Monthly Archives: May 2010

Capitol Decisions

Weekly Legislative Report Nov 16, 2012

Lucas indicated that the committee bill (H.R. 6083), with its $35 billion in savings over 10 years, has garnered leaders’ attention and that some leaders had told the caucus that resolving the “farm bill issue” was on a list of seven to eight items for the post-election session.

Still, members still cannot agree on proposed nutrition cuts.  The bill would reduce spending for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, by $16 billion over 10 years, and many GOP members would like to see cuts twice that amount.

In June, the Senate passed their version of the bill (S. 3240), and proposed smaller cuts to SNAP, at $4.5 billion over 10 years. 

Senate Agriculture Chairman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) suggested on November 14 that leaders consider her committee’s bill if they are looking for savings to include in a deficit reduction package to avert the fiscal cliff.

However, she said she could not support using the House farm bill as it is now written because of the size of its SNAP cuts.  The two committee bills also reflect regional differences in the way they structure their programs for such crops as corn, soybeans, rice and peanuts.

Appropriations

Despite a push from Congressman Don Young (R-AK), the House’s ban on earmarks will remain intact for the next Congress.

Young offered, then at the request of GOP leaders, withdrew a proposal at the House GOP organizational meeting Thursday that would have changed the rules of the GOP Conference to allow members to bring earmarks with some conditions.  The new rules would have banned earmarks, “except if the recipient of the earmark is the federal government, a state or a unit of local government; the member sponsoring such earmark is identified; the earmark is initiated in committee; and the earmark falls within the applicable section 302(a) allocation,” according to a summary of the amendment.

House Republicans adopted a ban on earmarks after winning back the chamber in 2010, while the Senate has shunned earmarks the past three budget cycles but has rejected a permanent ban.

Budget

Congressional leaders emerged from a White House meeting today signaling they were optimistic they can reach a deal on averting the impending tax and spending issues known as the fiscal cliff.  Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) seemed to soften his opposition to tax increases, saying Republicans are “prepared to put revenue on the table” in the talks.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said the White House and congressional leaders agreed on how they’ll try to construct a deal in the coming weeks, saying he expects a comprehensive agreement that does not push the choices over spending cuts and tax increases off deeper into next year.

Finance

The Senate on Thursday cleared a bill to consolidate federal agency reporting and commenting requirements associated with the 2009 economic stimulus law and the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

The Senate on Thursday advanced a measure that consolidates federal agency reporting and commenting requirements associated with the 2009 economic stimulus law and the Troubled Asset Relief Program by unanimous consent.  The House passed the bill by voice vote Wednesday.

The bill (H.R. 6570) is sponsored by Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ) and would require annual, rather than semiannual, reports from the White House Office of Management and Budget on the activities of the financial industry bailout effort, known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program (PL 110-343).  It also would require annual, rather than quarterly, comments from the Congressional Budget Office and the Government Accountability Office on reports from other federal agencies about implementation of the stimulus law, known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (PL 111-5).

 

The Senate also confirmed two nominees for leadership positions on the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation board of directors: Martin J. Gruenberg to be chairman and Thomas Hoenig to be vice chairman.

Miscellaneous

Tuesday, the Senate cleared legislation (S. 743) by unanimous consent that would extend whistle-blower protections to Transportation Security Administration employees and those who disclose evidence of censorship of research or technical information.

The measure would grant the protections to current and prospective employees who report evidence of censorship that they believe would result in mismanagement, fraud, danger to the public or unlawfulness.  The House passed the bill in September after adopting an amendment that stripped provisions in the bill that would have allowed federal court review of employee appeals of personnel actions and extended certain protections to the intelligence community.

Wednesday, the Senate cleared a bill (H.R. 6131) by voice vote that would allow the federal government to continue to share information and work with foreign counterparts to fight online fraud targeting Americans. 

The measure would extend the authorities granted to the Federal Trade Commission under a 2006 law (PL 109-455) that is set to expire next year.  The bill would extend the authorities, which are used to fight cross-border Internet scams such as fake lotteries, through September 30, 2020.

Water Resources

Yesterday at a Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee hearing, Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and ranking member James Inhofe (R-OK) discussed the Water Resources and Development Act (WRDA) draft 2012 bill.  The last WRDA authorization was passed in 2007.

WRDA authorizes the studies, projects, policy changes, and programs of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and addresses the nation’s pressing water resources challenges. 

Both Senators expressed confidence in moving forward with a reauthorization this year, and commented that their bi-partisan effort will reflect the work they did on the Highway Bill.

Washington Outlook

The House cleared an adjournment resolution (S Con Res 60) by unanimous consent, removing the need for both chambers to convene pro forma sessions during the upcoming Thanksgiving recess.  The Senate adopted the measure by unanimous consent Thursday evening. 

Under the resolution, the Senate will reconvene for legislative business on Monday, November 26, while the House will return on Tuesday, November 27.  The Senate held a pro forma session this morning and the House adjourned after passing a Russian trade bill (H.R. 6156).

The next weekly legislative update will cover the week of November 26-30.

 

 

Capitol Decisions

Weekly Legislative Report Oct 26, 2012

Currently, sequestration would cut $109 billion set to start on January 2, and the proposed plan would replace the across the board cuts with more targeted savings of about $55 billion.  Further measures to reduce the deficit would be considered later in 2013 under this approach.

This sort of temporary solution could also contain some revenue increases along with spending cuts, according to congressional aides.  It also could provide some relief to corporations, particularly in the defense industry, which are already worried about the impact of lost government business.

Although this interim solution has bi-partisan support, it still does not address what to do about the expiring Bush-era income tax breaks, valued at about $400 billion, which are scheduled to expire on December 31.

The $55 billion in cost savings from January through June would come from various programs and could include the closing of some tax loopholes that give breaks to large companies or the wealthy.

