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States Begin to Convene for 2014 Sessions, Focus on Fiscal Outlooks

Lawmakers in 46 states will start returning to their respective capitols this month to debate the year’s pressing policy issues, most dominantly taxes and spending, healthcare, education, immigration, energy and election reform.

Legislators once again be tasked with preparing budgets in a climate of fiscal austerity; state are still struggling to recover from the recession. Program growth will be small and new taxes rare; it is after all an election year.

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States Look to Tax and Regulate E-Cigarettes in 2014

The U.S. Congress, the European Union, the FDA and state legislatures from coast to coast are examining ways to regulate, tax, or ban advertising of e-cigarettes, a $1.7 billion industry in the U.S. and growing. Because these products generally contain no tobacco, they fall outside the jurisdiction of most traditional state laws regulating tobacco products. Legislation was introduced in almost every state in 2013 and Arkansas, Hawaii, Illinois, North Carolina and South Carolina passed bills, primarily addressing the sale and marketing of e-cigarettes to minors. Other states and municipalities have moved to more broadly regulate advertising or have added e-cigarettes to existing regulations banning indoor smoking in public spaces.

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Missouri Legislature Taking Up Bill to Lure Boeing 777X Project

The Missouri Legislature will convene Dec. 2, at 4 p.m., for a special session to take up legislation to entice Boeing to produce a new commercial jetliner, the 777X, in St. Louis. The proposal would grant Boeing up to $150 million in annual tax incentives.

“Building this next-generation commercial aircraft in Missouri would create thousands of jobs across our state and secure our position as a hub for advanced aerospace manufacturing – and that’s why I am committed to competing for and winning this project,” Gov. Jay Nixon in a statement emailed on Nov. 22.
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Illinois Legislature to Take Up Pension Proposal in Early December

The Illinois Legislature will convene during the first week of December for a special session to decide on a remedy to the state’s $100 billion pension crisis, reports StateTrack’s Alex Manuel Moya. The House will hold committees sessions on Dec. 2 and likely move to floor action on Dec. 3. The Senate may return on Dec. 3 and 4.

A conference call was held last week between House Speaker Michael Madigan, Senate President John Cullerton and other key lawmakers over a proposal that could save Illinois $150 billion over the next three decades. The plan, which originated from a series of guidelines devised by a bipartisan pension panel a few months earlier, would reduce employee contributions and replace retirees’ 3 percent annual compounded cost-of-living increase with one that’s half the inflation rate.

Walker Calls for Special Session in Wisconsin

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) called for a special session to take place on Dec. 2 so legislators can grant people more time to transition from one health care plan to another, reports StateTrack’s Alex Manuel Moya. The three-month extension will give 77,500 Wisconsinites until April to exit BadgerCare Plus, the state’s health care coverage plan, prior to entering the federal insurance market.
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Coal Fires Up Two Key Senate Races in 2014

There’s no separating coal from the politics of West Virginia and Kentucky, two must-win states in the GOP’s calculus to regain the Senate majority in 2014.

But there’s also little apparent separation on the issue between the Democrats and Republicans likely to face off in the general elections in those states — largely because the Democrats have no legislative record on coal to compare. This has set off a battle of guilt by association, which means voters in these Appalachian states should expect to see plenty of President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., in Republican TV ads next year.

Like immigration in the Southwest, coal is more than just a single issue in this region. As two of the top three coal-producing states in the country, where coal powers the vast majority of residents’ electricity, it’s inherently connected to everyday life in West Virginia and Kentucky. Even if it’s not the only issue, it’s always an issue.
“They want to see them fighting for their lives,” veteran Kentucky Democratic operative Jimmy Cauley said of voters. “It’s their jobs and their culture that coal represents.”

The coal industry took a hit last week when the Tennessee Valley Authority announced it will close eight coal units, including two of the three units at the Paradise Fossil Plant in western Kentucky. Those two will be replaced by a gas-fired plant.

Read More on Roll Call: Coal Fires Up Two Key Senate Races in 2014

Pelosi Dismisses Obamacare Defections, Defends Statements

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi defended her rhetoric leading up to passage of the 2010 health care law Sunday while seeking to minimize the reports of unrest in her caucus and the potential for political fallout in the wake of the law’s rocky rollout.

