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Capitol Hill Update, 3 February, 2014
House & Senate/Schedule: Both chambers are in session this week, and will both recess next for the week of Presidents' Day (17 February).
Legislative Highlight of the Week: After finally being released from a conference between the two chambers, the trillion-dollar Farm Bill passed the House last week. This week it is expected to pass the Senate. The cloture vote was Monday night, and the final passage vote should be on Tuesday. FreedomWorks issued a Key Vote NO on cloture in the Senate, which you can read HERE.
Senate/Unemployment: The unemployment insurance extension could still come up at any time. Republicans had been holding up the bill because Majority Leader Harry Reid had refused to find spending reforms to offset the billions of new spending extending unemployment insurance would entail. However, the extension is bad policy on its own, regardless of the spending, because it badly distorts unemployed workers' incentives with regard to searching for a new job. FreedomWorks has issued a Key Vote NO against extending federal unemployment benefits, which you can read HERE.
Senate/Veterans' Benefits: The Senate may also take up S. 1950, the Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act. Sponsored by Senator Bernie Sanders, the bill has a number of policy issues, but the most concerning part is that it would be funded using Overseas Contigency Operation (OCO) funding. OCO is off-budget, emergency funding that is used to finance our wars overseas. Using OCO to fund non-wartime funding essentially makes it a slush fund for any military-related spending that lawmakers don't want to justify in the actual budget.
House/Natural Resources: The main activity in the House this week is regarding three minor natural resources bills:
House/Ways & Means: The House Committee on Ways and Means Subcommittee on Oversight will be holding a hearing Wednesday, February 5th at 9:30 AM with new IRS Director James Koskinen. This will be the first time the Director Koskinen has appeared before Congress in this role, and he will be asked tough questions about the IRS targeting of conservative groups, and the proposed regulations that would shut down much of the political activity in 501(c)4 organizations.
House & Senate/Debt Ceiling: The debt ceiling will be reinstated on Friday, February 7th, having been suspended by Congress until that date. The House Republican strategy retreat held last week apparently failed to reach a full consensus on how to handle the upcoming negotiations over the debt limit. With our total national debt now well over $17 trillion, any debt ceiling increase that is not accompanied by some major spending or other government reform would be completely unacceptable. Expect Congress to act on the debt ceiling by the end of February, as the Treasury's "extraordinary measures" to fund the government after the debt ceiling is reached will run out at around that time.