‘Line’ Items: Summer Arrives Edition

Summertime, but the Living Isn’t Easy in Congress – Today brings the first official day of summer, but Washington has already been experiencing searing days and the Capitol dome is about to blow off from the heat inside. The longest day of the year comes as lawmakers face a long road on appropriations and taxes, not to mention the never-ending “extenders” bill, which still has no end in sight.

Extenders Bill: Clay Pigeons and Dead Ducks – Legislation to extend tax breaks and expanded unemployment assistance has stalled in the Senate with the lack of 60 votes. Disagreement over offsetting the price tag remains the major obstacle. Without a breakthrough, the bill is dead in the water. Meanwhile, several pending amendments remain to be considered that will only add to the tough slog and could produce some interesting votes. Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) introduced an amendment to pay for the legislation by “reducing wasteful spending, inefficient, and duplicate government spending.” He has used a procedure called the “clay pigeon” to divide the amendment up into 20 separate amendments. Barring some sort of agreement, there will be 20 separate votes. According to Coburn, if all the provisions are adopted, it will result in savings of at least $379 billion. Senator George LeMieux (R-FL) has an amendment to roll back federal spending to 2007 levels and one from Senator Robert Casey (D-PA) would restore some COBRA subsidies for the unemployed; the cost will be partially offset by eliminating the advance earned income tax credit.

Doc Fix Not What the Doctor Ordered – The Senate did agree late last week to a six-month extension of relief for physicians from a 21 percent reduction in Medicare payments that is fully paid for. However, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) poured cold water on the deal, calling the compromise “inadequate” and casting doubt on if the House will vote on it. As we pointed out last week, an agreement to extend the so-called “doc fix” in the short term will not fix the problem.

House Set to Bypass Budget Resolution – House leaders indicate they will move forward with the appropriations process without a budget resolution. The news is not surprising seeing that the April 15 deadline for adopting a customary five-year budget blueprint passed over two months ago and little movement has been made in that direction. Many lawmakers are wary of engaging in a debate that will underscore the bleak fiscal outlook. Centrists and progressives could not reconcile disagreements over non-defense discretionary spending cuts. CQ reports that the Democratic leaders may try to move a “deeming” resolution this week that will set the spending cap that appropriators must adhere to. Leaders call it a “budget enforcement resolution” and it may move attached to the war supplemental. They are also considering adding language indicating support for reducing the deficit from 9.4 percent of GDP in fiscal 2010 to 3 percent of GDP in fiscal 2015, which is the goal announced by the White House. This will mark the first time since the current budget process was created in the 1970s that the House has failed to produce an initial budget blueprint.