U.S. Senate Democrats To Revise House-Approved CR Extension Measure
On Thursday, Senate Democrats said they plan to alter the House-approved continuing resolution extension bill (HR 933) by adding three appropriations bills and giving department heads increased "reprogramming authority," The Hill's "On The Money" reports (Wasson, "On The Money," The Hill, 3/7).
On Wednesday, the House voted 267-151 to approve a Republican CR proposal that would limit federal non-discretionary spending to $984 billion through September and prevent a shutdown of the federal government on March 27, when the current stopgap CR expires. The new six-month stopgap CR proposal also would maintain the $85 billion in spending cuts under sequestration, which took effect on March 1 and include a 2% reduction to Medicare reimbursement rates. However, the measure does not include controversial provisions that would reduce funding for the Affordable Care Act or repeal the ACA's contraceptive coverage requirement (California Healthline, 3/7).
Details of Revised CR
The Senate Democrats' revised CR proposal -- written by Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) -- would not seek to replace or cancel the mandated across-the-board spending cuts under sequestration (Lawder, Reuters, 3/7). Instead, Mikulski said she is working with Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) to give federal agencies more flexibility to move funds between projects and programs to minimize the effects of the spending cuts ("On The Money," The Hill, 3/7).
Although the details are still being worked out, Mikulski said her "enhanced transfer and reprogramming authority" would be temporary and subject to congressional approval (Reuters, 3/7). Mikulski was unable to say yet if the reprogramming authority would allow department heads to shift funding into accounts to implement the Affordable Care Act ("On The Money," The Hill, 3/7).
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Thursday urged Senate Democrats not to add "extraneous provisions, partisan riders, budget gimmicks" to the House-approved CR. He added, "I would hope the Senate too would ... only make straightforward changes" (Sherman, Politico, 3/7).
Mikulski said the Senate Democrats' bill contains a "delicate balance" between supporting Obama administration priorities -- such as implementing the ACA -- and going too far as to "sink the bill" (Taylor, AP/Sacramento Bee, 3/7). Mikulski noted that Democrats greatly scaled back their ambitions to pass 12 full appropriations bills -- including one for HHS, which Republicans said would be too controversial -- and have kept any "poison pills" out of their CR, adding that "the House has done a good job of eliminating some of their poison pills as well."
Mikulski said she plans to introduce the Senate Democrat CR bill on Monday and does not expect the bill to face enough Republican opposition to fail when it comes to a vote on Wednesday ("On The Money," The Hill, 3/7).
Obama Sets End-of-July Goal for Bipartisan Deficit-Reduction Plan
In related news, President Obama told a group of 12 Republican senators on Wednesday that he wants to complete a grand bargain to reduce the federal deficit by the end of July, according to three sources familiar with the meeting, The Hill reports.
A GOP lawmaker who attended Wednesday night's dinner said that Obama indicated that he wants to reach a comprehensive deficit-reduction deal within the next five months because that is when lawmakers will be considering the CR and the debt limit. The lawmaker said Obama believes it will be harder to forge a deal after September because parties will begin to focus on the 2014 mid-term election.
Overall, GOP senators who attended the meeting were very positive about Obama's tone and said Obama seemed sincere in his quest for a bipartisan deficit plan (Bolton, The Hill, 3/7). Both Obama and some GOP lawmakers have indicated a willingness to discuss a deficit-reduction deal that would include overhauling the tax code and slowing spending growth for entitlement programs.
However, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) noted, "The details may trip us up" (Nelson/Paletta, Wall Street Journal, 3/7). In addition, some lawmakers -- including Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who attended the dinner -- were not optimistic about reconciling fiscal year 2014 budgets by Senate Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). In an interview Thursday on MSNBC, Coburn said such a deal "has to happen outside of regular order" (The Hill, 3/7).
Obama Meets With Ryan
One day after his dinner with GOP senators, Obama continued to push for a new deficit-reduction deal during a private lunch with Ryan and Rep. Chis Van Hollen (D-Md.), the House Budget Committee's ranking Democrat, USA Today reports.
Ryan appeared optimistic after the meeting, releasing a statement that said "everyone needs to be part of this conversation. We need an open debate about how best to balance the budget and expand opportunity" (Jackson, USA Today, 3/8).
According to the New York Times' "The Caucus," Obama's recent series of meals and phone calls with Republicans is part of a new outreach strategy to work around GOP party leaders who have closed the door on future budget talks (Calmes, "The Caucus," New York Times, 3/7).
However, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said Obama's attempts to circumvent Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will not work, but he noted that building "a good relationship and listening to rank-and-file members of the Senate" could make a grand bargain easier to obtain (The Hill, 3/7).
Boehner 'Optimistic' About Obama's New Outreach Strategy
Boehner on Thursday said he believes Obama's new outreach to rank-and-file Republicans is "a hopeful sign," The Hill reports.
During his weekly news conference, Boehner said, "I'm hopeful that something will come out of it." However, he added, "[I]f the president continues to insist on tax hikes, I don't think we're going to get very far. If the president doesn't believe that we have a spending problem, I don't know if we're going to get very far. But I'm optimistic" (Berman, The Hill, 3/7).
Target Date for Obama Budget Pushed Back to April 8Meanwhile, Pentagon officials said the target date for the White House's proposed fiscal 2014 budget likely will be April 8, CQ Roll Call reports. The Obama administration recently said it is preparing to release the budget on March 25, but Congress will recess for Easter break that day and will not return until April 8, according to CQ Roll Call (Donnelly, CQ Roll Call, 3/7). This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.