Government Affairs and Public Policy - Feb 14, 2014

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The Elevator Speech Overview

The House and Senate were in session this week, but left town as quickly as possible to avoid weather related delays due to the snowstorm that hit the east coast Wednesday evening. President Obama hosted a state dinner for French President Francois Hollande on Tuesday, attended by a diverse group  of celebrities and politicians. Although initially discussing various policy riders to attach to a debt ceiling increase, Speaker of the House John Boehner relented and took a “clean” suspension of the debt ceiling on Tuesday that raises the debt ceiling until well past the 2014 mid-term elections.  The measure passed with only 28 GOP votes and nearly all House Democrats supporting. After overcoming a filibuster threat in the Senate on Wednesday, the bill was sent to President Obama for his signature. Legislation repealing the December budget deal’s cuts to military pensions was also passed and sent to the White House this week. House Democrats departed for their annual policy retreat in Cambridge, MD on Wednesday. Washington, D.C. was mostly shut down Thursday as a result of the winter storm.

Both the House and the Senate are on recess next week in honor of Presidents’ Day. Returning the week of the 24th, Congress will have a three-week congressional work period, during which the President will release his budget request for fiscal year (FY) 2015. Originally due February 3, the request was delayed due to extended negotiations in Congress over the spending package for this year. It will be released in two installments  -  on March 4 and March 11.

The Week's Top 5

Here’s a look at some of the top political stories of the week:

  • The After GOP filibuster bid, Senate votes to suspend Treasury’s borrowing limit – “After a dramatic vote, the Senate cleared the critical 60-vote threshold Wednesday that allowed for passage of legislation to suspend the Treasury’s borrowing limit… After the filibuster threat was choked off, the Senate approved the debt ceiling legislation on a party-line vote, 55 to 43, sending it on to President Obama for his signature, ensuring that the Treasury will not default on more than $17 trillion in federal debt.” (Washington Post)
  • Senate Votes to Roll Back Military Pension Cuts –“The Senate voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to roll back a recent pension reduction for younger military retirees, underscoring lawmakers’ struggles to cut big benefit programs. The measure, which passed in the Senate by a 95-3 vote, heads to the White House, where President Obama is expected to sign it…” (WSJ)
  • Affordable Care Act delay sparks new mandate fight while 3.5 million more uninsured sign up for coverage–“Once again, it’s employers who are getting a break from their Obamacare mandate – and that’s sure to increase the pressure on the Obama administration to delay the mandate for individuals, too. Regulations announced by the Obama administration Monday give two levels of delay to employers who would have had to cover their workers next year…” (Politico)   The administration also announced that ACA enrollment continues to rise with 3.5 million new enrollees since last month’s report.  Watchers continue to be concerned about weak numbers among the relatively young and the impact that will have on insurance markets.
  • Obama Administration Releases Voluntary Cybersecurity Rules for Critical Infrastructure– “The Obama Administration released voluntary cybersecurity guidelines for utilities, banks and other crucial industries Wednesday, framing them as a basic step companies can take to secure their networks against hackers and other online threats... Companies in the sectors are wary of any requirements in this area, because they would require upfront investments and potentially engender liability down the road if a company that participates is the target of a major attack…” (WSJ)
  • Obama raises minimum wage for federal contractors–“After promising for weeks to do so, President Obama on Wednesday signed an executive order raising the minimum wage for federal contractors... The executive order, which Obama had announced in the State of the Union address... is the first unilateral action of the administration’s 2014 strategy of emphasizing moves the president can take on his own. It would require companies that do business with the federal government to pay their workers at least $10.10 per hour. Like most executive actions, this one has much more limited impact than a new law...” (LA Times)

The Week Ahead

  • Both the House and the Senate are on recess during the week of February 17. The Senate will be back on February 24 and the House will resume business on February 25. Following the recess, Congress will be back in session for a three-week work period.
  • When it returns, the House is expected to deal with legislation related to flood insurance, IRS rules on the political activity of tax-exempt 501(c)(4) groups, and the ability of the IRS to ask taxpayers certain questions about their personal beliefs.
  • Once the Senate returns, the agenda is expected to include legislation addressing veterans’ health benefits, unemployment insurance, energy efficiency and sexual assault in the military.