The chances of a all-inclusive legislative solution to the fiscal cliff problem before January 1 is slim, therefore Congress has been looking for some sort of temporary fix to buy time once a new Congress and a new or re-elected president are sworn-in in January.

Defense

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced Thursday his four top priorities to strengthen U.S. security that he hopes Congress can accomplish in the lame-duck session.  His goals are as follows:

  • Blocking the automatic budget cuts, also known as sequestration from taking effect
  • Passing defense authorization
  • Passing cyber-security bills
  • Confirming new commanders for NATO and the Afghanistan theater of operations.

Congress already has a full schedule with critical work that needs to be done in the lame-duck, so Pancetta hopes that Democrats and Republicans can work together to solve these major issues in order to protect the Nation’s security.

After preventing sequestration, Panetta’s next priority is a defense authorization bill.  The House has passed its version (H.R. 4310) but the Senate has yet to act on its Armed Services Committee bill (S. 3254).

Panetta also said he would like to get a FY13 Defense appropriations bill, however he seemed acquiescent that the Pentagon will work the first six months of the fiscal year on a continuing resolution (PL 112-75), complaining that operating on a CR has hindered their ability to write a FY14 request.

Panetta stressed the threat of cyber-security attacks and the need to pass a cyber-security bill.  However, Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT), one of the sponsors of a leading cyber-security bill, said on Wednesday that he thinks the chances of the Senate passing an effective bill are “less than 50-50.”

Fourth on Panetta’s priority list is Senate confirmation of two four-star generals for new positions: General John Allen, the current commander of U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan, to become NATO’s new supreme allied commander in Europe and chief of U.S. European Command, and General Joseph Dunford Jr., now the Marine Corps’ assistant commandant, to take over for Allen.  The confirmation hearings for Allen and Dunford in the Senate Armed Services Committee will be scheduled when Congress returns from recess.

Washington Outlook

Many in Congress are working to avoid the combination of tax increases and spending cuts known as the “fiscal cliff.”  But the election—specifically which party controls the White House and the Senate—will have a large impact on the negotiations.

Mitt Romney has criticized the Federal Reserve’s efforts to stimulate the economy, and has promised to replace Ben Bernanke as chairman if he becomes president.  However, according to the New York Times, Bernanke has told close friends that he probably will not seek another term after his current one expires in January of 2014.

Polls show that President Obama won the third and final debate on Monday, but recognized that Governor Romney presented a solid performance.  Overall, Romney’s performance in the three debates changed the complexion of the campaign.  With the election less than two weeks away, both candidates continue their intense campaigning by visiting as many battleground states as possible in a bid to clinch every last vote among undecided voters.

 

Capitol Decisions

Weekly Legislative Report Oct 12, 2012

 

On Tuesday, former Senators Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, the past co-chairmen of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, spoke about their experience in working across party lines to raise revenues and make spending cuts.  The gang of eight is hoping to use their recommendations to create a similar proposal.

Both Simpson and Bowles have said that they hope to continue discussions with the group, as well as make a number of joint public presentations to promote a bipartisan deal to avoid the fiscal cliff.

Despite their progress, most Congressional leaders have asserted that there is little or no chance that a deficit reduction deal along the lines of the Simpson-Bowles plan will be agreed to in the lame-duck session.

Taxes

The IRS announced on Wednesday that Douglas Shulman will step down as Commissioner on November 9 at the end of his five year term.  Shulman had made the pledge earlier this year, and in his statement also named Steven T. Miller, the current deputy commissioner for services and enforcement, as acting commissioner.

Shulman was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2008 and served a dynamic term.  Some of his major contributions include: overseeing the disbursement of economic stimulus checks, managing the IRS as it took on the difficult task of implementing the 2010 health care law (PL 111-148, PL 111-152), cleaning up offshore tax evasion, and updating the technology that the IRS uses to process tax returns.

IRS commissioners are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate.  They typically only serve for one five-year term.  Confirmation of a new commissioner could go into next year, and if Mitt Romney wins the election, they will be under increased scrutiny as the GOP is eager to repeal the health care law. 

Washington Outlook 

This week House Democrats have been criticizing Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) for downplaying the likelihood of a lame-duck session deficit deal.

The House and Senate recessed last month for seven weeks, basically punting a long list of legislative business to be dealt with after the November 6 elections.  Some of the major issues that will need to be addressed in the lame duck are looming spending cuts under the sequester, the expiration of the Bush-era tax rates for all income levels, a scheduled reduction in Medicare payments for doctors and a series of expiring tax benefits. 

Many members are pushing to tackle those issues as part of a package deal to reduce spending and raise revenues.  Last weekend Boehner voiced the improbability of Congress agreeing to this type of budget deal after returning to Washington.  Democrats immediately jumped on this comment, accusing GOP leaders of intentionally delaying progress instead of trying to solve their problems.

However, House leadership countered that the blame should be on Senate Democrats who have yet to pass legislation replacing the sequester or dealing with the looming fiscal cliff, and are unwilling to compromise.  Also, Boehner argued that it may not make sense to have retiring and defeated members voting on major bills.

Overall, most Washington insiders are predicting that Republicans will most likely keep control of the House, but Democrats will probably gain some seats, giving them more influence in their negotiations with the GOP next year.

 

Capitol Decisions

Weekly Legislative Report Oct 12, 2012

 

On Tuesday, former Senators Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, the past co-chairmen of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, spoke about their experience in working across party lines to raise revenues and make spending cuts.  The gang of eight is hoping to use their recommendations to create a similar proposal.

Both Simpson and Bowles have said that they hope to continue discussions with the group, as well as make a number of joint public presentations to promote a bipartisan deal to avoid the fiscal cliff.

Despite their progress, most Congressional leaders have asserted that there is little or no chance that a deficit reduction deal along the lines of the Simpson-Bowles plan will be agreed to in the lame-duck session.

