This weekly series looks at the various committees in the House and the Senate. Committees are the workshops of our democracy. This is where bills are considered, revised, and occasionally advance for consideration by the House and Senate. Most committees also have the authority to exercise oversight of related executive branch agencies.
This week, Considered Forthwith looks at the Senate Finance Committee. This committee is the other half of the health care reform debate equation. I detailed the other half, the Senate HELP Committee, last week.
In general, the Finance Committee handles tax measures and government-funded health insurance programs. As a result, this is a very powerful committee. Moreover, if health care reform dies, it will likely find its grave in this committee.
A note on the names of committees: The Senate counterpart to the House Ways and Means Committee is the Senate Finance Committee. The Senate counterpart to the House Financial Services Committee, which deals with banking and other financial institutions, is the Senate Banking Committee.
Here are the members of the Senate Finance Committee:
Democrats: Max Baucus, Chairman, Montana; Jay Rockefeller, West Virginia; Kent Conrad, North Dakota; Jeff Bingaman, New Mexico; John Kerry, Massachusetts; Blanche Lincoln, Arkansas; Ron Wyden, Oregon; Charles Schumer, New York; Debbie Stabenow, Michigan; Maria Cantwell, Washington; Bill Nelson, Florida; Robert Menendez, New Jersey; Thomas Carper, Delaware
Republicans: Chuck Grassley, Ranking Member, Iowa; Orrin Hatch, Utah; Olympia Snowe, Maine; Jon Kyl, Arizona; Jim Bunning, Kentucky; Mike Crapo, Idaho; Pat Roberts, Kansas; John Ensign, Nevada; Mike Enzi, Wyoming; John Cornyn, Texas
We are late on this one, but the committee actually solicited public comment on health care reform. The deadline was May 26. However, the committee has a regular link for submitting comment on the topic du jour. Looking through past comments and comment solicitations, it seems that this is a fairly regular option.
On the other hand, if you have a particularly strong opinion on closing the alternative fuel tax cut loophole for "black liquor," click here (pdf link). In fact, using the "hearings" link, citizens and organizations can submit comments for the record via mail. The problem, of course, is that the committee is not always prompt about posting upcoming hearings.
As I have written many times, the goal of this series is to help progressives focus their activism for maximum impact. Sure, you could write your Senators and Representative every day, but there is little that those members cannot do if they do not sit on a committee with jurisdiction over the matter. Even more frustrating is the fact that many members will only accept calls, e-mails, and letters from constituents. This is why I suggest contacting committees directly. It is refreshing to see a committee this open to the public.
Finally, the phone/snail mail contact information is here.
The Committee has jurisdiction over the following topics:
1. Bonded debt of the United States, except as provided in the Congressional Budget Act of 1974.
2. Customs, collection districts, and ports of entry and delivery.
3. Deposit of public moneys.
4. General revenue sharing.
5. Health programs under the Social Security Act and health programs financed by a specific tax or trust fund.
6. National social security.
7. Reciprocal trade agreements.
8. Revenue measures generally, except as provided in the Congressional Budget Act of 1974.
9. Revenue measures relating to the insular possessions.
10. Tariffs and import quotas, and matters related thereto.
11. Transportation of dutiable goods.
The committee also has oversight responsibility for many Executive Branch agencies. Some of those oversight duties are shared with other committees. Follow the link above for the full list.
Cap and Trade Hearing
The only scheduled upcoming committee hearing regards tax considerations of climate change regulation. Presumably this has to do with the Cap and Trade bill that was recently considered by the House Energy and Commerce Committee. (This was the one with the speed reader.) Here's a preview:
The witnesses include:
Mr. Gary Hufbauer, Reginald Jones Senior Fellow, Peterson Institute for International Economics, Washington DC
Mr. Mark Price, Principal-in-Charge, Financial Institutions and Products, Washington National Tax, KPMG LLP, Washington DC
Mr. Keith Butler, Senior Vice President of Tax, Duke Energy, Charlotte, NC
The Peterson Institute is calling for a multi-lateral approach to Global Warming. KPMG seems to be specialized in providing tax advice to businesses. FWIW, there was also this little issue from 2005. Duke Energy is obviously a large energy company that makes the usual nice statements about protecting the environment. I would expect a lot of hot air to be circulated about how expensive it will be stop global warming.
