Monthly Archives: March 2013

Weekly Legislative Report Mar 22, 2013

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup

Appropriations

The Senate on Wednesday voted 73-26 to approve a $984 billion continuing resolution (H.R. 933) that will keep the government funded through the end of the fiscal year on September 30.  The House quickly passed the measure on Thursday, and is now headed to the President’s desk for signature.

The spending bill includes the same funding levels as legislation already approved by the House, and would keep the $85 billion in automatic spending cuts known as sequestration.

 

The Senate bill, negotiated by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and ranking member Richard Shelby (R-AL), added appropriations for Agriculture, Homeland Security and the Commerce, Justice and Science funds, in addition to the House-passed Defense, Military Construction and Veterans Affairs programs, but retained the funding levels of the House bill.

Several amendments were added to the Senate bill, including measures to prevent cuts to tuition assistance to members of the military and to ensure food inspectors are not furloughed.

A list of the amendments that were passed are as follows:

  •  An amendment from Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) removed a $140 million earmark to Guam was approved after he pointed out that the National Defense Authorization Act passed last year removed that funding.
  • Senator James Inhofe’s (R-OK) amendment that would delay enforcement of an Environmental Protection Agency rule against farms on oil spill regulations from the end of May to the end of September by prohibiting use of funding for the Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure rule.
  • An amendment from Inhofe and Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) would ensure funding for tuition assistance of Armed Service members, which was threatened under sequestration.
  • Sen. Tom Coburn’s (R-OK) amendment 65 would direct the National Science Foundation to fund research that is in the interest of national security.
  • Coburn amendment 70 would require all Department of Homeland Security-related reports issued to the Senate Appropriations Committee also be given to the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
  • Mikulski and Shelby’s amendment to make technical-corrections to the language of the bill.
  • An amendment from Sen. Patrick Leahy’s (D-VT) related to reducing the use of cluster munitions.
  • Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Mark Pryor’s (D-AR) amendment would close a funding gap for the Food Safety and Inspection Service and ensure that food inspectors are not furloughed due to the sequestration cuts that went into effect March 1.
  • Mikulski and Shelby’s final substitute amendment, making all of the Senate additions to the House bill.

Budget

For the first time in four years, the Senate is expected to adopt a budget blueprint.  Senators will consider dozens of amendments during hours of nonstop voting, or a “vote-a-rama” before they adopt the budget.  Most amendments will be used as test votes on other policy proposals that could come up later in the year.

Over 400 amendments were added to the Senate bill, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said he would seek to limit debate to between 25 and 35 of them.  Some of the amendments being considered are as follows:

  • Sens. Michael Enzi (R-WY), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Richard Durbin (D-IL) and others will ask for a vote to express support for their legislation allowing states to collect taxes on online purchases across state lines.  The proposal has won the backing of many retailers, but it faces opposition from states that do not collect sales taxes, such as New Hampshire.
  • An amendment from Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) which would withhold pay from officials at the Office of Management and Budget if the president does not present a budget by the February due date
  • Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) has proposed the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act, which establishes a prohibition on abortions for sex-selection.  Other controversial issues that are expected to be voted on include gun control and immigration matters.
  • Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and other Senate Democrats have pushed for a vote on House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s spending blueprint, which the House approved Thursday.
  • There is a possibility Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) will offer his budget that balances the budget in five years, allows Social Security to be transferred to private accounts, and moves it to a flat tax.  However, senators have rarely agreed, and in 2011 only seven lawmakers voted for it.
  • Sens. Vitter and Claire McCaskill’s (D-MO) proposal would end automatic pay raises for members of Congress.
  • There will be several test votes on the tax code including a proposal from Sens. John Thune (R-SD) and Roy Blunt (R-MO) that would outline a series of proposals in opposition to the estate tax and any potential tax on carbon.  The two Republican leaders also discussed an effort to reject higher taxes on charitable donations.
  • Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) wants to eliminate the budget’s order to raise $975 billion in revenues.  Grassley advised that he does not believe there is sufficient revenue available to meet the demands of the budget instructions provided to the Senate’s tax writers.  Republicans will instead push for a revenue-neutral tax code overhaul.
  • It is possible there may be votes to repeal Obamacare, the 2010 health care law, although Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) have proposed a more realistic amendment to remove an unpopular 2.3 percent medical device tax.
  • Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-VT) will propose an amendment changing the way increases in Social Security benefits are calculated, and is in opposition to a GOP plan to tweak the Consumer Price Index, which determines benefit payout levels.

