Federal Relations

This Week in Congress

Congress returns to work today after a week-long recess period.   The Senate convenes at 2:00pm and continues debate of the student loan interest rate bill.  The House is also in at 2:00pmwith votes expected around 6:30pm. 

This afternoon, the House Budget Committee will mark up two bills:  The Sequester Replacement Act of 2012 (HR 4966) and The Sequester Replacement Reconciliation Act of 2012.  Both measures aim to replace sequestration, the mandatory cuts scheduled to begin in January 2013.  The first bill would stop sequestration from happening, while the second would outline a series of cuts to entitlement programs such as health care and food stamps that would replace the cuts to discretionary spending expected through sequestration.  The full House is due to pass the package late in the week likely along partisan lines.  However, the safe bet is Congress won’t reach agreement on how to deal with spending priorities until after the elections. 

Meanwhile, on Tuesday the Senate is scheduled to debate a bill to keep interest rates on federally subsidized student loans at 3.4 percent for one more year, instead of increasing to the previous amount of 6.8 percent.  The House passed a similar bill a week ago, but the two chambers differ on how to pay for the extension.  In a sign of their desire to downplay the partisan tensions, Senate Republicans are expected to help Democrats reach the 60 votes needed to overcome a procedural hurdle to bringing the measure to the floor.  

Tuesday also marks the formal launch of a House-Senate conference to write a surface transportation reauthorization bill.  If conferees can’t come to an agreement on the bill before the November election, then chances are good the bill just won’t get done this year.  And that will mean starting over from scratch early in 2013.  The biggest hurdles include the length of reauthorization, policy riders approving the Keystone XL pipeline and blocking EPA’s authority to regulate coal ash, and how best to pay for the cost of highway and transit programs around the country.  This bill reauthorizes the University Transportation Centers; the UW operates one of these centers for USDOT Region 10.

Also this week, the full House is scheduled to debate the FY 2013 Commerce-Justice-Science spending bill, which includes funding for NOAA and the Office of Science and Technology Policy.  House Rules Committee meets at 5:00pm today to write the spending bill’s rule, and it will hit the floor sometime later in the week.  This will be the first FY 2013 appropriations bill to be approved in the House, but differences over spending levels make it likely that both chambers won’t agree on most or even all of its spending bills until after the elections.  But by sending the measures through committee and to the floor in each chamber, leaders are at least offering a starting place for those year-end negotiations.  Congress has missed the statutory September 30th appropriations deadline for more than a decade, instead relying on continuing resolutions to keep the government from shutting down until the final bills are cleared and signed by the President.