White House, Senate GOP Spar Over Just How Bad The Budget Picture Looks

| June 12 2013

Spending Daily |June 12, 2013

 

“Welcome Disclosure About Medicare Payments”

The Washington Post editorializes, “Information can be efficiency’s best friend. The more that participants in the marketplace know about the true costs and benefits of various goods and services, and about the behavior of other individuals and firms, the easier it is for them to get the most for their money. The U.S. health-care system notoriously lacks transparency, which may be a reason why it produces poorer results at higher cost than do systems elsewhere. …So one of the more encouraging recent developments in health care has been the Obama administration’s disclosure of data about how Medicare spends roughly $500 billion each year. Last month, the Department of Health and Human Services released the average charges for the 100 most common inpatient procedures, revealing wide and seemingly inexplicable price variations between neighboring hospitals. Last week, HHS produced average charges for 30 outpatient procedures from hospitals across the country.”

 

White House, Senate GOP Spar Over Just How Bad The Budget Picture Looks

The Hill reports, “The White House is trying to jump-start budget talks with Senate Republicans to avoid a showdown over the raising the national debt ceiling later this year. White House chief of staff Denis McDonough met Tuesday afternoon with several Republicans who dined privately with President Obama in March and April. Much of the meeting was spent sparring over the severity of the federal deficit and the need to cut spending. Obama reached out to Republican senators earlier this year in the hopes of forging a broad deficit-reduction deal, but Republicans in recent weeks have expressed frustration over the pace of the talks. ‘The intensity is not where it needs to be right now,’ said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) as he walked into the meeting in the Dirksen Senate Office Building. …But some Republicans were less than enthusiastic about the prospects for a deal after spending much of the meeting arguing with White House officials.  A source familiar with the meeting said most of it was spent debating just how bad the nation’s budget picture looks.”

 

Congress Shows Interest In Fixing Fannie Mae And Freddie Mac 5 Years After Acquiring It

POLITICO reports, “For the first time since the government took over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac nearly five years ago, there are signs that Congress and the administration are starting to get serious about tackling the dilemma of what should replace the taxpayer-owned mortgage finance giants. Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) and ranking member Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) said they intend to work on a plan. Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) are elbow deep in the process of drafting legislation. House Financial Services Committee Republicans expect to release a bill as early as this year. And Treasury Secretary Jack Lew is meeting with housing policy experts while his staff, according to sources, is preparing to engage with Congress, particularly the Senate Banking Committee, as plans are put forward. …For housing reform to gain serious momentum, the Obama administration will most likely have to move beyond the white paper it released in February 2011 that provided three options for replacing Fannie and Freddie without weighing in on which one the administration prefers.”

 

Issa: Releasing IRS Transcripts Would Be Reckless

Bloomberg reports, “Releasing the transcripts of interviews with Internal Revenue Service workers who scrutinized Tea Party groups would be reckless, the chairman of the U.S. House Oversight Committee wrote today. ‘Your push to release entire transcripts from witness interviews while the investigation remains active was reckless and threatened to undermine the integrity of the committee’s investigation,’ chairman Darrell Issa, a Republican, wrote to Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the panel’s top Democrat. Cummings has said he will release transcripts of interviews with IRS employees by the end of this week if Issa won’t. Cummings said that in one interview, a self-identified ‘conservative Republican’ said the effort to scrutinize Tea Party groups was done to ensure consistency and that there wasn’t White House or political involvement. The committee is one of six congressional panels probing the IRS. The agency’s inspector general and the Justice Department also are investigating. At least four IRS executives have left their jobs as a result of the controversy. Staff members have interviewed IRS workers from Washington and from the Cincinnati office that processes applications for tax-exempt status. An inspector general’s report released last month found that the IRS gave extra scrutiny to groups whose names included ‘Tea Party’ and ‘patriot.’ …Issa’s excerpts showed that lawyers in Washington were managing and directing some of the work of the IRS employees in Cincinnati. On June 2, he said on CNN that targeting of small-government groups was ‘coordinated in all likelihood’ from Washington.”

 

Boehner In The Middle Of Farm Bill Divide

The Hill reports, “Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) faces a divided conference and some of the trickiest legislative waters he’s had to navigate since the fiscal-cliff fight in trying to manage a farm bill fight in the House. The nearly $1 trillion measure is supposed to come to the floor for a vote next week, but may be pulled from the calendar due to a lack of support, according to congressional and K Street sources. Democrats, angered over the $20.5 billion food stamp cuts included in the bill to win over Republicans, are not yet showing enough muscle to pass the bill. And just more than half of Boehner’s conference appears to support it. …GOP leadership is not eager to move any more bills that divide their majority, but the issue is further complicated by Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy’s support for the farm bill. The California Republican hails from a rural district. At the center stands Boehner, who issued a careful statement on Monday aimed at finding the middle. …Democrats argue the statement reflected Boehner’s weak hand given his divided conference. ‘It looks so clearly doomed for failure. … He’s unable to forge consensus in his conference,’ one Democratic leadership aide said. House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) said Republicans have told him they are having trouble finding 150 votes for the farm bill and that Boehner’s opposition is a key factor, since it gives cover for others to vote down the measure.”