The Senate will work through the amendments to the budget today, with a final vote set for later tonight or Saturday.

Water Resources

The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works marked up the 2013 Water Resources and Development Act (WRDA) on Wednesday, then voted 18-0 to pass the amended water infrastructure authorization bill (S. 601).  The measure includes an overhaul of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund that would ensure that all user fees collected, about $1.8 billion annually, will be spent solely on ports projects.  Chairwoman Barbara Boxer announced that Majority Leader Harry Reid has assured her that he will bring the bill to the floor, although no date has been set.

Washington Outlook

After returning from the Easter/Passover recess, the Senate will look to take up gun control legislation.  The bill will not include an assault weapons ban, and an expansion of background checks may not make it into the final bill either.

As gun-control legislation moves to the Senate floor, it clears the way for the Senate Judiciary Committee to take up the high-profile topic of immigration.  Both parties have expressed interest in an immigration reform bill, and began discussing the topic on Monday, with a hearing on how reform should address the needs of women and families.

Once the Senate votes on a budget resolution, they will adjourn for the Easter/Passover recess.  The House adjourned yesterday.  The next Weekly Legislative Update will cover April 8-12 when Congress returns from their break.

Weekly Legislative Report Mar 15, 2013

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup

Appropriations

Senators were unable to reach an agreement on a FY13 stopgap spending bill this week after nearly 100 amendments were filed.  The Senate will return Monday to continue work on a finite list of amendments to avert the cloture vote on the bill.

Senators are considering proposals to an underlying substitute amendment that would add provisions from three 2013 spending bills — Agriculture, Commerce-Justice-Science and Homeland Security — to the stopgap spending bill (H.R. 933).  The House-passed bill includes provisions from 2013 spending bills for Defense and Military Construction-Veterans Affairs.

Like the House bill, the Senate measure keeps current spending caps, which effectively will drop the flow of new spending authority to about $984 billion under sequester from $1.043 trillion.

The current six-month stopgap spending law (P.L. 112-175) expires March 27, during a scheduled congressional recess.

Budget

After a contentious markup, the Senate Budget Committee advanced its first budget resolution in three years on Thursday.

After the House Budget Committee moved its own budget proposal without any Democratic support, the Senate panel reported its budget resolution in a 12-10 party-line vote the next day.  The full Senate will likely consider the legislation next week; however, they are not expected to take it up until senators complete work on the FY13 stopgap spending bill (H.R. 933), which will continue Monday.

Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray of Washington says the budget resolution, which would call for replacing sequestration, and would reduce the deficit by $1.85 trillion over the next decade.  By taking out sequestration, the resolution proposes raising expenditures by about $1 trillion.  It then counts the money used to replace the current law in its calculation of deficit reduction.

Overall, the deficit reductions would consist of $975 billion in new tax revenue and $975 billion in spending cuts over 10 years, including $275 billion from health care, $240 billion from defense, $142 billion from non-defense discretionary spending, and $76 billion from other mandatory programs.  The plan also claims $242 billion in savings from reduced interest payments.

The Democratic resolution also would call for $100 billion in stimulus funds: $50 billion for projects similar to President Barack Obama’s “Fix-It-First” proposal that would make infrastructure investments, $20 billion for school infrastructure spending, $10 billion for an infrastructure bank, $10 billion for other infrastructure investments like waterway dredging and $10 billion for worker training.

Two amendments that were introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) were adopted 12-10.  One would support changing tax requirements for “large profitable corporations” and the other would support increasing the minimum wage.

