Monthly Archives: January 2013

Weekly Legislative Report Jan 25, 2013

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup

Budget

House lawmakers voted 285-144 on Wednesday to pass a bill (H.R. 325) suspending the debt limit until May 18, therefore eliminating the immediate threat of a government default and giving members more time to address other looming budget deadlines.  After May 18, the nation’s borrowing authority will automatically increase the current $16.4 trillion ceiling to accommodate additional debt accumulated before that date.  Without action, the federal government is due to reach its borrowing ceiling as early as mid-February.

The legislation also would tie congressional pay to passage of a budget plan by suspending salaries of members of the House or Senate if either chamber does not adopt a resolution by April 15.  Lawmakers would be paid at the end of the 113th Congress should their pay be delayed.

Senator Reid announced on Wednesday that the Senate will pass the bill next week, sending it to President Obama for signature.

Congressional Affairs

The Senate adopted 78-16 a measure (S Res 15) making temporary changes to Senate filibuster rules that will expire at the end of the 113th Congress.  The resolution allows the Senate majority leader to avoid a filibuster on motions to proceed if he guarantees two amendments from the minority and two from the majority.  Under this provision, debate on the motion to proceed will be limited to four hours.  A 60-vote threshold was required for adoption of the resolution.

The Senate also adopted a measure (S Res 16) by a vote of 86-9, making permanent changes to the chamber’s rules in an attempt to speed up the legislative process on the floor.  For cloture petitions on motions to proceed signed by both Senate leaders along with seven members from each side, the cloture vote will occur the day after it is filed, eliminating a waiting day.  If cloture is invoked, under the new rules senators will immediately vote on the motion to proceed, eliminating the 30 hours of debate time typically required in such cases.

Education

This week the House Education and the Workforce Committee Chair Rep. John Kline (R-MN) held his first committee meeting with the new members of the 113th Congress.  The meeting served to approve the committee’s rules, oversight, and subcommittee markup, as well as to outline their goals and priorities for the months ahead.

In his opening remarks, Kline announced that in 2013, reauthorizing No Child Left Behind will remain a top priority.  NCLB governs public K-12 education, and expired in 2007.

Kline also stated the importance of reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Workforce Investment Act, the Education Sciences Reform Act, and the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, which are set to expire in the next few years.

Despite this era of hyper-partisanship Kline remains hopeful stating, “In previous Congresses, we have applauded the committee’s ability to disagree without being disagreeable. While we managed to do so again in the last Congress, it’s time we focused less on polite disagreements and more on forging commonsense agreements.”

Miscellaneous

Tuesday, the House passed 395-29 a bill (H.R. 307) that would reauthorize public health security and preparedness programs meant to facilitate the development of chemical, biological, radioactive and nuclear medical countermeasures

Also on Tuesday, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce approved by unanimous consent a bill (H.R. 267) that would exempt certain small hydropower dams from Federal Energy Regulatory Commission regulatory requirements.  The panel also approved by unanimous consent:

• A draft bill that would facilitate new hydropower projects.

• A measure (H.R. 297) that would renew a children’s hospital graduate medical education program.

• A bill (H.R. 235) to address employment licensing for veterans in emergency medical positions.

• A bill (H.R. 225) that would create a pediatric research network.

Policy

President Barack Obama’s plan to reduce gun violence was initially estimated to cost $500 million; however, the plan could potentially cost nearly nine times that much if his request to add $4 billion into the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program prevails.

COPS is a Justice Department grant program that helps localities hire police officers which many GOP members have had mixed opinions over.  The timing on this proposal couldn’t come at a worse time, as Republicans are trying to convince the administration and Senate Democrats to make deep spending cuts.

The COPS program is currently funded through the FY13 continuing resolution at $198.5 million, according to the Senate Appropriations Committee.  Obama’s proposal would provide “a one-time injection that would be part of our request for the next fiscal year but not the ongoing request,” said a White House official.

While Republicans may object to the program for its costliness, it doesn’t necessarily they disagree with its concept.  The House, for example, initially sought to fund the program at $73 million in a FY13 spending bill it approved last May, and the chamber adopted an amendment on the floor that boosted funding by an additional $126 million.

Local officials who have struggled amid budget crises in recent years are strong supporters of the program.  The U.S. Conference of Mayors views it as crucial and adopted a resolution in 2011 calling on Congress to fund the program “at a level sufficient to continue assisting the public safety needs of America’s cities.”

