The omnibus appropriations bill unveiled Monday includes a 1 percent pay increase to some federal workers and restores full pensions to some working age military retirees. The Postal Service would continue delivering mail six days a week under a provision in the bill. It also blocks the agency from closing small and rural post offices in fiscal 2014.
Legislation proposed by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) would make it an explicit felony to damage critical infrastructure systems or information, with violators subject to three to 20 years imprisonment. Leahy's bill comes as the House prepares to vote Friday on two healthcare data related bills that both passed through the House Rules Committee on Wednesday.
With Congress back in session after the winter break, legislators are nearing agreement on an omnibus appropriations bill for the budget passed in December, but still need to raise the debt limit before it hits its ceiling in February.
This year's national defense authorization act, signed into law by President Obama Dec. 26, includes Senate Armed Services Committee language requiring development of a new cyber attack deterrence policy. The concept of cyber deterrence can be controversial, with critics worried that genuine cyber attacks get conflated with data theft and that established mechanisms for deterrence such as broadcasting offensive capabilities could backfire on the United States.
Current federal workers wouldn't see much change under the framework budget leaders proposed Tuesday for the next two fiscal years, but new hires would see more of their paychecks going to pension contributions. Federal employees hired on or after Jan. 1, 2014 would pay 4.4 percent of their salary toward retirement benefits, a summary (.pdf) of the budget bill (H.J. Res. 59) says. Currently, feds pay 3.1 percent into pensions.
The quality of congressional investigations rose after Watergate, with more of them having a great deal of impact, a Dec. 4 Brookings Institution paper by New York University professor Paul Light says.
With the self-imposed deadline to finish up fiscal 2014 budget negotiations looming, there's no sign that the budget committee created after the October government shutdown will strike a deal. The budget conference deadline hits Dec. 13, but there aren't immediate consequences until Jan. 15 when funding from the continuing resolution that reopened the government in Oct. runs out.
The Senate voted to change the way it approves executive and sub-Supreme Court judicial nominees. They now need a simple majority rather than 60 votes to be approved, effectively ending the ability to filibuster a nomination.
The continuing resolution that funds the government through Jan. 15 restored the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards program, continuing both its existence and doubts about its long-term stability. Congress first directed the Homeland Security Department in the fiscal 2007 DHS appropriations bill (P.L. 109-295) to establish a chemical facility counterterrorism security regulation program, and hasn't since authorized CFATS into law through its own statute.
After House Republican leadership made another failed attempt to pass their own bill, Senate leaders on both sides met again to come up with a plan to reopen the government and raise the debt limit. The Senate plan would set funding at $986 billion and reopen the government until Jan. 15, Politico reports. The debt ceiling would be raised until Feb. 7 and a formal bicameral conference committee would have until Dec. 13 to negotiate a larger-scale budget deal.