Labor

The House on Friday voted 215-202 to advance controversial GOP legislation that would overhaul federal job-training programs, after rejecting a Democratic alternative that emphasizes the role of community colleges in training workers.

The bill (H.R. 803) was sponsored by Virginia Foxx (R-NC) and would reauthorize a 1998 workforce law (P.L. 105-220) to consolidate 35 employment and training programs into a Workforce Investment Fund and merge funding for those programs into a block grant to the states.  The fund would serve as a single source of support for employers and job seekers.

Before passing the bill, the House adopted by voice vote a Foxx manager’s amendment that would provide an application process for the local or regional boards to be designated as local workforce investment areas within states.  The government operates 47 job training programs across nine agencies under the 1998 law, and the Government Accountability Office found in 2011 that 44 of the programs overlap.  In its report, the GAO wrote that “consolidating administrative structures” would help increase efficiencies.

The House rejected 192-227 a Democratic substitute amendment that largely mirrors a standalone measure (H.R. 798) sponsored by Rep. John Tierney (D-MA), a reauthorization of federal job-training programs that would enable local governments to contract with community colleges to train workers in sought-after skills.  The House approved, in separate voice votes, a Pete Gallego (D-TX) amendment that would add training in advanced manufacturing for veterans and a proposal from Rep. Don Young (R-AK) that would guarantee 1 percent of authorized state funding to be set aside for American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian employment and training grants.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, implementing the bill would cost $26 billion over the fiscal 2014-2018 period.

Water Resources

Leaders of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee have reached agreement on a bipartisan water resources bill that could be marked up as early as next week, the panel’s top Republican Senator David Vitter (R-LA) said.  The bill would pump more money into harbor dredging and river lock repairs and expedite Army Corps of Engineers construction projects.

Vitter told maritime industry and port officials at the National Waterways Conference that he and EPW Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) settled the draft at a meeting Tuesday and would make the provisions on Friday.  Other senators are being briefed, he explained, and the committee leaders plan to mark up the legislation as early as next Wednesday.

Vitter said the bill would effectively require all tax revenue collected for the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund to be spent on actual improvements, including dredging projects.  Currently the revenue raised through a tax on imported and domestic cargo is subject to regular appropriation.

The draft measure also would streamline environmental reviews of waterway projects, drawing heavily on the model used in last summer’s surface transportation authorization.

Washington Outlook

Next week in Congress, the Senate will continue work on a continuing resolution (H.R. 933) to fund the government through September 30th.  Senate Appropriations Chair Barbara Mikulski stressed that amendments were being scrutinized and that floor action will not proceed until the whole package of amendments is seen.

She and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Mikulski came to the Senate floor late Thursday to say the Senate would resume deliberation on the measure Monday and added that there will be intense pressure to move quickly to get the continuing resolution finished by next Friday, before they adjourn for the Easter-Passover recess. 

The Senate Judiciary Committee will begin to examine immigration reform next week.  The Committee will be looking at how immigration reform should address the needs of women and families.  A new member of the committee, Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI), will preside over that hearing, rather than Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT).  Earlier this year, a bipartisan group of eight senators announced that they would try to pass comprehensive immigration reform this legislative year.  The hearing is scheduled for Monday.

On Wednesday, Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) will preside over the same committee during a hearing titled, “Building an Immigration System Worthy of American Values.”

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, also on Wednesday, will hold a hearing on aviation safety and the effect of sequestration.

Weekly Legislative Report Mar 8, 2013

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup

 

Appropriations

The House on Wednesday voted 267-151 to pass a six-month stopgap spending bill (H.R. 933) that sets out money for defense and veterans programs.  The measure would freeze existing appropriations levels for most accounts and set total discretionary spending at $984 billion after across-the-board cuts that began March 1.

Senate Democrats want to integrate three more separate spending bills into the House-passed continuing resolution, hoping to give additional federal agencies some flexibility to cope with the sequester while trying to prevent a potential confrontation with Republicans.