“I stand by what I said,” the California Democrat told anchor David Gregory on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” responding to two old interviews — one from 2009 and one from 2010 — in which she said that if individuals liked their existing health insurance policies, they could keep them, and that the Affordable Care Act needs to pass in order for the public to see what’s in the bill.

Pelosi’s appearance on the widely watched Sunday talk show comes at a critical time for Democrats, who are being accused of breaking promises to constituents as millions have received notices that their old insurance plans have been canceled because they don’t comport to the new standards of Obamacare, and the enrollment website HealthCare.gov has been riddled with glitches that have prevented those with canceled policies from easily shopping for new ones.

Read More on Roll Call: Pelosi Dismisses Obamacare Defections, Defends Statements

How the Capitol Turned the Day JFK Died

Nov. 22 falls on the Friday before Thanksgiving this year, just as it did 50 years ago. And that extraordinary day in 1963 began on the Hill in ways that would seem familiar to the congressional denizens of today.

The House was done for the week, having pushed through spending bills for public works, arms control and military construction in plenty of time to allow a cluster of Texas Democrats to get home for a high-profile political photo op.

The Senate convened for general speech-making and preliminary debate on the bills set for consideration after the weekend: restricting wheat sales to Soviet bloc nations and delivering federal funds for local library construction. As was the custom, then as now, the chore of acting as presiding officer had been parceled out to several of the freshmen with the lunchtime slot assigned to the youngest in the class, 31-year-old Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts.

He was in the chair when his brother was killed.

And from that instant, the scene at the Capitol unfolded in ways that may be difficult to comprehend in today’s congressional culture of commuting lawmakers, hyper-partisanship, legislative stasis, saturation live coverage and social-media press relations.

Almost 20 minutes elapsed between when the shots were fired at John F. Kennedy’s motorcade in Dallas and when a messenger delivered the first ominous alert to the president’s youngest sibling, who hustled off the rostrum and called the White House to learn more.

“Will the senator from Vermont yield for an emergency?” Democrat Wayne Morse of Oregon asked, interrupting a speech by Republican William Prouty to propose a quorum call while the horrific explanation for the young Kennedy’s departure swept through the chamber.

Read More on Roll Call: How the Capitol Turned the Day JFK Died

Will Republicans Have a Primary to Replace C.W. Bill Young?

In the final days before the filing deadline, Republicans remain unsure whether lobbyist David Jolly has cleared the GOP field in the competitive special election to succeed the late Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Fla.

In recent days, state Rep. Kathleen Peters expressed interest in running for the St. Petersburg-based district, and she has yet to back off.

Democrats cleared the field early for former state Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, who is all but certain to win the party’s nod on Jan. 14. Republicans rivals to Jolly have talked about running, but all of them have declined bids so far.

Except for Peters.

“From day one, we have been running as if we will be having an opponent for the primary and are moving full speed ahead,” Jolly spokeswoman Sarah Bascom said in a Friday interview with CQ Roll Call.

A Thursday phone message seeking comment from Peters’ office was not returned.

Many people who matter in the region’s GOP politics — donors, elected officials and Young’s widow — quickly lined up behind Jolly after he announced his candidacy two weeks ago.

Read More on Roll Call: Will Republicans Have a Primary to Replace C.W. Bill Young?

The 39 House Democrats Who Defied Obama’s Veto Threat

Updated 4:04 p.m. | President Barack Obama vowed to veto legislation that would let insurers keep selling old policies to new customers, as well as revive them for existing customers for another year, but 39 Democrats defied him and their party leadership Friday and voted for the bill.

All but three of the Democratic members on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Frontline incumbent protection program voted with Upton and the GOP — Ann Kirkpatrick of Arizona, Lois Capps of California and John F. Tierney of Massachusetts.

But Kirkpatrick wasn’t exactly aligning herself with the president, either, issuing a blistering statement after the vote.

“The stunning ineptitude of the ACA marketplace rollout is more than a public relations disaster,” she said. “It is a disaster for the working families in my Arizona district who badly need quality, affordable health care.”

