Federal Relations

November 14, 2011

This Week in Washington DC

Happy Monday morning!  It will be a busy week in Washington, DC with the continuing resolution (CR) expiring on Friday, appropriators scrambling to approve at least one “mini-bus” before week’s end, the Joint Deficit Reduction Committee deadline looming next week, the House taking action on a balanced budget amendment, and Obama announcing the next phase of his “We Can’t Wait” agenda.

Super Committee

Although the bipartisan panel officially has until November 23rd to make their recommendations, it would take time to write legislative language and have it officially analyzed by the Congressional Budget Office by that deadline, as is required by the August debt limit law (PL 112-25) that created the committee. This means that the group will need to have the outlines of a deal in place by the end of this week.  On a positive note, members of the bipartisan panel have recently indicated their willingness to compromise on issues important to each party – such as increasing revenues and curtailing entitlements. Republicans for the first time have opened the door to an increase in new tax revenue, while Democrats have proposed deeper spending cuts, which could include both Medicare and Medicaid. Despite that progress, both parties rejected proposals leaked last week that contained those concessions, each side saying that the other’s plan had not offered enough.  

First Mini-Bus:  Agriculture, Commerce-Justice-Science, and Transportation-HUD

Appropriators are expected to file a conference report Monday on the first mini-bus of FY12 spending bills, setting the stage for Congress to clear it by week’s end.  The package contains roughly $127.8 billion in discretionary appropriations for the Agriculture, Commerce-Justice-Science, and Transportation-HUD spending bills for FY12.  It is expected to be passed first by the House and then by the Senate.  The largely non-controversial bundle will contain a new CR to keep government running through mid-December, since the current stopgap measure expires on Friday.  

Second Mini-Bus:  Energy-Water, Financial Services, and State-Foreign Operations

The Senate will begin debating the second mini-bus package this week, and hope to take action on the measure next week before leaving for the Thanksgiving holiday.  The package, which includes the Energy-Water, Financial Services, and State-Foreign Operations spending measures, would provide a total of $129.5 billion for the various agencies in FY12.  In a sign of bipartisan support, 81 senators backed cloture on the measure last week but support for bringing the bill to the floor may mask stumbling blocks that lie in controversial amendments, which are expected to target both funding levels and policy provisions in the bills.

Balanced Budget Amendment

House leaders plan to bring up for consideration a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.  This measure will be a more “traditional” version rather than one that mandates spending caps and requires a supermajority for raising taxes.  Supporters of the traditional balanced-budget amendment, which requires that outlays do not exceed revenues and a three-fifths majority to raise the debt ceiling, emphasize that the same version passed in the House in 1995 with 300 votes, including 72 Democratic supporters. The vote, scheduled for later this week, will fulfill a requirement of the August debt limit law and also satisfy members of the House Republican conference who are eager to back it.  Constitutional amendments require a two-thirds majority to pass either chamber, which is 290 votes in the House and 67 votes in the Senate.

Obama’s “We Can’t Wait” Issue of the Week:  Healthcare Workforce

According to the Washington Post, the Obama administration will announce today as much as $1 billion to hire, train, and deploy healthcare workers, part of the President’s broader “We Can’t Wait” agenda to bolster the economy after his jobs bill stalled in Congress last month.  Grants can go to doctors, community groups, local government, and other organizations that work with patients in federal healthcare programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.  The funds are for experimenting with different ways to expand the healthcare workforce while reducing the cost of delivering care.  There will be an emphasis on speed, with new programs expected to be running within six months of funding.   The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, created as part of the Affordable Care Act, will administer and oversee the program, called the Health Care Innovation Challenge

Sources:  CQ, Washington Post, Politico