Week ahead: Flood insurance, tax reform and IRS regs

Congress is returning to Washington with a burst of action on and off the chamber floors. 

The House will vote next week on a bill rolling back 2012 premium increases for the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). The Senate has already voted to delay the increases for four years, but the House is seeking a more permanent solution.

The insurance legislation is entwined in midterm election politics, as one of the bill's lead cosponsors, Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), the bill’s sponsor, is seeking to unseat Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), a champion of the Senate bill. The bill was originally introduced by Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.).

Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has also announced that the House’s return from recess will begin with “Stop Government Abuse” week, featuring roughly a dozen bills that take aim at targets including the IRS.

The series of IRS bills would curb what information the agency can gather and provide more information to the public about the agency’s operations. The centerpiece of these measures is a bill from Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) that would impose a one-year delay on proposed IRS rules governing the political activities of certain tax-exempt groups.

On the other side of the Capitol, the Senate is expected to consider a veterans bill that would tackle access to education, appropriations and other areas.

The battle over renewing federal jobless benefits could creep back onto the Senate’s agenda as well. Senators from both parties have said they’ll continue to work on the issue, even though the unemployment aid expired almost two months ago.

On Thursday, Janet Yellen, the Federal Reserve chairwoman, is set to make her long-awaited appearance before the Senate Banking Committee to discuss the nation’s economy and the Fed’s stewardship of it. Yellen’s previously scheduled appearance this month was postponed due to snow, meaning Thursday will be her first testimony before the panel as chairwoman.

Two days earlier, the Senate banking panel will discuss reauthorizing the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act, which was enacted after the Sept. 11 attacks to create a government backstop for insurance claims stemming from terrorist attacks. The law has been extended a number of times since its 2002 enactment and is due to expire at the end of 2014.

Elsewhere in the Senate, the Budget Committee will hold a Tuesday hearing on the outlook for families and communities in advance of the scheduled March 4 release of the White House budget. 

And Sen. Carl Levin’s (D-Mich.) permanent investigations subcommittee will hold the latest in a series of hearings focused on offshore tax evasion.

In the House, Camp has signaled that he will release a comprehensive tax reform draft several years in the making. Camp’s proposals are unlikely to lead to the passage of tax reform this year, but rank-and-file Republicans will now get to weigh in on a longtime GOP priority.

Staying in the tax world, a House Appropriations subcommittee will bring its own pressure on the IRS with an oversight hearing Wednesday. John Koskinen, the IRS commissioner, and Russell George, the Treasury’s inspector general for tax administration, will testify.

That occurs a day before the public’s deadline for weighing in on proposed IRS rules that the House is trying to delay. So far, the government has received well over 60,000 comments about the IRS’s proposal to set new rules for the political activities of tax-exempt groups.

A House Ways and Means subcommittee will also explore fraud issues in the Social Security disability program on Wednesday, while a pair of Financial Services subcommittees will look into lobbying at the Housing and Urban Development Department and Dodd-Frank’s effect on securities that same day.

The nation’s economic picture will also receive a bit more clarity Friday, when the Commerce Department provides its second estimate on the nation’s economic growth at the end of 2013. The government’s first estimate pegged economic growth in the fourth quarter at 3.2 percent.

Vicki Needham and Erik Wasson contributed.