Weekly ‘On the Hill’ Update

ON THE HILL…The House was in recess this week.

Senate appropriators on Thursday advanced a fiscal 2013 spending bill for labor, health and education programs, after turning back Republican efforts to restrict the National Labor Relations Board’s authority and to curb funding for a provision of the 2010 health care overhaul law. The Senate Appropriations Committee approved the draft measure along party lines, 16-14. The legislation would provide nearly $753.4 billion in total budget authority, including $158.8 billion in discretionary funding — $2 billion more than fiscal 2012 levels and roughly equal to the president’s request.  The Committee has not posted the full text of the legislation so funding levels for key programs is not yet available. We will make that information available when we get it.  It is not expected that this bill will be considered by the full Senate before the election, but rather that funding for programs under its jurisdiction will continue to be funded at 2012 levels until sometime after election or even into the new year.

The Senate on Wednesday rejected an effort by Sen. Rand Paul (R, KY) to drastically cut food stamp spending and replace the food aid program with block grants to the states.  The 65-33 vote to defeat the Paul amendment was part of debate on a five-year, half-trillion-dollar farm and food bill.  The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps, provides aid to some 46 million people.  The farm bill would reduce food stamp spending by $4 billion over the next decade by eliminating abuses.  Paul’s amendment would have cut $322 billion over the same period by capping spending at $45 billion a year and turning over funding decisions to the states.

Rep. George Miller (R, CA), the top Democrat on the House Workforce Committee, is drafting legislation to raise the minimum wage. Miller’s proposal – which will include a series of small, gradual hikes modeled on a bill championed by Sen. Tom Harkin (D, IA) – strays from the approach urged last week by a group of House Members who, behind Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D, IL), want a sharp and immediate increase in workers’ wages. Jackson this week called the gradual approach “unacceptable.”

The Democratic chairman of the Senate Finance Committee offered a centrist vision for overhauling the tax code Monday, arguing a streamlined system with fewer tax breaks and lower tax rates could be a catalyst for economic growth. Delivering prepared remarks at the Bipartisan Policy Center, Senator Max Baucus of Montana said he was “making progress on a detailed tax reform proposal that will attract bipartisan support.” But he did not say when, or even if, he would release such a plan, apart from noting it would be difficult to do so before the November election. Baucus said a tax overhaul should accomplish four goals: create jobs, improve business competitiveness, encourage innovation and increase social mobility.

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