House Democrats Submit Deficit Reduction Ideas to Super Committee
Late this week, House Democrats presented a laundry list of recommendations on deficit reduction to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (Super Committee), as mandated by the Deficit Reduction and Control Act. Democrats framed the items as priorities to “create jobs, raise revenue and avoid damaging cuts to public works, health care and other programs.” The act provided a deadline of October 14 for the committee to accept suggestions from outside entities, and has received submissions from lawmakers, industry groups and advocacy organizations.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) announced that Republicans would not send the Super Committee formal suggestions, adding that Republican lawmakers are in regular contact with Super Committee members.
Committee Ranking Democrats transmitted their own letters, as opposed to joint letters co-signed by Republican committee chairs. This lack of a unified, bi-partisan response further highlights the deep political division between the parties and casts a shadow over prospects that the Super Committee will achieve a final agreement that is more than bare bones minimum. The committee has until November 23 to vote on a proposal. If a committee majority passes the proposal, it would be presented to Congress for an up-or-down vote, with no amendments, by December 23.
Super Committee members began leaking options under consideration such as a corporate tax repatriation initiative, which would allow companies to bring dollars back into the country and benefit from lower tax rates. This leaking suggests one of two alternatives: either the committee is setting the stage to blow up such approaches through leaks that will generate congressional opposition, or it is a signal that corporate tax reform is the key to deficit reduction.
House Democratic Correspondence:
Committee on Appropriations: Ranking Member Norm Dicks Letter
Committee on Energy and Commerce: Ranking Member Henry A. Waxman Letter
Committee on Homeland Security: Ranking Member Bennie G. Thompson Letter
Committee on Natural Resources: Ranking Member Ed Markey Letter
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure: Ranking Member Nick J. Rahall Letter
Committee on Ways and Means: Ranking Member Sander Levin Letter
House Hearing on National Infrastructure Bank
On October 12, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Highways and Transit held a hearing entitled, “National Infrastructure Bank: More Bureaucracy & More Red Tape.” The hearing focused on the President’s proposed infrastructure bank included in the American Jobs Act and other alternative financing approaches for major infrastructure construction projects.
Subcommittee Chairman Jimmy Duncan (R-TN) opened the hearing stating: “This proposal is simply just another distraction as Congress pushes for a long-term surface transportation reauthorization bill. The Administration should be focused on helping Congress pass this much overdue legislation and give the states some long-term funding certainty that a National Infrastructure Bank would most certainly not accomplish.” Full Committee Chairman John Mica (R-FL) was more blunt in his assessment, “A national infrastructure bank, as proposed, is dead on arrival in the House of Representatives.”
The President’s specific proposal for $50 billion in immediate transportation infrastructure investment and the National Infrastructure Bank has garnered little support in Congress. However, the general emphasis on infrastructure investment has been embraced on a bipartisan basis as a job-creation strategy and is expected to remain a top priority as Congress moves forward this fall.
Testifying at the hearing were: Gary Ridley, secretary, Oklahoma Department of Transportation; Gabriel Roth, civil engineer and transport economist, Independent Institute; Scott Thomasson, director of public policy, Progressive Policy Institute; Ron Utt, senior research fellow, Heritage Foundation; and Geoffrey Yarema, partner, Nossaman LLP.
Cutting EPA Spending
On October 12 the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing entitled “Cutting EPA Spending.” This hearing was held to “examine how the Environmental Protection Agency has put into practice the President’s repeated commitment to conduct a “line by line” review of the federal budget.”
The hearing centered on the results of recent EPA spending-reduction initiatives, as well as identifying and prioritizing further program targets for potential elimination or cuts. Some committee members expressed concern that blanket cuts could affect ongoing projects and cause a loss in jobs. The overall tone was that EPA should implement more of GAO’s recommendations, and look to be more efficient in areas such as rent and un-liquidated allocated funds. Testifying at the hearing were: Barbara J. Bennett, Chief Financial Officer, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); Arthur A. Elkins, Jr., Inspector General, EPA; and David C. Trimble, Director, Natural Resources and Environment, Government Accountability Office.
House Continues Effort to Roll Back Regulations
On Thursday the House voted 275-142 to pass the EPA Regulatory Relief Act of 2011 (H.R. 2250). The bill would require the EPA to re-propose the rules affecting more than 200,000 boilers, process heaters, and incinerators, which were announced earlier this year, and finalize them exactly 15 months after the bill’s enactment. The EPA would then have to give regulated facilities at least five years to comply after the standards become effective. On October 3, the president issued a veto threat.
Administration Expediting Infrastructure Projects
On October 10, the Administration announced that 14 infrastructure projects would be expedited through permitting and environmental review processes. According to a White House statement, the plan, which includes fast-tracking 14 projects around the country, is based on a Presidential Memorandum issued in August at the recommendation of Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.
The announcement resulted in an immediate reaction from congressional Republicans calling for a suspension of all federal environmental regulations. Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Mica stated, “We must expedite the review process for all projects, not just a handful. When the entire infrastructure project process is mired in red tape, the administration’s plan is a drop in the bucket compared to what must be done.”
