Washington Update

Looking Forward—What’s on the Congressional Agenda

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In the coming weeks, Congress needs to replace the current Continuing Resolution (CR) (P.L. 113-46) that will expire on January 15. There is still movement around negotiating a deal to re-do the automatic spending cuts under sequestration. According to CQ HealthBeat News, Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) declined to comment when asked whether he could support the fall-back option suggested by Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) if there is no conference committee deal. If no deal, another CR would lock in the scheduled sequester cuts, 5% across the board, for the rest of FY14.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) indicated that Democrats would likely accept a CR based on the sequester cuts if there is no other deal. “If the alternative is shutting the government down, we’ll fund the continuing operation of the government,” he said. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) said he would support a last-ditch CR at the sequester level, adding “We’ll have to. Absolutely.” Senate Appropriations Chair Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) was not receptive to the idea of a sequester-linked CR, saying “That’s a ship that you can float it, but it’s a ship that won’t sail.”

Also, there is some momentum to raise the hourly minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10. Sen. Tom Harkin has filed (S.1737) to initiate the debate. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) would like to raise the workweek threshold from 30 to 40 hours per week for workers covered by the employer mandate under the Affordable Care Act. Sen. Collins’ bill (S. 1188) is being seen as an alternative to the minimum wage bill.

Now that the “nuclear option” has been exercised in the Senate, which removes the requirement to have a super-majority (60 votes) to confirm a judicial or executive nominee, the stage is set for the consideration of key nominees.  The Senate will consider three nominees to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.  The D.C. Circuit Court has broad powers of review which include such matters as air and water rules, nuclear plant safety, insider trading and, of course, the Affordable Care Act. Also, up for consideration is Rep. Watt (D-NC) for the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Jeh Johnson for the Department of Homeland Security and Janet Yellen to lead the Federal Reserve.

Lastly, on February 7, 2014, the U.S. government will hit the congressionally imposed debt ceiling limit again.  Therefore, if the suspension of the debt ceiling is not extended on or before the February date, the Treasury will have no room to borrow under standard operating procedures. If that should happen, the Treasury would have to begin employing extraordinary measures to allow continued borrowing for a limited time. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that those measures would probably be exhausted sometime in March 2014.

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