Read More on Roll Call: The 39 House Democrats Who Defied Obama’s Veto Threat

Military Sexual-Assault Bills Touch Raw Political Nerve for Democrats

Democrats seem to agree on the need to address the rising number of sexual assaults in the military, but the intraparty battle over the issue has gotten deeply personal and could end up politically damaging to those who have been tagged as “anti-victim.”

Democratic leaders are dreading having what is likely to be an emotionally charged fight play out on the Senate floor when the chamber takes up the Defense authorization bill in the next few weeks.

“I would be less than candid if I didn’t say this has been — for somebody who has fought and has a long history of victim advocacy, from my days as a state legislator to my days as a prosecutor to establishing laws and programs and fighting for victims all my life — that it’s been very difficult to be characterized as anti-victim,” Sen. Claire McCaskill told CQ Roll Call.

The Missouri Democrat has been one of the lead supporters of keeping sexual-assault cases within the military’s chain of command while making other key changes aimed at addressing the issue. On the other side, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., has been aggressively pushing to take commanders out of the mix when it comes to sexual-assault allegations.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has been coy about his plans to proceed on competing proposals to curb what has become a crisis in the armed forces. While most of his caucus members support Gillibrand’s framework, at least a dozen Democrats likely will vote for the Senate Armed Services Committee markup language being championed by McCaskill.

Read More on Roll Call: Military Sexual-Assault Bills Touch Raw Political Nerve for Democrats

Wash. Legislature Will Reconvene to Vote on Boeing Construction Package

Avi Niman of StateTrack reports that Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) has called a special session of the state’s legislature, to convene Nov. 7. Lawmakers will consider approving a package of legislation that will enable the construction of the new 777X jetliner by The Boeing Company in Everett, Wash.

The proposed package includes tax incentives, education and workforce development, a transportation revenue package, streamlined permitting, and water quality solutions. Inslee has stated that ratification of this legislative package is crucial for the economic growth and development of jobs in the state.

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Internet Sales Tax Debate Rages in the States

Amazon.com began collecting the 6.25 percent state sales tax on any purchases by Massachusetts’ residents starting November 1. The tax revenue collected by the company will then be submitted to the state’s Department of Revenue.

Amazon.com agreed to collect the tax when it acquired Kiva Systems last year based in North Reading, Massachusetts. Amazon is now either collecting state sales tax or is expected to start for orders originating in 16 states: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin. 

The main reason the company agreed to voluntarily collect online sales taxes in these states was directly due to the establishment of a physical presence in those states as Amazon.com has opened fulfillment warehouses, made acquisitions or agreed to keep in-state Amazon.com associates. Amazon.com simply dropped their sales affiliates in seven states where the company had no physical presence instead of collecting and remitting sales taxes including: Arkansas, Maine, Missouri, Minnesota, North Carolina, Rhode Island and Vermont.

The practice of taxing an out-of-state retailer for in-state sales was largely invalidated in the 1992 Supreme Court Ruling Quill Corp v. North Dakota. Since then, a new type of tax law, dubbed ‘affiliate nexus’ laws, have begun to take a new approach by taxing the sales of online retailers who do business through a third party located in the state. Typically, these third parties will link to a vendor’s website and are in turn compensated for any sales made through these types of referrals. If the amount of sales made through these referrals exceeds a certain threshold, typically $10,000, then all of the vendor’s sales made to consumers in that state become subject to state tax laws.

For example, Arkansas in 2011 enacted a law to require large e-commerce retailers to collect and remit state sales taxes if they generate more than $10,000 in sales a year through in-state sales affiliates. Connecticut requires e-commerce retailers to collect and remit state sales taxes if they generate more than $2,000 in sales a year through sales affiliates based in the state. A seller who enters into an agreement with a person in Maine, for a commission or other consideration, refers potential customers and has cumulative gross receipts from retail sales in excess of $10,000 must register with the tax assessor and collect and remit taxes. In Rhode Island, retailers that generate more than $5,000 in sales through sales affiliates based in the state must collect the tax. In response to these initiatives, Amazon has canceled affiliation agreements in many of the states that have enacted this type of law.

