Policy: Entitlements

Congress to focus on abortion funding, farm bill and flood insurance in addition to president's speech this week

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Politics,Congress,Susan Ferrechio,Abortion,Entitlements,PennAve,Farm Bill,Budgets and Deficits,Flood Insurance,State of the Union

With Congress this week focused on President Obama's State of the Union address scheduled for Tuesday, a light agenda in both the House and Senate will focus on taxpayer funding for abortion, legislation to prevent flood insurance hikes and a long-awaited deal on a farm bill.

Obama is expected to highlight income inequality in his Tuesday night speech, an issue Democrats have been pushing as part of their own agenda on Capitol Hill but without much luck at passing legislation.

Senate lawmakers this week will continue negotiating for a deal that would extend federal unemployment insurance benefits, which expired Dec. 28. Senators left for a week-long recess without an agreement and the two parties remain at odds over the length and cost of extending jobless pay. They are also gridlocked over procedure, with the GOP claiming that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is not allowing them to introduce amendments to legislation.

“The majority leader is using a device only occasionally used by previous majority leaders of both parties to prevent us from even offering our ideas,” Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on Fox News Sunday. “That's why the Senate has been so dysfunctional over the last six months.”

While negotiations go on behind the scenes over jobless pay legislation, senators will take up the Homeowners Flood Insurance Affordability Act, beginning with a procedural vote on Monday.

The bill is sponsored by Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and would temporarily halt a planned hike in federal flood insurance rates until the Federal Emergency Management Agency studies the impact of raising the cost.

House lawmakers will remain in session only until mid-week so that Republicans can meet privately for their annual conference, which will take place in Cambridge, Md., on Jan. 29-31.

Before they leave Washington, the House will vote on legislation aimed at preventing taxpayer funding of abortions by permanently encoding in law the patchwork of annual amendments that lawmakers have passed to prevent such funding.

In addition to the abortion funding legislation, the House could take up a compromise deal on reauthorizing a five-year farm bill if House and Senate negotiators are able to strike an agreement by Wednesday afternoon.

Blocking taxpayer funding for abortion has become a key issue for Republicans, even as they steer clear of many other social policy issues.

“The government has overstepped its authority and failed to protect its citizens, chiefly by forcing American taxpayers to fund the killing of other innocent Americans in the womb, with no regard for the majority of taxpayers who do not support federally funding the practice of abortion,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said.

The bill would prevent use of federal money for abortions performed in the District of Columbia and would prohibit federal funding of health plans for federal employees that offer elective abortion coverage. It would also encode into law an amendment that blocks federal funding for elective abortion through any program under the Health and Human Services Department, which would include the Affordable Care Act.

Most Democrats are opposed to the bill. Earlier this month, a group of female House Democratic lawmakers sent a memo to the House GOP, chastising Republicans for taking up legislation focused on blocking abortion funding rather than “real legislation to help American women,” such as a bill to provide paid leave.

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Susan Ferrechio

Chief Congressional Correspondent
The Washington Examiner