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February 12, 2014
Congress is looking to wrap up its business early this week ahead of Winter Storm Pax. The most pressing issue that Congress needs to address is the debt limit. Treasury Secretary Lew sent his latest letter to Congress on February 7, the date when the debt limit extension expired under statute. In the letter, Secretary Lew projected that Treasury will only be able to use “extraordinary measures” to pay its bills through February 27. Given the short week this week, and the Congressional recess next week, Congress has very few legislative days left to act before the deadline. Congress plans to extend the debt limit through March 15, 2015 without policy riders. This “clean” debt limit extension narrowly passed the House of Representatives today by a vote of 221-201. The bill is expected to pass the Senate this week and be signed into law by the President.
Another issue that has been a particular focus of the Senate during the past few weeks has been the extension of long-term unemployment benefit provisions under the federal unemployment insurance program. These provisions expired at the end of 2013, causing an estimated 1.3 million people, most of which were unemployed for longer than 26 weeks, to lose their unemployment benefits. The Senate has held multiple votes on the issue, all of which have failed. The latest vote (on SA 2714 to S. 1845) coupled a 3-month extension of the long-term unemployment benefit provisions with a 4-year extension of pension funding relief originally provided under the MAP-21 transportation bill. The pension provision was used as an offset to the cost of extending these long-term unemployment benefits. While this particular piece of legislation failed, this offset could be used to pay for other more popular legislation, like a bill that would restore the cuts to the military pension system contained in the Murray-Ryan budget agreement.
Last week, the Senate confirmed Senator Max Baucus to be the U.S. Ambassador to China. The vote was unanimous (96-0). His swift confirmation enabled Senator Ron Wyden to take the gavel of the Senate Finance Committee this week. Senator Wyden will chair the Committee for the rest of the 113th Congress. In the House of Representatives, both Congressman George Miller (Ranking Member of the Education and Workforce Committee) and Rob Andrews (Ranking Member of the HELP Subcommittee) have announced their retirement. They were the two highest ranking Democratic members serving on the Committee which has jurisdiction over the Department of Labor and ERISA. Their departure likely means that, in the 114th Congress, Congressman Bobby Scott (D-VA, 3rd) will become Ranking Member of the Committee as a whole and Congressman Rush Holt (D-NJ, 12th) will become Ranking Member of the HELP Subcommittee.
--Andrew J. Remo, Congressional Affairs Manager
On February 28, 2014, ASPPA and ACOPA submitted comments to IRS/Treasury in response to a request in Notice 2014-5 regarding possible alternatives to the current rules for DB/DC plans tested on the basis of equivalent benefits.[Comment]
On January 8, 2014, ASPPA submitted recommendations to the IRS on enhancements for the Filing Information Returns Electronically (FIRE) system. [Comment]