Taxes

The IRS announced on Wednesday that Douglas Shulman will step down as Commissioner on November 9 at the end of his five year term.  Shulman had made the pledge earlier this year, and in his statement also named Steven T. Miller, the current deputy commissioner for services and enforcement, as acting commissioner.

Shulman was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2008 and served a dynamic term.  Some of his major contributions include: overseeing the disbursement of economic stimulus checks, managing the IRS as it took on the difficult task of implementing the 2010 health care law (PL 111-148, PL 111-152), cleaning up offshore tax evasion, and updating the technology that the IRS uses to process tax returns.

IRS commissioners are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate.  They typically only serve for one five-year term.  Confirmation of a new commissioner could go into next year, and if Mitt Romney wins the election, they will be under increased scrutiny as the GOP is eager to repeal the health care law. 

Washington Outlook 

This week House Democrats have been criticizing Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) for downplaying the likelihood of a lame-duck session deficit deal.

The House and Senate recessed last month for seven weeks, basically punting a long list of legislative business to be dealt with after the November 6 elections.  Some of the major issues that will need to be addressed in the lame duck are looming spending cuts under the sequester, the expiration of the Bush-era tax rates for all income levels, a scheduled reduction in Medicare payments for doctors and a series of expiring tax benefits. 

Many members are pushing to tackle those issues as part of a package deal to reduce spending and raise revenues.  Last weekend Boehner voiced the improbability of Congress agreeing to this type of budget deal after returning to Washington.  Democrats immediately jumped on this comment, accusing GOP leaders of intentionally delaying progress instead of trying to solve their problems.

However, House leadership countered that the blame should be on Senate Democrats who have yet to pass legislation replacing the sequester or dealing with the looming fiscal cliff, and are unwilling to compromise.  Also, Boehner argued that it may not make sense to have retiring and defeated members voting on major bills.

Overall, most Washington insiders are predicting that Republicans will most likely keep control of the House, but Democrats will probably gain some seats, giving them more influence in their negotiations with the GOP next year.

 

Capitol Decisions

Weekly Legislative Report Sept 14, 2012

However, several exceptions were included in the CR to address some pressing needs, exceeding FY12 spending by $8 billion.  Most of the discretionary increase ($5.937 billion) would be appropriated in a .621 percent across-the-board increase covering all 12 annual spending bills, with the remainder, $1.992 billion, marked for specific programs.  

The remaining funding would go toward, among other projects, nuclear weapons modernization at the Energy Department, cybersecurity efforts at Homeland Security, advancing weather satellites, wildfire suppression efforts at Interior and the Forest Service and disability claims processing at Veterans Affairs.  Beyond discretionary spending, the bill would provide $99.9 billion for overseas contingencies, including $88.5 billion in war spending, $6.4 billion in disaster aid and $483 million for program integrity efforts.

The Senate is expected to clear the measure next week, which congressional leaders and the White House negotiated in advance.

Defense

Thursday, the House voted 223-196 to pass a measure (H.R. 6365) that would avoid $55 billion in defense cuts scheduled for next fiscal year as part of the sequestration process created by the Budget Control Act of 2011.  A dozen Republicans voted against the bill, while one Democrat voted in favor of it.

The bill would amend the Budget Control Act, replacing it with the House-passed budget resolution introduced by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI).  That budget would make deeper cuts in domestic spending and increase defense spending.

The substitute is given no hope of being considered in the Senate, and Democrats said the 1,500-word bill, introduced by Rep. Allen West (R-FL) was only designed for political purposes.  

Veterans Affairs

The House Financial Services Committee approved by voice vote a bill (H.R. 6361) that would exclude benefit payments to veterans for in-home disability care from being considered as income in housing considerations by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.  As a funding offset, the measure would require the housing agency to calculate allowances for tenant-paid utilities based on family size, rather than housing unit size.

The panel is currently voting to approve an amended bill (H.R. 2827) that would narrow the scope of financial advisers who would be subject to federal regulation for their work with municipalities.  Committee leaders agreed to hold the roll call vote open until after the first series of floor votes.

In the Senate, the Veterans’ Affairs Committee gave en bloc voice vote approval to an amended package of bills that included measures to expand veterans’ access to mental health care (S. 3340) and give a cost-of-living increase to disabled veterans and their survivors who collect benefits (S. 2259).  The package also included:

• S. 3322, which would increase the enforcement of and clarify certain provisions in the Service members Civil Relief Act (PL 108-189).

• S. 3313, which would increase the reproductive assistance provided by the Veterans Affairs Department to wounded veterans and spouses.

• S. 2241, which would require the VA provide information to service members and veterans regarding the use of educational assistance.

• S. 1707, which would require a judicial authority to make a determination that a VA beneficiary poses a danger to himself or herself before being barred from owning a gun.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) was forced to delay expected passage of another bill to help veterans find jobs after Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) filibustered most Senate action all week trying to force a vote on suspending aid to Pakistan.

The Veterans Job Corp Act (S. 3457) would establish a veteran jobs corps for those who served after September 11, 2001, to provide employment in conservation, historic preservation, at veteran cemeteries, as firefighters and law enforcement officers.  Some GOP Senators are objecting to the proposed funding for the bill, because it requires ten years of offsets to pay for a $1 billion, five-year bill.

Washington Outlook 

Next week in Congress, both the House and Senate will be out of session on Monday and Tuesday, September 18th and 19th, in observance of Rosh Hashana.  Both chambers are expected to reconvene on Wednesday.

In the Senate, it is anticipated that leaders will send the continuing resolution (H J Res 117) to the president’s desk.  The legislation would fund the government through March 27 and increase spending by 0.6 percent for most federal programs and agencies.

The Senate is also expected to continue work on veterans’ job-training legislation (S. 3457) after reaching an agreement Thursday evening to hold a series of votes on September 19th.  The Senate is also likely to vote on a Republican budgetary point of order against a substitute amendment.  If the point of order is waived, then votes will likely follow on the substitute and the bill itself.

