Thursday morning federal headlines – Jan. 31, 2013

The Morning Federal Newscast is a daily compilation of the stories you hear Federal Drive hosts Tom Temin and Emily Kopp discuss throughout the show each day. The Newscast is designed to give users more information about the stories you hear on the air.

  • The latest crisis over the federal debt ceiling could end today. The Senate is expected to approve a temporary lift of the borrowing limit. The measure already passed the House. It would extend the limit only until May 18. The Bipartisan Policy Center estimates that it would add $450 billion in new debt. But without it, the Treasury has warned, it could default on its bills as early as next month. It has suspended payments in the Thrift-Savings-Plan G-Fund in the meantime. But officials promise that the fund will be made whole and participants’ accounts will not be impacted. (Federal News Radio)
  • The president’s budget plan for the next fiscal year will be at least a month late. CQ Roll Call reports: The Office of Management and Budget now says March 4 is the earliest the White House will send its proposal to Congress. “Passback,” the budget negotiations between the White House and agencies, began just days ago. They usually start in November. The law requires that the president deliver his budget by the first Monday in February. OMB blames the drawn-out stalemate over the fiscal cliff. Officials tell lawmakers: they had to wait for a solution to know how much revenue to expect this year. (CQ Roll Call)
  • The latest quarterly report on U.S. gross domestic product clearly shows one way government spending affects the economy. GDP shrank a bit in the fourth quarter of 2012. The Wall Street Journal reports, one reason is a slowdown in government spending. Defense spending in particular fell 22 percent. But other economic indicators show gathering strength in the private sector. Residential spending was up 15 percent, and business investment rose more than 8 percent. The biggest economic driver, consumer spending, rose more than 2 percent. (Wall Street Journal)
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs needs to pick up the pace on its disability claims. So say Sens. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) Nationwide, applications have increased nearly 30 percent to historic levels. In a letter to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, the Maryland democrats say veterans who apply through the Baltimore VA office have to wait nearly a year for an initial decision. That’s the worst in the country. Then, they say, the office makes mistakes about a quarter of the time. (Sen. Ben Cardin)
  • He could almost be called Senator-for-a-Day. William Cowan will serve as interim senator from Massachusetts but won’t run for the office in the June 25 special election. Gov. Deval Patrick (D-Mass.) appointed Cowan to fill the vacancy left by John Kerry, who was confirmed as Secretary of State. Cowan was the governor’s chief of staff. Although temporary, Cowan will participate while the Senate debates sequestration, immigration policy and gun control. (Federal News Radio)
  • It’s Chuck Hagel’s turn on the hot seat today. President Obama’s pick for Defense secretary goes before the Senate Armed Services committee this morning for his confirmation hearing. He’ll be introduced by two former chairmen of the committee, Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and Republican John Warner (R-Va.) Twelve Democrats have already announced support for Hagel, a former Republican Senator from Nebraska. Six Republicans have voiced opposition. If confirmed, Hagel would be the first enlisted man and first Vietnam veteran to become Defense secretary. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Justice Department is asking Congress to resolve a legal issue for overseas contractors. Pentagon employees and military contractors are subject to federal prosecution when they break the law. But civilian contractors do not fall under the same jurisdiction. The gap has created problems in Iraq and Afghanistan, where more than 10,000 contractors support the State Department alone. It would take an act of Congress to fill the gap. Similar bills have failed in both the House and Senate in previous years. (Federal News Radio)
  • Republican lawmakers are continuing to hound the EPA over its leaders’ use of secondary email accounts. The latest target is James Martin, the regional administrator in Colorado. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) want to know whether he’s been using a personal account to conduct official business. If so, it might be part of a scheme to defeat federal transparency laws they say. The GOP repeatedly went after Administrator Lisa Jackson last year for using a second, official, email account. The EPA says its leaders always have two accounts: one for the public and one for internal communications. They say both are subject to open-records laws. (Federal News Radio)