 

Boehner Seeking Cuts Greater Than Debt Ceiling Increase

Roll Call reports, “Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio, pushing back against White House demands for no-frills legislation on the federal borrowing cap, is calling for another round of spending cuts beyond the sequester as part of any agreement to raise the debt limit. ‘I believe that if we’re going to increase the debt limit, there ought to be cuts and reforms in place that are greater than the increase in the debt limit,’ Boehner said in an interview Tuesday on ABC’s ‘Good Morning America.’ … In the interview, Boehner dismissed Democratic warnings that another tough round of negotiations could endanger the nation’s credit rating. He and other Republicans have supported legislation similar to a House-passed bill (HR 807) by Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., that would require the Treasury Department to put a priority on the payment of principal and interest on government bonds and Social Security benefits if federal borrowing authority expires.”

 

Feds Choose UPS and Fed Ex Over Struggling USPS

The Washington Free Beacon reports, “The United States Postal Service’s (USPS) bottom line has been hit by the federal government itself as numerous agencies have increased their contracts with publicly traded companies instead of the Postal Service for their mailing and distribution services, the Washington Free Beacon has found. The federal government spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year for these services, and the lion’s share of contracts has gone to United Parcel Service (UPS). … USASpending.gov shows 25 federal agencies have contracted with UPS instead of the Postal Service, resulting in $122 million in revenue for UPS from 2010 to 2013 for mailing and distribution. By comparison, the Postal Service received $29.3 million. A review of contracts from federal agencies with UPS and another publicly traded company, Federal Express, shows that the government continues to award more contracts to them than it does USPS. Federal Express was awarded $48.5 million in contracts for mailing and distribution from 2010 to 2013. …The top three agencies contracting with UPS for mailing anddistribution were the Department of Veterans Affairs, which had 1,086 contracts; the Department of Homeland Security, which had 953 contracts, and the Department of Justice, which had 262 contracts. The Department of Veterans Affairs did not respond to a request for comment by the Free Beacon for its decision to use UPS instead of the Postal Service.”

 

GOP: IRS Scandal Is Not Solved

The Washington Post reports, “Republicans on the House oversight committee have pressed their case this week that the IRS targeting controversy case is not solved, contrary to recent statements by Maryland congressman Elijah Cummings, the panel’s top Democrat. Cummings on Sunday released excerpts from interviews with IRS employees that suggest actions within the agency’s Cincinnati office — not in Washington — started the targeting campaign. ‘Based upon everything I’ve seen, the case is solved,’ Cummings said on Sunday. ‘And if it were me, I would wrap this case up and move on, to be frank with you.’ House oversight committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) responded Tuesday with a letter to Cummings. …In a joint statement Tuesday, Issa and other key Republicans on the House oversight committee pointed out that the White House promised to find out who was responsible for the targeting campaign and to hold those individuals accountable.‘ The White House and congressional Democrats can’t have it both ways,’ said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah). ‘They either believe this wrongdoing deserves a thorough and diligent investigation or they don’t.’”

 

“Going Postal”

The Washington Guardian reports, “The real estate giant chaired by Richard Blum, the husband of California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, is cashing in on a new federal crisis. Just a few years after the firm now known as CBRE Group collected more than $108 million from a contract to help the FDIC sell foreclosed properties, the company owned in part by Blum is selling off old post offices under an exclusive contract with the financially struggling U.S. Postal Service, records show. … Ironically, Feinstein tried unsuccessfully to block the sale of the post offices before her husband’s firm won the contract. And the Postal Service says the decision to sell the buildings, some of them designated as historic sites or located in prime downtown locations, was purely financial. … Nonetheless, the deal is the latest example of how relatives of powerful politicians and federal officials routinely benefit from the largesse of a government overseen or run by their loved ones.”

 

DOE Report Finds $450K In “Questionable Payments” To One Person

The Associated Press reports, “Former U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson collected nearly half a million dollars in questionable payments from four federally funded nuclear labs after she left office, the Energy Department’s inspector general says in a new report. … In a statement emailed Tuesday to The Associated Press, Wilson said the report ‘confirms that the labs were satisfied with my work. The work was done in full compliance with the contracts we signed and under the direct supervision of lab sponsors.’ … In a statement, Los Alamos said it ‘was reasonable and appropriate’ to seek Wilson’s services, calling her ‘uniquely qualified to advise the lab on a variety of issues related to our national security missions.’ Even so, the lab added, ‘we acknowledge we did not document her services consistent with our own expectations for subcontract management.’ The lab, which is managed by Bechtel, Babcock & Wilcox Technical Services, the University of California and others, said it was taking steps to avoid similar concerns with future consulting agreements.”

 

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