On Feb. 11, Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), chair and ranking member respectively of the Senate Finance Committee, announced that they had agreed on an $85 billion jobs proposal. The two sponsors symbolized the Senate’ s desire to ensure bipartisan support of the measure and to move a more modest package than the $154 billion House jobs bill (H.R. 2847), which was passed last December. However, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) pulled out some of the package’ s jobs-related incentives and said the Senate would move them first, bringing them to a vote on Feb. 22 and moving the remaining measures later as a separate bill. The immediate provisions include a mix of new tax incentives for hiring, one of which is exempting companies from paying Social Security taxes for the remainder of 2010 on every new worker who had been unemployed for at least 60 days. Among the provisions that Reid delayed until a later bill is the renewal of several expiring business tax credits, including the research and development credit, at a total cost of $31 billion. The Senate originally planned to act on the jobs bill sooner, but was hampered this week by the series of winter storms in the Washington region that prompted an unprecedented four-day closure of the federal government, plus a desire by members of both parties to review the legislation being put together by the Finance Committee. The Senate will be away next week for the President’ s Day recess; the House adjourned earlier this week. A press release about the jobs bill is posted on Reid’ s web site at http://reid.senate.gov/newsroom/pr_021110_firstjobsbill.cfm.
On Feb. 4, the House sent pay-as-you-go budget enforcement legislation, often referred to as PAYGO, to President Obama. The House passed the bill with a 233-187 vote that was opposed by all Republicans and 15 Democrats. PAYGO rules mandate that Congress find ways to pay for additional spending through revenue increases or spending cuts elsewhere. Republicans cited their opposition based on exemptions for some items, including the extension of middle-income Tax cuts. Democratic leaders argue that they are needed because Congress has not shown the ability to offset the cost of such measures. On the same day in a separate vote, the House passed a bill increasing the debt limit by $1.9 trillion to $14.3 trillion (H.J. Res 45); the vote was 217-212, with all Republicans and 37 Democrats opposing.
President Obama has called for a bipartisan health care summit on Feb. 25. Republicans have demanded that the president start over on efforts to pass health care reform. The president has made it clear that he does not intend to scrap the work that went into the stalled health care bills passed by the House and Senate last year (H.R. 3962 and H.R. 3590), but has said he is open to new ideas on meeting the core goals of health care reform. Obama said the summit would provide the opportunity to provide transparency to the American people, alluding to the decision by Democratic leaders to draft the final House and Senate health bills behind closed doors.
On Feb. 11, the Senate confirmed Bryan Samuels as assistant secretary for children, youth and families. In late January, public child welfare administrators sent a letter to the Senate urging a favorable vote on Samuels’ nomination, saying that the position needed to be filled to give states needed guidance on implementing the Fostering Connections legislation. From 2003 to 2007, Samuels was the director of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.
Last week, the executive committee of the National Association of State Child Care Administrators, an APHSA affiliate, and APHSA staff met with officials of the Child Care Bureau to discuss NASCCA’ s child care reauthorization recommendations. During the meeting, CCB officials said they are working on meeting the president’ s executive order that asked federal, state and local officials to convene a workgroup to identify recommendations on reducing improper payments. NASCCA will prepare a memo for the CCB containing recommendations for the workgroup to consider on the subject.
On Feb. 9, First Lady Michelle Obama announced the “Let’ s Move” initiative to fight childhood obesity. The goal of the initiative is to ensure that the country is on track to solve the childhood obesity problem in a generation. In announcing the initiative, she said, “We have everything we need right now to help our kids lead healthy lives.” The initiative will have four components: tools and information about nutrition for parents and others who interact with children on a regular basis; requirements for healthier foods in schools; support for eliminating “food deserts” (urban areas that lack grocery stores with a variety of food types); and plans for increasing physical activity both inside and out of school. Details about the initiative, including tools and ways to support it, will be available at http://www.letsmove.gov/. The presidential memorandum establishing the task force on childhood obesity is available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/presidential-memorandum-establishing-a-task-force-childhood-obesity. One requirement of the memorandum is that a task force will submit to the president within 90 days a “comprehensive interagency plan” to carry out the goals of the initiative, including identification of “key benchmarks and [provisions] for regular measurement, assessment, and reporting of executive branch efforts to combat childhood obesity.”
On Feb. 12, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis announced nearly $1 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act awards to help health care providers utilize health information technology and train workers for the health care jobs of the future. The over $750 million in HHS grant awards are part of a federal initiative to enable widespread meaningful use of health IT. Of the total, $386 million will go to 40 states and qualified State Designated Entities to facilitate health information exchange at the state level, while $375 million will go to an initial 32 nonprofit organizations to support the development of regional extension centers that will aid health professionals as they work to implement and use health information technology. More details are posted at http://www.hhs.gov/news/press/2010pres/02/20100212a.html.
This Week in Washington is published by the American Public Human Services Association each week Congress is in session and on other dates. Editors: Larry Goolsby and Frank Solomon. Writers: Jodie Anthony (health), Rashida Brown (child welfare), Ilana Cohen (health), Robert Ek (TANF, child support), Sue Hall (SNAP), Courteney Holden (child and family services), Katherine Klosek (budget and appropriations), Bertha Levin (child and family services), Tyler Middleton (legislative affairs), Ngozi Onunaku (child care), Nanette Relave (health), Damon Terzaghi (health), Emily Wengrovius (legislative affairs), and Angela You (child and family services).