Capital Thinking Update - March 5, 2012

    View Authors 5 March 2012

    General Legislative

    On Monday, March 5, 2012, the House will meet at 12:00 p.m. for morning hour and 2:00 p.m. for legislative business. Three bills will be considered under suspension of the rules (two naming postal offices and one naming a U.S. courthouse). Thereafter, the House is expected to take up: H.R. 4105, a bill to apply the countervailing duty provisions of the Tariff Act of 1930 to nonmarket economy countries; H.R. 2842, the Bureau of Reclamation Small Conduit Hydropower Development and Rural Jobs Act; and H.R. 3606, the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act. The Senate will convene at 2:00 p.m. on Monday, March 5, 2012, for a period of morning business. On Tuesday, March 6, the Senate will vote on a cloture motion on the SAFETEA-LU Reauthorization.  


    Budget, Appropriations

    LEGISLATIVE ACTIVITY

    • Senate and House Budget Resolutions. The House and Senate Budget Committees are working on FY 2013 Budget Resolutions. With Senate Democratic Leaders, including Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), vowing to adhere to the FY 2013 discretionary spending cap of  $1.047 trillion established in the Budget Control Act of 2011 (P.L. 112-25), these budget resolutions will only be symbolic in nature, although they will allow for political positioning on deficit reduction. House Republicans are reportedly considering two options – one that would set the FY 2013 discretionary spending cap at $950 billion (incorporating anticipated sequestration cuts) and one that would set the discretionary spending cap at $931 billion (reverting to the level of funding passed by the House in its FY 2012 Budget Resolution and then incorporating the anticipated sequestration cuts). House leaders aim to meet the statutory deadline of April 15; given the spring recess schedule, the Budget Committee will likely mark-up the resolution in mid-March to enable a floor vote by the end of the month.

      The Senate FY 2013 Budget Resolution will also address deficit reduction necessary to avert the sequestration process, likely incorporating any proposal put forth by the renewed efforts of the “Gang of Six” (noted below).
    • Congressional Budget and Appropriations Committee Hearings. The Budget and Appropriations Committees in each chamber will continue hearings on the FY 2013 Budget Request this week:
      • Senate Appropriations Subcommittees will hold hearings on the FY 2013 Budget Request for the Department of Health and Human Services (March 7); Navy (March 7); Department of Homeland Security (March 8); Department of Justice (March 8); and FHA (March 8).
      • The Senate Budget Committee will hold a hearing on the FY 2013 Budget Request for the Department of Defense (March 6).
      • House Appropriations Subcommittees will hold a number of hearings on the FY 2013 Budget Request: FTC (March 5); Department of Health and Human Services (March 6); Department of Justice (March 6); US Geological Survey (March 6); Coast Guard (March 6); SEC (March 6); Air Force (March 6); National Nuclear Security Administration (March 6); Agriculture (March 6); National Science Foundation (March 6); Bureau of Land Management (March 6); USAID (March 6); Department of Defense (March 7); Treasury (March 7); Army Corps of Engineers (March 7); FEMA (March 7); Army (March 7); Department of Energy (March 7); Agriculture (March 7); FBI (March 7); ICE (March 8); Agriculture (March 8); Defense Health Programs (March 8); National Park Service (March 8); and Department of Transportation (March 8).

    OTHER BUDGET, APPROPRIATIONS NEWS

    • House Appropriations Ranking Member Norm Dicks (D-WA) to Retire. On Friday, March 2, Representative Norm Dicks (D-WA) announced that he would not seek re-election in November. Representative Dicks served on the Appropriations Committee for nearly 36 years, becoming Ranking Member in 2010. He also served as Ranking Member of the Defense Subcommittee. His departure sets the stage for the first woman - Representative Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) - to hold the post of Ranking Member, assuming she wins her primary race against Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) this week.
    • Return of the Gang of Six and Other Deficit Reduction Efforts. The Senate’s “Gang of Six” is resuming its efforts to craft a bipartisan deficit reduction proposal. The “Gang of Six” includes Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND); Majority Whip and Appropriator Richard Durbin (D-IL); Budget Committee Member Mark Warner (D-VA); Budget Committee Member Michael Crapo (R-ID); Finance Committee Member and federal spending watchdog Tom Coburn (R-OK); and Saxby Chambliss (R-GA). Four of these Members – Conrad, Durbin, Crapo, and Coburn – also served on the 2012 Simpson-Bowles debt commission. The “Gang of Six” produced a deficit reduction plan last year that was blocked by the broader partisan divide over entitlement reform and revenue increases.

