Morning Action: Sebelius Resigns as HHS Secretary, Obama Set to Nominate Replacement

SEBELIUS.  Kathleen Sebelius has resigned Thursday from her position as Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS):

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has resigned, nine days after President Obama trumpeted the news that 7.1 million Americans had signed up for Obamacare by the first deadline despite a near-calamitous rollout of the health care law under her leadership.

Some White House watchers noted at the time that Sebelius did not join Obama at the podium as he celebrated the surge in enrollment under the Affordable Care Act, nor did he recognize his Cabinet secretary.

Obama accepted the resignation this week, sources told USA Today, and he will nominate Sylvia Mathews Burwell, his director of the Office of Management and Budget, to replace Sebelius.

HIGHWAY BILL.  Senators have agreed on an outline for a bipartisan highway bill that should be rolled out within weeks (sub. req’d):

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee leaders have agreed on an outline for a six-year bipartisan surface transportation bill that would authorize highway, bridge and transit programs at current funding levels.

Committee Chairwoman Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) 5%, and ranking Republican Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) 68% said they expect to mark up the bill after the upcoming two-week recess.

For a six-year bill, the tax writers would need to find about $16 billion per year — or $96 billion in all — to fill projected shortfalls in the Highway Trust Fund, which relies on slumping motor fuels tax receipts. The Transportation Department projects the fund will run short of the funds needed to pay all its bills this summer.

Boxer said she sees an opportunity to fill the gap with revenue from an overhaul of corporate taxes — an idea that House Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI)., has proposed in the context of a broader tax code rewrite. Earlier this week, Senate Transportation-HUD Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) 7% endorsed the concept, which also was recommended in President Barack Obama’s budget.

The Heritage Foundation explains “burdensome federal regulations and restrictions on Highway Trust Fund spending hinder states’ ability to carry out cost-effective highway, road, and bridge improvement projects.”  In a 2014 highway bill, Heritage recommends Congress give state and local governments the control and flexibility they need to build their own transportation projects.

IMMIGRATION.  Rep. Robert Goodlatte (R-VA) 79% explains what it would take to move immigration bills forward in the House (sub. req’d):

House Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., said Thursday that House GOP leaders should only bring a series of committee-approved immigration bills to the floor if those measures have the support of a “substantial majority” of the Republican conference — a requirement that he conceded is “certainly a challenge.”

GOP leaders “have to follow regular order and have a majority — in fact, I would argue, a substantial majority — of the Republicans in the House supporting this,” Goodlatte said during a wide-ranging, taped interview with C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” program, to air on Sunday.

“After all,” he said, “that’s what occurred in the Senate,” where Democrats pushed through an immigration overhaul with broad support within their own conference but without the support of most Republicans.

UI.  Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) 28%  hopes Speaker Boehner will support a bipartisan five-month extension of unemployment insurance based on the help the measure would bring to their home state of Ohio, ignoring research that indicates UI prolongs unemployment for many Americans (sub. req’d):

“It will create jobs with the reforms that we have,” Portman said Thursday of the provisions in a potential compromise that would require long-term unemployed workers to get assessments and referrals to jobs and job training.

“This is about reforming the UI system. It’s not just about extending. We make sure it’s paid for, which is responsible. There are good pay-fors, and they help Ohio companies,” he said.

Portman said home-state businesses would benefit from pension-smoothing allowance for companies to delay deductible contributions to pension funds in the near term.

Boehner deflected a question on Thursday about how he would deal with the bipartisan Senate-passed proposal (HR 3979) to provide broader unemployment benefits retroactive to Dec. 28 and to extend them through May 31.


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