Events of Interest: Weeks of December 24, 2012 – January 4, 2013

Events of Interest: Weeks of December 24, 2012 – January 4, 2013

Ordinarily we’d be explaining that there are no interesting events for a couple of weeks while everyone celebrates the holidays, but this is not an ordinary year.  Here’s what we know — and don’t know — as 2012 ends and 2013 begins.

During the Weeks

It is totally unclear as to what will happen in Washington in the next two weeks with one exception — the 112th Congress will end and the 113th Congress will begin.  (Congresses last for two years.)  Whether the members of the 112th Congress can reach agreement to avoid the fiscal cliff that otherwise will occur in this time period or leave the mess to be cleaned up by the 113th Congress is anyone’s guess. 

The House recessed on Thursday with no fixed date to return for legislative business (it is scheduled to meet only in pro forma session).  House Speaker John Boehner reportedly told his House Republican Conference they were going home until after Christmas and perhaps for the rest of the year after he was unable to round up enough votes in his own party to pass his “Plan B” alternative to President Obama’s latest fiscal cliff avoidance offer.   Boehner’s Plan B included raising taxes on the wealthiest people (over $1 million) and conservative Republicans refused to agree.  They have consistently opposed any new taxes.  

The President responded by saying that he still thinks at least some sort of deal can be reached before the end of the year if everyone is willing to compromise.  He then headed off for his annual Christmas vacation in Hawaii, where he grew up, ready to return to Washington on Wednesday if progress is being made.  The Senate also is in recess with only pro forma sessions scheduled.  It is in the middle of debating a supplemental appropriations bill for the victims of Hurricane Sandy.

Some Washington pundits are trying to ratchet down the “fiscal cliff” rhetoric by calling it a “fiscal slope” to telegraph that the impacts may be more gradual than the word “cliff” implies.  In fact, from a political standpoint, there may be an advantage in letting the tax breaks expire on December 31.   The politicians could quickly pass new legislation in January to return the tax rates to the pre-December 31 level for everyone except the wealthiest people (whether that’s over $250,000 as the President had been insisting, over $400,000 as he recently compromised, or $1 million as Speaker Boenher proposed).   That would count as a tax cut rather than a tax increase and thereby not violate anyone’s pledge to never vote for a tax increase.  As for sequestration, it might be relatively easy to simply delay when it would go into effect, giving everyone time to come up with a better solution, even though they have not been able to find one in the past 17 months.

Two smaller space policy-related items on the “to do” list before the end of the year:

  • Congress needs to pass and the President to sign legislation to extend authority for the FAA to indemnify launch service companies from third party claims for certain amounts of money (existing authority expires December 31); and
  • The President needs to sign the FY2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which the House and Senate passed late last week, including a number of important space-related provisions such as easing export controls on satellites.

The House had scheduled a vote last week on H.R. 6612 (McCarthy) to rename NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center after Neil Armstrong, but it was never brought up.   There was no public word about progress on S. 3661 (Nelson-Hutchison), which would extend the indemnification provision, provide NASA with another waiver to the Iran-North Korea-Syria Nonproliferation Act (INKSNA) so it can purchase services from Russia for the International Space Station, and give NASA a mandate to explore cis-lunar space.  The House passed a bill in November to extend the indemnification provision only (H.R. 6586, Palazzo) that is awaiting Senate action. 

So all of those bills are still in play until the 112th Congress adjourns “sine die”  — “without a day” to reconvene, meaning the 112th Congress is over.  All pending legislation dies at the end of a Congress.   The 113th Congress will convene on January 3 with the new and returning members who were elected on November 6 and the cycle starts over again for the next two years.

Otherwise, we have only one specific space policy-related event on the calendar for the next two weeks:

Friday, January 4, 2013

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