      Rank-and-file Members in both Chambers - many of whom signed the bipartisan November 2, 2011 “Go Big” letter calling for consideration of mandatory and discretionary spending, as well as revenue options, to achieve $4 trillion in deficit reduction - are also working to come up with a long-term deficit reduction proposal based on the Simpson-Bowles Commission agreement.

      The upcoming elections and the threat of sequestration will certainly spur action in both chambers by both parties to come up with a long-term deficit reduction plan. However, it is very unlikely any such “Grand Bargain” will be reached prior to the November election.


    Education

    LEGISLATIVE ACTIVITY

    • House Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). On Tuesday, February 28, the Education and the Workforce Committee marked-up two bills (the “Student Success Act” (H.R. 3989) and the “Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act” (H.R. 3990) as part of its No Child Left Behind rewrite. The legislation would remove the adequate yearly progress provision at the center of the law, allowing states to craft their own accountability systems. Both measures passed on a party-line vote of 23-16.  After the markup, Chairman John Kline (R-MN) committed to seeking floor time for the bills in the House, but Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chair of the Senate HELP Committee, vowed to hold up that chamber’s ESEA reauthorization bill until the House passes a bipartisan measure.
    • Repeal of Higher Education Regulations. Also on February 28, the full House voted to repeal two Department of Education regulations aimed at setting the definition of a credit hour and expanding state oversight of institutions of higher education through authorization requirements. While the measure (H.R. 2117) passed the House easily (303-114), its future in the Democrat-controlled Senate is uncertain. The Administration released a statement the night before the vote, voicing its strong opposition to the bill, but it did not threaten to veto the measure.
    • Hearings. On Thursday, March 8, the Senate HELP Committee will hold a hearing at 10:00 a.m. titled, “The Key to America's Global Competitiveness: A Quality Education.” Additionally, two House Appropriations’ Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee hearings have been set to review the Department of Education’s FY2013 Budget Request: the first will be held March 22 at 10:00 a.m., followed by a second focused on K-12 education on March 27 at 9:30 a.m.

    REGULATORY ACTIVITY

    • GAO Report. On Monday, February 27, the Government Accountability Office submitted a report titled, “Postsecondary Education – Financial Trends in Public and Nonprofit Institutions,” to Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY), Ranking Member on the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. The report analyzes the financial trends in public and non-profit institutions of higher education, including tuition increases and state and federal funding. The report also discusses trends in institutional spending, graduation rates, and disclosure of information.
    • Grant Reform. On Tuesday, February 28, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) published an Advance Notice of Proposed Guidance in the Federal Register titled, “Reform of Federal Policies Relating to Grants and Cooperative Agreements.” This notice is part of the Administration’s initiative to reform the oversight of federal grant programs by aligning existing administrative requirements, as well as eliminating unnecessary and duplicative requirements. The proposed guidance will focus its reform efforts on the following three areas: (1) audit requirements; (2) cost principles; and (3) administrative requirements.  Comments must be submitted to OMB by March 29, 2012.  
      In his November 23, 2009, Executive Order 13520 on “Reducing Improper Payments” and his February 28, 2011, Presidential Memorandum on “Administrative Flexibility, Lower Costs, and Better Results for State, Local, and Tribal Governments,” President Obama directed OMB to work with the Executive Branch agencies, state, local, tribal governments, and other stakeholders to evaluate potential reforms to federal grants policies.  
    • No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Waiver Requests. On Wednesday, February 29, the Department of Education announced that 26 states and the District of Columbia formally submitted requests for waivers from key provisions of NCLB. These states are: Arkansas, Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.
      As reported in last week’s edition of Capital Thinking, the Department has approved 12 states’ waiver requests: Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. These states are now required to set new performance targets for student achievement, establish accountability systems to reward high-performing schools, and address the needs of the lowest performing schools. 


