This Week in Washington…

Posted on December 6, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized |

TOP 5 STORIES THIS WEEK

  • A meeting this week between House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray yielded no agreement on a final budget, but aides say the chairs remain optimistic that a deal can be reached.
    Look ahead: House Republicans are prepared to pass a short-term continuing resolution to preempt a government shutdown before heading home next Friday for the holiday break; Democrats have publicly opposed the measure.
  • The Obama administration announced Sunday that it had met its goal of having HealthCare.gov working smoothly for the vast majority of users by the end of November.
  • Look ahead: The site faces a key test this week with an expected influx of users, while many states and insurance companies remain reluctant to rely on the federal infrastructure.
  • The four principal conferees on the farm bill said that comprehensive discussions held Wednesday helped to bridge disagreements on the legislation, but that a final measure is unlikely to pass before January.
    Look ahead: Lobbying efforts by competing agricultural interests are raising tensions at a time when appropriators have less funding to work with and are struggling to balance House and Senate visions of a new agricultural safety net.
  • Secretary of State John Kerry and NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen separately suggested that Afghan President Hamid Karzai need not be the one to authorize a bilateral security agreement.
    Look ahead: A spokesperson said that Karzai “will not authorize any minister to sign it” until previous demands are satisfied.
  • Vice President Biden, on a weeklong tour of Japan, China, and South Korea, has conveyed the administration’s displeasure with China’s newly declared air defense identification zone over the East China Sea.
    Look ahead: Biden’s visit, initially billed as a trade mission, has assumed greater urgency as the vice president aims to defuse tensions among the region’s powers.

WHITE HOUSE

  • President Obama called on Congress to raise the federal minimum wage, close tax loopholes to secure funding for infrastructure improvements, and reverse the budget cuts imposed by sequestration.
  • The Obama administration is facing calls to hold people accountable for the flawed rollout of the Affordable Care Act, and an ongoing review of the failings could lead to the ouster of senior-level officials.
  • Vice President Joe Biden, beginning his weeklong Asia tour in Tokyo, signaled the administration’s displeasure with China’s “unilateral effort to change the status quo,” but stopped short of calling on the Chinese government to roll back its newly declared air-defense identification zone.
  • The Obama administration announced Sunday that it had met its goal of having HealthCare.gov working smoothly for the vast majority of users by the end of November.
  • During an event observing World AIDS Day, President Obama announced plans to allocate $100 million in funding for a National Institutes of Health program seeking a cure for the disease.

CONGRESS

  •  House Democrats are coming out against a continuing resolution that Republicans could bring for a vote next week, which would maintain the funding cuts imposed by sequestration.
  • Lobbying efforts by competing agricultural interests are raising tensions at a time when appropriators have less funding to work with and are struggling to balance House and Senate visions of a new agricultural safety net.
  • Highly anticipated Senate votes on reforms to the military justice system are in doubt because of an impasse over the annual defense bill and flaring tensions over divisive changes to Senate rules. The situation has reform advocates intensifying their efforts, fearful that their moment is slipping away.
  • The budget conference committee missed its first deadline of sorts Monday, failing to reach an agreement on top-line budget numbers within a time frame requested by anxious congressional appropriators.
  • The House returned to work Monday with just seven more days on the legislative schedule this year and time running out on a budget deal, a farm-bill reauthorization, and a long list of other items requiring action by year’s end.
  • The House voted Tuesday to extend the Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988, without provisions designed to combat an influx of weapons produced using 3-D printers.
  • House Speaker John Boehner has hired Rebecca Tallent, director of immigration policy for the Bipartisan Policy Center, to spearhead House efforts on immigration reform, spurring optimism among reform advocates and consternation among opponents.
  • The week before Thanksgiving, the four principal negotiators on the farm bill failed to meet their own self-imposed deadline of reaching a framework for a conference report before taking a break for the holidays, but met three times last week and have talked on the phone several times since.

POLITICS

  • Democrats and Republicans face an uphill slog in their efforts to regain majorities: both parties have effectively consolidated their positions in the House, leaving little room for either party to make significant gains. Senate Republicans have had trouble defeating incumbent Democrats and, for that matter, winning the close races. In 2014, they have to do both.
  • Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., faces a primary challenge from state Sen. Chris McDaniel, who has seized on Cochran’s reputation as an earmarker and occasional compromiser to gain the backing of influential conservative groups and a political foothold to oust the incumbent.
  • poll released Wednesday by Harvard’s Institute of Politics suggests that young voters are increasingly disillusioned with both the president and his signature health care overhaul.
  • More than anything else, voters would be happiest if Congress and President Obama focused on creating jobs, according to the latest United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll. And they don’t care if lawmakers use Republican or Democratic ideas to do so.
  • Former Sen. Bob Smith, R-N.H., will mount a challenge to Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., despite earlier saying that he would stay out of the race.
  • Former California state Sen. Tony Strickland, a Republican, will mount a primary challenge to Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., in the state’s 25th Congressional District, rather than attempting a rematch of his 2012 contest with Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Calif., in the 26th District.
  • State Rep. Elbert Guillory, a Republican who switched to the Democratic Party in 2007 before returning to the GOP this year, is backing Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-La., in his challenge to Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., in 2014.

