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This Week's Top Ten Items from the Hill, w/ Max Pappas, February 6th, 2012

What’s Happening in Congress – The Top 10 Things You Need to Know this Week, 2/6/2012

  1. This Week’s Legislative Highlight: The House is expected to call for a conference report on the differing House and Senate versions of the extension of the payroll tax cut.  While the House and Senate remain deeply divided over details of the extension, an innovative alternative proposal to keep the tax cut on the table without draining revenue from Social Security has emerged in the Social Security Preservation through Individual Choice Enhancement (SSPICE) Act.  Sponsored by Rep. Jeff Landry (LA-3), this bill, HR 3551, gives taxpayers the option to keep their 2 percent payroll tax cut in exchange for delaying their eligibility for benefits by one month, which the Chief Actuary for Social Security says is enough to pay for the cut, reducing Social Security’s unfunded liabilities by $2.1 trillion over its 75-year budget window.
  2. House & Senate Schedule: The House and Senate both remain in session, and both chambers will remain so until the week of President’s Day (February 20-24), when they will return home to meet with constituents.
  3. Senate/FAA: The Senate will vote on the conference report on the bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration.  The House has already passed its end of the report, and the Senate is expected to follow suit without much delay.
  4. House/Spending: The House should vote Tuesday on H.R. 1734, the Civilian Property Realignment Act, which would create a commission to identify obsolete or unused Federal properties and lands which could be sold in order to both raise money and save on maintenance costs.  The commission would work similarly to the old BRAC commission which closed many redundant military facilities after the end of the Cold War.
  5. House/Budget: The House will consider the next two out of the ten budget process reform bills being introduced by Rep. Paul Ryan over the next several weeks.  On Tuesday, the first of these bills to reach the floor should be H.R. 3521, the line Item Veto and Rescissions Act.  Introduced by Rep. Paul Ryan (WI-1), this would give the president the opportunity to recommend specific cuts to the year’s budget. Unlike a true line-item veto, the recommendations would be subject to a vote by Congress before taking effect.
  6. House/Budget: The second budget reform bill this week is H.R. 3581, the Budget and Accounting Transparency Act.  Since the housing crisis of 2008, the government now explicitly runs the Government-Sponsored Entities (GSEs) Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and this bill, introduced by Rep. Scott Garrett (NJ-5), seeks to force the government to recognize the costs of administering Fannie and Freddie, by including their operating costs in the federal budget.  The bill would also change the way that the CBO calculates the costs of these loan-granting institutions by holding them to the same accounting practices as similar private institutions.  This bill should reach the floor by Wednesday.
  7. House/Spending: A major bill which is on the horizon is highway and transit funding.  Congress has just been extending transportation funding instead of actually passing a new highway budget. This is similar to how the Senate has treated the budget for the past 1000-plus days, except that the transportation funding has been extended since 2005, and each time the extension has contained budget increases and/or massive amounts of earmark spending projects.  Transportation spending now exceeds its funding source (the federal gas tax), and the Highway Trust Fund is being depleted by the excess spending. 
  8. House/Financial Regulation: Later in the week, the House is expected to take up S. 2038, the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act, which was passed by the Senate last week.  This is the bill to prevent insider trading by regulating the investments of members of Congress and their staff.  However, some major concerns have been raised about the open-endedness of this bill and the possibilities for abuse, as theoretically any information that is passed onto any company or investor, even accidentally, could be a cause for legal action against the member or staffer involved.  The House is expected the amend the Senate version of the bill in order to prevent it from being overly broad, but the details of these amendments are not yet available.
  9. Call your Congressman!
  10. Call your Senator!