A closer look at next week… spending bills, student loans, IRS oversight

The trouble is the same trouble members have complained about all year: the sequester. The spending glidepath for the federal government that was established in 2011 calls for another $76 billion cut in 2014 spending.

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The House could handle those cuts in the annual spending bills, but the difficulty in making them and then finding any agreement with the Senate appears increasingly unlikely. As a result, the House may pass just a few spending bills and force the Obama administration to decide how to cut the rest.

This week, at least, the House will make a start of the process. Two bills will be considered: the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs bill, and the bill funding the Department of Homeland Security.

The Senate returns to find itself in the middle of yet another fight over rising interest rates for federal student loans. In May, the House passed a bill to permanently fix the problem by keying the rate off the 10-year Treasury note.

But while the GOP notes that its bill is based on an idea from President Obama, Democrats say that bill is the wrong approach. As a result, Senate Democrats will consider a bill that keeps the student loan interest rate at 3.4 percent for another two years, paid for with tax increases.

If the Senate can pass its version, a House-Senate conference may be needed to find a final answer. If Congress fails to find a way forward, the rate will double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent on July 1.

Making yet another return to the congressional agenda is the ongoing IRS scandal, which shows no sign of waning after several weeks. This week, House Republicans will press the issues in three separate hearings on the IRS.

On Monday, the House will hear from Acting IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel in an oversight hearing at the House Appropriations Committee. The next day, the Ways & Means Committee will hear stories about conservative groups targeted by the IRS, and on Thursday, the House Oversight Committee will probe IRS abuses related to overspending on conferences.

Amid all the ruckus, the Senate will continue to work on a $955 billion farm bill. Two amendment votes are expected on Monday, and the Senate is hoping to finish work on the bill shortly and hand it to the House.

Below is a more detailed look a the week ahead:

Monday

The House starts at 2 p.m., and will take up a few suspension bills with votes at 6:30 p.m. The bills are:

H.R. 1919, Safeguarding America's Pharmaceuticals Act, which would create nationwide standards for the pharmaceutical supply chain.

S. 622, Animal Drug and Animal Generic Drug User Fee Reauthorization Act, reauthorizing user fees for the approval of animal drugs.

H.R. 126, Corolla Wild Horses Protection Act, creating a management program for a population of horses in North Carolina.

H.R. 1206, Permanent Electronic Duck Stamp Act, allowing duck stamps, which help fund conservation efforts, to be purchased online.

H.R. 885, San Antonio Missions National Historical Park Boundary Expansion Act, expanding the boundaries of this Texas historical park.

The Senate also starts at 2 p.m., and by 4 p.m., it will resume work on the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act, S. 954. By 5:30 p.m., the Senate will vote on two amendments to that bill.

One of them, from Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), would require the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation to research an insurance program for alfalfa. The other, from Sens. Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), would increase funding for a regional food aid program from $40 million to $60 million a year.

Tuesday-Thursday

After morning speeches on Tuesday, the House will start in the afternoon on a rule for two fiscal year 2014 spending bills.

The rule will cover H.R. 2216, the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, and H.R. 2217, the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act.

After that, the House is expected to spend the bulk of the week debating these bills and considering various amendments. The House Rules Committee will decide Monday evening which amendments will be made in order.

In addition, the House will consider one more suspension bill during this time. That bill is H.R. 671, the Ruth Moore Act, making it easier for veterans who are victims of sexual abuse in the military to claim disability benefits.

The House will start early on Thursday, at 9 a.m., and should finish any remaining votes on these bills by the late morning or early afternoon.

The Senate is in for the rest of the week, and will likely continue debate on the farm bill and vote on more amendments.

But the Senate at some point is also expected to take up S. 953, the Student Loan Affordability Act. This bill would extend the 3.4 percent interest rate on federally backed student loans for another two years.

Friday


The House and Senate are out.

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