Hearings are nothing more than policy discussions among members of Congress and interested groups and individuals who manage to get invited/subpoenaed to appear. No official action is typically taken after a hearing. Indeed, it is not unusual for only a few committee members to show up. In any case, this is one of the ways that lobbyists, both good and bad, get access to the government. Urge your favorite public interest groups to get hearings with committees.
Health Care Reform
One of the reasons why it is difficult to pass major reform bills is the practice of multiple referrals. On almost every reform bill, more than one committee can claim jurisdiction over a policy change. Naturally, no committee or member will want to surrender the chance to influence major policy moves. The problem is that different committees often report radically different bills to the floor. All too often neither competing bill will get the votes needed for passage and the policy reform dies.
In the health care debate, both the HELP Committee and the Finance Committee have claims to jurisdiction. In an uncommon move, HELP Committee Chairman Ted Kennedy and Finance Committee Chairman Baucus have pledged to coordinate the bills from their respective committees. However, it looks like Baucus might be wavering on the public option and offering other (admittedly needed) fixes and expanding Medicare instead. Grassley, of course, is having none of the public option. Interestingly, Senator Jay Rockefeller, chair of the subcommittee on Health Care, introduced a bill to create the public option.
I won't go on about this since there are plenty of other posts about this issue, but I will offer this link which detail's Baucus' views on the issue. This would be a good person to contact about health care reform (hint, hint).
Other committee agenda items
The U.S. - Panama Trade Promotion Agreement was on the agenda May 21. The bill is a free trade agreement with Panama. There are concerns about lax labor and tax policies in Panama that could make an agreement unfair to U.S. interests. At least one U.S. company and an industry group favor the agreement. Two senior Democrats and a Kossack are not thrilled with the bill.
Meet Neal Wolin: Mr. Wolin's nomination to be Deputy Secretary was the focus of a recent hearing. He was confirmed May 18. Apparently, he helped deregulate the banks in the 1990, a contributing factor in last year's banking meltdown.
Trade with Cuba: Baucus is pushing a bill to open trade with Cuba (pdf link). Love it or hate it, Baucus is correct that five decades of U.S. sanctions have not forced political change in the little communist nation that could.
Paygo: This is a brand new proposal from the Obama administration. There is nothing on the Committee page about it yet, but this legislation will undoubtedly land in the Finance Committee. Paygo is a Clinton-era law that requires any loses from new entitlement spending to tax cuts to be made up through budget cuts or tax increases elsewhere. This rule would not apply to the 40 percent of the budget that is discretionary spending.
Note: the party of fiscal responsibility allowed the PayGo laws to lapse, which in turn allowed Congress to irresponsibly cut taxes and increase spending. Now the Conservatives are bashing the President for even bringing it up. The Democratic House did reinstitute PayGo as a rule 2007, but it was waived a number of times.
I could not find formal statements of jurisdiction for the five subcommittees, but the names seem fairly self explanatory.
The Subcommittee on Health Care is chaired by John D. "Jay" Rockefeller and Orrin Hatch is the ranking member.
The Subcommittee on Taxation, IRS Oversight, and Long-Term Growth is chaired by Kent Conrad and Jon Kyl is the ranking member.
The Subcommittee on Energy, Natural Resources, and Infrastructure is chaired by Jeff Bingaman and Jim Bunning is the ranking member.
The Subcommittee on Social Security, Pensions, and Family Policy is chaired by Blanche Lincoln and Pat Roberts is the ranking member.
The Subcommittee on International Trade and Global Competitiveness is chaired by Ron Wyden and Mike Crapo is the ranking member.
Any assistance with jurisdiction would be appreciated.
That's it for this week. I am considering looking at the two Foreign Relations Committees next week, especially if the situation in Iran escalates. Of course, I welcome any suggestions and will watch for movement in any other committees.
Past Considered Forthwith entries:
Senate HELP Committee
Senate Judiciary Committee
House Energy and Commerce Committee
House Ways and Means Committee
House and Senate Appropriations Committees
House Intelligence Committee
House Judiciary Committee
House and Senate Ethics Committees
House Science and Technology Committee
House Financial Services Committee
House Rules Committee
The Role of Committees