Following are a few noteworthy Congressional happenings in Washington D.C. during recent weeks, as reported by the NWYC Congressional Review & Preview Report.
The Debt Ceiling: The House cleared a ‘clean’ debt limit measure by a 221-201 vote. It extends the nation’s borrowing limit through March 15, 2015. Raising the debt limit does not authorize new spending, but does allow the federal government to pay existing financial obligations. The nation’s debt is currently about $17.2 trillion.
Drought Information Act: The House passed a measure designed to better inform and provide for timelier decision-making to reduce drought-related impacts and costs across the nation.
Military Compensation Reform Revisited: The Senate approved 95-3 a bill to repeal section 403 of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013. The House Budget Committee chairman said the section “undermines” a tenet of the bipartisan budget deal by reducing the cost-of-living adjustment to the retirement pay of members of the Armed Forces under age 62. The repeal would do away with those cuts.
Defense of Marriage: GOP Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah have introduced the “State Marriage Defense Act.” If passed, the bill would cede marriage definition to states for federal purposes, which would effectively reverse the gains same-sex couples made after the Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act in the summer.
Indebted Flood Insurance Program: When it returned from a weeklong recess on Feb.25, the House was expected to take up its version of a Senate-passed flood insurance bill stipulating that the program cannot increase premiums by more than 15 percent each year on any property.
Tax Extenders Calling Congress: Pressure is on for lawmakers to extend more than 50 expired tax breaks. The extenders run from obscure provisions to significant breaks for businesses, including a provision for research and development and increased depreciation and expensing allowances. Extending all breaks would cost more than $938 billion over 10 years, according to CBO.
Stop Targeting of Political Beliefs by the IRS Act: This House passed bill would limit the IRS’s authority to grant tax-exempt status for nonprofit organizations. It would delay for one year a regulation that prevents tax-exempt organizations from conducting voter registration activities. The measure is Republicans’ response to last year’s allegations that the IRS was targeting for investigation Tea Party and other conservative groups that were seeking tax-exempt status. The bill next goes to the Democrat-led Senate, where it is expected to meet opposition.
Unfunded Mandates Information and Transparency: The House approved a measure that would require federal agencies to disclose the cost of federal mandates and would allow those affected by the mandates to weigh in on them. It is in an attempt to ensure that Congress and the public will have tools to determine the true costs of federal regulations. The White House has issued a veto threat and the Senate is expected to ignore the measure.
Chemical Bill: House lawmakers are considering a draft bill to regulate chemical safety. The measure would allow the EPA to designate chemicals as high or low priority for determining whether a substance poses a public health hazard. Environmental groups say it would not adequately protect the public from hazards posed by some of the approximately 84,000 chemicals used in commerce.
ALERT Act of 2014: The House passed a bill that would require the head of each federal agency to submit monthly reports for each rule that an agency expects to propose or finalize during the following year.
Tax Reform: House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) unveiled a draft measure intended to strengthen the economy and simplify the tax code.
The Consumer Financial Protection Safety and Soundness Improvement Act: The House passed a bill that would restructure the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Looking ahead: Both parties are braced for battles over the sequester; the Interior Department ignored warnings from Democrats and Science groups and moved ahead with an environmental review that is expected to lead to seismic exploration for oil and gas resources off the Atlantic coast; and House lawmakers are expected to introduce a measure to combat the growing problem of counterfeit prescription drugs.