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Critical votes on federal spending, jobless pay this week in Congress

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Politics,Congress,Susan Ferrechio,Entitlements,PennAve,Filibuster,Budgets and Deficits,Law,Unemployment

Congress will consider a massive federal spending bill as well as a plan to pay for a year-long extension of federal jobless benefits this week.

Senate Democrats will also make quick work of confirming the third of President Obama's nominees to the powerful D.C. Circuit Court under new rules that have weakened the filibuster.

The House and Senate have until Jan. 15 — giving them just three days including Monday — to pass legislation that will fund the federal government for the remaining nine months of fiscal 2014 and they are on track to do it in the coming days.

Much of the battle over spending took place in December, when House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Budget Chair Patty Murray, D-Wash, crafted a deal that would cap spending at $1.014 trillion and restore $63 billion in cuts mandated under the 2011 Budget Control Act, which was intended to reduce federal spending by $1 trillion over the next decade.

Since the Ryan-Murray plan passed both the House and Senate last month, House appropriators have been hammering out the spending plan details and they are expected to hit the floor of both chambers for a vote this week with passage likely in time to avert a government shutdown.

The future of federal jobless pay is far less certain, however. Republicans have been so far unwilling to pass a three-month extension unless there are offsets in the budget that cover the $6.4 trillion cost.

The bill is stalled in the Senate because of the price tag. Senate Democrats on Monday will put forward their own plan for a vote. It would extend unemployment benefits for a year and provide $17 trillion in offsets by extending a 2 percent cut to Medicare by one year and cutting down the number of weeks people can receive benefits in order to save $8 billion from the original price tag.

If the bill passes the Senate, the House would be under pressure to take it up. Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has said in exchange for extending benefits, he wants to pay for them and include Republican-approved provisions aimed at increasing jobs.

The House, meanwhile, will start debating legislation that fits under the GOP agenda to reduce federal regulation and increase scrutiny of the new federal health insurance law known as Obamacare.

On Tuesday, the House will take up the The Small Business Mergers, Acquisitions, Sales, and Brokerage Simplification Act, which would reconfigure federal regulation through the Securities and Exchange Commission to help lower costs for small and medium-sized businesses that want to employ brokerage houses.

The House will also take up the Exchange Information Disclosure Act, which would require the Health and Human Services Department to provide weekly reports to Congress on the sign-up data for Obamacare. In particular, it would require HHS to inform Congress as to how many people have both signed up and paid for new health insurance plans under the federal government's healthcare.gov website.

"More than three months after the launch of the exchanges, we simply do not know how many Americans are enrolled in an exchange plan or whether young Americans are participating," An Energy and Commerce Committee memo on the legislation says.

The Senate on Monday will also vote on the confirmation of D.C. Circuit Court Judge nominee Robert Leon Wilkins. Republicans blocked his nomination in November, arguing that President Obama is attempting to stack the critical court with liberal judges in order to help advance his agenda through the regulatory process.

Senate Democrats in December responded to the GOP obstruction by altering the Senate rules so that only 51 votes, rather than a supermajority of 60 votes, is needed to confirm judicial and executive branch nominees.

Because of that change, the Wilkins nomination is all but certain to clear Congress on Monday and will fill the final vacancy on the nation's second most powerful court. Two other previously blocked D.C. Circuit Court nominees — Nina Pillard and Patricia Millett, were in recent weeks confirmed by the Senate under the new rules.

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Susan Ferrechio

Chief Congressional Correspondent
The Washington Examiner