A cloture vote on the motion to proceed to the continuing resolution is planned for the afternoon of September 19.

In the House, Republican leaders plan to bring a package of energy and environment bills to the floor, hoping to spread the message of energy production and job creation.  The package (H.R. 3409), incorporates the texts of five bills.  The original bill would bar the Interior secretary from issuing new regulations that would adversely affect coal mine employment or revenue.

However, the Rules Committee is expected to insert the texts of four other bills: one that prohibits further regulations related to greenhouse gases (H.R. 910), and another regarding water quality standards (H.R. 2018).  The package also will include a measure (H.R. 2401) that would require a review of rules publicized by the EPA and a bill (H.R. 2273) that would allow states to adopt a coal waste permit program.

Additionally, the House is scheduled to take up a disapproval resolution (H J Res 118) in response to the Obama administration’s decision to grant work requirement waivers from the 1996 welfare law (PL 104-193) to states that come up with pilot programs to put people back to work.

 

Capitol Decisions

Weekly Legislative Report Aug 3, 2012

The measure was originally part of a one-year farm program extension (H.R. 6228) that GOP leaders wanted to vote on before lawmakers left town for the August recess.  

However, early this week they decided to move forward on an aid-only bill since they were not receiving support from either side.  Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) commented, “It doesn’t even cover 72 counties out of 83 in Michigan.  They have a fruit disaster, and it’s not helped in the bill in the House.  I’m not passing a bill that only provides some help for some producers.” 

Senate Democrats will offer a stand-alone “bipartisan comprehensive disaster assistance program” in September, she said, if it is not incorporated in a broader deal on the farm bill.

Stabenow said party leaders wanted lawmakers to work out a bipartisan deal in August on competing House and Senate reauthorizations of agriculture and nutrition programs (H.R. 6083, S. 3240) before the expiration of the current farm law (PL 110-246) on September 30.

Appropriations

Defense

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved 30-0 a draft FY13 defense spending bill that would provide $604.5 billion to fund the Pentagon and national security programs.  This would include $511.2 billion for the Pentagon’s base budget and $93.3 billion for overseas contingency operations, primarily the war in Afghanistan. 

The bill would provide a 1.7 percent pay raise for military personnel. The Senate bill’s total funding would be consistent with the levels directed in the 2011 debt limit law (PL 112-25).  The House version (HR 5856), at $518.1 billion for the Pentagon’s base budget, exceeded the total allowed by the 2011 law, resulting in a veto threat.  Before approving the bill, the Senate panel adopted an amendment that would require the Navy to name a ship after former Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska.

Legislative Branch

The Senate Appropriations Committee voted 22-8 to approve its FY13 legislative branch spending bill.  The measure would provide $4.3 billion for the legislative branch, according to the committee, which is $33 million more than current levels and $172 million less than the president’s request.  

By a vote of 26-3, the panel adopted an amendment to the draft bill that would provide $61 million for rehabilitation of the U.S. Capitol Dome.  The underlying bill had provided no funding for these activities.

Budget

Congressional leaders met on Tuesday to determine a solution for keeping the government funded from October to March.  Both chambers will vote when they return from the August recess on a continuing resolution for the first half of FY13, using the $1.047 trillion discretionary spending limit agreed to in last year’s deficit reduction law (PL 112-25).

Majority Leader Reid, Speaker Boehner and President Obama have all agreed they want to avoid a repeat of last year where standoffs over deficit reduction, the debt ceiling and continuing resolutions in 2011 put the federal government in danger of shutting down.  

Major fiscal issues like the impending sequestration and other contentious items will be left to either a lame-duck session or the next Congress and what could be new leadership in the White House.

Environment

The House Energy and Commerce Committee advanced two bills in separate voice votes.  One measure (H.R. 6163) would extend through 2020 an existing law that gives the Federal Trade Commission authority to engage in coordination and litigation activities with foreign governments to prevent foreign businesses from targeting U.S. consumers in frauds.  

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved its version of the measure (S. 3410) earlier that day.  The second bill (S. 710) would require the EPA to establish a hazardous waste electronic manifest system within three years of the bill’s enactment.

Technology

The Senate rejected a procedural motion to consider cybersecurity legislation over concerns about excessive regulation, among others.  Senators voted 52-46 to reject the cloture motion on the measure (S. 3414), which would create voluntary security standards for critical digital infrastructure.  Sixty votes were necessary to invoke cloture.

Besides watered down language or regulation, Senate Democrats expressed frustration over proposed amendments from both sides of the aisle.  One amendment, sponsored by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) proposed restricting the sale of guns over the internet, and another from Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) that sought the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.  Also, another amendment aimed to ban abortions in the District of Columbia after 20 weeks of pregnancy. 

Despite this, both parties have said they remain committed to addressing the serious weaknesses in cybersecurity, but the bill’s future is still uncertain.

Transportation

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee gave voice vote approval to an amended bill (S. 1956) which would direct the Transportation secretary to prohibit U.S. airlines from participating in the European Union’s emissions trading system when the secretary determines that such action would be in the public interest.  The panel also endorsed the following measures in the same vote:

• S. 1980- which would implement a November 2009 United Nations agreement on illegal or unregulated fishing.  The measure would set standards for denying or permitting port services to vessels authorized to enter a port and prioritizing vessel inspections.

• S. 2279- which would increase protection of the R.M.S. Titanic wreck site.  Penalties included in the bill would be fines up to $250,000 per day and up to five years in prison for any U.S. vessel or individual that disturbs the wreckage without a permit or brings illegally recovered artifacts into the country.

• S. 2388- as amended, which would reauthorize the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Commissioned Officer Corps Act.