Meanwhile, the issue has been working its way through the courts. The Illinois Supreme Court on October 18 struck down an affiliate nexus law. The decision was a first, as courts in New York had previously upheld them. The Illinois court’s majority argued that there does not seem to be a difference between digitally linking customers and using means that are not taxed, like advertising promotional codes in print publications or radio broadcasts.

For years many state lawmakers have been hoping Congress would resolve the issue, but the current bill, The Marketplace Fairness Act, is stalled in the House. This bill would grant states the authority to compel online and catalog retailers, no matter where they are located, to collect sales tax at the time of a transaction. The bill would grant this authority only to states that have simplified their sales tax laws. Under this bill any online retailer with sales exceeding $1 million across all states would become subject to the same in-state taxes as brick and mortar operations. Notably, Amazon supports this bill but other online giants like eBay do not.

CBO: New Estimate on Raising Medicare Age Finds Much Less in Savings

By Emily Ethridge, CQ Roll Call

The Congressional Budget Office said Thursday that raising the Medicare eligibility age to 67 from 65 would save the government $19 billion over 10 years — less than one-fifth of previously estimated savings.

The significant drop in savings is primarily due to CBO’s new assessment that the people whose eligibility would be delayed would not have cost Medicare as much as previously projected because they are in better health or have other insurance coverage. In addition, many would qualify for Medicaid or for enrollment in a health insurance exchange, increasing costs in those programs.

The finding may affect how lawmakers evaluate changes to Medicare, especially as a budget conference committee meets and discusses changes to entitlement programs. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., has included the concept in his budget proposals, and the idea also surfaced during negotiations over how to avoid the fiscal cliff in late 2012.

President Barack Obama entertained the idea of raising the eligibility age during debt limit negotiations in 2011, but many Democrats have said they would not support it.

In its analysis, CBO looked at raising the eligibility age by two months every year, beginning with people who were born in 1951, until the eligibility age reaches 67 for people born in 1962.

Doing so would reduce the deficit by $19.1 billion between 2016 and 2023, with no effect on the deficit in 2014 and 2015, the CBO found. That represents a net effect of a $23 billion decrease in outlays, and a $4 billion decrease in revenues over that period.

While spending on Medicare benefits would drop, those savings would be offset by increases in federal spending for Medicaid and on subsidies for consumers purchasing insurance through the health care law’s (PL 111-148, PL 111-152) insurance exchanges, as well as reduced revenues, the CBO said.

Many people who would have otherwise joined Medicare would instead get coverage through Medicaid or through the health insurance exchanges, which would increase spending for both those programs, the CBO found.

By 2023, spending on Medicare would be about 3 percent less under this option than it would be under current law, the CBO found. Medicare spending would be 4.7 percent of the gross domestic product, rather than 4.9 percent.

“CBO projects that roughly two-thirds of those long-term savings from this option would be offset by the increases in federal spending for Medicaid and exchange subsides and the reduction in revenues described above,” the office said.

As recently as January 2012, the CBO estimated that raising the eligibility age to 67 would save $113 billion over 10 years.

The drop came from CBO’s new judgment that the would-be beneficiaries — those who would have enrolled at age 65 — tend to be in better health and are “substantially less expensive, on average” than beneficiaries who are already in Medicare before turning 65.

In addition, many of those beneficiaries between 65 and 67 continue to have employer-based health insurance on their own or through their spouses, and use Medicare as a second payer for coverage.

“Medicare spends much less on Part A services for those beneficiaries than it does for beneficiaries for whom Medicare is the primary payer, and it does not pay for services covered under Parts B and D,” CBO found. Part A is for hospital care, while Part B is for physician services and Part D for prescriptions.

CBO now estimates the net costs of those beneficiaries to Medicare, under current law, is about 60 percent lower than what it previously estimated. That results in a much smaller reduction in Medicare spending than previous estimates, and thus lower savings overall.

The office’s estimate of what such a change would do to increase spending for Medicaid and the insurance subsidies has not changed much, however.

Raising the eligibility age also would slightly increase the number of uninsured Americans, the CBO found.