Washington Outlook

Next week the Senate will then begin consideration of the Sandy disaster relief package (H.R. 152) and one amendment, offered by Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT).  Lee has been promised the chance to offer an amendment to offset the costs, after which senators will vote on final passage.

The $50 billion-plus bill passed in the House last week and will be taken up by the Senate under an agreement to allow two votes, each requiring a supermajority of 60 to prevail.

The House will be in recess next week, but will meet on Tuesday and Friday for pro-forma sessions.  Votes are not expected.

 

 

Weekly Legislative Report Jan 18, 2013

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup

Appropriations

The House voted 241-180 on Tuesday to pass a Hurricane Sandy aid bill totaling about $50.5 billion.  The bill (H.R. 152) added $33.7 billion in long-term recovery and mitigation spending to an underlying $17 billion measure addressing the needs of communities hit by the late October storm.

The House adopted the amendment for the additional funding in a 228-192 vote.  The combination of the proposed additional spending with a previously enacted $9.7 billion flood insurance bill would match the estimated $60.4 billion requested by the White House and passed by the Senate in December.

The $33.7 billion proposal, from Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) would add $12.1 billion for HUD, $6.1 billion for the Disaster Relief Fund, $5.5 billion for transit support and $4 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers.  It also outlines an extra $2 billion to repair federal-aid highways and $700 million for social services programs.

The House adopted by voice vote a handful of second-degree amendments to the Frelinghuysen proposal.  One amendment would restrict fisheries disaster money to states affected by Hurricane Sandy, one would increase and offset appropriations for the Community Development Fund, one would clarify that Army Corps of Engineers construction projects in the measure would be at full federal expense, and the last would require FEMA to disclose disaster relief grants of any amount, not just those over $1 million.

The House also adopted several amendments that would cut or restrict the use of funding in the amended bill, they are as follows:

• A proposal, approved 221-197, to strike $150 million for regional ocean partnerships grants

• An amendment, adopted 216-205, to remove $9.8 million for rebuilding seawalls in a Connecticut wildlife refuge.

• A proposal, adopted 223-198, to prohibit the Interior and Agriculture secretaries from acquiring land under the measure.

The House rejected three other amendments that would cut the bill’s funding for the National Weather Service’s ground readiness project and the Legal Services Corporation, as well as an amendment from Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) that attempted to offset the $17 billion in spending with across-the-board cuts to domestic and defense spending.

The Senate may act as early as January 22 to clear the measure for President Barack Obama after returning from a two-week recess.

Budget

House Republicans are reportedly discussing a short-term debt ceiling increase that could be offered as early next week.  Rep. Paul Ryan told reporters on Thursday that a temporary extension will buy time for broader deficit reduction negotiations with Democrats; however the Senate may have to pass a budget before the lawmakers can agree to a longer-term increase in the limit.

A small hike in the $16.4 trillion debt ceiling would give the government more time to make payments on its responsibilities as lawmakers and the White House negotiate over federal spending.  While there is no consensus on the size of the increase, GOP members would likely require it to be coupled with entitlement reforms or spending cuts.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has told Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) that the U.S. hit its borrowing limit at the end of 2012 and will default sometime between mid-February and early March.  Sequestration, which entails $85 billion in across-the-board 2013 cuts to defense and domestic spending, are set to begin taking effect in March, and the government will run out of funding a month later.

A three-month extension would push the deadline to around April 15, the legal deadline for the House and Senate to complete work on a budget resolution.  Democrats are likely to oppose a short-term extension.

Miscellaneous

Wednesday, President Barack Obama launched the most ambitious gun-control effort in nearly two decades, proposing new legislation and announcing 23 executive actions while kicking off a national lobbying campaign to pressure reluctant House Republicans to embrace new firearms restrictions.  The president’s proposals include closing background check loopholes, banning military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, making schools safer, and increasing access to mental health services.

The Senate plans to begin taking up Obama’s proposals next week, and according to congressional aides, the House is waiting to see what the Democrat-controlled Senate passes first.

Washington Outlook

House Republicans left the hill on Wednesday morning for their annual political and policy conference in Williamsburg, Virginia.  During the three day retreat, GOP members will discuss unified strategies for the upcoming debt-ceiling, tax, and spending battles as well as ways to improve their public image.

On Thursday, the first part of the day was allotted for planning legislative strategies for the next 90 days, including the upcoming battles over the debt ceiling, sequestration, gun-control issues, and passing another stop-gap bill to keep government funded through the end of the fiscal year (September 30).  The remainder of the day included seminars on longer-term strategies for the rest of the two-year session.

