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What's Happening in Congress: The Top Ten Things You Need to Know This Week, 2/14/2012

What’s Happening in Congress – The Top 10 Things You Need to Know this Week, 2/14/2012

  1. This Week’s Legislative Highlight: On Wednesday, Feb. 15th, the House’s transportation spending bill, H.R. 7, will be coming to the floor. The bill, sponsored by Rep. John Mica (FL-7), would fund transportation projects until 2016 and would cost tax payers $260 billion.  Unusually for a highway bill, it does not contain earmarks.  In addition, the transportation bill includes several energy provisions, including streamlining environmental reviews and opening up millions of acres of federally-owned land to private development. However, the House budget only allows for $190 million in transportation spending, and the bill greatly exceeds its revenue from the gas tax. It also fails to return power to the states over many projects states should be handling. Amendments are expected that deal with lowering the spending level so it lines up with expected gas tax revenue and to send some authority back to the states.
  2. House/Transportation amendment: Several conservatives are offering amendments to the transportation bill.  Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ-5) will offer amendments 11 and 12 to H.R. 7, to allow states to choose to opt out of federal transportation funding. This would allow states to use their own taxes to fund road projects; however, states would still be required to give a bare minimum of 2 cents per gallon in taxes to the federal government to fund interstate highway projects.
  3. House/Transportation amendment: Rep. Jeff Flake (AZ-6) also has an amendment to H.R.7, Amdt. 198, which would scale back transportation spending.  Although final numbers are not available, this amendment will address the fact that transportation spending has greatly exceeded its funding source.
  4. House/Transportation bill amendment: Rep. Tom Graves (GA-9) is offering an amendment that would devolve the gas tax and would decrease the federal gas tax.  The process of ‘devolution’ means that the states would be responsible for funding and constructing their own road projects.  Instead of the federal government dictating how the states should spend transportation money, the states can decide what is best for their residents. We expect a companion amendment to be introduced by Sen. DeMint in the Senate.
  5. House/Member Initiative: Reps. Virginia Foxx (NC-7) and Steve King (IA-5) are proposing Amendments 211, 212, and 213 to repeal the Davis-Bacon Amendment (the amendment numbers will change after the Rules Committee meets). The Davis-Bacon Act is a relic of the 1930s, meant to protect local union workers from competition with outside contractors by forcing government contracts to pay the "local prevailing wage".  Its result is that any government contracts bound by the act are often forced to pay more for their labor than they would otherwise, driving up construction costs, costing taxpayers millions of dollars per year for less production. 
  6. House & Senate/Payroll Tax: Both chambers are in conference to debate the extension of the payroll tax cut, which expires February 29th.  Because of the upcoming recess, there is some pressure to get a vote on the extension this week, and the House has tentatively scheduled action on the conference report for this Thursday (16 Feb.).
  7. House/Member Initiative: In response to the upcoming fight over the payroll tax cut, Rep. Jeff Landry (LA-3) has introduced the SSPICE Act, H.R. 3551, which puts the 2% payroll tax cut in the hands of the taxpayers by allowing them to choose what to do with it.  Each year, every taxpayer could choose to take the tax cut and keep the money, in exchange for delaying eligibility for Social Security benefits by one month, or they could choose to lose the tax cut, but keep their eligibility for benefits the same.  Essentially, this gives taxpayers the option for a 2% Social Security personal account, with no government strings attached.
  8. President’s Budget: President Obama’s Administration has just recently released its budget.  This budget calls for $8 trillion in deficits over the next 11 years, and current projections would never produce a balanced budget.  Ever. This budget fails to address government over-spending.  In addition, Obama’s budget does absolutely nothing to address the 40 percent of the federal budget that is tied up in entitlement spending.
  9. House & Senate Schedule: Both chambers are in session this week.  Next week (20-24 Feb.), both chambers will be out of session for the Presidents’ Day recess. Remember to visit your representatives while they’re home.
  10. Remember to contact your House and Senate representatives!