Senate Appropriation Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) said on Thursday that the FY13 spending bills at the top of the list are Agriculture, Homeland Security and Commerce-Justice-Science.  Those measures are among the least contentious of the regular appropriations bills that were set aside when Congress turned to stopgap spending legislation.  The current continuing resolution (P.L. 112-175) runs through March 27.

 

The text of Mikulski’s measure will be released on Monday, and she said she would like to see voting on the bill start Wednesday and wrap up by Thursday.

 

The CR portion of her FY13 package will be different from that passed in the House, with an aim to add some money for key transportation and health projects.  However, there has been an effort to avoid providing new funds or adding controversial programs to the House-passed measure.

Budget

 

House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) will release the House GOP budget next week with a goal of balancing the budget in 10 years, due in large part to an improving economy and the tax increases that Congress approved this year.

 

The budget will be similar to the one he released last year in that it consists of all savings; however the spending cuts will be less severe.  Due to the passing of the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (P.L. 112-240) that passed on January 1, more than $600 billion in new revenue has been added over 10 years by raising tax rates on households that earn $450,000.

 

The passage of P.L. 112-240, along with improved projections of economic growth, has brightened the fiscal picture by promising additional tax revenue, leading the CBO to change its baseline for measuring the fiscal impact of congressional actions.  Ryan declined to reveal any specifics of the budget resolution, which will be introduced March 12 and marked up by the House Budget Committee on March 13.

 

The Senate Budget Committee is expected to mark up a rival Democratic budget resolution on March 14.  The Senate version will likely be a 50/50 combination of spending cuts and revenue increases.

 

Health

The House on Monday voted 370-28 to clear a medical-disaster and emergency-response bill (H.R. 307), sending it to President Barack Obama for his signature.

 

The Measure would reauthorize the National Disaster Medical System, which helps manage the government’s medical response in emergencies and disasters, and the Public Health Emergency Preparedness Cooperative Agreement, which provides grants to state and local health departments to aid in the response to public health hazards.  Both programs were created over ten years ago under the Project BioShield Act (P.L. 108-276) and the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act (P.L. 109-417).

 

The Senate passed its version of the measure by unanimous consent on February 27. During committee consideration of the bill, senators modified the legislation to extend the programs for an additional year, through 2018.  The House previously passed the bill January 22 in a 395-29 vote.

The bill also would increase the Food and Drug Administration’s emergency authority to allow the agency to authorize the distribution, stockpiling and use of products before an actual emergency.  It would allow the agency to approve the use of unapproved products on an emergency basis even if they violate the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (P.L. 75-717).

 

Miscellaneous

 

The Senate on Thursday confirmed John Brennan as director of the CIA Thursday, following a 13-hour filibuster led by Senator Rand Paul (R-KY).

Brennan, the current White House counterterrorism chief, was approved to head the CIA, 63 to 34.  The confirmation came after weeks of controversial hearings concerning Brennan’s ties to the administration’s armed drone program, and topped off with Paul’s filibuster.

 

Water Resources

Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) said she expects her committee will mark up a WRDA bill in the next couple weeks. “I think we’re marking up March 20,” Boxer said.  She said it will differ from the draft bill she released late last year.  The new WRDA bill from her committee has not yet been made public.

Washington Outlook

The Senate Banking Committee set a confirmation hearing March 12 for Mary Jo White, President Barack Obama’s nominee to head the Securities and Exchange Commission, and Richard Cordray, who Obama nominated for a second time to become director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  A former New York prosecutor, White is not expected to draw much opposition for a post overseeing securities regulation; however, 42 Republicans recently signed a letter saying they would block Cordray, who was installed in a recess appointment after the GOP blocked his confirmation in 2011, unless the White House agrees to restructure the agency.

 

The Obama administration will release its 2014 budget on April 8, according to congressional sources.  The April release date means President Obama’s budget will be nine weeks late, as it was due by law on February 4, the first Monday in February.

Miscellaneous

House members voted 286-138 to endorse the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) (S. 47) that the Senate passed earlier this month.