Capitol View on Kids: New Congress, Same Problems

On Thursday, January 3, 2013 the new congress began minutes after the 112th ended.  The 113th Congress includes many new faces and slightly different numbers, but it also began with the first of many carry-over issues.

The new House session began with a vote on a portion of disaster relief funding for hurricane Sandy victims.  The vote became necessary when Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) had denied a promised vote on the last full day of the 112th Congress. That vote will likely be the first of many that will continue debates that had remained unresolved in the previous Congress.

The numbers in the new Congress are somewhat different: after two current vacancies are filled the Republicans will still hold a majority of 235 seats, but the Democrats gained 8 seats and will have 201 members.  The Senate also continues with the Democrats in control, with a net gain of two seats and for the majority that means the Republicans will be outnumbered 55 to 45 seats.

In addition, the leadership remains the same for both parties in both houses.  There are some significant changes especially with 20 women senators, an all-time high, an increase in the number of women members in the House and an African-American senator with Congressman Tim Scott (R-S.C.) being appointed to the South Carolina seat vacated as a result of Senator James DeMint’s resignation.

Despite the influx of new faces and new thresholds, the battle will be resumed.  Republicans are promising a battle with the President, saying they will require budget cuts in exchange for a debt ceiling increase with the President insisting he will not negotiate over a debt ceiling increase.  It is expected that in the Treasury will run out of funds sometime between mid-February and March 1 if the ceiling is not raised.

Congress will also resume the battle over the sequestration, which is now triggered on March 1, and Congress will also have to complete the fiscal 2013 appropriation, which is currently funded until March 27. The Congress is now out until January 14.

Education Reform for Foster Care Students Becomes Law

Despite the intensive gridlock in the last month of the 112th Congress members did manage to pass the Uninterrupted Scholars Act (S 3478).  The bill was passed by voice vote in the House of Representatives on January 1, 2013.  It had been passed by voice vote in the Senate on December 17, 2012.

The legislation amends the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) to enable child welfare agencies that are charged with the placement and care of children in foster care to access the educational records of those children to help improve their educational success.

FERPA, originally created to protect the confidentiality of education records, creates barriers to child welfare agencies obtaining records they need, even when educational agencies are willing to collaborate in the exchange of information. The FERPA amendments in the Capitol Vieware drawn narrowly to allow child welfare agencies to secure educational records to address the educational needs of individual children in foster care. The law also permits research groups to obtain data with which to conduct  studies on groups of children in foster care, often in collaboration with child welfare and education agencies and others, to identify their educational needs and how best to address them.

The legislation moved on a relatively fast track with action completed within a single year’s time, a rarity even in less partisan times.  It had been introduced earlier last year with bipartisan support.  Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-CA) was the sponsor in the House and additional sponsors included Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.) and Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) while the Senate bill was sponsored by Senator Mary Landrieu (D-La.) joined by others including Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.).  For further information and to read about some of the congressional actions go online at The Chronicle of Social Change website.

Commission on Child Deaths Established

The Senate also acted in the waning days of the 112th Congress to approve the Protect Our Kids Act, (H.R. 6655).  The bill establishes a commission to examine child deaths in the United States.  The legislation was being championed by Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) and he was later joined by the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Congressman David Camp (R-Mich.). The original bill was introduced by Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) (S 1894) in the Senate.

In December, the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources held a hearing on a revised version that was presented at the hearing.
Among the responsibilities of the commission:

Examine the effectiveness of best practices in preventing child deaths that are intentionally caused or that occur due to neglect

Gauge the effectiveness of policies in collecting accurate, uniform data on child fatalities

Identify barriers to preventing child deaths, and trends in demographic and other risk factors that predict of child abuse and neglect.

The commission will have 12 members, six of whom the president will select and six of whom will be appointed by Congress (three by the House, three by the Senate).

Under the bill language, the membership is to be appointed within 90 days of enactment, with the first meeting scheduled for 60 days after those appointments.  The commission is to issue a report within two years, but the President can extend this by another year.

The work of the commission will be paid for by a reallocation of $2 million from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) contingency funds.  The bill was passed by voice vote in each house with the Senate acting on Wednesday.  It is almost certain to be the last legislative victory for Senator Kerry, since he is likely to become the next Secretary of State.

For a link to the legislation go online:  http://www.nationalchildabusecoalition.org

Fiscal 2013 Domestic Appropriations Likely to Absorb $6 Billion Cut

The year-end deal that delayed the sequestration of $110 billion until March 1 also included $24 billion in deficit reduction. Half of this total will be made by changes in tax law and the other $12 billion will be made up of spending cuts.

The defense budget will be responsible for $6 billion with domestic spending making up the other $6 billion.  So it is possible, even likely, that a $6 billion cut will be carried out when the new Congress finishes up the last six months of funding for the FY 2013 appropriations.

The 112th Congress simply passed a six-month continuing resolution that funded all programs at fiscal 2012 levels.  The Senate appropriations bills that had been acted on were funded at a level that was $4 billion above the fiscal 2012 levels.

Appropriators had been working since the November election on a completion of the 2013 appropriations.  Appropriations members had hoped to attach such a final appropriation as part of any grand bargain or budget deal.  That never happened, and now it is unclear when the next actions will take place and how such cuts will play out.

Other Appropriations News

Several significant events in regard to appropriations did take place at the end of 2012.  The most significant was the passing of Senator Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii).  Senator Inouye was a historic figure in the Senate, and the longest serving Democrat, but he was also the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

His death set off a series of decisions that have resulted in Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) becoming the new chair of the appropriations committee. She becomes the first women to chair that committee.

Senator Mikulski has set a number of records for women in congress.  She is the longest serving women in Congress, having served in both houses and she was the first women Democrat to be elected to the Senate without first being appointed as a successor to a previous senator’s vacated seat. She became a senator in 1986.

Two other Democrats senators on the committee have more seniority – Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) decided to stay on as chair of the Judiciary Committee and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) decided to stay on as chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Senators cannot chair two such high profile or “A” committees.

Another significant change is that on the House side, Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) will take over the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (Labor-HHS).  That position was vacated by Congressman Denny Rehberg (R-Montana) when he left the House for a Senate run.  Rehberg was unable to report a Labor-HHS bill in 2011 or 2012 and one of his priorities in the drafts that had been released each year was a defunding of the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148).

Kingston is reported to have a good working relationship with the Ranking Member Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and he has indicated in at least one interview that he would not be taking the same approach on health care and perhaps the Labor-HHS appropriations as Rehberg.

Finally, of particular significance, the Administration announced that the regular issuance of the new federal budget (fiscal 2014) will delayed beyond the required first week of February release and likely will not come out until early March or later.  This is the result of the delay in the budget decisions and the annual appropriations.

UPCOMING CAPITOL HILL BRIEFINGS/EVENTS

Presidential Inauguration, Monday, January 21, 2013 (private swearing-in Sunday, January 20)

– John Sciamanna is a strategic consultant on child welfare policy and legislation

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