BUDGET & ECONOMY

  • The Commerce Department said Thursday that the country’s gross domestic product grew at an annualized rate of 3.6 percent, rather than the 2.8 percent previously reported.
  • The Justice Department plans to pursue fraud charges against banks early next year.
  • Federal regulators have reached a preliminary agreement on finalizing the “Volcker Rule,” which aims to prevent banks from engaging in certain speculative behaviors.
  • A federal judge ruled Tuesday that Detroit is eligible for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection, setting the stage for the largest municipal bankruptcy filing in U.S. history.
  • Bank of America will pay a $404 million settlement to Freddie Mac to resolve all outstanding claims related to home loans issued by Bank of America from 2000 to 2009. BofA previously agreed to repay $3.6 billion in cash to Fannie Mae, and to buy back $6.75 billion in loans sold by the bank and Countrywide Financial.
  • Despite record crowds over the long holiday weekend, the National Retail Federation expects total spending to decline by nearly three percent, to $57.4 billion.
  • Figures released Monday by the Institute for Supply Management indicate that domestic manufacturing increased at its fastest pace since April 2011, thanks to rising production, increased hiring, and a steady flow of orders.
  • The Supreme Court has denied petitions from Amazon and Overstock.com challenging New York state’s decision to subject Internet purchases to the sales tax applied to brick-and-mortar stores.

ENERGY & ENVIRONMENT

  • The U.S. Chamber of Commerce launched an ad praising Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell as a strong supporter of the coal industry.
  • The White House moved to extend an initiative to boost energy efficiency in federal buildings through 2016.
  • Nine states with a regional power-plant emissions cap want EPA to let them use the system to meet federal carbon-emissions rules for existing plants.
  • Industry groups asked a federal court to overturn BPs suspension from new government contracts following the 2010 Gulf oil spill.
  • Sixteen Democrats in Congress called for cutbacks on hydrofluorocarbons.
  • A bipartisan group of lawmakers from both the House and the Senate sent letters to the Environmental Protection Agency raising concern that the Energy Star program lacks transparency.

FOREIGN AFFAIRS

  • The NSA is monitoring cell-phone locations, allowing the agency to track individuals.
  • Secretary of State John Kerry assured Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday that the interim agreement with Iran does not impact the core sanctions against the country.
  • Kerry and NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen separately suggested that Afghan President Hamid Karzai need not be the one to authorize a bilateral security agreement.
  • The four members of Congress that would lead a potential conference committee on the National Defense Authorization Act met on Monday to discuss how they could get the bill passed under a limited schedule.
  • Ahmet Uzumcu, director-general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, said Saturday that the United States will help destroy some of Syria’s chemical weapons at sea.
  • House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., is pushing for a bill to define what is, and is not, acceptable in any final deal on Iran’s nuclear program.
  • Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced Tuesday that Christine Fox, who previously served as the director for cost assessment and program evaluation, will step in as the acting deputy Defense secretary on Thursday.

HEALTH CARE

TECHNOLOGY

  • Following hours of back-and-forth verbal sparring, the House passed a bill Thursday that intends to reduce predatory patent litigation, marking the first step forward for patent reform advocates since the passage of the 2011 America Invents Act.
  • Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’s big reveal of his company’s planned use of delivery drones got everyone talking about the future of such technology—including the Senate, which announced plans to hold at least one hearing early next year discussing the use of commercial drones.
  • President Obama said he is unable to use an Apple iPhone for “security reasons,” though the president does use an iPad.
  • The Library of Congress released a landmark study finding that only 14 percent of American silent films still exist today in their original and complete format.
  • The Obama administration said it would begin reviewing facial-recognition technology early next year, following privacy concerns raised by Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., and others.

OTHER NEWS

QUOTES

  • “[I]f the Democrats think that Yoko Ono and Lady Gaga should be setting American energy policy, I am happy to go on record denying that it’s a good idea.” — Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, accusing Democrats of taking their cues from Hollywood. (National Journal)
  • “We’ve got to start changing the conversation and we can’t think that bankruptcy is the worst thing that ever happened to us. It can help us.” — Detroit Mayor Dave Bing (MLive)
  • “Yeah, I wish I hadn’t called it Obamacare before because that has politicized it, and has been used by Republicans as a pejorative term.” — House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., sending a different message than the White House. (National Journal)
  • “Mother, get a life.” — Alexandra Pelosi, when her mom offered to let her veto her first congressional run. (Politico)
  • “[W]e’ve learned not to make wild promises about how perfectly smooth it’s going to be at all times.” — Obama, on implementation of the health care law. (National Journal)
  • “I got nothing to say to you guys. But have a nice day, all right?” — Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., on budget progress. (National Journal)
  • “This is my compass. My North Star. It gives me comfort and guidance to do what’s best for Arkansas.” — Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., holding the Bible in a new campaign ad. (National Journal)

CHARTS AND GRAPHICS

  • Scientist Stuart Rojstaczer charts grade inflation.
  • Princeton University economists Alan W. Blinder and Mark W. Watson chart the economy under different administrations.
  • Pew Research Center charts minimum-wage fluctuations since before 1940.
  • The National Retail Federation and the Census Bureau chart the growth of holiday sales and Cyber Monday buying.