House Vents on Endangered Species Act
On October 13, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, Subcommittee on Investigations & Oversight held a hearing entitled, “The Endangered Species Act: Reviewing the Nexus of Science and Policy.” Setting the tone for the hearing, Chairman Paul Broun (R-GA) stated, “In terms of effectiveness, I believe it would be hard to argue that the law (ESA) has been anything but an abject failure. It is time for a complete overhaul.”
In his opening statement, Chairman Broun referred to a recent decision by retired U.S. District Court Judge Oliver Wanger concerning the (California) Delta Smelt Biological Opinion. Broun highlighted Wanger’s statements which questioned U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service research. In his decision Wanger said “And I am going to make a very clear and explicit record to support that finding of agency bad faith because, candidly, the only inference that the Court can draw is that it is an attempt to mislead and to deceive the Court into accepting what is not only not the best science, it's not science.”
Gary Frazer, Assistant Director, Endangered Species, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service testified that the U.S. Department of the Interior would investigate two of its scientists whose work on a California endangered species case was questioned by Wanger. Frazer stated that the agency would “hire independent experts to evaluate allegations made against the two scientists.” While the hearing did not make reference to specific pending legislation, several bills have been introduced seeking to roll back ESA protections:
S. 1580 and H.R. 2973, companion bills introduced by Sen. Hatch (R-UT) and Rep. Mattheson (R-UT), would allow the harming and killing of threatened Utah prairie dogs in Utah’s airports and cemeteries.
H.R.510: Idaho and Montana Wolf Management Act of 2011
H.R.1202: To restart jobs in the timber industry by providing for the protection of the Mexican Spotted Owl in sanctuaries.
Rep. Labrador (R-ID) and Sen. Crapo (R-ID) introduced companion bills (H.R. 2929 and S. 1552) aimed at amending the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to permit people to harm or kill grizzly bears in self-defense situations.
H.R. 1719 was introduced by Rep. McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), would require federal power agencies to estimate and report the costs of complying with the ESA on their monthly bills to customers.
Friday Vote on H.R. 2273 - Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act
On Friday, the House voted 267-144 to approve H.R. 2273, the Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act that would regulate coal ash under subtitle D of Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). The legislation is in response to the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rule to regulate coal ash under subtitle C of RCRA, which that would define coal ash to be hazardous waste. Currently coal ash is recycled or reused in a number of construction materials including cement, asphalt, bricks, shingles and wallboard.
The Administration issued a formal statement of policy in opposition to H.R. 2273 stating,” (the bill) is insufficient to address the risks associated with coal ash disposal and management, and undermines the Federal government’s ability to ensure that requirements for management and disposal of coal combustion residuals are protective of human health and the environment.”
Transportation Funding: All Donors – No Donees
This week, the General Accounting Office (GAO) released a report entitled, “Highway Trust Fund: All States Received More Funding Than They Contributed in Highway Taxes from 2005 to 2009.” During the life of SAFETEA-LU, from fiscal 2005 to 2009, no state paid more in fuel taxes than it received back from the federal government. (Alaska gets $4.99 back for every $1 it contributes). See the highlights and a state-by-state breakdown here, or the full GAO report, go here.
Rural Schools and Forest Funding Bill
This week, Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) formally introduced the County Payments Reauthorization Act of 2011 (S. 1692). Co-sponsoring the legislation are Senator’s Murkowski (R-AK), Baucus (D-MT), Crapo (R-ID), Wyden (D-OR), Risch (R-ID), Reid (D-NV), Tester (D-MT), Feinstein (D-CA), Boxer (D-CA), Cantwell (D-OR), Murray (D-WA), Bennet (D-CO), and Merkley (D-OR). According to congressional staff, the bill may be attached to an appropriations or omnibus-spending bill, this action is dependent upon identification of funding offsets. The bill would fund the Secure Rural Schools and Payments in Lieu of Taxes programs for 5 more years providing more than $1.5 billion to more than 700 counties with national forest lands to support public schools, county road improvement and maintenance projects, collaborative forestry projects, and wildfire risk reduction programs.
Rural Hospital and Provider Equity Act Introduced in Senate
On October 11th, Senators Kent Conrad (D-ND), Pat Roberts (R-KS), Tom Harkin (D-IA), and John Barrasso (R-WY) introduced the Craig Thomas Rural Hospital and Provider Equity Act of 2011 (S. 1680). This bipartisan legislation includes provisions that would modify outpatient therapy supervision requirements, extends various rural Medicare payment provisions, allows for telehealth services across state lines, and provides long-term funding authorizations for state offices of rural health among many important provisions.
House Moves to Repeal 3 Percent Withholding Rule for Certain Health Care Programs
This week, the House Committee on Ways and Means approved H.R. 674 to repeal the 3% withholding requirement on payments made to vendors by government entities. Under Section 3402(t) of the Internal Revenue Code, beginning next year federal, state, and local governments with more than $100 million in annual expenditures will be required to withhold 3% of their payments for goods and services.
Date: October 20 Time: 2:30 p.m.
Committee: Energy and Natural Resources
Hearing: Shale Gas Production and Water Resources