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Morning Action: Minimum Wage Vote on the Horizon

MINIMUM WAGE.  The Senate is expected to debate and potentially vote on a minimum wage bill when they return from recess.  The effort is being led by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), who hopes Republicans will proceed to a new version of his proposal to raise the hourly minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 by 2016 (sub. req’d):

Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) 13% said Friday he was slotting the minimum wage for action on April 30, two days after lawmakers return from the two-week recess. “Oh yeah. I’m going to get to it. We’ll do it on Wednesday,” he said.

Harkin said there were some minor changes in the bill, and he expects the new version would be on the floor sometime during the first week after the two-week recess. The bill would delay the first of three increases in the minimum wage for six months, and extend through 2016 the $500,000 cap for small business expensing of investments eligible for deductions, including allowances for computer software and qualified real property, such as leasehold and retail improvements and restaurant property.

For now, both sides are preparing for a compressed debate, with a single procedural vote. “We will not be getting on the minimum wage,” said one senior Democratic aide.

The Heritage Foundation demonstrates that raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour “would lead to 217,000 fewer jobs per year and $30 billion lower gross domestic product per year.”

BURWELL.  Reports indicate Sylvia Matthews Burwell will be easily confirmed to replace Kathleen Sebelius as secretary of the Health and Human Services, due to her previous lack of involvement in crafting and implementing Obamacare (sub. req’d):

For if confirmed, she will be tasked with rebuilding the damaged relationship between HHS and Congress, particularly with Republicans who have demonstrated their opposition to the health care law (PL 111-148, PL 111-152) with numerous repeal votes, subpoenas and prickly hearings. Observers say Burwell’s reputation as a straight shooter, positive relationships with lawmakers and years of experience will make her nomination process smoother, as will her 96-0 confirmation as OMB director a year ago.

WATER BILL. One of the last hurdles may soon be overcome for the completion of a water projects bill in the Senate, and once lawmakers finish the water bill in conference, they will have to determine how many projects to include and how to pay for them (sub. req’d):

The Army Corps of Engineers gave its final approval Friday to plans for a major Nevada flood-control project championed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, putting it in line to be included in pending water projects legislation.

That could eliminate one of the last hurdles to completing a major waterways infrastructure bill, which would authorize construction projects important for deep-draft ocean ports as well as barge operations using locks and dams along the inland river system.

House and Senate conferees have been negotiating for months over differences in their bills (HR 3080, S 601) to authorize a long list of new seaport harbor dredging, inland waterway navigation and flood projects for the corps’ civil works program.

MANDATORY MINIMUM. House Judiciary Chairman Rep. Robert Goodlatte (R-VA) 82% has voiced  uncertainty about scaling back mandatory minimum drug sentences, “even as the Obama administration and a bipartisan coalition in the Senate step up their efforts to do so” (sub. req’d):

Goodlatte, speaking to reporters from CQ Roll Call and Politico during a pre-taped interview that aired Sunday on C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” program, said the severity of drug sentences “is a legitimate issue for us to be examining.”

He noted that his committee has set up a task force to review mandatory minimum sentences and many other aspects of the federal criminal code, and he did not rule out taking up a bipartisan, administration-backed Senate proposal (S 1410) that would reduce some minimum drug penalties by as much as 60 percent. The Senate could take up the proposal in the coming weeks after the Judiciary Committee approved it 13-5 in March.

Despite signaling his willingness to consider sentencing changes, Goodlatte said, “I want to caution that we shouldn’t jump to conclusions about what is right and what is wrong with the law yet.”

Even as Goodlatte showed skepticism about lowering mandatory drug sentences, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. kept up his call for Congress to take action on the Senate proposal, known as the Smarter Sentencing Act.

After the Sentencing Commission approved its own changes in drug sentencing guidelines last week — a move that is expected to reduce some drug offenders’ penalties by an estimated 11 months — Holder urged Congress to follow up with more sweeping, statutory changes.

The Heritage Foundation recommends Congress reconsider mandatory minimums, stating “In particular, some drug offenses, which make up a significant proportion of mandatory minimums, can give rise to unduly severe punishments.”

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