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Capitol Hill Update, 21 October, 2013

Capitol Hill Update, 21 Oct., 2013

House & Senate/Schedule: The Senate is in recess this week and will reconvene next Monday.  The House is only in this week on Tuesday and Wednesday.  Next week, the House will only be in session for three days, Monday through Wednesday.

Legislative Highlight of the Week: There is only one major piece of legislation being considered this week in the House: the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA), H.R. 3080. The vote on this bill should occur on Wednesday.

Past incarnations of this bill have traditionally been among the most pork-laden in Congress – a smorgasbord of federally-funded state and local projects including dam-building and maintenance, harbor and canal dredging, and anything else involving water infrastructure. FreedomWorks opposed the Senate version of this bill, S. 601, which actually made existing policy worse by giving the Army Corps of Engineers an indefinite authorization to take on new projects, essentially making the Corps of Engineers a limitless earmark program.

This House bill, on the other hand, does make some substantial improvements in the way that new projects are handed out under WRDA, as well as eliminating some of the obsolete projects that are still on the books. However, the bill could do much more to move funding for these projects back to the states, and to pare back a larger portion of the $60 billion in projects that the Corps of Engineers has on backlog.

House/ObamaCare: The House Energy & Commerce Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing this Thursday, October 24th at 9:00 AM on the implementation failures of ObamaCare. The hearing will specifically focus on whether the administration realized how unstable the exchange website were likely to be before their launch, given that HHS officials had repeatedly assured Congress that everything was on schedule for a smooth launch.  

**UPDATE** HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, whom the Energy and Commerce Committee has been attempting to question about ObamaCare's launch for several weeks, has finally agreed to testify befor the committee next Wednesday, October 30.

House & Senate/Farm Bill: The House and Senate are in conference to reconcile their different versions of the “Farm Bill”.  The main fear is that the bill that results from conference will rejoin the agriculture subsidy portion of the old Farm Bill with the food stamp portion that was actually 80 percent of the spending.  In addition, neither the House nor Senate agriculture portions of the bill dealt adequately with reforming crop insurance subsidies or the special industry carve-outs that make the Farm Bill basically corporate welfare for Big Agriculture. Given the inadequacy of both the House and Senate farm bills, a compromise between the two seems unlikely to produce an acceptable result.

House & Senate/Budget: As part of the cave-in that reopened the government last week, the House and Senate have both named conferees to go to conference on their respective budgets. It is too early in the process to know any specifics of what solutions may be discussed in conference, but the Democrats are likely to continue their relentless push for more taxes and spending, given their Senate budget (which would literally never achieve balance).