December 8, 2011, was targeted by House leadership as the adjournment date for the First Session of the 112th Congress. However, with the collapse of the deficit supercommittee and the continuation of budgetary skirmishes, much work remains unfinished and legislators have been put on notice that their presence will be required in Washington for at least another week. Among the key items still on the table:
- An extension and expansion of the Social Security Payroll Tax break which expires December 31st. Democrats have proposed paying for the proposal, which would expand the current benefit from a 4.2 percent rate to 3.1 percent and extend it through 2012, by instituting a ‘surtax’ on $1 million-plus earners. Republicans favor the extension, but have proposed to fund it by an extension of the federal wage freeze and a gradual shrinkage of the government’s civilian workforce by 10 percent.
- Debate over pending cuts to Medicare payments for physicians. Some House Republicans are seeking a two-year freeze at current reimbursement rates; there is substantial bipartisan support for a one-year freeze, which would incur costs of $21 billion in comparison to the estimated $38.6 billion price tag for the longer freeze.
- An extension of jobless benefits, set to expire in early January. The main hurdle to the passage of this renewal is funding, with Democrats saying the program is a major priority and should not be subject to offset provisions. Republicans, on the other hand, have refused to support the measure without funding set aside for it and have hinted at pushing for reform of the overall program as part of a deal.
- Last but certainly not least, nine FY11 appropriations bills continue to languish amidst controversial policy riders and provisions, despite the fact that the current Continuing Resolution (CR) for these appropriations is set to expire on December 16th. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) have both signaled an unwillingness to prolong the appropriations process further with another CR, so a deal to wrap up FY11 appears likely if the Republican leadership can rein in its caucus. Some House Republicans have insisted upon spending cuts far deeper those sanctioned by this summer’s debt limit deal, specifically calling for reductions in or elimination of funding for provisions to the 2010 health care bill, environmental and financial regulatory programs, and the President’s education initiative. Nevertheless, given the time constraints which lawmakers are now facing, it is entirely possible that all of these key items will be rolled into a massive $900 billion omnibus bill that is put to a vote next week.
Written by Leslie Mozingo, The Ferguson Group