Weekly ‘On the Hill’ Update

ON THE HILL… Spending, tax and debt-related issues continue to dominate the attention of Congress, despite the fact that these matters are not expected to be resolved before the November elections and possibly well into next year.

The Senate this week considered and rejected five Republican budget resolutions (blueprints of congressional spending priorities that lack the force of law).  On separate votes, the Senate rejected motions to proceed to three budget proposals authored by Republican senators (Toomey, Paul and Lee), all of which would have led, if enacted, to large cuts in programs serving low and moderate income families and elders.  The Senate also voted on and rejected the House-approved Ryan budget and a GOP version of President Obama’s 2013 budget. Democrats rejected the votes as unnecessary because Congress agreed to spending levels for the 2013 fiscal year in last year’s debt limit law.

The House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources held a hearing on Thursday on “State TANF Spending and Its Impact on Work Requirements.”  To read the background information and witness testimony go to http://waysandmeans.house.gov/Calendar/EventSingle.aspx?EventID=294971.

House Speaker John Boehner (R, OH) renewed his call Thursday for President Obama and Senate Democrats to jump-start discussions on increasing the nation’s borrowing authority to avert a fiscal showdown at year’s end or early next year.   It was the third day in a row that Boehner has challenged the White House to push up the timetable for discussions about raising the nation’s borrowing authority, a step the Speaker has said Republicans would take only if an increase in the debt ceiling was matched with corresponding spending cuts equal to or greater than the debt hike.  President Obama told the four top congressional leaders at a White House lunch Wednesday that he wants a “clean” increase in the debt limit.  It is the responsibility of Congress to pass legislation to increase the nation’s borrowing authority, a step that the Treasury Department has said will not be necessary until late this year or early next year. The task has always been a difficult vote for Congress, particularly in election years.  Democratic leaders widely criticized Boehner’s debt-ceiling initiative. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D, NV) called the issue “premature,” and said Congress first must decide what to do about the automatic spending cuts scheduled to takes effect on Jan. 2, 2013.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner in a speech on Thursday argued for a “balanced” approach to the  budgeting that would not extend the Bush-era tax cuts for all taxpayers.  Geithner also said Congress should not reduce spending on Medicare, Social Security or domestic programs to fully extend the tax cuts that were first enacted in 2001 and 2003 and then renewed at the end of 2010. The tax cuts are set to expire at the end of this year.  Instead of just renewing the tax cuts again, Geithner urged adoption of “a carefully designed, balanced package of long-term reforms to restore fiscal sustainability.”  The expiring tax cuts are one element of what many observers call a “fiscal cliff” facing Congress at the end of 2012. This confluence of decisions regarding the federal budget is likely to be a focal point of the expected post-election lame-duck session.  Some lawmakers and congressional insiders say it is almost inevitable Congress and the White House will have to seek an extension of existing temporary tax cuts and put off the automatic spending cuts for several months into 2013, providing time for the two parties to work out their differences and avoid the so-called fiscal cliff.

Senate leaders next month may begin to answer demands from lawmakers for more floor debate on 2013 spending bills. The chamber may take up its first stand-alone fiscal 2013 spending bill, Commerce-Justice-Science,  shortly after the Senate returns from its Memorial Day break. Top Senate leaders have spoken this year of the need for the chamber to get back into the habit of bringing many of the 12 annual spending bills to the floor instead of relying heavily on sprawling measures combining several appropriations bills at the end of the year. The Senate has brought only one individual spending bill to the floor since 2010.

The House passed a Republican version of a bill to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act that President Obama threatened to veto because it does not provide protection for LGBT individuals, Native Americans and immigrants. The bill is headed to a conference with the Senate, whose bill does contain those elements and passed with bipartisan support.

The week ahead… The House will be in recess.  Senate Appropriations Subcommittees will continue their work on fiscal 2013 spending bills.

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