June 11, 2012

This Week in Congress

By Christy Gullion

Senate appropriators are scheduled to release their Labor-HHS-Education spending bill at a subcommittee markup Tuesday. This tends to be the most controversial appropriations measure each year and will likely receive a fair amount of Republican opposition given provisions that would fund key elements of the 2010 health care and financial regulatory overhauls. Action on the spending measure comes as lawmakers anticipate a Supreme Court ruling on the health care overhaul later this month. The House has not yet released its Labor-HHS-Education bill but has indicated they will do so by the end of June.

Meanwhile, there are two authorizing measures moving their way through the messy legislative process: Highways and Transit, and the Farm Bill. Congress has until the end of June to reauthorize the highway and transit bill or settle for another extension of current spending authority. If conferees don’t have the major elements of a deal put together when the House gets back from their recess next week, the odds are against getting a new surface transportation bill before the November election. The Office of Federal Relations continues to urge our delegation and the conferees to retain language in the bill to reauthorize the University Transportation Centers (UTCs) in their current configuration. UW operates the Region X UTC, which was re-launched last month as the PacTrans Center.

The Senate is expected to spend most of this week considering the five-year farm bill. In a policy statement released June 7, the Obama administration expressed disappointment that the $969 billion measure wouldn’t achieve the savings it seeks in crop insurance and the commodity program. The leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee have argued that reducing premium subsidies for crop insurance, something the president proposed in his 2013 budget request, might cause farmers to leave the program or reduce their level of coverage, which ultimately could cost the federal government in the event of a disaster. But critics of the program argue that the federal government is subsidizing private insurance companies and well-financed farm operations. Several research programs are also authorized in this bill, which could impact UW research efforts on biofuels, forestry, and resource management.

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