July 31, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Christmas Wish List: To Pass Their Bills

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Kyl, above, cautioned Reid against packaging an online poker bill into a “Christmas tree” — a term for a bill that is loaded with disparate legislative priorities.

Work on that sort of proposal comes on top of not only the most notable pieces of the year-end fiscal cliff but also an assortment of smaller tax and policy extensions that are only partially connected to the larger picture regarding marginal income tax rates and automatic spending cuts. Those include the regular ritual of blocking the alternative minimum tax from hitting middle-class taxpayers. The AMT was designed to ensure that upper-income taxpayers pay significant income taxes but was not indexed for inflation.

Likewise, senators have acknowledged a need to enact yet another “doc fix” to block implementation of scheduled payment cuts to medical providers treating Medicare patients.

“Well, we almost have to, because I think without it, that the reimbursement to providers goes down 25 to 30 percent. That could be devastating,” Durbin said last week of the doc fix. He clarified he was talking about a worst-case scenario in which Congress does not reach agreement on the expiring tax provisions and automatic spending cuts that make up the fiscal cliff.

Reid said Tuesday the to-do list also includes the emergency supplemental spending bill for recovery from superstorm Sandy, which appropriators are in the process of developing. The Senate also needs to tackle a reauthorization of surveillance authorities for the intelligence community and to reach a deal with the House on the fiscal 2013 defense authorization.

Also outstanding is a potential extension of federal farm policy. In a less transparent era, the defense bill, farm bill or the supplemental would be ideal vehicles for including extraneous provisions, but lawmakers in both parties have taken to opposing legislative “air-dropping” into conference reports and must-pass bills.

Kyl made that point in reference to the poker bill.

“You can’t put it on the FISA bill. You can’t put it on the ‘cliff’ bill, whatever that is, so a lot of it depends on how it all comes up,” Kyl said. “That’s not really, as they say in the military, the long pole in the tent right now.”

There is also no shortage of nominations still pending before the Senate for consideration, which are often put together in a large package at the end of the year and advanced by unanimous consent. On that front, optimistic senators continue to work on the assumption that the usual process will bear fruit. For instance, the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing Tuesday on new federal tax court nominees.

“Christmas is two weeks from today,” Reid reminded reporters Tuesday. He renewed what has become an all-too-common threat about not being able to finish Senate business in time for the holidays.

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