Earlier today, Barack H. Obama was sworn in for his second term as the 44th President of the United States. During his inaugural speech, the President called for action on climate change, gay rights, immigration, and the nation’s partisan divide. The President also made the case that the nation needs to come together to do things people cannot do on their own — from training teachers to building roads to providing for the nation’s defense. On the deficit fights that have consumed much of the public debate in DC the past two years, Obama called for reform that still preserves entitlement programs.
Meanwhile, House Republicans unveiled their proposal today to temporarily increase the nation’s debt ceiling. The measure scheduled for House floor action this week would suspend the debt limit through May 18th, and then provide for an automatic increase in the current $16.4 trillion limit to match the amount of the government’s outstanding debt plus new obligations “to fund a commitment incurred by the federal government that required payment before May 19.” The legislation would also suspend the payment of salaries to lawmakers in either chamber that does not adopt a FY2014 budget resolution by April 15th, as required by the 1974 budget law. The measure is expected to be on the floor Wednesday.
Earlier today, House Republicans announced a plan to condition a three-month increase in the debt limit on the Senate committing to pass a budget by the April 15th statutory deadline. As a consequence of not meeting that statutory deadline, the House GOP proposal would withhold congressional members pay. The 1974 Congressional Budget Act requires passage of a budget resolution by that date each year, yet the Senate has not approved a budget for the past four years.
House Speaker Boehner (R-OH) had said since 2011 that any increase in the debt ceiling must be accompanied by dollar-for-dollar spending cuts or reforms. The new 3-month delay proposal would not include any additional spending cuts.
The White House, which has demanded a “clean” debt-ceiling increase free of spending cuts, welcomed the proposal as a step in the right direction.
The following are some bills that have been introduced in the first weeks of the 113th Congress that may be of interest to members of the UW community:
HR 118 (Holt, D-NJ) – National STEM Education Tax Incentive for Teachers Act of 2013, which would provide a credit for qualified tuition expenses up to $1000 for K-12 teachers in the STEM fields who have received a STEM-related degree from an institution of higher education. The bill is vague in exactly how “qualified educational expenses” would be measured or verified.
HR 267 (McMorris Rodgers, R-WA) – The Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act of 2013 would ease regulations on certain small hydropower projects and aims to make the process of constructing a conduit hydropower facility-one operated for the purpose of distribution of water for agricultural, municipal, or industrial uses, on a nonworking dam more efficient and streamlined.
HR 274 (Barber, D-AZ) – The Mental Health First Act of 2013, would direct the Secretary of DHHS to award grants to various state and local government organizations and non profits (institutions of higher education included), to develop and train individuals on the skills, resources and knowledge to assist individuals in crisis to connect with appropriate local mental health care services. The objectives of the training include safe de-escalation of crisis situations, recognition of the signs and symptoms of mental illness, and timely referral to mental health services in the early stages of developing mental disorders.
The full text of these bills can be found by going to thomas.loc.gov and searching for the respective bill number.
NIH Director Francis Collins calls the potential cuts from sequestration a “profound and devastating blow” for medical research. If Congress cannot find a way to achieve debt reduction without massive federal spending cuts, NIH will lose 6.4 percent of its budget this year. This could hurt the availability of research grants. Currently, 80 percent of NIH funding goes to university and medical school researchers but the odds of award have been declining in recent years. According to Collins, only one in six of those that apply receive grants; the chances used to be one in three. And all of this could get much worse if sequestration is implemented.
Read more at Politico.com.
Washington, DC is gearing up for the Presidential Inauguration, scheduled to take place on Monday, January 21st (MLK Day). The Senate will remain in recess until then (they were in recess last week as well), while the House is in session today through Wednesday.
The big issues facing this new Congress continue to be fiscal in nature. Last week, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) confirmed that the administration’s FY2014 budget proposal would be delayed until March. By law, the President’s budget proposal is due to Congress the first Monday in February, which will be February 4th this year, but many now expect it to be about a month late. Preparation of the FY2014 budget has been complicated by greater than usual uncertainty as Congress has yet to settle on final spending levels for the current fiscal year, which is currently under a continuing resolution (CR) until the end of March. And until last week’s fiscal cliff deal was enacted, it was unclear what tax rates would be in effect or whether $109 billion in automatic spending cuts would begin January 2nd (sequestration now delayed until the end of February). It now seems possible that the federal government may have to operate under a yearlong CR and that sequester is a distinct possibility.
