Happening in Congress: The Top Ten Things You Need to Know This Week, 2/27/2012

    What’s Happening in Congress – The Top 10 Things You Need to Know this Week, 02/27/2012


    1. This Week’s Legislative Highlight: On Tuesday, February 28th, the House will vote on H.R. 2117, the Protecting Academic Freedom in Higher Education Act. Introduced by Rep. Virginia Foxx (NC-5), this bill would repeal several Dept. of Education regulations, particularly one which allows the federal government to define a “credit hour” for the purposes of Federal aid.  This regulation would strongly limit the ability of state and local higher education institutions from being able to customize their curriculum, because if they did not strictly follow whatever the Dept. of Education defines as the requirements of a “credit hour” in each class, they could be ineligible for federal student aid.  Repealing this regulation would return more control of curriculum to the individual institutions, where it belongs.
    2. House/Spending: On Tuesday, Congress will also take up H.R. 665, the Excess Federal Building and Property Disposal Act.  Introduced by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (UT-3), this bill would expedite the process of selling unused Federal lands and buildings, thus reducing the government’s overall size while also saving on the maintenance costs of those properties.  Because Chaffetz’s bill does this directly through the Office of Budget and Management (OMB), it skips the costs and delays associated with establishing a commission to dispose with the properties, as other similar proposals would do. 
    3. House/Energy & Commerce: On Wednesday, February 29th, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Health will be marking up H.R. 452, the Medical Decisions Accountability Act, a bill introduced by Rep. Phil Roe (TN-1) which would repeal the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) provision of Obamacare.  IPAB is a board created under Obamacare that would consist of 15 unelected officials who whose goal is to find savings in Medicare.  While this sounds benign, meeting IPAB’s financial goals would lead to making direct cuts in reimbursements to doctors and would eventually lead to denying doctors payment for treatments deemed to be too expensive to cover, thus denying care to Medicare patients who need these treatments.
    4. Senate/Agenda: Since the Senate will be in session continuously for the next five weeks, a number of large, important bills are expected to reach the floor during that period, including the transportation spending bill, postal reform, cyber-security, regulations on insider trading by Congress, and a repeal of a crucial piece of ObamaCare.  We’ll discuss each of these proposals below.  
    5. Senate/Transportation: First, the Senate is expected to spend this entire week on the transportation spending bill, S. 1813, sponsored by Sen. Barbara Boxer of California.  As with the House transportation bill that failed recently, there are major concerns that the bill will spend more than the gas tax brings in revenues.  A number of amendments are likely to be offered to the bill to reduce spending levels and to make other reforms, but which amendments will actually make it to the floor has not yet been released. 
    6. Senate/Postal Reform: The U.S. Postal Service is financially underwater and nearing total insolvency, and the Senate is expected to take up a bill to reform the USPS’s finances in the near future.  While postal reform is undoubtedly necessary the specific provisions of such a bill remain controversial.  The main bill to be offered in the Senate is S. 1789, the 21st Century Postal Service Act, introduced by Senators Lieberman (CT), Brown (MA), Carper (DE), and Collins (ME).  Because this bill fails to address the pension reforms and restructuring that is needed for the USPS to be solvent well into the future, it is expected that several Senators will attempt to amend the bill to allow the Postmaster General to make the kind of major changes that he has specifically requested.  One suggestion that has been made is legalize the delivery of First-class mail for outside companies, to let the free markets decide the most efficient way to deliver the mail.
    7. Senate/Regulation: The Senate will again consider S. 2038, the Stop Trading On Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act, introduced by Sen. Joe Lieberman (CT).  As the title suggests, the STOCK Act seeks to prevent members of Congress and their staff from making investments based on insider knowledge obtained from hearing and other deals with business sources.  The initial bill passed the Senate and the House, but the Senate now has to confirm changes made to the bill in the House.  There have been concerns raised about this bill, because the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) theoretically already has the authority to investigate insider trading by Congress, and the STOCK Act adds a whole new set of regulations to follow.
    8. Senate/Health Care: The Senate is could also bring up a bill repealing the CLASS Act provision in ObamaCare, the long-term care entitlement which even Health and Human Services Secretary Sebelius has admitted is financially unsustainable.  A bill repealing the CLASS Act has already passed the House, and since even the administration admits that the program cannot work, its repeal may gain traction in the Senate as well.
    9. Senate/Cybersecurity: After being in the works for several years, the CyberSecurity Act, S. 2105, is expected to be considered in the Senate sometime in the next couple of weeks.  The bill, introduced by Sen. Lieberman, would designate certain sectors of the economy to be “vital to national security”, and the Dept. of Homeland Security would then be able to impose cyber-security standards upon those industries.  Many conservatives are concerned about the broad reach of this bill, and an alternative is expected to be offered either as a separate bill or as an amendment.
    10. House and Senate Schedule: The House and Senate are both back in session this week after the President’s Day recess.  The House will be in session until the week of March 12th-16th, when members will return home for a constituent work week.  The Senate will not recess again until April.