This Week in Washington…

Posted on December 19, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized |

TOP 5 STORIES THIS WEEK

  • The Senate passed the bipartisan budget agreement on a 64-36 vote Wednesday, with nine Republicans joining Democrats in support of the bill.
    Look ahead: Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski; her House counterpart, Rep. Harold Rogers; and their subcommittee chairs have already begun discussions and will be working through the holidays to craft a 12-bill omnibus package that Congress will address when lawmakers return in January.
  • The Senate voted 71-29 Wednesday to invoke cloture on the National Defense Authorization Act, placing the measure on track for a vote late Thursday evening.
    Look ahead: The measure is expected to pass the Senate and head to President Obama for signature.
  • U.S. District Judge Richard Leon, a veteran of controversial cases involving the government, ruled this week that the National Security Agency’s compiling of Americans’ phone records is likely unconstitutional.
    Look ahead: Leon stayed his own opinion to allow the administration to appeal.
  • President Obama plans to nominate Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., who is retiring next year after six terms in the Senate, to serve as U.S. ambassador to China.
    Look ahead: Baucus appears to have a clear path to confirmation, and his departure could trigger a domino effect on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
  • Reps. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, Frank Wolf, R-Va., and Tom Latham, R-Iowa, all announced plans to retire following the 113th Congress.
    Look ahead: The trio of retirements could present pickup opportunities for the opposing parties.

WHITE HOUSE

  •  President Obama plans to nominate Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., who is retiring next year after six terms in the upper chamber, to serve as U.S. ambassador to China.
  • The Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies issued a report Wednesday concluding that the National Security Agency should no longer maintain a database of Americans’ phone records, and recommending further scrutiny of proposed surveillance of foreign officials.
  • Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors, who previously served as director of legislative affairs and as deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, is reportedly weighing a 2014 departure from the administration.
  • Obama met this week with leading technology executives, assuring them that he “will consider their input” on questions surrounding government-surveillance programs.
  • Obama commemorated the one-year anniversary of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary by lighting candles for the 26 victims and calling for action on gun control.
  • The president and first lady Michelle Obama met Wednesday with a group of mothers to emphasize their “unique role” in encouraging young adults to obtain health insurance.
  • The first family attended the star-studded “Christmas in Washington” celebration, which benefits the Children’s National Medical Center and will be broadcast on television Dec. 20.

CONGRESS

  • The Senate passed the bipartisan budget agreement on a 64-36 vote Wednesday, with nine Republicans joining Democrats in support of the bill.
  • The Senate voted 71-29 Wednesday to invoke cloture on the National Defense Authorization Act, placing the measure on track for a vote today or Friday.
  • Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski; her House counterpart, Rep. Harold Rogers; and their subcommittee chairs have already begun discussions and will be working through the holidays to craft a 12-bill omnibus package that Congress will address when lawmakers return in January.
  • House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is reportedly eyeing the top spot on the Ways and Means Committee, a post that would heighten his profile and influence in the GOP policy arena.

POLITICS

  • Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said that despite early problems with implementation, the health care law will turn out to be “a net positive” for Senate Democrats, ultimately helping them to retain control of the chamber.
  • Rhode Island Treasurer Gina Raimondo entered the state’s gubernatorial race Wednesday, likely launching a Democratic primary battle against Providence Mayor Angel Taveras.
  • Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, will not seek reelection in 2014, he said Tuesday, a development that National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., called “a warning signal to Democrats coast to coast.”
  • Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., on Tuesday announced plans to retire after more than 30 years in the House; he said he’ll focus on “human rights and religious freedom” at home and abroad.
  • Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa, said Tuesday that he will retire at the end of the 113th Congress.
  • Former state Sen. Bradley Byrne, a Republican, won the special election in Alabama’s 1st Congressional District, capturing two-thirds of the vote against Democrat Burton LeFlore, a Realtor who has never held public office.
  • The rocky implementation of the Affordable Care Act has stolen focus from the immigration push and raised concerns about the government’s ability to process the millions of undocumented immigrants who would be eligible for legal status.
  • The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee raised $5.1 million last month, an off-year November record for the DSCC, which began December with $12 million on hand and $5 million in debt, down from $6.2 million at the start of November.
  • At least nine Republicans—both former members and failed challengers—are moderating their rhetoric in comeback bids, instead targeting the Affordable Care Act.