Of the 5.5 million people who would be affected by the age change in 2023, about 50 percent would get insurance through an employer, 15 percent would continue to qualify for Medicare on the basis of disability, 15 percent would buy insurance through the exchanges or the non-group market, 10 percent would get Medicaid coverage and 10 percent would be uninsured, the office said.

emilyethridge@cqrollcall.com

Source: CQ News
Round-the-clock coverage of news from Capitol Hill.
© 2013 CQ Roll Call All Rights Reserved.

Reid: ‘There’s Not Going to Be a Grand Bargain’

Majority Leader Harry Reid said Thursday that he expected little more from the formal House-Senate budget conference than some relief from automatic spending cuts under sequestration.

The Nevada Democrat called the suggestion of a “grand bargain” including an overhaul of entitlement programs “happy talk.”

“I hope that we can do some stuff to get rid of sequestration and go on to do some sensible budgets — budgeteering. I’ve got a wonderful leader of my Budget Committee, Patty Murray from the state of Washington, and I feel pretty comfortable that she’ll do a good job for us, but … I hope there would be a grand bargain, but I don’t see that happening,” Reid said on Nevada radio station KNPR.

Murray and House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., are set to convene the first formal meeting of the budget conference committee on Oct. 30.

Read More on Roll Call: Reid: ‘There’s Not Going to Be a Grand Bargain’

GOP Hawks Want Budget Conferees to Ditch Defense Cuts

Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee have a simple message for conferees starting to hash out a budget deal next week: Do something about automatic defense spending cuts.

As the House and Senate prepare for their first budget conference in four years, 30 of the 34 Republicans on the Armed Services panel wrote a letter decrying the effects of sequestration,saying, “The concern of a hollowing of the force is very real; indeed, the readiness of our forces has already eroded.”

“Continued sequestration would lead to the reduction of an additional 100,000 soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen from our Armed Forces, and cancellation of important programs providing key technologies and capabilities that allow our military to stay ahead of the threat,” the letter said.

Conspicuously missing from the Republican signatories are four lawmakers: Mike Coffman of Colorado, Walter B. Jones of North Carolina, Kristi Noem of South Dakota and Rich Nugent of Florida.

Read More on Roll Call: GOP Hawks Want Budget Conferees to Ditch Defense Cuts

Obama to House GOP: Pass Immigration This Year

President Barack Obama, in a Thursday speech at the White House, implored House Republicans not to wait until next year to take up an immigration overhaul.

“Let’s see if we can get this done. And let’s see if we can get this done this year,” Obama said, adding that waiting would not make it any easier to accomplish.

He said there is time to get an immigration bill done and reiterated his talking points about the legislation boosting the economy and having bipartisan support. He said Democrats and Republicans should be able to come together to act on the things they agree on.

Read More on Roll Call: Obama to House GOP: Pass Immigration This Year

Sebelius’ Tenure as Obamacare Overseer Hangs With Vulnerable Democrats

Will the star witness who isn’t there become the sacrificial secretary?

Thursday’s marquee hearing at an otherwise quiet Capitol takes place at House Energy and Commerce. That’s where Republicans will launch their public investigation into what’s really wrong with HealthCare.gov and who’s really responsible for the centerpiece of the new health insurance marketplace that’s become such a wobbly mess.

Officials from four of the 55 contractors will testify, but no one from the Obama administration will appear. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius decided to spend the day out on the hustings, touting the benefits of the health care law across the Southwest. She has agreed to come before the committee next week instead.

It will be little surprise if the corporate executives, taking advantage of her absence as a rebuttal witness, push as much blame as possible for the online morass toward their government customers. What will be more newsworthy is if the wall of Democratic support for Sebelius starts to crumble.

Read More on Roll Call: Sebelius’ Tenure as Obamacare Overseer Hangs With Vulnerable Democrats

John Boehner Gets Democratic Challenger

Miami University of Ohio professor Tom Poetter announced this week that he will challenge Speaker John A. Boehner in Ohio’s 8th District, marking the first Democrat to try to oust the top House Republican this cycle.

Poetter, an education professor at Miami University, has also directed the university’s Partnership Office, which helps the university reach out to the surrounding community.

Read More on Roll Call: John Boehner Gets Democratic Challenger