Thursday, December 3, 2009

House to Consider Estate Tax; Senate to Begin Long Health Reform Debate;_Senate_to_Begin_Long_Health_Reform_Debate.asp
By Mack A. Paschal
Publication date: 11/30/2009

The House is scheduled to debate and vote on legislation making the 2009 estate tax levels permanent, as the Senate begins in earnest a lengthy debate on a massive health care reform bill (H.R. 3590) during the Nov. 30 legislative week.

Following a week-long Thanksgiving recess, both chambers return to Capitol Hill with loaded agendas. The Senate returns to work Nov. 30 and the House will follow a day later on Dec. 1.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) made it official Nov. 25 that House members can expect to vote on an estate tax bill (H.R. 4154) that would extend the current rate of 45 percent, rather than allow the rate to fall to zero in 2010 and then rebound to 55 percent in 2011 as would happen under current law.

The exemption levels in the bill, sponsored by Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.), also would remain at 2009 levels, providing individuals with a $3.5 million exemption and couples with a $7 million exemption.

The bill could be considered on the House floor by Dec. 3, according the House schedule for the upcoming legislative week. The House Rules Committee is expected to meet by Dec. 2 to formulate a rule for floor debate of the bill.

House Has Reform Bills on Agenda
In addition to the estate tax bill, the House leadership plans to consider some financial regulatory reform measures earlier in the Nov. 30 week.

When the chamber reconvenes Dec. 1 at 2 p.m., members can expect to consider seven measures under suspension of the rules. They include a bill (H.R. 3029) to establish a research, development, and technology demonstration program to improve the efficiency of gas turbines used in combined cycle power generation systems and legislation (H.R. 3598) that would assist the Department of Energy in promoting energy efficient technologies that increase water use efficiency. Votes on legislation considered under suspension of the rules must pass by a two-thirds majority vote. Any requests for recorded votes on the legislation will occur after 6:30 p.m.

The House meets Dec. 2 and 3 at 10 a.m. each day for legislative business. On Dec. 2, the chamber will consider at least 10 more pieces of legislation, including a bill (H.R. 1242) that would amend the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 to provide for additional monitoring and accountability of the Troubled Assets Relief Program.

Also on Dec. 2, the House leadership has scheduled legislation (H.R. 2873) that would give the Securities and Exchange Commission more enforcement authority. Members also will consider a resolution (H. Con. Res. 197) that would encourage banks and mortgage servicers to work with families affected by contaminated drywall to allow temporary forbearance without penalty on payments on their home mortgages.

The chamber likely will consider the estate tax measure on Dec. 3.

Health Care Debate Looms
Senators are preparing for a debate on health care reform that could last up to at least the projected Dec. 18 adjournment target for the First Session, if not longer.

The Senate reconvenes Nov. 30 at 2 p.m. At 3 p.m., the Senate resumes consideration of H.R. 3590, the legislative vehicle for the Senate Democratic reform bill, offered by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

Prior to the recess, the bill overcame a major hurdle, achieving the 60 votes needed to advance the measure for debate on the Senate floor. The vote of 60-39 taken the Saturday before the congressional recess was strictly along party lines. This action will allow senators to begin offering amendments to the legislation during the upcoming debate.

Currently pending is a substitute amendment offered by Reid. However, when the chamber reconvenes, both Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will be allowed to offer amendments. There will be no roll call votes on Nov. 30.

The House passed its health reform package Nov. 7 (H.R. 3962) on a party line 220-215 vote.

Appropriations Update
The Senate also could consider, on a dual path, unfinished fiscal 2010 appropriations legislation. Prior to adjourning, the Senate completed work on its ninth spending bill, the military construction-Department of Veterans Affairs appropriations bill (H.R. 3082).

With only five of the 12 regular appropriations bills signed into law, most of the federal government programs are operating under a continuing resolution through Dec. 18.

Four of the remaining bills are awaiting conference committee action.

Meanwhile, congressional committees have scheduled hearings on a variety of topics, including the Bernanke nomination, financial stability, internet gambling, over-the-counter derivatives, and transportation issues.

Climate Change Meetings
Lisa Jackson, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, is scheduled to testify at a Dec. 2 hearing before a joint hearing of the Senate Environment Committee and its Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics, and Environmental Health. The 2:30 p.m. meeting will examine the Federal Toxic Substances Control Act, which gives EPA the authority to require reporting, recordkeeping and testing requirements, and restrictions relating to chemical substances and/or mixtures.

The Senate Energy Committee will meet Dec. 2 to discuss policy options for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Transportation Issues
The Senate Commerce Committee has scheduled a Dec. 2 hearing on transportation security challenges since Sept. 11, 2001.

Stimulus tracking will be discussed at a Dec. 2 hearing by a House Transportation subcommittee. The hearing will focus on issues surrounding the building of border stations by the General Services Administration.

Aviation safety, focusing on pilot fatigue, will be the topic of a Dec. 1 hearing before a Senate Commerce subcommittee.

Issues Regarding Bankruptcy
The Senate Judiciary Committee again will attempt to mark up a bill (S. 1624) that would provide leniency to homeowners facing bankruptcy due to a catastrophic illness or serious medical problems.

A House Judiciary panel has scheduled a Dec. 3 hearing on protecting employees in airline bankruptcies.

The Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions of the House Education and Labor Committee Dec. 2 is scheduled to examine the impact of the Delphi bankruptcy on workers and retirees.

The complete text of this article can be found in the BNA Daily Tax Report, November 30, 2009. For comprehensive coverage of taxation, pension, budget, and accounting issues, sign up for a free trial or subscribe to the BNA Daily Tax Report today. Learn more »

© 2009, The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc.