Weekly Policy Update

ON THE HILL … As many as three million Americans would be cut off from food assistance in the next year under a Republican proposal that cleared the House Agriculture Committee on Thursday.  The cuts, which are part of a broader farm bill, would reduce spending in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, by $16 billion over 10 years. The reduction is deeper than proposed SNAP cuts in a version of the farm bill that passed the Senate last month with bipartisan support.  Five Democrats joined all of the panel’s Republicans to reject an amendment to restore the cuts.  The panel also defeated an amendment that would have substituted the SNAP reductions in the House bill with the smaller cuts in the Senate bill, estimated to be about $4.5 billion. The panel also rebuffed an amendment that would have more than doubled the SNAP cuts, increasing the savings over 10 years to about $35 billion.  The fate of the farm bill is uncertain.  Speaker Boehner (R-OH) has concerns about it and has not scheduled it for floor action.

After considering the defense spending bill for fiscal 2013 next week, the House will not bring any more appropriations measures to the floor before the election, according to aides, making it highly likely each chamber will have to bundle funding bills during the lame duck session.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) on Tuesday made clear the Senate would not take up any of the 12 annual spending bills before the election.  It also is increasingly likely the House, once it takes up defense funding next week, will also be unable to pass each of its five remaining bills under regular order.  The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor-HHS mark-up is scheduled for Wednesday at 10 a.m.

Senate Republicans Thursday blocked a  small business tax credit (S. 2237)  intended to encourage employers to hire new workers, effectively killing the measure. The 53-44 vote fell short of the 60 votes needed to end the Republican filibuster. Originally part of President Obama’s jobs bill, the measure would provide a 10% credit on up to $50 million of a payroll increase by businesses and nonprofit employers. Also,  the bill would allow businesses to deduct the full cost of equipment purchased this year.

President Obama this week called on Congress to extend for one year the Bush-era tax cuts on couples’ income under $250,000 and single filers’ income under $200,000 and continuation of low income tax credits originally part of the Recovery Act.  Obama previously had sought a permanent extension of the current tax rates for middle-income earners. But he said Monday that a one-year extension was a reasonable way for Congress to head off an economic disaster next year while continuing to debate the proper level of taxation for upper-income earners and a possible overhaul of the entire tax system. Majority Leader Reid affirmed Tuesday that the Senate will vote on President Obama’s tax plan before the August recess despite some division in Democratic ranks on the proposal. Republicans are proposing to extend all of the Bush tax cuts, even to millionaires and billionaires.

An Internal Revenue Service rule could spark a new legal battle over the 2010 health care law, which the Supreme Court largely upheld last month. The rule, finalized May 18, allows the federal government to issue subsidies to low- and middle-income Americans to help them purchase health insurance through state and federal exchanges created by the health care law. Conservative lawmakers, however, argue that the law itself authorizes the subsidies only for those buying insurance through state, not federal, exchanges.  Republican Reps. Scott DesJarlais and Phil Roe, both physicians from Tennessee, contend that the IRS is using the rule-making process to circumvent Congress and expand the subsidies to a potentially huge new pool of Americans. DesJarlais and Roe are cosponsoring a resolution (H J Res 112) that would nullify the IRS rule. House Republicans on Wednesday voted for the 31st time to repeal President Obama’s health care law, a symbolic response to the Supreme Court’s ruling since the Senate will not take up the repeal question.

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