Adam S. Olsen- Washington, D.C.
March 6, 2023

President Joe Biden will travel to Philadelphia on Thursday to unveil his budget for the fiscal year that begins in October, rekindling his debate with Republican critics over cutting spending or raising revenues to achieve deficit reduction over a decade.  Republicans in Congress want to link the budget debate with votes to raise the nation’s borrowing limit as the Treasury Department says default could occur between July and September, which has become a de facto deadline for some kind of consensus to avert potential economic damage.  House Democrats are vowing a fierce fight over Medicaid as Republicans eye plans to curb spending for the low-income health care program in the name of deficit reduction.  Heading into the year’s coming budget battles, Democrats are pledging to defend the program from the GOP’s cost-cutting designs, raising the stakes in the prickly debate over how to hike the debt ceiling and heightening the chances of a government shutdown later in the year.  The main highlight of the budget proposal for the 2024 fiscal year is a pledge to cut $2 trillion from the government’s deficit over 10 years, and to extend the life of the Medicare health benefit program by at least two decades.  President Biden is also planning to revive his plans to raise taxes on billionaires and to fund initiatives like a child tax credit.  A proposal to raise payroll taxes on very high-income people is also on the table, but President Biden is planning to stand by a 2020 campaign pledge not to raise rates on Americans making less than $400,000 a year.

In economic news this week, all eyes will be on Fed Chair Jerome Powell as he testifies in a hearing about the economy on Tuesday to the Senate Banking Committee and Wednesday in a hearing in the House Financial Services Committee. On Friday, the government will release its employment report for February, seen as important data even in the rear-view mirror as the central bank hikes rates in hopes of driving down inflation. A strong economy, resilient labor market, rising wages and assertive consumers have made the Fed’s target of 2 percent inflation a challenge to achieve anytime soon.

In hearings of note this week, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on Thursday focused on the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, giving lawmakers their first public opportunity to grill top officials about the accident that took place more than a month ago.  The hearing, scheduled for 10 A.M. will feature two panels of witnesses. The first panel includes lawmakers from Ohio, and the second is comprised of top officials from Norfolk Southern Corporation and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): Alan Shaw, the president and CEO of Norfolk Southern; Debra Shore, regional administration at the EPA; Anne Vogel, director of the Ohio EPA; Richard Harrison, the executive director and chief engineer of the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission; and Eric Brewer, the director and chief of hazardous materials response at the Beaver County Department of Emergency Services.  The hearing, titled “Protecting Public Health and the Environment in the Wake of the Norfolk Southern Train Derailment and Chemical Release in East Palestine, Ohio” — comes more than a month after a Norfolk Southern train derailed in East Palestine, and just days after roughly 20 cars of another Norfolk Southern cargo train derailed close to Springfield, Ohio.  Unlike the first derailment, hazardous materials were not on board the second train that derailed.

The Senate this week is also slated to vote on a Republican-led resolution to block Washington, D.C.’s revised criminal code from taking effect, which President Biden has said he will sign once it reaches his desk.  The resolution is expected to pass the Senate with bipartisan support before heading to Biden. The president’s announcement last week that he will sign the measure infuriated House Democrats, who have accused him of undermining D.C.’s self-rule.  The criminal code legislation is a sweeping bill that changes how many crimes are defined and sentenced in the city’s outdated code. Some congressional lawmakers have seized on provisions of the code revision that reduce the statutory maximum penalty for crimes like carjackings and robberies, labeling supporters of the changes soft on crime amid national conversations about public safety and policing.

While the House remains in recess today, the Senate will convene at 3:00 P.M. and is expected to vote to invoke cloture on the nomination of Robert Stewart Ballou to be U.S. District Judge for the Western District of Virginia

Adam S. Olsen, Washington, D.C.