House Democrats will embark on their own retreat in three weeks to Leesburg, Virginia.

New website layout

You may notice the website looks a bit different.  We’ve change the layout so the site is more compatible with mobile devices like iPhones and Androids.  It is a simpler design but gives you access to the same timely and useful information.

Capitol Decisions

Weekly Legislative Report Jan 4, 2013

However, House and Senate Agriculture Committee leaders already see problems ahead for a 2013 bill.

House and Senate Agriculture leaders face challenges in producing a multiyear farm bill this year despite passage of an extension of the 2008 farm bill that stopped the return of 1949 dairy and crop subsidies.

Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN), ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee said on Thursday that he thinks it is unlikely he and Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) can prevail over a House atmosphere that is unfavorable to passing a farm bill.  Peterson also mentioned that the Senate Agriculture Committee could face potential gridlock with new ranking Republican Thad Cochran of Mississippi, who is expected to want a rewrite of the panel’s 2012 farm bill that Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow of Michigan planned to use as the blueprint.

Lucas said he expects farm bill funding to be affected by decisions on spending levels and entitlement programs and plans to mark up a new bill in February.  The House Agriculture Committee approved a bill in the 112th Congress that never reached the floor because Republican conservatives wanted larger spending cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps.  The Senate Agriculture bill passed with a 64-35 vote.

Now Stabenow and Lucas will have to find a way around old and new obstacles to producing a compromise farm bill.

Appropriations

The House today passed the first installment of a Hurricane Sandy Disaster Relief bill.  House members voted 354-67 to advance the measure (H.R. 41) that temporarily grants $9.7 billion in additional borrowing authority for the National Flood Insurance Program.  

The Senate passed the bill by unanimous consent shortly after.  President Barack Obama is expected to sign the measure into law.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said Wednesday that without additional borrowing, the flood insurance program would run out of money for processing claims next week.  Earlier in the week, House leadership faced criticism for delaying action on disaster relief legislation to the 113th Congress.  

Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia announced Wednesday that the House will vote on the $50 billion remainder of the Obama administration’s disaster relief request on January 15.

Budget

After weeks of tense negotiations between the White House and congressional Republicans, the House approved a Senate-passed bill on Tuesday to avert the fiscal cliff.

In a rare New Year’s Eve session, the House voted 257-167 to pass the bill (H.R. 8) averting the fiscal cliff by extending the majority of Bush-era tax cuts, delaying automatic spending reductions for two months and fixing a number of expiring tax and spending provisions.  

In other budget news, the House on Thursday adopted for the 113th Congress new rules (H Res 5) that would require the annual budget resolution to include details on means-tested and non-means-tested mandatory spending programs, including the growth of such programs over the prior ten years and expected growth in the future, along with proposed reforms to those programs. 

The package also continues rules from the current Congress that maintain a ban on earmarks, require appropriations bills to include a “spending reduction account” through which members could use floor amendments to reduce the size of spending bills, and replace the House’s “pay-as-you-go” rule with a “cut-as-you-go” rule that eliminated the requirement that the cost of tax cuts be offset and required instead that legislation increasing mandatory spending be offset through cuts to other mandatory programs.

Congress

Members of the 113th Congress were sworn in yesterday.  Congressman John Boehner (R-OH) was re-elected as speaker on Thursday, winning the election with 220 votes.  Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) received 192 votes.

Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia received three votes from Reps. Ted Yoho of Florida, Steve Pearce of New Mexico and Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma.  Former Rep. Allen West (R-FL) garnered the votes of Reps. Paul Broun of Georgia and Louie Gohmert of Texas.

Other Republican defectors were Reps. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) who voted for Jim Jordan of Ohio, Walter Jones (R-NC) voted for David Walker (R-KY) and Justin Amash (R-MI) voted for Raúl Labrador of Idaho.

Washington Outlook 

Although a deal was reached this week, Republicans are looking forward to another fiscal fight with the White House in the coming months, possibly using the debt limit as leverage to get spending cuts.

The deal passed by Congress delays automatic spending cuts for two months.  The White House will now go back to the mat with Republicans over entitlement reform, deficit issues and other major concerns that could get overshadowed, such as immigration reform or gun control.

The House adopted the Adjournment Resolution S. Con. Res. 3; therefore, the House will not meet in pro forma session next week.  The next meeting of the House will be at 2:00 p.m. on Monday, January 14.