Monthly Archives: September 2009

Weekly Legislative Update – Sept 25, 2009

Under the amendment, no funds would have been provided for the White House policy coordinators unless the President allows them to appear before congressional panels and that they submit biannual reports to committees with jurisdiction over their policy issues.

Collins said that she tried to work with the White House, but they never proposed alternative language.  The Senate defeated a similar amendment, 57-41, by Senator David Vitter (R-LA) that would prohibit any of the bill’s funds from being used to carry out directives by the White House climate change coordinator.  The amendment was designed to ensure that the coordinator is not directing actions of the departments and agencies funded in the bill.

Feinstein opposed the motion and said it would reduce badly needed water and wastewater infrastructure grants and fire suppression efforts.

The Senate rejected an amendment from Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) to redirect $420 million for federal land acquisition in Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars for maintenance, repair or rehabilitation projects.  Coburn said there is an $11 billion backlog in refurbishment needs for the nation’s parks and that his amendment would help address that.

Feinstein opposed the amendment and said the bill provides as much maintenance money as can be responsibly spent.

The Senate adopted several amendments, including one from Majority Leader Reid to provide $500,000 for preliminary planning and design of a high-performance green building to consolidate EPA’s multiple offices and research facilities in Las Vegas.

Other adopted amendments include a handful from Coburn, including a proposal to require that reports provided to the House and Senate Appropriations committees under the bill be posted on the Web.  Another amendment would prohibit the use of funds in the bill from restricting the Homeland Security Department from securing the nation’s borders on public lands.

Environment

Senate Democratic leaders Thursday blocked consideration of a Republican amendment that would have restricted EPA’s ability for the next year to regulate carbon dioxide, another reminder of the volatility surrounding the larger upcoming climate change debate.

Energy and Natural Resources ranking member Lisa Murkowski filed an amendment to the FY10 Interior-Environment Appropriations bill she said gives lawmakers more time to work out a cap-and-trade bill without the fear of EPA finalizing carbon dioxide limits from power plants and other stationary sources of the pollutant.

Some critics, including some Senate Democrats, the Obama administration and environmental groups, characterized her amendment as an attack on the agency’s ability to regulate greenhouse gases, including from vehicles.  The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers also came out against it in the 11th hour.

Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer and Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry are planning to unveil a draft cap-and-trade bill next week, likely Wednesday, with a possible hearing and markup in Boxer’s panel next month.

There is a bipartisan effort that includes Senators Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) Thomas Carper (D-DE) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) to include a section in a combined climate and energy strategy boosting nuclear power, which probably would not be offered until floor debate.

While full details of the draft from Boxer and Kerry are not available, many expect it to go beyond a House-passed bill and require a 20 percent reduction of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions below 2005 levels by 2020.

The House bill calls for a 17 percent reduction, while Obama has suggested a 14 percent reduction by that year.

Boxer and Kerry are also expected to include both a price collar limiting the price of emission allocations to businesses in the early years of a cap-and-trade program, as well as a price floor ensuring a minimum amount of revenue earned.

Transportation

Members of the House agreed on Wednesday to expedite approval of a three-month extension of surface transportation law and beat back a protest from GOP leaders who wanted a chance to go on record in opposing a possible gas tax increase in a pending six-year bill.

The 335-85 vote easily gave Democratic leaders the two-thirds support they needed to clear the bill under suspension of the rules and now puts the spotlight on Senate Democratic leaders who have sided with the Obama administration in wanting to do an 18-month extension before current law expires at the end of the month.

House Republican leaders said they support an 18-month extension as well, since extending a bill only for three months is meant to “seemingly buy time to bring the parties together to agree on a gas tax” during a recession, House Minority Whip Cantor said.  “We are asking for a public rejection in increasing the gas tax.”

But 86 Republicans joined Democrats in rejecting the idea of giving Republicans a chance to offer a motion to do just that, which could have occurred by not getting the two-thirds necessary and forcing Democrats to bring the extension up under a rule.

In doing so, most House Republicans agreed to keep pressure on the Senate to work on a six-year bill that would be full of highly sought-after infrastructure projects for members in both parties.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee leaders introduced a bipartisan framework for a six-year, $500 billion bill that does not include a plan to finance that investment or earmarks for individual projects.

Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman James Oberstar has said a gas tax increase is one of several potential financing options and the Ways and Means Committee would get first crack at putting together a financing plan.  But that panel has been wrapped up in healthcare talks, which along with other policy priorities, is the main driver behind the push by the administration and Senate Democrats to do an extension through March 2011.

The Senate Thursday cleared a bill that will allow the Federal Aviation Administration to continue functioning through the end of the year.

The Senate cleared the FY10 Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act (HR 3607) by voice vote a day after the House passed the measure.  The bill would extend the FAA’s authority to collect and spend the taxes that fuel the aviation system through December 31, giving the Senate until the end of the year to finish its full reauthorization bill- the FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act (S 1451).

The House passed a multiyear reauthorization measure (HR 915) on May 21.

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee has approved its bill, but the Finance Committee has yet to approve its portion, which deals with revenues. Finance could not provide a timetable for when it might produce its piece of the bill; its leaders have been tied up most of the year with health care legislation.

Since its authorization first expired during the 110th Congress, the FAA has been operating on a string of short-term extensions, the sixth of which (PL 111-12) expires at the end of this month.

Washington Outlook

Next week the focus will be on appropriations when the Senate takes on the Defense spending bill and a continuing resolution, while the House awaits conference reports on fiscal 2010 funding measures.

Both chambers will reconvene Tuesday, after the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, and spend the week pushing through appropriations legislation.  The fiscal year ends Wednesday.

“We have a number of things we must do before the end of the fiscal year,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), said Thursday.  “Next week will be an extremely busy week.”

The majority of the week in the Senate is expected to be devoted to work on the FY10 Defense appropriations bill (HR 3326), which is likely to drag as lawmakers fight through the many contentious issues related to the legislation.

Several senators have said debate on the measure will be delayed with discussion of U.S. troop deployment strategy in Afghanistan and the Obama administration’s proposal to change missile defense plans in Europe.

The Senate’s version of the Defense spending bill would provide $636.3 billion, including $128.2 billion for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The chamber is also expected to consider the conference report on the FY10 Legislative Branch spending bill (HR 2918), which includes a stopgap spending measure — known as a continuing resolution — to keep government agencies funded through the end of October.  The stopgap measure has been included as part of the conference agreement on the Legislative Branch bill and would mostly fund agencies and departments at their fiscal 2009 levels.  The House is expected to complete action on the conference report this week, making it ready for Senate action.

Next week’s House schedule is uncertain, as leaders are still trying to work out an agreement on earmarks to appropriations conference reports.

Disagreements have prevented House leaders from naming conferees to work out compromises on several spending bills passed by both chambers, and time is running out if congressional leaders hope to send some annual spending bills to President Obama before the fiscal year ends Wednesday.

Among the FY10 spending bills that have been passed by both the House and Senate are Agriculture (HR 2997), Energy-Water (HR 3183), Homeland Security (HR 2892), Transportation-HUD (HR 3288) and Interior-Environment (HR 2996).