This Week in Washington…

Posted on December 12, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized |

TOP 5 STORIES THIS WEEK

  • A budget agreement reached Tuesday by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., includes a $63 billion spending increase for 2014 and 2015, but offsets these gains with $85 billion in deficit reductions over the next decade, a move that could make it palatable to conservatives.
    Look ahead: The House is expected to pass the deal, and Senate Republicans say it is likely to pass the upper chamber, as well.
  • Leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees on Monday announced a compromise bill that includes some changes to the handling of sexual assault, but falls short of the amendment offered by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.
    Look ahead: The House could vote as early as Thursday on the bill, but aides described the timing of the vote, which would occur under a suspension, as “very fluid,” saying that it could instead occur on Friday.
  • The Senate on Tuesday confirmed Patricia Millett to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, and later confirmed Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., as director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency. The body confirmed Cornelia Pillard for the D.C. Circuit early Thursday morning.
    Look ahead: Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., threatened to hold the Senate through the weekend, if necessary, to confirm the remaining presidential nominees.
  • The Federal Reserve, SEC, FDIC, CFTC, and OCC on Tuesday adopted the Volcker Rule, a critical provision of the Dodd-Frank financial-reform law that aims to seeks to reduce risk-taking among banks.
    Look ahead: Banks have until July 21, 2015 to come into compliance with its regulations.
  • House and Senate negotiators conceded Tuesday that a final farm bill will not be ready this year, but expressed optimism that agreement could be reached next month.
    Look ahead: House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., on Tuesday filed a short-term extension of the legislation through the end of January.

WHITE HOUSE

  • Phil Schiliro, a former legislative-affairs director who aided in the passage of the health care law, is returning to the White House “for a short-term appointment to help coordinate the policy implementation,” working with Congress and various federal agencies.
  • The president told a forum moderated by television mogul Haim Saban that while the interim nuclear agreement with Iran could yet fail, “we have to try,” as it is the best option to ensure U.S. and Israeli national security.
  • Speaking in a Johannesburg soccer stadium filled with scores of dignitaries and thousands of South Africans, President Obama told the crowd, “The world thanks you for sharing Nelson Mandela with us.

CONGRESS

  • Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., and House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., on Tuesday announced a budget agreement that will increase military and domestic spending over the next two years.
  • House Democrats expressed frustration at Republicans’ efforts to include the “doc fix,” which they had hoped to use as a legislative vehicle to extend the long-term unemployment insurance program, and are not whipping the overall budget deal.
  • Leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees on Monday announced a compromise bill that includes some changes to the handling of sexual assault, but falls short of the amendment offered by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.
  • After negotiators conceded Tuesday that a final farm bill will not be ready this year, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., on Tuesday filed a short-term extension of the legislation through the end of January.
  • The Senate confirmed Patricia Millett to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on a 56-38 vote, and later confirmed Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., as director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency.
  • On an early-morning vote Thursday, the Senate confirmed Cornelia Pillard, a Georgetown law professor, to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

POLITICS

  • Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas, withdrew his filing for reelection on Monday, instead seeking to oust Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who has drawn conservative fire for breaking with Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, on defunding Obamacare.
  • Tough reelection battles for Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and Kay Hagan, D-N.C., could serve as a referendum on the Southern Democrat.
  • Former RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie, who has never sought elective office, floated a challenge to Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., calling it “a very winnable race,” saying that the incumbent is not the centrist he has claimed to be.
  • Democratic state Sen. Katherine Clark garnered 66 percent of the vote in a special election for the House seat vacated by Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and will be sworn in Thursday.
  • A CBS News/New York Times poll finds the president’s approval ratings recovering following repairs to the Affordable Care Act website, while a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows disapproval at an all-time high for both Obama and Democrats, and an Associated Press/Gfk poll finds both the president and Congress underwater.
  • For most of this year, House Republicans pursued a simple agenda for Obamacare: Repeal it. Recently, party members have focused more on how they might fix it—and Democrats are seizing on some of their comments as proof that the GOP fears the political consequences of a repeal-only strategy.

BUDGET & ECONOMY

  • The Federal Reserve, SEC, FDIC, CFTC, and OCC on Tuesday adopted the Volcker Rule, a critical provision of the Dodd-Frank financial-reform law that aims to seeks to reduce risk-taking among banks.
  • The Treasury Department sold its remaining shares of General Motors, recovering $39 billion of its $49.5 billion investment, and said that the alternative to the controversial bailout would have included the loss of “more than 1 million jobs, billions in lost personal savings, and significantly reduced economic production.”
  • Despite Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s prediction that the central bank would begin scaling back its monthly bond purchases by the end of 2013, officials have yet to reach a consensus on timing, as some seek additional evidence that the economy is rebounding.
  • The United States and 11 other nations failed to reach agreement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership during four days of negotiations in Singapore, but expressed optimism for another round of talks in January.
  • Federal prosecutors are nearing a settlement with JPMorgan Chase over the bank’s ties to Bernard Madoff, which could involve a criminal action and approximately $2 billion in penalties, much of which would be used to compensate the victims of Madoff’s scheme.