• S. 3410- which would extend through 2020 the authority of the Federal Trade Commission to engage in coordination and litigation activities with foreign governments to prevent foreign businesses from targeting U.S. consumers in frauds.

Washington Outlook 

The House and Senate have both adjourned for their August recess.  The next Weekly Legislative Update will cover the week of September 10-14.  

 

Capitol Decisions

Weekly Legislative Report July 27, 2012

Lucas has been pushing for a floor vote on the bill (H.R. 6083) his committee approved July 11. A one-year extension may be necessary, he said, because the Agriculture Department may not have enough time to develop new programs and insurance policies required by the bill for next year’s crops.

Senate Agriculture Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Ranking member Pat Roberts (R-KS) have spent much of the last year working on their version of the farm bill (S. 3240).  The Senate passed the measure in June by a vote of 64-35.  If current programs are extended a year, and if Republicans take over the Senate leadership in November, there’s a chance Stabenow would not have the opportunity to push for the changes she sought in that bill.

Both the House and Senate bills would shift farm benefits away from the direct payment program of the 2008 farm policy law (PL 110-246) and toward a system that relies more on crop insurance with subsidized premiums.

The vote could take place as early as Wednesday.

In agriculture and labor news, the House passed a bill (H.R. 4157) by voice vote that would bar certain child-labor restrictions on family-owned farms.  The bill would prohibit limits on youth-employment similar to those found in a regulation the Labor Department proposed in September that would have restricted the kind of work assigned to children under age 16 who work on farms not run by their parents.

Appropriations

Defense

The Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee on Thursday announced its plan to consider a $604.5 billion fiscal 2013 Defense spending bill on Tuesday, July 31.  The full committee is expected to mark up the legislation before the Senate adjourns for the August recess next week, although no date has been announced.

The panel had long been planning to consider the bill next week, but there had been growing talk that it would be pushed until after the recess.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI) allocated $511.2 billion for the base defense budget, but increased war funding by $5 billion above the Pentagon’s request to $93.5 billion.

Last week, the House passed its own version of the Defense spending bill (H.R. 5856), which totals nearly $606 billion and is about $1 billion above the Pentagon’s request.

Defense

The Senate cleared a bill (H.R. 5872) that would pressure the Obama administration to detail how federal agencies would implement sequestration at the beginning of next year. The bill was cleared by unanimous consent and would require the White House to produce a report within 30 days explaining how the $109 billion in cuts scheduled to hit on January 2 would affect both domestic and defense programs.  The House passed the bill July 18.

Environment

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved 10-8 an amended bill (S. 847) that would require companies to disclose to the government test results proving that flame retardants and other chemical products are safe to keep them on the market.  The panel also gave voice vote approval to an amended measure (S. 810) that would prohibit invasive research on great apes.  The committee by voice vote also approved:

• A bill (S. 357) that would authorize the Interior secretary to declare a wildlife disease emergency for a disease that affects wildlife within the United States or if it has the potential to enter the United States.

• A measure (S. 2071) that would allow the Interior secretary to issue to hunters, birdwatchers and stamp collectors electronic Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamps, commonly known as e-duck Stamps.  Another measure (S. 2156) would permit the Interior secretary to set prices for the stamps.

Miscellaneous

On Monday, the House rejected 126-254 a motion to suspend the rules and pass a bill (S. 2039) that would allow a state or local government to construct levees on certain properties otherwise designated as open space lands.

Also on Monday, the House rejected an effort to pass a bill (H.R. 2362) 222-160 that would make it easier for several American Indian tribes to lease land to companies from Turkey and other World Trade Organization countries.  The measure would allow up to six tribes to participate in a demonstration project in which they could lease tribal lands held in trust by the federal government without having to get approval from the Interior secretary.  The bill was considered under suspension of the rules, an expedited procedure that limits debate and amendments and requires a two-thirds majority for passage.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee by voice vote approved an amended bill (H.R. 3158) that would direct the Environmental Protection Agency administrator to raise exemption levels for a single fuel container at any farm from 1,320 gallons to 10,000 gallons.

Following the Senate’s lead, the House approved S. 3268, a “Pilots Bill of Rights” bill that gives pilots access to FAA evidence if they’ve been accused of some violation.  The bill, adopted by voice vote, also sets up an appeal process.  Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), a private pilot, introduced the bill after the FAA investigated him for an allegedly improper landing and he realized the disadvantages accused pilots face.  

Taxes

The Senate voted 45-54 to reject a Republican proposal that would extend the expiring George W. Bush-era tax cuts for all taxpayers for another year. Republicans offered their plan, which contains the text of legislation (S. 3413) by Orrin Hatch of Utah, as a substitute amendment to the Democratic tax proposal that senators will vote on this afternoon.  

The Democratic bill (S. 3412) would extend the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts (PL 107-16, PL 108-27), which are set to expire at the end of this year, for household income below $250,000, but allow rates to rise for levels above that threshold.  It also includes an extension of several tax breaks for low- and middle-income earners that are missing from the Republican bill.

However, the House GOP plan (H.R. 8) will be voted on next week, and is expected to pass easily.  Along with the tax bill, the House also will vote next week on legislation (H.R. 6169) establishing “fast-track” procedures for a tax overhaul, which Republicans say would involve lowering tax rates and eliminating many deductions and credits.  In the end, both the House and Senate votes are little more than campaign statements, with neither party likely to make concessions on tax issues until after the elections.

Washington Outlook 

Before Congress leaves for their August recess, the Senate will bring up cybersecurity legislation next week, as the House will turn to the expiring tax cuts.

Senators were still working late last night to broker an agreement between the sponsors of the main cybersecurity bill (S. 3414) and a group of Republicans who strongly oppose it and who have their own proposal (S. 3342).

During earlier negotiations, sponsors of the main legislation fulfilled requests from Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and his bipartisan group, removing all mandatory security standards for owners of the most vital digital infrastructure and replacing them with a more voluntary system.  However, it remained unclear whether Kyl and others would vote for the current bill language.

