Morning Action: Remember the Ex-Im Bank? It Shouldn’t Be Reauthorized
EX-IM BANK. Though the Export-Import Bank will not be up for reauthorization until September, House Democrats are beginning to discuss it now (sub. req’d):
Twenty-six Democrats on the House Financial Services Committee said in a letter sent Thursday to top panel Republicans that they should “direct immediate attention” to reauthorizing the agency, which helps U.S. exporters by offering financing assistance to foreign buyers of U.S. products. The agency’s current charter expires Sept. 30 and Congress must act before then to extend its mandate.
“The failure to reauthorize the Bank’s charter in a timely manner would jeopardize the ability of U.S. firms to compete with their global competitors and would tip the playing field in favor of foreign firms,” the Democrats wrote in the letter to Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) 84%, who chairs the panel, and Rep. John Campbell (R-CA), who leads a key subcommittee.
The Export-Import bank has become controversial in recent years, as conservative Republicans in both the House and Senate have raised concerns about its activities. Critics charge the agency represents inappropriate government interference in the private marketplace and could expose taxpayers to potential risk because of its loan guarantees.
JOBS. The U.S. economy added just 113,000 jobs in January:
The U.S. economy added just 113,000 jobs in January, a small improvement over December’s disappointing report but not nearly enough to signal a much-needed rebound in the increasingly unpredictable U.S. labor market.
The headline unemployment rate was 6.6%, according to figures released by the U.S. Labor Department, down from 6.7% in the prior month.
The labor participation rate, a key gauge of the percentage of working-age Americans currently employed, was 63%, up from 62.8% in December.
Economists had forecast the addition of 185,000 jobs and that the unemployment rate would hold steady at 6.7%.
EARMARK BAN. CQ reports (sub. req’d) appropriators found ways around the earmark ban to steer money to favored projects:
Earmarks may have been banned in Congress since 2010, but it’s still good to be an appropriator.
Although committee leaders no longer have the overt ability to direct money for specific projects back to their districts, the $1.1 trillion omnibus (PL 113-76) Congress cleared last month demonstrates they still have other ways to protect priorities back home — or hamstring those they oppose — through their control of funding levels and policy riders.
Earmarking is “basically dead,” but “the appropriations process manifests itself in many ways,” said Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) 87%, the ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee.
This certainly is not the earmarking power appropriators once wielded, but the ability to plus-up or draw down funding for preferred programs or include language directing or barring agencies from addressing particular issues still serves as currency for many lawmakers.
DOC FIX. A bipartisan group of lawmakers has come closer to a finding a solution for Medicare physician reimbursements, but they have not determined how to pay for it (sub. req’d):
Three committees on Thursday reached a bipartisan agreement on the policy parameters of a bill to replace how Medicare pays physicians — but they have not yet resolved the very difficult question of how to pay for that replacement.
The deal reached by the Senate Finance Committee, House Energy and Commerce Committee, and House Ways and Means Committee represents a major step forward in replacing Medicare’s current payment formula, the sustainable growth rate. The measure combines elements of three bill versions (S 1871 and two versions of HR 2810) that the committees — two controlled by Republicans and one by Democrats — approved last year.
Lawmakers reached their goal of coming to a policy agreement before Senate Finance Chairman Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), became ambassador to China. If they can manage to get the bill cleared by both chambers by March 31, they will avoid having to pass another “doc fix” to avert the scheduled 24 percent cut in payment rates.
The policy deal also continues a recent trend of lawmakers reaching bipartisan agreements on big legislative lifts, including the farm bill (HR 2642) and an omnibus fiscal 2014 appropriations measure (PL 113-76).
The negotiated deal would provide for annual payment updates for physicians of 0.5 percent over five years. Providers could also get bonuses by participating in an improved-quality program in Medicare’s traditional fee-for-service system or in alternative payment models.