Update from Washington, D.C. 09/14/2012
After an extended summer recess, lawmakers returned to the
nation’s capital the week of September 10th for the start of a
truncated fall session. Party leaders, concerned about forcing
their members to take controversial votes before a critical
election, maintained a light schedule. However, Democrats and
Republicans alike were focused on preventing another potential
showdown over government spending.
Since Congress has failed to reach agreement on any of the annual appropriations bills, a stopgap funding measure is needed to keep the government operating past the current fiscal year, which ends on September 30th. For its part, the House has managed to pass seven of the 12 spending bills, while the Senate has been unable to advance any of its fiscal year 2013 measures.
The stopgap spending legislation (H J Res 117), otherwise referred to as a continuing resolution (CR), was unveiled earlier this week. It is a fairly straightforward extension that would fund the government for an additional six months through March 27, 2013. It also reflects the $1.047 trillion discretionary spending cap set in the 2011 debt limit law (PL 112-25), which is up slightly from the $1.028 spending limit that the House approved earlier this year. House conservatives accepted the higher spending limit in exchange for a promise that the CR would not include any contentious policy items.
It should be noted that the measure is not entirely “clean,” but the added provisions are not considered particularly controversial and, in most cases, address urgent needs related to the military, homeland security, and a handful of other programs. The House approved H J Res 117 on March 13th with a strong bipartisan vote. The Senate is expected to clear the measure sometime next week.
Despite a growing list of pending issues, the CR will likely be the last major act of Congress before lawmakers return to the campaign trail. Following the November elections, lawmakers are expected to convene a lame-duck session during which time they will be faced with the unenviable task of attempting to address a potential year-end “fiscal cliff” of expiring tax cuts, automatic spending reductions, a debt limit increase, and other fiscal deadlines.
In a related development, the White House is expected to release today a report on the impact of the automatic spending cuts. Specifically, the report will detail how much is expected to be cut from each federal account at the program, project, and activity levels if the scheduled $109 billion in automatic, across-the-board cuts – known as a budget sequester – are implemented on January 2nd. The report was due to Congress last week, but was delayed because of the complexity of putting the document together.
In other news, the Senate Indian Affairs Committee will hold a confirmation hearing the afternoon of September 14th for Kevin Washburn to be Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs at the Department of Interior. The post is currently held by Del Laverdure, who took the interim job when Larry Echo Hawk announced he was leaving the post.
Washburn is a member of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma and is currently the Dean at the University of New Mexico School of Law. He serves on several state boards, chairing the Judicial Selection Commission and the Judicial Compensation Commission for the state of New Mexico. He previously taught courses at the University of Minnesota Law School, Harvard Law School, and the University of Arizona’s law school.
Prior to his current job, Washburn served as General Counsel to the National Indian Gaming Commission. He also served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in New Mexico and was a trial attorney for the Department of Justice under the Clinton administration.
The Indian Affairs Committee is expected to question the new nominee’s views on the Supreme Court’s landmark Carcieri v. Salazar decision. In Carcieri, the Court ruled that the Interior Secretary’s trust land acquisition authority is limited to those tribes that were under federal jurisdiction at the time of the passage of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934.
Additionally, Washburn will likely be asked to share his thoughts on pending Carcieri legislation (HR 1291/HR 1234/S 676), which would reverse the Supreme Court’s decision. These so-called “quick fix” bills would provide the Interior Secretary with the authority to take land into trust for all Indian tribes. Aside from Carcieri, Washburn also may be questioned by committee members on the land-into-trust process, in general, as well as off-reservation gaming.