Federal Relations

June 25, 2012

Very Big Week in Congress

Today begins a very big week in Congress that could have huge consequences for the remainder of the calendar year.  First, the Supreme Court is expected to hand down its decision on the Affordable Care Act (ACA), a ruling that will likely dominate the airwaves this week.  Second, Congress must deal with two critical legislative issues this week before the June 30th deadlines:  student loan interest rates and highway funding.  If Congress does not take action by June 30th, interest rates on federal student loans will increase from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent.  Congress also faces a deadline to reauthorize highway and transit funding, or they must enact another extension for those programs to continue (this would be the 10th extension so far).  Finally, the House is expected to vote to hold US Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress this week for failing to disclose internal Justice Department documents on how federal officials allowed guns to fall into the hands of Mexican drug cartels (the “Fast and Furious” scandal for those of you following this closely).

Both the House and Senate are in session this week and will go into recess next week for the Fourth of July holiday.

Appropriations:  The House Appropriations Committee approved three more FY 2013 spending bills last week—Agriculture, Financial Services, and Transportation-HUD—and held a subcommittee markup of its FY 2013 Interior-Environment spending bill, which funds the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Geological Survey (USGS). The House Appropriations Committee held a subcommittee markup of the FY 2013 Interior-Environment Appropriations, which would provide $7 billion for the EPA, $1.4 billion (17%) below the FY 2012 enacted level and similar to the agency’s funding level in FY 1998. The bill also provides $967 million for the USGS, $101 million below the FY 2012 enacted level.

The full House has approved six of their FY 2013 spending bills. The full Senate, on the other hand, has yet to take up a FY 2013 spending bill and the appropriations committee has slowed its work after moving nine of its 12 bills through the process.  The Senate is not expected to take up any before next week’s Fourth of July recess.

The Supreme Court’s ruling on the ACA this week will certainly have an impact on Congress’ ongoing appropriations and budget debates. House appropriators have just one remaining measure to be unveiled — the Labor-HHS-Education bill. House leaders will almost certainly continue their attempts to “defund” the ACA when and if this measure comes up. Senate Democratic appropriators recently moved forward with their version of the FY 2013 Labor-HHS-Education bill that kept the funds intact.