Although not yet released at the time of publication, the weekly legislative schedule for the House will be posted here.
The Senate schedule for the week of February 24 is available here.
Although not yet released at the time of publication, the President’s weekly schedule will be posted here.

Elections: 2014

With the mid-term 2014 elections fast approaching, campaign season is already underway. In the coming weeks, we will be providing updates of the major developments in key races.

  • Current State of Play
    • Democratic-controlled Senate (55D-45R): -6 Dem/ +6 GOP net change needed to flip control
      • Republicans are defending 14 seats.
      • Democrats are defending 21 seats.
    • Republican-controlled House (232R-200D): +17 Dem/ -17 GOP net change needed to flip control
      • There are 37 competitive or potentially competitive Republican-held seats.
      • There are 40 competitive or potentially competitive Democrat-held seats.
  • Six-Year Itch
    • Historically, the president’s party fares poorly in second-term midterm elections.
Year President Party Seat Change in President’s Party: House Seat Change in President’s Party: Senate
2006 G. W. Bush R -30 -6
1998 Clinton D +5 0
1986 Reagan R -5 -8
1974 Nixon/Ford R -48 -4
1966 Kennedy/Johnson D -48 -4
1958 Eisenhower R -48 -12
Average     -29 -6
  • A Tight Race in Kentucky
    • A new Louisville Courier-Journal poll, conducted 1/30-2/4, has Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes leading incumbent Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) by four points: 46%-42%. (TIME)
    • Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s tea-party challenger, Matt Bevin, says he would have opposed the 2008 federal bailout of banks. Yet as president of an investment fund, Bevin signed a report in 2008 praising the government’s intervention to stabilize the market. (Politico)
  • Recent Spate of Retirements
    • On Wednesday, Rep. Gary Miller (R-CA-31) announced his intention to retire, likely ceding his left-leaning district to the Democratic party. (Politico)
    • On Thursday, Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA-4) – Chair of the House Natural Resources Committee – became the latest Member to announce his intention to retire, adding to the list of high-profile departures. (Roll Call)
    • With several high profile California Members announcing their intention to retire, the 53-member delegation has lost a significant amount of collective experience. Senior retiring members include: Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA-25), Chair of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA-33) and Rep. George Miller (D-CA-11), both leading allies of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. (National Journal)

Public Opinion

As the 2014 Winter Olympics launched in Sochi, a new poll  by Gallup conducted February 6-9 showed American’s opinion of Russia is at the lowest point in two decades.

  • Overall opinion of Russia
    • 34% - Favorable [NET CHANGE since 02/2011 = -17]
    • 60% - Unfavorable [NET CHANGE since 02/2011 = +18]
  • Overall opinion of Russian president, Vladimir Putin:
    • 19% - Favorable [NET CHANGE since 09/2013 = 0]
    • 63% - Unfavorable [NET CHANGE since 09/2013 = +9]

State of the Economy: According to a Pew Research Center poll  conducted February 6-9:

  • Thinking about some specific aspects of the nation’s economy… Please tell me what you are hearing about each of the following.
    • Stock market
      • 13% - Mostly good news
      • 21% - Mostly bad news
      • 49% - A mix of good and bad news
    • Real Estate Values
      • 25% - Mostly good news
      • 19% - Mostly bad news
      • 44% - A mix of good and bad news
    • Prices for food and consumer goods
      • 9% - Mostly good news
      • 43% - Mostly bad news
      • 41% - A mix of good and bad news
    • Job Situations
      • 12% - Mostly good news
      • 42% - Mostly bad news
      • 44% - A mix of good and bad news