BUDGET & ECONOMY

  • The Federal Reserve announced plans to reduce its monthly purchases of long-term Treasury bonds from $45 billion to $40 billion, and of mortgage-backed securities from $40 billion to $35 billion, beginning in January.
  • The Fed will not impose a planned requirement for banks’ capital holdings relative to their total assets, which would apply to eight of the country’s largest financial institutions, until the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision presents its final rule.
  • A White House push for congressional approval of fast-track trade-promotion authority is emerging as a key early test next year of President Obama’s already-battered second-term clout on Capitol Hill, with a main obstacle being the majority of his fellow Democrats in the House.
  • Just three days after Christmas, 1.3 million people will lose their federal emergency unemployment insurance, after an extension of benefits failed to make its way into the budget deal that passed the Senate this week.

ENERGY & ENVIRONMENT

  • Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said the near-ban on U.S. crude oil exports is ripe for revisiting, comments that arrive as major producers, including Exxon Mobil, are pressing to relax limits imposed in the 1970s.
  • The federal Export-Import Bank vowed to restrict financing for overseas coal-fired power plants.
  • Six Senate Democrats want the Interior Department to suspend plans to sell more oil-drilling leases in Arctic waters until there’s a “thorough reevaluation” of environmental risks.
  • Fifteen states, including California and New York, want the agency to grant states flexibility in implementing caps on carbon emissions from power plants.
  • Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Vietnam’s Mekong Delta to vow cooperation on climate change and warn China about the environmental effects of building dams upriver.
  • Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus proposed an overhaul of energy tax policy that he says will simplify today’s “confusing and costly” maze of incentives.
  • Former Energy Secretary Steven Chu joined the board of directors for a Canadian company that works on carbon-capture and storage projects.
  • Former Environmental Protection Agency official John Beale was sentenced in federal court to spend 32 months in prison after pleading guilty to theft of government property.

FOREIGN AFFAIRS

HEALTH CARE

  • About 365,000 people chose a health care plan on the state and federal exchanges in October and November.
  • The HHS secretary testified Wednesday before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, assuring members that payments to insurers would be made on time.
  • The one-month extension eases concerns that the sickest people may face a coverage gap due to problems with HealthCare.gov.
  • Enrollment records for close to 15,000 consumers shopping on HealthCare.gov were not sent to insurance companies in October and November.
  • HHS says the number of missing enrollments since the beginning of December has been near zero, but insurers claim improvements are overstated.
  • The White House announced Tuesday that Kurt DelBene, a former president of Microsoft’s Office division, will lead the administration’s efforts to repair the troubled health care site upon the departure of Jeff Zients to serve as chief economic adviser.
  • AHIP extended the deadline for consumers in most states to pay their premiums for coverage beginning Jan. 1 until Jan. 10, responding to the Obama administration’s request that insurers relax some coverage rules.
  • ACA enrollment is surging in state exchanges; California averaged 15,000 enrollments per day early last week.

TECHNOLOGY

  • A D.C. District Court judge determined that the NSA’s collection of metadata on phone calls is likely unconstitutional and characterized the programs as “almost Orwellian.”
  • The Federal Communications Commission began compiling a database of subscribers to its Lifeline phone subsidy program, also known derisively as the “Obama phone” service.
  • The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on how to curb abusive patent litigation practices, but senators remain divided on how to approach the issue.
  • Edward Snowden released an open letter Tuesday seeking asylum in Brazil.
  • Chinese hackers reportedly infiltrated the Federal Election Commission computer system during the October shutdown.

OTHER NEWS

QUOTES

  • “They need to focus on executive action given that they are facing a second term against a cult worthy of Jonestown in charge of one of the houses of Congress.” –Obama adviser John Podesta, on dealing with House Republicans (Politico)
  • “The Republican Party is also a nonviolent party, and if you allow 2 million passengers every day to yap their innermost thoughts while strapped in 17-inch seats between two other persons, you’d have to have 10 new air marshals on every airplane.” –Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., on opposing cell-phone calls on airplanes (National Journal)
  • “I don’t want to do it more than eight more years.” –Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., on how long he will retain his post (Roll Call)
  • “I don’t think there’s going to be unanimous consent on anything until hell freezes over.” –Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. (Roll Call)
  • “That’s just the way God works. Sometimes some of us are lucky and some of us are not.” –New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, on the heartbreaking story of a homeless girl (Politicker)
  • “That’s like trying to convince people that Dan Quayle is smart.” –Mitt Romney, on his image issues (BuzzFeed)

CHARTS AND GRAPHICS

  • Pew charts various measurements of income inequality.
  • NASA makes a rainbow with the sun’s wavelengths.
  • Quartz charts the increased permission requests by free apps.
  • Kaiser charts potential health care enrollees by age group.
  • Pew charts public opinion on the big stories of the year.

 

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