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Capitol Hill Update, 24 March, 2014

Capitol Hill Update, 24 March, 2014

Correction: in the video I say that the Sustainable Growth Rate expires on April 1st, when precisely the opposite happens - SGR comes into full effect (thus cutting doctor pay) on that date unless Congress says otherwise.

House & Senate/Schedule: After a week’s recess, both chambers are back in town this week. Both will remain in town for three weeks, and will both next go on Spring recess from April 11-27.

Legislative Highlight of the Week: The Senate is likely to spend the bulk of this week considering the “Support for the Sovereignty, Integrity, Democracy, and Economic Stability of Ukraine Act”, S. 2124. Sponsored by Senator Menendez (D-NJ), this measure would provide loans and direct aid to the new government in the Ukraine.

However, it also contains a major change in the United States’ contributions to and role in the International Monetary Fund (IMF). These reforms would effectively double the United States’ general fund contributions to the IMF. Currently these funds are held as “emergency account funds”, and since the U.S. has the largest share of that pool of funding, we have a great deal of say in how that money is used. By shifting that funding over into the IMF’s general funding pool, we lose our influence over how that money is used when, for example, the IMF chooses to bail out a fiscally irresponsible country like Greece.

House & Senate/Medicare: This week, the Senate may also take up a bill regarding the “doc fix”, in order to stop a massive decrease in Medicare reimbursements to physicians. Two weeks ago, the House passed its own doc fix that permanently repeals the broken Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) payment system that has made the doc fix necessary, and pays for the fix by delaying ObamaCare’s individual mandate penalty by five years.

The Senate may choose to advance a permanent doc fix of their own, stripped of the mandate delay, in which case it is unclear how Senate Democrats plan to pay for the proposal. They may instead choose to advance a temporary, one-year doc fix, as Congress has been doing for over a decade. In either case, the Sustainable Growth Rate will come into effect and begin cutting Medicare payments to doctors on April 1st if no legislation is passed by both the House and the Senate. The House appears prepared to back down and pass a one-year fix if the Senate does the same.

Senate/Unemployment: Democrats and a handful of moderate Republicans in the Senate say that they have finally reached a deal on extending federal unemployment insurance. The deal would extend the benefits by five months, and would retroactively pay individuals for the amounts that they would have been paid since the program expired in December. Continuing to indefinitely extend unemployment benefits creates bad incentives in the economy, and also costs tens of billions of dollars that our already-broke government cannot afford. FreedomWorks continues to extend its Key Vote NO against extending federal unemployment benefits.

House/Energy: The House will vote this week on H.R. 2824, the Preventing Government Waste and Protecting Coal Mining Jobs in America Act. This bill, sponsored by Rep. Bill Johnson, would stop the Department of the Interior from promulgating a new regulation that governs the disposal of coal waste near streams for five years – until a comprehensive study has been finished on the regulations’ effects.

House/Federal Lands: The House will also consider H.R. 1459, the Ensuring Public Involvement in the Creation of National Monuments Act. Sponsored by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT), this bill tries to stop federal government from claiming more federal lands by declaring them to be “national monuments”.