    Energy

    LEGISLATIVE ACTIVITY

    • CES. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) introduced his long-awaited “Clean Energy Standard Act of 2012” on Thursday, March 1. The legislation would employ a market-based approach and require larger utilities to obtain 24 percent of the electricity they sell from “clean energy sources” (including renewables, hydropower, nuclear, and other low carbon-intensive sources) beginning in 2015, increasing 3 percent annually thereafter through 2035 to 85 percent. Chairman Bingaman has requested additional EIA modeling analysis to reflect this new legislative approach. The proposal faces very long odds in moving towards Senate passage and then enactment in an election year.
    • Oil and Gas Taxes. President Obama is again calling on Congress to repeal billions of dollars in industry tax incentives. Democratic-led efforts to do so have so far failed to gain traction in either the House or the Senate.
    • Congressional Hearings. On Tuesday, March 6, the Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on “Keeping America Competitive through Investments in R&D”; a House Natural Resources subcommittee will hold an oversight hearing on the effect of the President’s FY2013 budget proposal for the Office of Surface Mining on private sector job creation, domestic energy production, state programs, and deficit reduction. On Wednesday, March 7, a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee will focus on rising gas prices. On Thursday, March 8, a House Natural Resources subcommittee will hold an oversight hearing on the effect of the President’s FY2013 budget proposal for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement on job creation, energy production, safety, and deficit reduction. On March 13, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will receive testimony on the independent consultant’s report on the DOE’s Loan Guarantee Program.

    REGULATORY ACTIVITY

    • Transmission. Comments on the DOE’s Request for Information on questions related to the permitting of transmission lines, such as how to make development times for generation and transmission more commensurate with one another, are due by March 28.
    • Offshore Wind. Letters of Intent for up to $180 million in DOE funding under the “U.S. Offshore Wind: Advance Technology Demonstration Projects” funding announcement are due by March 30; applications are due by May 31. Funds are subject to Congressional appropriations and may be used to cover up to 80 percent of a project’s design costs and 50 percent of hardware and installation costs.
    • Hydraulic Fracturing (HF). As the Office of Management and Budget continues its review of proposed Bureau of Land Management well design and safety certification standards for HF operations on federal lands, DOE, the Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are meeting to formalize a Memorandum of Understanding to coordinate research assessing potential air quality, ecosystem, and water quality impacts from hydraulic fracturing activities. The EPA Administrator, Lisa Jackson, acknowledged last week that the ongoing Pavillion, Wyoming groundwater contamination research study will follow stricter White House standards for “highly influential scientific assessments” – but not be formally classified as such. 


    Environment

    LEGISLATIVE ACTIVITY 

    • NEPA. On Wednesday, March 7, the House Committee on Natural Resources will hold an oversight hearing on the Council on Environmental Quality’s (CEQ’s) FY 2013 funding request and the effects on NEPA, national ocean policy and other federal environmental policy initiatives. The White House’s Nancy Sutley, Chairwoman, Council on Environmental Quality, will testify.
    • BLM and Water Resources. On Tuesday, March 6, the House Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Water and Power will hold an oversight hearing on the proposed Fiscal Year 2013 budget with respect to the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Geological Survey’s Water Resources program.
    • Ocean Safety and Environmental Enforcement. On Thursday, March 8, the House Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources will hold an oversight hearing on the proposed FY 2013 budget and legislative proposals for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) with respect to job creation, domestic energy production, safety, and deficit reduction.
    • NOAA Budget. On Wednesday, March 7, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard will hold a hearing on the proposed FY 2013 budget proposals for the Coast Guard and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
    • Forest Service. On Tuesday, March 6, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources will hold a full committee hearing on the proposed FY 2013 Forest Service budget. The Honorable Thomas Tidwell, Chief U.S. Forest Service, Department of Agriculture, will testify.

