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Bears, budgets, farmers top Congress to-do list
Question of the Day
“2013 should be the year we begin to solve our debt through tax reform and entitlement reform,” he told reporters last week.
Crucial in the House this week is passage of legislation that would end Cold War trade restrictions so U.S. exporters can take advantage of the lowered tariffs and greater market access that accompany Russia’s entry into the World Trade Organization. Russia officially joined the WTO in August and the United States is alone among more than 150 WTO members in not being able to enjoy the more open Russian market.
The measure has been a top priority of U.S. business groups seeking to expand business in the growing Russian economy. To placate critics of Russia’s poor human rights record, the trade bill is combined with legislation that would sanction Russian officials involved in human rights violations.
The sportsmen’s bill combines 19 measures favorable to outdoorsmen, allowing more hunting and fishing on federal lands, letting bow hunters cross federal land where hunting isn’t allowed and encouraging federal land agencies to cooperate with state and local authorities to maintain shooting ranges.
A five-year farm bill passed by the Senate and by a House committee last summer will either have to be extended into next year or passed in the remaining weeks of the session. The 2008 farm bill expired Sept. 30.
The bill’s only real chance for passage is if lawmakers decide to use its savings as part of negotiations on the so-called “fiscal cliff.” The Senate bill would save $23 billion over 10 years and the House Agriculture Committee bill would save $35 billion over 10 years.
Otherwise, the bill will be extended into next year. Some Republicans have suggested a yearlong extension, but farm-state members and farm groups have said they would prefer a shorter extension to keep the pressure on for passage.
Though much of the work was done on the bill this year, it stalled this fall because of disagreements over food stamp spending. House leaders refused to bring the bill to the floor before the election, saying it didn’t have enough votes.
Republicans have internally disagreed over cuts to food stamps, which make up about 80 percent of the half-trillion-dollar bill’s cost over five years. The Senate bill would cut about $400 million a year out of the program’s almost $80 billion annual cost while the House bill would cut about $1.6 billion from food stamps annually. Conservatives have said neither version makes deep enough cuts.
The House approved legislation months ago, but the Senate hasn’t acted. The freestanding Senate bill has attracted more than 70 amendments and Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is pressing for a time agreement that would limit amendments.
Republicans and Democrats will meet Wednesday morning in the Senate to decide leadership jobs, with Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, expected to move up to the GOP’s No. 2 spot, replacing Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., who is retiring.
In the House, Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., and Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., are vying for the No. 4 job.
The biggest question in the House ranks is whether Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., remains in her leadership job.
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