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), a cosponsor of the rival GOP bill, said Thursday that some of the same sticking points remain, such as whether, and to what degree, the government should compel industry to act or whether it should institute a purely voluntary system.  She said talks would continue Friday and next week.

Hutchison said she would introduce the rival bill as an amendment when the cyber-security measure reaches the floor.

Also next week, the Senate is scheduled to hold a cloture vote on the nomination of Robert Bacharach to be a U.S. circuit judge on the Denver-based 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The debate over extending the Bush-era tax cuts (PL 107-16, PL 108-27) moves from the Senate to the House next week.  On the floor agenda for the House is a measure (H.R. 8) to extend the expiring tax cuts, as well as legislation (H.R. 6169) that would establish an expedited timeline for congressional consideration of a GOP plan to overhaul the tax code.

 

Capitol Decisions

Weekly Legislative Report July 20, 2012

The bill would provide a total of $150 billion in discretionary funding, which is $6.3 billion below FY12 levels and $8.8 billion less than President Obama requested, according to the committee. 

The GOP bill also includes provisions to rescind funding to implement the 2010 health care overhaul law (PL 111-148, PL 111-152), including provisions to rescind $15 million from the Independent Payment Advisory Board and $1.59 billion for the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation.

The bill will now go to full Committee for markup.

Defense

Yesterday, the House passed the FY13 Defense spending bill (H.R. 5856) by a vote of 326-90.  The measure would provide nearly $606 billion for the Pentagon and national security programs, and includes $87.7 billion for the war in Afghanistan and other overseas operations.

The measure, which drew a veto threat from the White House, now heads to the Senate, where defense appropriators say they will mark up their version before the August recess.

However, it is unlikely that a Defense spending bill will ever reach President Obama’s desk. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said the Senate will probably not move any spending legislation before the new fiscal year begins in October.  Instead, Congress is likely to use a continuing resolution to fund government operations after September.

Some of the bill’s amendments that were voted on are as follows:

  • An amendment by Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) was adopted 247-167, and would freeze Pentagon spending at last year’s level, a reduction of over $1 billion from the proposed 2013 appropriation.
  • An amendment from Barbara Lee (D-CA) was rejected 171-243, and would have reduced spending in the bill by $7.6 billion, bringing the total down to the amount authorized under last year’s debt limit law (PL 112-25).  The veto threat from the Obama administration was primarily over the funding levels in the bill, which exceed the total allowed by the 2011 law.
  • A proposal from Mo Brooks (R-AL) was approved by voice vote and would prohibit funds from being used to share classified information about missile defense systems with Russia.
  • An amendment by Michael Turner (R-OH) was adopted 235-178, and would prohibit the use of funds in the bill from being used to reduce U.S. nuclear forces, to implement the Nuclear Posture Review Implementation Study, modify the Secretary of Defense Guidance for Employment of Force, or change the Joint Strategic Capabilities Plan.

For a more complete list of amendments considered, passed, or rejected, click here and here

As far as sequestration is concerned, both parties agree that it will be a disaster for the economy and defense programs if the automatic cuts were to go in effect in January.  

However, Democrats and Republicans are still at odds over a solution to raise revenue or make larger cuts.  The cuts would be in addition to $450 billion in decade-long reductions to defense programs under the spending caps established by the 2011 debt limit law.  In the meantime, Congress has considered a number of tools to prevent sequestration, including attaching a provision to delay automatic cuts to temporary funding measures.

Energy

The House Natural Resources Committee approved 24-17 an amended bill (H.R. 6082) that would modify the Interior Department’s five-year plan to sell offshore oil and gas leases.  The bill would establish a timeline for the sale of 28 specific leases, more than doubling the number of offshore lease sales offered by the federal government between now and 2017. 

The panel gave voice vote approval to an amendment by Jeff Duncan (R-SC) that would add the area off the coast of South Carolina to the list of areas available for drilling.  The panel rejected several Democratic amendments, including proposals that would require companies seeking leases to disclose campaign contributions, and require safety conditions and limit sale of gas produced under these leases to the United States.

Miscellaneous

The House Judiciary Committee advanced by voice vote a $4 billion, five-year renewal (H.R. 6062) of the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program on Wednesday, which helps states and localities meet a wide variety of criminal justice needs such as anti-drug initiatives and gang prevention efforts.

The House Administration Committee approved by voice vote a bill (H.R. 406) that would allow candidates for federal office to appoint individuals to distribute campaign funds in the event of the candidate’s death.  The panel also gave voice vote approval to an amended bill (H.R. 1402) that would authorize the Architect of the Capitol to create battery recharging stations in House parking areas.  Lawmakers and employees could use them for their privately owned vehicles

The Senate cleared by unanimous consent a bill (H.R. 205) that would allow American Indian tribes to enter into certain leases without prior express approval from the Interior secretary.  The measure passed the House on May 15 by a unanimous vote.

Taxes

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid moved to end debate on a motion to proceed to a bill (S. 3364), sponsored by Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), that would provide a tax cut up to 20 percent for expenses incurred by businesses bringing jobs back to the United States.  It also would deny tax deductions for business expenses incurred while outsourcing jobs.  

But on Thursday, Republicans blocked consideration of the bill, voting 56-42 to reject a procedural motion that would allow the Senate to take up the bill.

Republican members said on Wednesday that they were waiting to see whether Majority Leader Reid would allow their amendments to come to the floor before deciding how to vote on the motion to proceed.  Ultimately, Reid did not allow for consideration of amendments primarily because they involved repealing the 2010 health care overhaul (PL 111-148, PL 111-152) and extending the Bush-era tax cuts (PL 107-16, PL 108-27) for all income levels.