ENERGY & ENVIRONMENT

  • The Interior Department finalized a rule which lengthens the current five-year permitting for unintentional eagle deaths caused by wind farms and other facilities.
  • White House Council on Environmental Quality Director Gary Guzy announced he is leaving the Obama administration.
  • Governors from Northeastern states want EPA to impose stricter controls on Midwestern and Southern states.
  • TransCanada has started loading the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline, which brings crude to Gulf Coast refineries.
  • John Podesta, who will serve as an adviser to Obama on energy and climate change issues, has asked not to be involved in a final determination on the Keystone XL pipeline.
  • The new Capitol Hill budget plan cleared the way for a U.S.-Mexico offshore drilling agreement to proceed, signaling the apparent end of a House-Senate impasse that has stalled implementation of the 2012 accord.

FOREIGN AFFAIRS

  • Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s chief diplomat, said Thursday that Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, under fire for rejecting a trade and cooperation pact under pressure from Russia, has reversed course and now “intends to sign” the deal.
  • The United States and the United Kingdom paused nonlethal aid to northern Syria after Islamic Front fighters took over bases held by Western-backed rebel forces.
  • Diplomats in Vienna aren’t expected to reach an agreement on when the six-month enrichment freeze of Iran’s nuclear program—under the interim agreement reached last month—should start.
  • Current and former intelligence officials said the CIA’s 12-year-old espionage program to collect information on terrorists has largely failed.
  • The White House clarified that Iran testing a ballistic missile would not violate the interim agreement reached last month over its nuclear program.
  • The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved Alejandro Mayorkas’s nomination to serve as deputy Homeland Security secretary, over strong objections from a key Republican.

HEALTH CARE

TECHNOLOGY

  • The House Energy and Commerce Committee approved legislation Wednesday that encourages federal agencies to cede their spectrum for auction to the private sector.
  • Eight technology companies, including Google, Microsoft, and Apple, pushed for reforms to government surveillance in an open letter printed in national newspapers and on a website launched Monday.
  • National Security Agency chief Keith Alexander told Congress on Wednesday that he knows no better way to ensure the safety of Americans from terrorism than the agency’s controversial domestic-surveillance programs, which he conceded have the potential to be “extremely intrusive.”
  • The National Security Agency is using cookies—which can be used to track a person’s movement across the Internet—and other location data to help find potential targets for hacking and increased surveillance.
  • Republicans in the House accused the Federal Communications Commission with attempting to revive the Fairness Doctrine, which once required TV and radio to broadcast opposing views on controversial issues.

OTHER NEWS

  • General Motors named Mary Barra, a 33-year veteran of the company who began her career as a co-op student with its Pontiac brand, as its new chief executive.
  • Thamsanqa Jantjie is defending himself from accusations that he faked the sign-language interpretation of speakers’ remarks during Tuesday’s memorial service for Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg.
  • Cade Foster, a placekicker for the University of Alabama, received a handwritten note of support from former President George W. Bush following his team’s loss to Auburn.
  • Police in Los Angeles have arrested 16 teenagers for looting a vacant La Habra Heights mansion of valuables, including a mounted snow leopard valued at $250,000.
  • A Nevada couple and four children who disappeared Sunday during a trip to play in the snow were found safe Tuesday; rescuers credited their survival to the decision to remain with their disabled vehicle and set fires for warmth.
  • An internal report revealed that animals at the Smithsonian National Zoo are adversely impacted by staff shortages.

QUOTES

  • “It’s a strange new normal, isn’t it?” — Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., on opposition to his budget by conservative groups. (National Journal)
  • “They’re using our members and they’re using the American people for their own goals,” he said. “This is ridiculous.” — House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, on the same groups. (Los Angeles Times)
  • “As a conservative … ” — Ryan, three times, in describing his budget deal. (National Journal)
  • “You are in a foxhole fighting to save our constitutional Republic … and the last thing you need is a Republican bayonet in your back.” — Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas, announcing his run against Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. (Stockman’s website)
  • “[Stockman] wasn’t on my radar screen.” — Cornyn (National Journal)

CHARTS AND GRAPHICS

  • Quartz charts the growth of various commodities in the Chinese economy.
  • Carlos Scheidegger and Kenny Shirley chart voting trajectories for the MLB Hall of Fame.
  • The Washington Post charts spending levels in the new budget deal.
  • National Journal charts the cost savings that will cover sequestration relief.
  • Fast Company envisions D.C. without height restrictions.
  • National Journal demonstrates how to make Eisenhower’s eggnog.