    REGULATORY ACTIVITY

    • Offshore Wind. The DOEhas announced $180 million for a new initiative to deploy U.S. offshore wind projects. As part of a planned six-year $180 million initiative, an initial $20 million will be available this year as the first step in supporting up to four innovative offshore wind energy installations across the United States. DOE has stated that offshore wind is an enormous potential resource for the United States, with strong, consistent winds located in the Atlantic, Pacific, the Great Lakes, and the Gulf of Mexico.  The DOE will focus this initiative on technologies that achieve large cost reductions over existing offshore wind technologies. Applicants to the competitive solicitation are expected to form consortia of energy project developers, equipment suppliers, research institutions, and marine installation specialists. DOE funds may be used to cover up to 80 percent of a project's design costs and 50 percent of the hardware and installation costs. Letters of intent are due on March 30 and applications are due on May 31, 2012. For more information and application requirements for this funding opportunity, click here.
    • Florida Water Quality. By March 15, the EPA will post the criteria for water quality standards for the state of Florida's estuaries and coastal waters.  The EPA is under a Consent Decree deadline to promulgate numeric nutrient water quality criteria for the State of Florida's estuaries and coastal waters, flowing waters in south Florida (including canals), and the downstream protection values for flowing waters into estuaries by November 15, 2012. The Consent Decree states that EPA will sign for publication in the federal register proposed criteria for these three categories by March 15, and will sign for publication in the federal register a final rule by November 15, 2012.
    • Greenhouse Gas Permitting Requirements. The EPA is streamlining the greenhouse gas (GHG) permitting requirements process in effort to help state and local permitting authorities. The EPA is proposing not to change GHG permitting thresholds for the Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) and Title V Operating Permit programs. EPA is also proposing steps that would streamline the permitting process for large emitters already covered by the agency’s program, including sources that account for nearly 70 percent of the total GHG pollution from stationary sources. EPA has also proposed not to include additional, smaller sources in the permitting program at this time. The GHG Tailoring Rule would continue to address the group of six greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6). Under the approach maintained in this proposal, new facilities with GHG emissions of at least 100,000 tons per year (tpy) carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) continue to be required to obtain PSD permits. Existing facilities that emit 100,000 tpy of CO2e and make changes increasing the GHG emissions by at least 75,000 tpy CO2e, must also obtain PSD permits. Facilities that must obtain a PSD permit to include other regulated pollutants must also address GHG emission increases of 75,000 tpy or more of CO2e. New and existing sources with GHG emissions above 100,000 tpy CO2e must also obtain operating permits. The EPA will accept comments on this proposal for 45 days after it is published in the Federal Register. A public hearing to listen to public comment about the proposal will be held on March 20, 2012, in Arlington, Virginia.
    • Greenhouse Gas Inventory. The EPA is seeking public comment on the annual “Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2010” (Inventory) draft report. The Inventory is the United States’ official estimate of total national greenhouse gas emissions and is developed annually to meet commitments under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The inventory tracks annual greenhouse gas emissions nationally from 1990 to 2010. The inventory also calculates carbon dioxide emissions that are removed from the atmosphere by “sinks,” e.g., through the uptake of carbon by forests, vegetation, and soils. The draft report shows that in 2010, overall GHG emissions increased by 3.3 percent from the previous year. Overall, emissions have grown by 11 percent from 1990 to 2010. The U.S. government will submit the final inventory report to the Secretariat of the UNFCCC. This report will fulfill the annual requirement of the UNFCCC international treaty, ratified by the United States in 1992, which sets an overall framework for intergovernmental efforts to tackle the challenge posed by climate change. The draft report will be open for public comment for until March 28.


    Financial Services

    LEGISLATIVE ACTIVITY

    • Senate to Determine Next Steps for Reconciling STOCK Act with House Substitute. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) met last week to discuss how to move forward on the insider trading legislation.  According to Senator Lieberman, the leaders are still weighing whether to push for a conference on the legislation or accept the House substitute.  They are also still considering whether to send a revised version back to the House that includes either or both of the Senate-passed provisions removed in the House substitute.  These provisions would require “political-intelligence consultants” to register as lobbyists and strengthen the criminal penalties in some public corruption cases.  While Majority Leader Reid prefers the conference committee route, he lacks a consensus among the Senators regarding the removed provisions and a conference would take time away from other vital pieces of legislation, such as the surface transportation bill.  Regardless of the path forward, Majority Leader Reid still hopes to complete action on the bill by the end of March.  Patton Boggs generated a detailed comparison of the House and Senate legislation in the following Client Alert: TAKING STOCK: House Passes Amended Insider-Trading Bill.
    • House Appropriators to Review SEC Budget. On Tuesday, March 6, the House Appropriations Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee will discuss the Securities and Exchange’s proposed budget.  Chairman Mary Schapiro will testify.
    • Senate Banking to Discuss Capital Formation Legislation. On Tuesday, March 6, the Senate Banking Committee will hold a hearing at 10:00 a.m. titled, “Spurring Job Growth Through Capital Formation While Protecting Investors, Part II.” The first in this series of hearings took place on December 1, 2011.
    • HFSC to Discuss SIPC. On Wednesday, March 7, the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Capital Markets and GSEs will hold a hearing titled, “The Securities Investor Protection Corporation: Past, Present, and Future”. Stephen Harbeck, President and CEO of SIPC and other industry participants are expected to testify.
    • Senate Judiciary to Review Foreclosure Abuse.  On Wednesday, March 7, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing titled, “Examining Lending Discrimination Practices and Foreclosure Abuses”.  Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division, U.S. Department of Justice, is expected to testify.

