June 7, 2010

Congress Returns to Unfinished Business

By Christy Gullion

Congress returns this week from its one-week Memorial Day recess with the Senate ready to take up the House-passed “extenders” bill, while the House determines their next move on the FY10 supplemental bill.

Tax Extenders:  The tax extenders measure (HR 4213) under consideration in the Senate includes a number of important program authorities that expired over the recess period, including authority for long-term unemployment benefits and provisions preventing a scheduled 21 percent cut in Medicare reimbursement rates to doctors.  The House narrowly passed the measure on May 28 just hours before leaving for its Memorial Day break.

The most important provision to the State of Washington is the “emergency” provision that would have extended for another six months increased federal aid for joint federal-state Medicaid programs (FMAP).  Because states lag behind national recovery, they expect 2011 to be as bad as 2010, and states will not begin the path to recovery until 2012.  The Senate is under pressure to include this provision in their version of the bill.

Supplemental Budget:  House action on the FY10 supplemental appears unlikely this week, as Democratic leaders have not yet agreed on a strategy to move the bill forward.  The supplemental provides funds for ongoing efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as funds to assist with the oil spill response in the Gulf.  The House bill would also include $23 billion to prevent layoffs of teachers when special aid from the stimulus runs out, as well as $5.6 billion to fill the Pell Grant shortfall. 

The Senate took action on this measure before the Memorial Day recess, but their version of the bill does not include the $23 billion education jobs package or $5.6 billion to cover the projected shortfall in the Pell Grant program.  The measure being developed by House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-WI) is expected to include both provisions, but public higher education would not be included in the education jobs bill, nor would the state maintenance of effort (MOE) provision apply to higher education.  As pointed out in a May 27 higher education association letter to Mr. Obey, the latter provision could leave public institutions vulnerable to cuts as states strive to meet the K-12 MOE requirement. 

Budget and Appropriations:  Democrats this week will continue their efforts to pass a FY11 budget or deeming resolution in order to begin drafting and passing the annual appropriations bills.  Senate Budget Committee Chairman has indicated plans to push for passage of a five-year budget resolution in the Senate by the Independence Day recess.

Environment and Energy:  The BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill continues to dominate the congressional calendar, with at least three hearings scheduled for this week.  The Senate is likely to vote Thursday on a long-awaited resolution introduced by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) that would strip the EPA of its regulatory power over carbon emissions.  The resolution has 41 co-sponsors, including three Democrats. The measure needs 51 votes for passage.

The climate and energy bill sponsored by Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Joe Lieberman (D-CT) will also be on the Senate’s agenda during the month of July.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) wrote in a letter to committee leaders last week that he wants them to offer legislative language related to the oil spill before the Independence Day recess for inclusion in a comprehensive energy bill that will be debated on the floor in June.  

Ocean Acidification Resolution:  On Tuesday, the House will consider a resolution introduced by Congressman Jay Inslee (D-WA) that calls for the United States to adopt national policies and pursue international agreements to prevent ocean acidification, to study the impacts of ocean acidification, and to address the effects of ocean acidification on marine ecosystems and coastal economies.  House Resolution 989 was first introduced by Inslee in December 2009 and currently has 53 co-sponsors, including Congressmen Brian Baird (D-WA), Norm Dicks (D-WA), and Adam Smith (D-WA). 

Science and Engineering Festival:  The USA Science & Engineering, the country’s first national science festival, will be held on the National Mall October 3-24, 2010. The National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and the National Research Council are official festival partners. The expo will give more than 500 US science and engineering organizations the opportunity to present a hands-on science activity to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers.  Learn more about the Festival.

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