‘Line’ Items: Health Care Moves, Budget Doesn’t

Health Care Reform Moves Toward Showdown – The House Budget Committee today voted to push health care legislation forward. It now moves to the House Rules Committee, which later this week will make changes and approve of a rule for its consideration on the House floor. The bill approved by the Budget Committee today was merely a placeholder, the Rules Committee will make changes endorsed by the Democratic leadership designed to “correct” the health care overhaul approved by the Senate late last year in order to attract more votes in the House.

Arcane Rules Provide Easter Eggs for Democrats – The Rules Committee is contemplating designing a complex rule that will allow the Senate bill to be “deemed” approved when the House either approves of the rule or the corrections bill, thus shielding members from directly voting on the Senate bill many of them find unacceptable without the legislative fix. This is similar to the rule that allowed the House to approve of the debt limit increase in January without directly voting on it. House leaders are aiming to have a final vote by the weekend to send it to the Senate. The Senate will then consider the corrections bill via the budget reconciliation process, which will allow it to be approved by a simple majority vote, avoiding a Republican filibuster. If all goes according to Democrats’ plans, the President will sign health care reform before Congress recesses for Easter. However, the votes are projected to be close. Many Democrats are still awaiting analysis of the budgetary effects of the legislation from the CBO before they decide how they will vote. Last week CRFB called for cost-containment to be the centerpiece for health care reform.

Resolve Slips on Budget Resolution – The health care debate likely means that work on the budget resolution will be put off until after the Easter break. Leaders in both chambers had earlier discussed the possibility of marking up a resolution before Easter, but health care is expected to delay that timetable. It is doubtful a resolution will be approved by the April 15 deadline.

Jobs Agenda Part One Set for Passage – The Senate is expected to approve of HR 2847, the HIRE Act, by tomorrow. Cloture was invoked this afternoon. The bill, considered the first part of Democrats’ “Jobs Agenda,” includes tax credits to employers who hire unemployed workers and reauthorizes highway and transit funding for the year. It also extends and expands the Build America bonds program. This version includes offsets for the entire $17.6 billion cost that the Blue Dogs demanded in the House.

Part Two Bids Much Higher Than HIRE – The Senate approved part two of the jobs agenda last week, a package that extends unemployment compensation and COBRA benefits for the unemployed, along with many tax breaks, until the end of the year at a cost of approximately $140 billion. Much of the cost is not offset, with many provisions deemed “emergency” spending that is not subject to PAYGO. CRFB called for longer term offsets as a means to make the bill more effective. An amendment from Senator Tom Coburn was unanimously approved that requires the Senate to post information concerning spending that is not paid for on its website. It is not clear when the House will act on this measure.

Sky’s the Limit for FAA Reauthorization – The Senate this week is expected to resume consideration of the reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration. The popular bill has attracted numerous amendments, including one from Senator Russell Feingold to rescind unused transportation earmarks, an earmark moratorium, and another attempt by Senators Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL) to cap discretionary spending.

An Earful on Earmarks – Reigning in earmarks has become a popular topic in Congress. Democratic leaders of the House Appropriations Committee last week announced they would not approve earmarks for for-profit entities. The House Republican Conference followed quickly with a one-year ban on earmarks. The Senate is not so keen to follow the lead of the House.