Democrats are frustrated with Republican Senators for trying to tack on amendments unrelated to the tax bill, while the GOP opposes the legislation because they argue it essentially raises taxes for businesses.

Washington Outlook 

Next week, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on whether to authorize states to force online retailers and catalog companies to collect sales taxes.   

Currently, retailers that don’t have a physical presence are exempt from collecting sales taxes.  According to a March 2012 estimate from the National Conference of State Legislatures, states are expected to lose an estimated $23 billion this year in uncollected sales taxes, with almost half of that coming from online purchases.

GOP leaders decided today not to schedule floor action for the farm bill next week, dimming prospects for an agreement before current farm programs expire on September 30.  That leaves only four legislative days to consider the $957 billion bill before the August recess.

Next Tuesday, the Senate will hold a test vote on whether and how far to extend the Bush tax cuts, which expire soon after the November elections.

Senate Democratic and Republican leaders are working to speed up completion of a FY13 stopgap measure to extend funding (PL 112-74, PL 112-55) before it expires on September 30. 

In appropriations news, several senior lawmakers have said they would be open to a continuing resolution (CR) that would last beyond Election Day and perhaps until the end of December.   Both parties agree an early deal in order to avoid a standoff over extending funding into FY13 and to avert any pre-election threat of a government shutdown may be the best option.

However some conservatives are pushing for a slimmer CR that lasts through March 2013, at funding levels reflected in the House GOP FY13 spending bills and in the House-passed budget resolution (H Con Res 112).

 

 

Capitol Decisions

Weekly Legislative Report July 13, 2012

 

 

Defense

Wednesday, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a report determining that the Pentagon’s proposed budget plans go above the budget caps set by Congress.  The Pentagon’s spending between fiscal 2013 and 2021 is said to exceed the limit set by last year’s bipartisan deficit-reduction law (PL 112-25) by $508 billion.

According to the CBO, the estimated overage increases to $978 billion if a congressionally mandated sequester goes into effect in January 2013.

In FY13, the Pentagon request would exceed the budget cap by $14 billion. Next week the House is expected to pass its FY13 defense spending bill (H.R. 5856), which would provide about $519.2 billion for base defense spending, about $3.1 billion more than the president requested.  It also would include $88.5 billion the president requested for the war in Afghanistan.

The Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee plans to mark up its bill after the House completes its work but before Congress recesses in August.  The Senate panel’s bill would provide $511.2 billion for the base defense budget but $93.5 billion, or $5 billion more than requested, for the war.

Health

Wednesday, the House voted 244-185 to repeal the Affordable Care Act, marking the 31st time the House has voted to repeal all or part of the 2010 law.

 

The vote is the first since the Supreme Court’s decision last month to uphold Obama’s signature health care overhaul, with five Democrats voting along with GOP members to repeal the health care law.  

 

The bill has almost no chance to become law, with no likelihood of passage in the Democratic Senate and facing a veto from President Obama. But House are most likely trying to reiterate the message out that they do not condone the law that is largely still unpopular with the American public.

Miscellaneous

By a vote of 371-0, the House voted to drop a current requirement that banks post signs near ATM machines warning of possible fees.  The bill (H.R. 4367) was written because banks faced possible legal action if the signs were removed by others. 

Other non-controversial bills passed by the House include: 

  • H.R. 4155, approved 369-0, to require the Federal Government to credit applicants’ relevant military training toward requirements for Federal licenses. 
  • H.R. 5892, approved 372-0, to promote hydropower. 
  • S. 2061, approved by voice vote, to exchange land between the Federal Government and South Carolina.

Taxes

By a vote of 53-44, the Senate voted against ending debate on the Small Business Jobs and Tax Relief Act, when 60 votes are needed to proceed. Republican Senators blocked consideration of the measure, which would allow small businesses to deduct the cost of equipment purchased in 2012 from their taxable income, and to receive a tax credit up to $500,000 to offset ten percent of the salaries of additional employees hired in 2012. 

At first, debate on the bill (S. 2237) seemed to be moving forward, when Republicans believed that they would be given a chance to vote on the broader tax and health-care issues, but when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) blocked the amendments, the progress stalled. 

Prior to the vote, the Senate also rejected other amendments to extend existing tax breaks for small businesses and to agree to a House-passed small business tax cut bill (H.R. 9). 

Transportation

This week, California state lawmakers backed a plan that aims to connect the northern Bay Area, Los Angeles and San Diego with high-speed trains.  The overall project is estimated to cost over $68 billion, and may rise to more than $90 billion.  

Following this decision, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the Obama administration will continue with plans to expand passenger rail access despite congressional opposition.

The Transportation Department’s support of high speed rail has drawn opposition from members like Congressman Jeff Denham (R-CA) who serves on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and has worked to strip the main high-speed project of federal funding.  Last month, the House voted, 239-185, to adopt an amendment to the FY13 Transportation-HUD spending bill (H.R. 5972) that would bar any federal funding for the project.

Despite hopes by advocates of passenger rail, the recently enacted surface transportation authorization (PL 112-141) did not contain any new rail-related policy.  The last reauthorization of Amtrak, as well as other passenger rail funding and safety programs (PL 110-432), runs through next year.  Aides say it will be left to the 113th Congress to begin work on renewing the programs in 2013.

Washington Outlook

Next week on Monday, the Senate is expected to vote on the nomination of Kevin McNulty to be United States District Judge for the District of New Jersey.  He was recommended by Senator Frank Lautenberg and Senator Robert Menendez.

 

The Senate will also be voting on S.3369, which is a bill to amend the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 to provide for additional disclosure requirements for corporations, labor organizations, Super PACs and other entities, and for other purposes.  The bill reduces aspects of the controversial Citizens United ruling by requiring companies and unions to file a FEC disclosure report for donations at or above $10,000.

