Legislative Update for Week Ending January 10, 2014

Legislative Update for Week Ending January 10, 2014

This week, appropriators in both chambers of Congress continued working on an omnibus, and President Obama nominated Sen. Max Baucus (MT) – Chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee – to be the next ambassador to China. In addition, The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) saw three key bills gain support.

Appropriators Hit Omnibus Hurdle

Last week, leaders in the House and Senate seemed confident that the $1.2 trillion omnibus would be ready for a vote in the House by Friday, January 10th, so that the Senate could take it up by Monday, the 13th. However, appropriators in the House and Senate have failed to reach that self-imposed deadline due to some unforeseen obstacles.

Those involved in the negotiations initially agreed to steer clear of controversial policy riders, but within the last week, more than one hundred and thirty divisive policy riders have been submitted. Sifting through them has been a lengthy process, according to Sen. Barbara Mikulski (MD), Chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee. The new target for finalizing the spending package, she said, is “over the weekend.”

Lawmakers have until Wednesday, January 15th, to finish their work on the omnibus. Should they fail to reach a consensus by that date, one of two things will happen: they will need to pass a short-term stopgap funding measure to buy more negotiating time, or the federal government will shut down once again. At this point in time, a stopgap measure lasting two or three days seems likely.

TSCL will keep a close eye on the evolving negotiations in the coming days, and we will post updates here in the Legislative News section of our website.

Finance Chairman Nominated for Ambassador

This week, President Obama nominated Sen. Max Baucus (MT) to be the next U.S. ambassador to China. Currently, Sen. Baucus serves as the chairman of the powerful Finance Committee – the Senate committee that holds jurisdiction over all Medicare and Medicaid issues. As the chairman, he controls the committee’s business, sets the agenda, and decides which bills to act upon. Should his nomination be successful, as it is expected to be, the chairmanship will be up for grabs.

Already, there has been much speculation about who will fill the influential position. The current frontrunner is Sen. Ron Wyden (OR), who has been outspoken about reforming Medicare in the past. More recently, however, he has turned his focus toward coordinating the care of beneficiaries with chronic conditions. He recently stated, “Dealing with chronic disease, protecting the Medicare guarantee, and holding down costs … That’s where the money is.”

It remains to be seen which Senator will fill the important chairmanship position, or if the nomination will even be successful in the coming weeks. Hearings for Sen. Baucus will likely begin at the end of January. In the meantime, TSCL will keep an eye on the nomination’s movement.

Three Bills Gain Cosponsors

This week, five new cosponsors signed on to the Social Security Fairness Act (S. 896 and H.R. 1795), bringing the total up to sixteen in the Senate and one hundred and eight in the House. The new cosponsors are: Sens. Al Franken (MN) and Mazie Hirono (HI), and Reps. Matt Cartwright (PA-17), Mario Diaz-Balart (FL-25), and Al Green (TX-9). If signed into law, the bill would repeal the Government Pension Offset and the Windfall Elimination Provision – two provisions that unfairly reduce the earned Social Security benefits of millions of state and local government employees each year.

In addition, two new cosponsors – Reps. James McGovern (MA-2) and Gwen Moore (WI-4) – signed on to the Strengthening Social Security Act (H.R. 3118), bringing the total up forty-seven. If signed into law, the bill would reform the Social Security program in three ways: it would adjust the benefit formula, resulting in more generous monthly benefits; it would adopt the Consumer Price Index for Elderly Consumers (CPI-E), resulting in more accurate cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs), and it would lift the cap on income subject to the payroll tax. The bill would extend the solvency of the Social Security Trust Fund responsibly, without cutting benefits for seniors.

Finally, one new cosponsor – Rep. Robin Kelly (IL-2) – signed on to the Elder Protection and Abuse Prevention Act (H.R. 3090) this week, bringing the total up to forty-eight. If signed into law, the bill would incorporate elder abuse prevention trainings, screenings, and reporting protocols into all senior service access points that receive federal funding. H.R. 3090 would take an important step in preventing elder abuse – a problem that affects an estimated 14.1 percent of all non-institutionalized older adults each year.

TSCL enthusiastically supports S. 896, H.R. 1795, H.R. 3118, and H.R. 3090, and we were pleased to see support grow for them this week.