Future Events

  • Thursday, Dec. 5 – The McCain Institute will hold a discussion, “Drone Wars: Are We Going Too Far?” at 5 p.m. at 701 Pennsylvania Avenue NW.
  • Thursday, Dec. 5 – The Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies will hold a discussion, “The Emperor Has No Clothes? The Limits of OPEC in the World Oil Market,” at 4:30 p.m. at 1717 Massachusetts Avenue NW.
  • Friday, Dec. 6 – UBIC North America will hold a seminar, “Big Data & Information Governance,” at 529 14th Street NW.
  • Thursday, Dec. 5 – The president will host two Hanukkah receptions in the Grand Foyer of the White House.
  • Friday, Dec. 6 – The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hold a field hearing, “Obamacare Implementation, the Broken Promise: If You Like Your Current Plan You Can Keep It,” at 10 a.m. at 300 E. Superstition Boulevard, Apache Junction, Ariz.
  • Friday, Dec. 6 – The Center for Responsive Politics will hold a discussion, “Politically Active Nonprofits: What We’ve Learned About Dark Money,” at 8:30 a.m. at 716 20th Street NW.
  • Saturday, Dec. 7 – Vice President Joe Biden will take part in a wreath-laying ceremony at the War Memorial of Korea; meet with U.S. Embassy staff and with American service members and their families; and travel to the demilitarized zone.
  • Monday, Dec. 9 – The Senate will resume consideration of S.1197, the National Defense Authorization Act, at 4 p.m.
  • Monday, Dec. 9 – The Senate will proceed to executive session to resume consideration of the nomination of Patricia Millett to be U.S. circuit judge for the District of Columbia Circuit at 5 p.m. At 5:30 p.m. the Senate will proceed to a vote on confirmation of the Millett nomination.
  • Monday, Dec. 9 – The Woodrow Wilson Center’s History and Public Policy Program and the National History Center of the American Historical Association will hold a seminar, “The Myth of Race and Its Many Political Uses, From the Colonial Era to Obama’s America,” at 4 p.m. at 1300 Pennsylvania Avenue NW.
  • Tuesday, Dec. 10 – Houston Mayor Annise Parker will deliver a National Press Club Newsmaker Luncheon address on “her political future and past, the renaissance of the American oil and gas energy industry, Texas’s thriving economy, and the challenges of managing city finances,” at 1:30 p.m. at 529 14th Street NW.
  • Tuesday, Dec. 10 – The Senate Finance Committee will hold a hearing on the nomination of John Koskinen to be commissioner of Internal Revenue at 10 a.m. in 215 Dirksen.
  • Tuesday, Dec. 10 – The Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee will hold a hearing, “Housing Finance Reform: Fundamentals of Transferring Credit Risk in a Future Housing Finance System,” at 10 a.m. in 528 Dirksen.
  • Tuesday, Dec. 10 – The Atlantic Council will hold a discussion, “The Danger of Divergence: Transatlantic Financial Reform & the G20 Agenda,” focusing on the future of international financial regulation, at 3 p.m. in 485 Russell.
  • Tuesday, Dec. 10 – The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations Subcommittee and Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee will hold a joint hearing, “Human Rights Abuses in Egypt,” at 9 a.m. in 2172 Rayburn.
  • Tuesday, Dec. 10 – The House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing, “The Iran Nuclear Deal: Does It Further U.S. National Security?” at 1 p.m. in 2172 Rayburn. Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to testify.
  • Tuesday, Dec. 10 – The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing, “The Transition in Afghanistan,” at 2:30 p.m. in 419 Dirksen.
  • Wednesday, Dec. 11 – The House Administration Committee will hold a hearing on “Establishing a Commission to Study the Potential Creation of a National Women’s History Museum” at 10:30 a.m. in 1310 Longworth. Witnesses include Reps. Marsha Blackburn and Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y.
  • Wednesday, Dec. 11 – The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing, “Continued Oversight of U.S. Government Surveillance Authorities,” at 2:30 p.m. in 226 Dirksen. Gen. Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency, is scheduled to testify.
  • Wednesday, Dec. 11 – The House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing, “Afghanistan 2014: Year of Transition,” at 10 a.m. in 2172 Rayburn.
  • Disruptive Women in Health Care holds the fifth annual mHealth Summit Dec. 9-11 at 201 Waterfront Street, National Harbor, Md.
  • Wednesday, Dec. 11 – The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Health Subcommittee will hold a hearing, “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act Implementation Failures: What’s Next?” at 10 a.m. in 2123 Rayburn. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is scheduled to testify.
  • Wednesday, Dec. 11 – The House Small Business Committee will hold a hearing, “The Small Business Health Options Program: Is It Working for Small Businesses?” at 1 p.m. in 2360 Rayburn. Gary Cohen, deputy administrator and director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, is scheduled to testify.
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