 

The House is expected to take up the Defense appropriations bill next week.  The $608 billion bill funds both the base Pentagon budget and the war, and is $3 billion higher than the president’s budget request.

 

The House Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education has scheduled a markup of their FY13 Appropriations draft bill next Wednesday at 10:00 a.m.

 

Democrats anticipate that Committee Chairman Denny Rehberg (R-MT) will use the measure to derail implementation of the health care overhaul (PL 111-148, PL 111-152).

 

The Labor-HHS-Education bill is often used as a vehicle for publicizing some of the most contentious issues between Democrats and Republicans.   Some of the battles include Democrats remaining adamant about the need for robust federal aid for education and protection of the rights of unions, Republicans accusing the government of interfering too deeply in the relationship between companies and their workers, and now the controversial Health-Care overhaul.  

 

Rehberg’s draft again is not expected to advance to the House floor for a vote.  The House has only considered the Labor-HHS-Education bill as a stand-alone measure twice since 2007, making it among the appropriations measures that are least likely to get floor time.

 

The House will also be voting on a bill to require the administration to explain the effect of sequestration.  The Sequestration Transparency Act (H.R. 5872) is a Republican bill that would require the Obama administration to provide details about what programs it plans to cut with the mandatory 109 billion spending cuts for 2013. 

 

Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke will give his semiannual monetary policy report to Congress next week.  Members will be able to ask questions on the future of the economy.


 

Capitol Decisions

Weekly Legislative Report June 15, 2012

 

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) said late Thursday that she expects to present a consent agreement early next week and believes “it’s very possible” to win passage without a difficult cloture vote.

The farm bill or Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012 (S. 3240), reauthorizes and updates federal agriculture programs, including the massive food-stamp program.  So far, more than 250 amendments have been offered, but Senate leaders hope to get that number down to a more manageable level by dealing with the majority of the amendments off the floor.

Overall, the Senate bill provides $23.6 billion in savings over ten years by essentially by ending direct cash payments to farmers and replacing them with a variety of crop-insurance programs.  If the bill passes in the Senate, it would likely set up a fight with the House over food stamps – the lower chamber has proposed deep cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).  Still, the House is not overly opposed to the Senate version.

Appropriations

Financial Services

The Senate Financial Services Appropriations Committee approved its spending bill by a vote of 16-14.  The draft FY13 measure would give agencies tasked with implementing portions of the 2010 financial regulatory overhaul a substantially larger funding boost than the level sought by House appropriators.  

Overall, the Senate bill would provide about $23 billion in discretionary funding in fiscal 2013 for the Treasury Department and various regulatory agencies, including the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC).  That total is roughly $1.3 billion more than current levels and slightly less than President Obama’s request. 

Compared to current levels, the Senate measure would increase CFTC funding by 50 percent and boost SEC funding by 19 percent.  The bill includes provisions that would nullify proposed changes in the Senate-passed Postal Service overhaul (S. 1789) and would mandate six-day mail delivery.

Labor/HHS/Education

The Senate Appropriations Committee advanced 16-14 an amended FY13 draft spending bill for labor, health and education programs.  The legislation would provide $158.8 billion in discretionary funds, $2 billion more than the FY12 level and approximately the same amount as the President’s request.  

As amended, the bill would require the disclosure of spending from the Prevention and Public Health Fund, created by the 2010 health care overhaul (PL 111-148, PL 111-152) to invest in public health and disease prevention.  The bill would also expand eligibility for federal student aid, including Pell grants, to those enrolled in adult and postsecondary education classes for career development if they can demonstrate the ability to benefit from the courses through various tests.

Environment

Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) has secured the backing of Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA), the third Democrat to declare support in his pursuit to nullify an EPA regulation that would compel coal-fired utilities to drastically reduce the amount of mercury and other air toxins that the units release into the atmosphere.  The other Democrats that have signed on are Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

Earlier in the week, Inhofe stated in a floor speech that the majority of the private sector supports his efforts.  

Even with the Democratic support, Inhofe may be short of the simple majority he needs to pass the resolution (S J Res 37), as he is likely to lose at least some Republicans.  The Senate is expected to have a procedural vote on the EPA emissions rule next Wednesday.

Transportation

Progress for a conference agreement on the highway bill has been halted after House and Senate negotiators continue to disagree over the terms of the measure.  

One of the main differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill is the continuing fight over allowing construction of the Keystone XL pipeline to allow bitumen from Canadian tar sands to be piped south for refinement on the Gulf Coast.

If the Conference Committee cannot come to an agreement that is approved by both chambers before the current stopgap authorization expires on June 30, they are expected to pass yet another temporary extension— one of multiple since the last long-term reauthorization three years ago.

Some House Republicans have accused Senate conferees of using “pressure tactics” after launching a campaign urging House members to take up and clear the Senate-passed highway bill (S 1813) if they can’t reach an agreement on the bill now in conference (HR 4348).  The Senate bill passed with relative ease and a strong bipartisan majority.

In response, House negotiators have charged Senate members of being inflexible.  There seems to be plenty of blame to go around, yet House leadership has yet to present their own version of the five-year highway bill (HR 7) to the floor for and some of the provisions that House conferees are pressing for never even came up for a vote.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said that a six-month extension that would defer further work on a highway bill until after the elections will likely be necessary.

Washington Outlook 

The House returns next week from their recess and will open on Monday at 2:00 p.m.  The Senate will reconvene next Monday at 3:00 p.m.

 

First on the Senate’s agenda is to consider the nomination of Mary Geiger Lewis to be a U.S. District Judge in South Carolina.  Lewis is a partner at Lewis & Babcock in Columbia, South Carolina.  She was recommended by Representative Jim Clyburn.  On February 15 Lewis received a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.  In March the Committee voted to endorse her with an 11-6 vote. 

 

Also next week, the Senate will continue work on the Farm Bill (S. 3240) and will also take up the National Flood Insurance Bill (S. 1940).