But before Congress takes final action on FY2013, or preliminary action on FY2014, they must first deal with raising the debt ceiling. It is predicted that the government will begin defaulting on some of its obligations sometime between February 15th and March 1st. This debate will begin in earnest in the next couple of weeks, but the partisan messaging has already begun. Republican leadership is indicating that they may force a government shutdown if democrats and the President don’t agree to additional spending cuts in exchange for raising the debt ceiling. Democratic leadership has indicated that they would support the President in lifting the debt ceiling without congressional approval if an agreement cannot be reached in Congress.
While nothing seems certain these days, the one thing that is clear is that Congress will continue it’s partisan fight over how best to deal with deficit reduction and other major policy issues like gun control and immigration.
Tax reform has been discussed as a probable agenda item for Congress to tackle this year. But with the recent deal to increase tax rates for higher earners and making certain tax breaks permanent, there now seems to be waning interest in a comprehensive rewrite of our nation’s tax system. There are several reasons why: the fiscal cliff debate has fostered more distrust between the two parties, politics have become riskier and more complicated, and – most importantly – time is short. Before any real discussions about tax reform can commence, Congress needs to first deal with the debt ceiling and new deadline for sequestration. And many republicans are saying that new revenues are “off the table” for those discussions, while democrats are beginning to call for additional revenues as part of any new deal to raise the debt ceiling and get past sequestration.
If tax reform is to be, it will have to happen in 2013 to avoid the politics of an election year in 2014. And with the debt ceiling, sequestration, and finalizing FY2013 appropriations taking up the first three months of the year it is hard to see how Congress will have the time to take on tax reform. Add to that the urgent calls for gun legislation and then immigration reform, as promised by President Obama. Time will tell, but it looks like tax reform may sit on the back burner for the foreseeable future.
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D – TX) introduced the Deficit Reduction, Job Creation, and Energy Security Act (HR 70) last week, The bill directs the Secretary of Interior and the Secretary of Commerce, acting through NOAA, to initiate immediate action to create jobs in America by taking advantage of leasing opportunities and development of offshore oil and gas resources. Among the items of interest in the bill to the UW community is a provision for a portion of the interest payments from these leases to be held in a fund in the Treasury and used for a grant program through NOAA. The bill directs the Secretary of Commerce to allocate 60 percent of these funds to the National Grant Program for Coastal and Ocean Sustainability and Health, and of which 50 percent shall be allocated to institutions of higher learning, among other public entities, for activities “that are intended to restore, protect, maintain, manage, or understand marine resources and their habitats and resources in coastal and ocean waters, including baseline scientific research and other activities carried out in coordination with Federal and State departments or agencies, that are consistent with Federal environmental laws, and that avoid environmental degradation.”
The bill has been referred to the House Committees on Science, Space, and Technology, Natural Resources, and Transportation and Infrastructure.
In a rare appointment for a freshman Member of Congress, Congressman Denny Heck has been selected by his colleagues to serve on the House Financial Services Committee. The Committee is one of only four “exclusive” committees in the House—the other three being Appropriations, Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce. The House Financial Services Committee has jurisdiction over federal housing policy, Wall Street reform and consumer protection, and commercial insurance and banking issues. The Committee was Congressman Heck’s top request for committee assignment.
Due to the expansive list of policy concerns that fall within the Committee’s jurisdiction, Members who serve on one of the four exclusive committees are not permitted to serve on other House committees. As such, the Congressman will give up his seat on the House Budget Committee, which is a non-exclusive committee, to accept this high-profile appointment. Only six other members of the 49 member freshman Democratic class were named to an exclusive committee.
Full Press Release
Congressman Derek Kilmer (D-6th) has been named to the House Science, Space & Technology Committee. The Committee has jurisdiction over all energy research, development, and demonstration, and all federalland all federally owned or operated non-military energy laboratories; astronautical research and development; civil aviation research and development; environmental research and development; marine research; commercial application of energy technology; National Institute of Standards and Technology, standardization of weights and measures and the metric system; National Aeronautics and Space Administration; National Science Foundation; National Weather Service; outer space, including exploration and control thereof; science scholarships; scientific research, development, and demonstration.
The UW research community is fortunate to have Congressman Kilmer appointed to this committee.
Congresswoman Suzan DelBene (WA-01) has received her second committee assignment for the 113th Congress and will be serving on the House Agriculture Committee. The committee tackles a wide variety of issues ranging from agricultural research and development, rural economic development, crop insurance, food safety, international trade, and commodities regulation. Read more…