Taxes, cyber security, jobs programs expected to dominate April agenda

The House and Senate are expected to duke it out on tax policy when they return in mid-April, while the lower chamber is also expected to begin the process of moving major cyber security legislation and possibly a bill reforming federal jobs programs.

When the House returns April 16, it's expected to quickly take up a bill from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) that would give small companies a 20 percent tax cut. Cantor's bill, H.R. 9, fits in with the theme Republicans have pursued all year — that the best way to create jobs is to get out of the way of small businesses.

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But in the Senate, Democrats will be pursuing a different tax theme. Democrats are scheduled to continue work on the so-called "Buffett rule" bill, S. 2230. That legislation would require anyone earning $1 million or more a year to pay a minimum 30 percent income tax.

The House and Senate will also continue to differ on cyber security policy. In the lower chamber, Republicans are expected to begin the process of advancing their preferred version of a cyber bill by mid-April, although this might mean committee action, not floor action.

Before leaving, Reps. Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) introduced a cyber bill, H.R. 4263, that would encourage private companies to share information on cyber threats, and increase penalties for cyber crimes. Their bill is a companion to the bill offered by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), and is likely to be part of the discussion on cyber security, along with a related bill from Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.).

As expected, these bills are different from one offered by Senate Democrats that focuses on creating new government authority to monitor cyber attacks and enforce cyber security rules.

Another matter House Republicans could advance in April is reform of federal job training programs. House Republicans introduced a bill to streamline and combine the various federal programs, and give states more say over how that money is used to support training and job creation.

House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-Minn.) said this week that he's looking to advance that bill, H.R. 4297, particularly in light of disappointing March employment data.

As Congress works on these issues, the two parties are also expected to continue several rhetorical battles that have developed in the past few weeks. One issue that Republicans have latched onto is wasteful spending at the General Services Administration (GSA).

The House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee will hold a hearing to explore the more than $800,000 that was spent on a 2010 GSA conference in Las Vegas, which Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) has held up as a token of Washington's wasteful spending.

Over the last week, Mica said his committee has also discovered that GSA employees were given $200,000 in iPods and other gifts. On Friday, Mica said more than $400,000 was spent on these gifts between 2007 and 2010, and that some iPods were stolen.

Also Friday, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee said it would also hold a hearing to examine details of this spending, first revealed in a GSA Inspector General report.

This issue is peaking just as the House enters a three-month span of work in which several appropriations bills are expected to advance — bad timing, to say the least, for anyone looking to expand GSA's 2013 appropriation.

Republicans can also be expected to continue putting pressure on the Obama administration to expand domestic energy production as a cure for rising gasoline prices. However, the House has already approved several bills they say would meet this goal, and are most likely to point out that the Democratically-controlled Senate has yet to take action on most of them.

For their part, Democrats are likely to continue putting pressure on Republicans to approve a reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, which expires at the end of May. Additionally, Democrats can be counted on to keep pushing for a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

In March, House Democrats sought to stop working on the GOP budget resolution and turn to a VAWA reauthorization bill. While Republicans rejected that attempt, some said they would ultimately support a reauthorization, just at a later date.