» Business, Financial Services, and Insurance“The Federal Government Shuts Down”
At the stroke of midnight on October 1, the federal government shut down most services due to a congressional impasse on a funding bill. The disagreements primarily hinged on the Affordable Care Act (ACA), with Congressional Republicans insisting that a spending bill be coupled with defunding or paring down the ACA. President Obama and Senate Democrats have previously stated that any federal funding bill that weakens ACA is non-negotiable.
The federal shutdown will close all federal operations except for essential government functions and certain federal responsibilities that are not subject to annual appropriations. 800,000 non-essential federal employees will be furloughed, and 1.3 million essential employees are expected to report without pay until an agreement is made. Active duty military pay was protected due to a late maneuver by Congress to guarantee military funding in the case of a shutdown.
The list of affected federal functions is long, and the ramifications of the shutdown will have a wide-spread impact. Most federal regulatory functions have closed, as well as all federal parks and museums. Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid and Veterans benefits will still be distributed, but new enrollments and claims will not be processed. Federal law enforcement will remain operating, but most federal civil cases will be delayed. Federal agencies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will soon be unable to pay their share to programs like rural development or housing assistance.
“ACA Rolls Out Despite Federal Shutdown”
Despite the federal shutdown, the ACA still continued its rollout with open enrollment beginning on October 1 for health benefit exchanges. NBCSL encourages Americans across the nation to get enrolled. For more information on these exchanges, please see NBCSL’s September State Issues.
“The White House Agrees to Accept Prepaid Debit Cards”
In September, the White House proposed the use of prepaid debit cards in state health benefit exchanges. Accepting them will make payment easier for the 10 million American households who do not have bank accounts and will allow users to pay premiums without safety or security concerns. Others forms of payment will also be accepted in the exchange, including checks, money orders, and bank wire transfers.
“The Senate Holds a Hearing on Minority-Owned Small Businesses”
On September 18, Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA), chair of the Senate Small Business Committee, held a roundtable-style hearing, “Closing the Wealth Gap: Empowering Minority-Owned Businesses to Reach Their Full Potential for Growth and Job Creation.” The hearing discussed barriers that hamper minority-owned small businesses and minority entrepreneurs. Roundtable participants highlighted access to capital, bureaucratic and capacity-building concerns, as well as the need to better collect business and disparity data.
» International Affairs“The President Calls for Response for U.S. Response to Syria Conflict”
Amid reports and mounting evidence that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces used chemical weapons on civilians, President Obama called on Congress to approve limited military strikes against the Assad regime. Congressional support for this military measure is uncertain. The Obama Administration is also negotiating with international stakeholders to stop the use of nuclear weapons in Syria and in other countries around the world.
“House Passes Bill Aimed at Studying Barriers to Foreign Direct Investment in U.S.”
In September, the House of Representatives passed The Global Investment in American Jobs Act (H.R. 2052) to spur job creation and study current barriers to foreign direct investment (FDI) in the United States. FDI is the action of one company based in one country investing in another company located in another. The bill shared bipartisan support and was created in response to the U.S.’s share of FDI falling from 41% in 1999 to 17% in 2011.
» Agriculture“The Farm Bill Faces Difficult Conference”
The federal Farm Bill quietly expired on September 30th, with little chance of being addressed until a larger funding agreement is struck. Many important programs will be impacted by the expiration. Farm subsidies, support for agricultural research at Land-grant universities, and specialty crop programs will begin to wind down or be suspended. Additionally, conservation programs and the USDA renewable energy initiative will also be suspended. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and crop insurance will not be impacted, since they are permanent law. Despite expiration, Congress has taken recent action on the Farm Bill. On September 18, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 3102, the Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act of 2013. This legislation, a part of the larger Farm Bill, cuts SNAP by $40 billion and increases eligibility requirements. House leadership previously removed SNAP provisions from the original Farm Bill (which passed in August) to improve chances of passage. Both bills, which jointly comprise the House’s version of the “Farm Bill,” must now be reconciled with an earlier Senate-passed bill. The Senate bill included only $4 billion in SNAP cuts as opposed to the House’s $40 billion—a discrepancy that could make final agreement between the two chambers difficult.
» Telecommunications, Science, and Technology“The Senate Passes the Media Shield Bill”
The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the Free Flow of Information Act, S. 987 to provide additional protections to “covered journalists” by preventing the federal government from forcing journalists to disclose protected information. Covered journalists are employees, independent contractors, or agents of an organization who disseminate news or information. The bill also states that these protections would not apply to persons or organizations whose principal function is to disclose unauthorized information or documents (such as Wikileaks). The bill would also shields student journalists, designers of mobile news apps, reporters who are independently contracted, and “creators of a ‘motion picture for public showing’ who have established a body of newsgathering work.”
What’s Happening This Month?
- October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month – For over 25 years, October has been observed as Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Despite technological and medical advances, breast cancer continues to have a significant impact on the lives of women across the United States. To learn more, visit our latest edition of Model Legislation on Fighting Breast Cancer.
- Domestic Violence Awareness Month – October is a month also dedicated to victims of domestic violence. Domestic violence can be considered any type of violence that results from the use of force or threat to achieve and maintain control over others in intimate relationships, or from societal abuse of power and domination. To learn more, visit The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
- October 1, 2013 – Get Enrolled! The ACA mandates that by January 2014 all states have a health benefit exchange in place. These exchanges provide a marketplace for individuals to shop for private sector insurance. The purpose of these exchanges is to allow consumers an opportunity to choose from several affordable, qualified insurance plans. Enrollment for these exchanges starts on October 1st! Learn more at HealthCare.Gov