    REGULATORY ACTIVITY

    • CFTC to Hold Dodd-Frank Open Meeting. On Friday, March 9, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission is expected to hold an open meeting to consider the joint final rule (with the Securities and Exchange Commission) related to “entity definitions” under Title VII of the Dodd-Frank Act, which include defining “swap dealer,” “security-based swap dealer,” “major swap participant,” and “major security-based swap participant.”  Consideration of the final rule has been delayed several times in the last two months as the two Commissions negotiate final terms.  The scope of the “dealer” definition and its impact on small and regional financial institutions is the most closely debated issue.


    International, Defense, Homeland Security 

    • Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee Budget Hearings. On Tuesday, February 28, and Wednesday, February 29, respectively, Secretary of State Clinton testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) on the Administration’s proposed FY13 budget and related foreign policy priorities. Although Democratic and Republican Members praised Secretary Clinton’s tenure at State, Senators and Representatives from both sides of the aisle expressed impatience with the Obama Administration’s bilateral and multilateral approaches on Iran sanctions and Syria. Secretary Clinton defended the Administration’s positions, including by alluding to the problems that more forceful stances on both issues likely would engender. The Secretary also outlined the Administration’s prioritization of the Greater Middle East, including via the Overseas Continuity Operations fund covering Iraq, Afghanistan, and (current and future conditions permitting) Pakistan. The Department’s new Middle East/North Africa fund also received significant attention, including criticism on Egypt from HFAC Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), as Secretary Clinton had to walk a fine line in defending the underlying Camp David-oriented rationale for continuing assistance to Cairo in the face of the U.S. NGO debacle. Senate Republicans also clamored for additional funding to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal, which they claim the Administration promised as part of negotiations during the New START treaty ratification debate.  HFAC Ranking Member Howard Berman (D-CA) praised the Administration’s just-announced breakthrough on negotiations with North Korea over Pyongyang’s nuclear program.
    • House State Department/Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee Budget Hearing. On Wednesday, Secretary Clinton addressed many of the same issues, particularly Syria and Iran, with the State Department/Foreign Operations Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee. Members questioned the Department’s approaches on Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan with Subcommittee Chair Kay Granger (R-TX) urging a narrow focus on those “frontline” states and full Committee Ranking Member Norm Dicks (D-WA) expressing disappointment with the size of expenditures on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.   Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA) criticized the Secretary’s recent remarks alleging the post-World War I atrocities in Armenia may not have constituted genocide. Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) took issue with the Administration’s approach to Russia, which he deemed too forgiving.
    • Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) Hearing on U.S. European Command. On Thursday, March 1, the SASC held a hearing on the FY13 budget request for the U.S. European Command, with testimony from NATO Supreme Allied Commander (SACEUR) Admiral James Stavridis. Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) announced his support for the Administration’s plans to downsize the U.S. force posture in Europe, while underscoring the importance of the NATO alliance for U.S. interests in Europe and further afield. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) asked about Serbia’s EU candidacy, the importance of the KFOR mission, and the ongoing tension in northern Kosovo. SACEUR Stavridis congratulated Serbia on its newfound candidate status for EU membership. Admiral Stavridis added that KFOR will need to remain in place at current force levels until July at the earliest, as NATO will assess the regional security situation in the aftermath of Serbia’s elections in May, especially given the tensions in northern Kosovo over the past year.


