Update from Washington, D.C. 12/21/2012
As the country continues to mourn the victims killed in a
shooting spree at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown,
Connecticut, the debate over gun control has intensified in the
nation’s capital. Congress is facing intense pressure from gun
control advocates to react to one of the most shocking mass
shootings in American history. In response, a number of lawmakers
have promised to pursue gun control legislation in the new
Congress, including Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who intends
to reintroduce legislation banning assault weapons.
For his part, President Obama on December 19 announced the creation of an interagency commission that will be tasked with finding solutions to reduce gun violence. Recommendations from the group, which will be headed by Vice President Joe Biden, are expected sometime in January. The president also outlined several measures he wants to see move through Congress early next year, including a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity clips, as well as mandatory background checks for all gun sales.
Meanwhile, President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) continued to discuss the broad terms of a “fiscal cliff” package. At one point, it appeared that the two sides were making substantial progress, evidenced by concessions outlined in recent proposals. The latest White House offer would, among other things, extend current tax rates for those making less than $400,000, up from a previous offer of $250,000, while allowing the Bush-era tax cuts to expire for those above the threshold. House conservatives, however, balked at the president’s offer, prompting Speaker Boehner to develop a so-called “Plan B” option should negotiations stall. Under his proposal, current tax rates would be extended for those making up to $1 million.
Although GOP leaders brought the “Plan B” measure to the House floor on December 20, Speaker Boehner was forced to pull it from consideration after it became clear that there was not enough support within the Republican conference to advance the bill. With no clear path forward in the House, Boehner has called on Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to develop a new plan. With the upcoming holidays and the unexpected memorial in Hawaii for Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI), who died on Monday, there are only a few working days remaining for lawmakers to resolve the standoff.
On a related matter, the House did manage on December 20 to approve on a 215 to 209 vote legislation that would replace the across-the-board spending cuts to Defense programs mandated by the Budget Control Act with alternative spending reductions of roughly $236 billion. The alternative spending cuts would be borne by non-defense discretionary programs, including cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Medicaid. The bill, known as the Spending Reduction Act of 2012 (HR 6684), is not expected to be considered in the Senate.
In other news, Congress is also grappling with how to advance an emergency supplemental package for communities hit hard by superstorm Sandy. The Senate this week began consideration of a measure that would provide $60.4 billion, as requested by the White House, for Sandy relief efforts. Democrats are pushing to clear the robust funding bill in the final weeks of 2012, but Republicans in both chambers are questioning the size of the request and are calling for more time to review the deal. In fact, Senate Republicans have proposed a $23.8 billion alternative that would target spending to immediate relief efforts. As of this writing, it is unclear whether the supplemental spending bill will progress prior to the end of the year.
Finally, there was a flurry of recent activity in the Senate aimed at securing passage of a Carcieri “fix,” as key lawmakers conducted a series of negotiations intended to produce a compromise bill that would restore the secretary of the Interior’s trust land acquisition authority while also providing for several key fee-to-trust reforms. In Carcieri v. Salazar, the Court ruled that the secretary may only acquire land in trust for those tribes that were under federal jurisdiction at the time of the passage of the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) of 1934.
Despite measurable progress at the negotiating table, it appears as though the Senate has run out of time to consider the Carcieri package. It should be noted that in addition to several key Indian land-into-trust reforms, the compromise language also would have made changes to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
For its part, CSAC worked very closely with Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) as the Senate negotiations progressed on the fee-to-trust component of the Carcieri package. Although it appears that a final bill will not be considered in the Senate, the negotiated language represents a good starting point for discussions once the 113th Congress convenes in the new year.