Update from Washington, D.C. 02/15/2013
On February 12, President Obama delivered his State of the Union
address before a joint session of Congress. The president
highlighted the need to act on several major issues, including
immigration reform, climate change, and gun control. President
Obama also stressed, among other things, the need for action on
the looming across-the-board spending cuts that are set to begin
on March 1. He called on Congress to avert the budget reductions
with a blend of targeted spending cuts and new revenue.
Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) delivered the GOP’s official response in which he criticized the president’s plan to replace the sequester cuts. He also spoke about the need for a balanced budget amendment and addressed the importance of protecting the integrity of entitlement programs, such as Medicare. For his part, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) expressed similar concerns. In fact, Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have asked the administration to provide Congress with a detailed list of budget reductions and entitlement reforms that the administration would support.
In a related development, House appropriators are finalizing a stopgap spending bill to prevent a government shutdown after March 27. The measure, which could see action in the coming weeks, will likely continue the current level of spending through the remainder of the fiscal year. It would not, however, address sequestration, specifying that the $85 billion in reductions for fiscal year 2012 would go forward unless it is separately turned off.
Responding to President Obama’s call for action on climate change, Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Bernard Sanders (I-VT) unveiled legislation on February 14 that would impose a fee on carbon and methane emissions. The funds generated from the fees would be used for a variety of activities including efficiency and renewable-energy technologies, worker-training and transition programs, as well as debt reduction. Boxer, who chairs the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, has vowed to move the climate legislation through her committee by summer. This will be no easy task, however, as Ranking Member David Vitter (R-LA) and other prominent senators from both parties, have expressed opposition to a carbon tax.
Aside from climate change legislation, Chairwoman Boxer also announced that the EPW committee would consider legislation as early as March to reauthorize the Water Resources and Development Act (WRDA). Senator Boxer’s current WRDA draft bill includes a section on levee vegetation, supported by CSAC, that would require the Secretary of the Army to undertake a comprehensive review of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ levee vegetation removal policy. For his part, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) also intends to pursue a WRDA reauthorization measure, but he has not established a timeline for his committee.
In other developments, the Senate approved legislation on February 12 that would reauthorize for five years the Violence Against Women Act. Specifically, the bill (S 47) would renew programs aimed at combating domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. It should be noted that the House and Senate passed competing reauthorization bills in the 112th Congress, but negotiations broke down late in the year.
Finally, President Obama recently nominated Sally Jewell, the CEO of outdoor gear retailer REI, to be his next Interior Secretary. Jewell is the first woman Obama has recommended to fill a second-term department-head opening.