    Tax

    LEGISLATIVE ACTIVITY

    • Chairman Camp Indicates Uncertainty on Timing for Consideration of Tax Extenders. Earlier this week, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) indicated that no decisions have been made as to how or when the House will take up legislation to extend roughly $35 billion in tax benefits that expired at the end of 2011, including the R&D credit, active financing exception, and various incentives for alternative energy. Although floated as a possibility, such tax “extenders” were not included in the recently enacted Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act (H.R. 3630), which extended the payroll tax cut, enhanced unemployment insurance (UI) benefits, and forestalled a scheduled 27 percent cut in doctors’ Medicare reimbursements (the “doc fix”).
    • Tax Provisions in Senate Highway Bill. With the Senate scheduled to continue consideration of the surface transportation bill (S. 1813) next week, Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-UT) expressed optimism that negotiators will soon reach agreement on how to fully offset spending in the bill. It is likely that the Finance Committee portion of the surface transportation bill will be modified further on the floor, particularly as regards various pension-related provisions in the bill. 
      Discussions continue between bill managers and Senate leadership in structuring a finite list of amendments to be considered on the floor; however, no such agreement yet exists. One amendment that has been filed, but will likely not get a vote, was offered by Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. The amendment, previously introduced by Senator Levin and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) as the Cut Unjustified Tax Loopholes Act (S. 2075), would ban certain stock option tax deductions and curb the use of offshore tax havens by companies. 
    • Senate Budget Committee Holds Hearing on Tax Reform. On Thursday, March 1, the Senate Budget Committee held a hearing to discuss issues related to tax reform, focusing on encouraging growth, reducing the deficit, and promoting fairness. In particular, the Committee discussed aspects of the President’s corporate tax reform proposal, including the taxation of dividends and capital gains, and a territorial versus world-wide tax system. 
    • Tax Hearings Next Week. The following hearings are scheduled next week in the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committees:
      • Tuesday, March 6: Senate Finance Committee hearing on Tax Reform Options: Incentives for Capital Investment and Manufacturing
      • Tuesday, March 6: House Ways and Means, Subcommittee on Health hearing on the Independent Payment Advisory Board
      • Wednesday, March 7: House Ways and Means Committee hearing on the Treatment of Closely-Held Businesses in the Context of Tax Reform.


    Transportation

    • SAFETEA-LU Reauthorization: On Friday, March 2, Majority Leader Reid filed cloture on a substitute amendment including the Environment and Public Works title (with 37 adopted amendments via a managers package) and the Banking, Commerce, and Finance titles. The cloture vote is scheduled for Tuesday, March 6. Majority Leader Reid also filed cloture on the underlying bill, but did not set a date for that vote. The cloture petition reflects the breakdown in negotiations over how to proceed with non-germane amendments, such as on the Keystone XL pipeline, and the EPA boiler MACT rule.

      If cloture is invoked, it will preclude votes on non-germane amendments. It remains unclear if there are sufficient votes for cloture (which failed previously), especially as only one amendment - a non-germane amendment on coverage of contraceptive care - has been debated and considered on the floor.  The expectation is that if Majority Leader Reid cannot get cloture, the leadership will try to get a unanimous consent agreement on how to deal with the non-germane amendments. The cloture vote is a vehicle to help get them to that point. A substantial portion of the germane transportation-related amendments are expected to be dealt with through another manager’s package, although floor consideration of a number of germane amendments is also expected.

      Majority Leader Reid has set a timetable for moving the bill next week, desiring to send the House a Senate “marker” bill before the House completes its work.  Whether that timeline can be met in the Senate remains uncertain, and progress to date has been slowed to a halt by the non-germane amendments. On the House side, the leadership and Transportation and Infrastructure Committee leadership remain at a cross-roads with no clear path forward for H.R. 7. It was reported late last week that the House would be moving forward with a shorter-term bill, in the duration of 18 months, that did not make the controversial change ending dedicated transit funding from the Highway Trust Fund.  However, in whipping that proposal this week, there was insufficient support from within the Republican conference for the short-term approach.  There remains a great deal of uncertainty as to how the House can move forward, with the bill caught between opposition on the right (viewing this as a large spending bill) and efforts to accommodate those Members serving to then alienate moderate Republicans whose votes are needed to pass the bill. No Democratic support for H.R. 7 is expected.