Future events

  • Thursday, Dec. 12 – The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing on the nominations of Joseph Westphal to be ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; Mark Gilbert to be ambassador to New Zealand and to the Independent State of Samoa; George Tsunis to be ambassador to the Kingdom of Norway; John Estrada to be ambassador to the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago; and Luis Moreno to be ambassador to Jamaica, at 2:30 p.m. in 419 Dirksen.
  • Thursday, Dec. 12 – The Atlantic Council will hold a discussion, “Key Policy Issues for U.S. Nuclear Cooperation: Ensuring a Safe, Secure, Competitive Global Nuclear Industry,” at 3 p.m. at 1030 15th Street NW.
  • Friday, Dec. 13 – The Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee will hold a field hearing, “Fueling America: Enabling and Empowering Small Business to Unleash Domestic Production,” at 2 p.m. at 211 E. Devalcourt Street, Lafayette, La.
  • Friday, Dec. 13 – The Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security will hold a meeting by teleconference of the President’s Export Council Subcommittee on Export Administration on policies of encouraging trade with all countries with which the United States has diplomatic or trading relations and of controlling trade for national security and foreign policy reasons.
  • Friday, Dec. 13 – The Alliance for Health Reform and The Commonwealth Fund will hold a briefing, “Tackling Health Care Costs: Finding Common Ground,” at 12:15 p.m. in G-50 Dirksen.
  • Friday, Dec. 13 – The Senate Finance Committee will hold a markup to vote on the nominations of Sarah Bloom Raskin to be deputy Treasury secretary; John Koskinen to be commissioner of Internal Revenue for the term expiring Nov. 12, 2017; and Rhonda Schmidtlein to be a member of the U.S. International Trade Commission for a term expiring Dec. 16, 2021.
  • Friday, Dec. 13 – The Center for Law, Economics and Finance at GWU Law; and the Department of Finance at the GWU School of Business will hold a symposium on “The Past, Present, and Future of the Federal Reserve System” at 8:45 a.m. at 805 21st Street NW.
  • Monday, Dec. 16 – First lady Michelle Obama will visit the Children’s National Medical Center at 2 p.m. at 111 Michigan Avenue NW.
  • Monday, Dec. 16 – The State Department will hold a meeting of the U.S. National Commission for the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization at 10 a.m. at 2201 C Street NW.
  • Monday, Dec. 16 – TechFreedom and the International Center for Law and Economics will hold a conference, “The FTC (Federal Trade Commission): Technology & Reform Project,” at noon at 1401 Pennsylvania Avenue NW.
  • Tuesday, Dec. 17 – The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing, “The Federal Arbitration Act and Access to Justice: Will Recent Supreme Court Decisions Undermine the Rights of Consumers, Workers, and Small Businesses?” at 10 a.m. in 226 Dirksen.
  • Tuesday, Dec. 17 – Common Cause will hold a conference-call briefing, beginning at 3 p.m., to discuss “important victories and looming challenges” in the organization’s “battles to protect voting rights, stem the corrosive influence of money in our elections and get the U.S. Senate working again,” at 3 p.m.
  • Tuesday, Dec. 17 – The Bipartisan Policy Center will hold a discussion, “Does Dodd-Frank Work for Non-Banks? Insurance as the Test Case,” at 10 a.m. at 1225 I Street NW. Sens. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio are scheduled to participate.
  • Wednesday, Dec. 18 – The Aspen Institute will hold a discussion, “Paralysis, Dysfunction and Gridlock in Washington – and Solutions for Fixing the Mess,” at 11:30 a.m. at 1 Dupont Circle NW.
  • Wednesday, Dec. 18 – The Health and Human Services Department will hold the 15th meeting of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues to discuss the BRAIN Initiative and ongoing work in neuroscience at 9 a.m. at 1001 14th Street NW.
  • Wednesday, Dec. 18 – The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a markup of S.1486, to improve, sustain, and transform the United States Postal Service, and the Cybersecurity Recruitment and Retention Act, at 10 a.m. in 342 Dirksen.
  • Wednesday, Dec. 18 – The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will hold a hearing, “What Information Do Data Brokers Have on Consumers, and How Do They Use It?” at 2:30 p.m. in 253 Russell.
  • Thursday, Dec. 19 – Mrs. Obama will visit Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, where she will deliver toys and gifts donated by Executive Office of the President staff to the Marine Corps’ Toys for Tots Campaign, at 2:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 12 – The House Financial Services Committee will hold a hearing, “Rethinking the Federal Reserve’s Many Mandates on Its 100-Year Anniversary,” at 2 p.m. in 2128 Rayburn.
  • Thursday, Dec. 19 – The Energy Department’s Office of Nuclear Energy will hold a meeting of the Nuclear Energy Advisory Committee at 8:30 a.m. at 775 12th Street NW.

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