Monthly Archives: April 2013

Weekly Legislative Report Apr 26, 2013

Budget

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he still wants to work on a broader sequester replacement bill and suggested simultaneous votes on his plan (S. 788) to suspend the automatic cuts under the 2011 debt deal (P.L. 112-25) and a GOP alternative.  Reid’s measure would suspend government wide cuts under the sequester for the last five months of FY13 by using unspent war funds from an overseas contingency fund.

 

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is prepared to offer a GOP alternative (S. 799) drafted by Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) and Patrick Toomey (R-PA) that would direct President Barack Obama to offer by May 15 a plan for alternative spending cuts to meet the terms of the sequester.  The replacement plan could be blocked if both chambers adopt a joint resolution of disapproval and override a potential presidential veto.

 

The Senate defeated cloture on a motion to proceed to a similar measure (S. 16) by a vote of 38-62 on February 28.  That measure would have required Obama to submit a sequester alternative by March 15.

 

Since the FAA measure passed (see “transportation” section), it could lessen the urgency to consider the broader sequester alternatives, although it is not certain.

Energy

Thursday, the House Natural Resources Committee voted 24-17 to approve legislation that would affirm that a presidential permit is not required to begin work on the northern route of the Keystone XL Pipeline.  The bill (H.R. 3) would avoid President Barack Obama’s 2012 decision to conduct further review of the proposed 1,700-mile-long pipeline, which would operate through Nebraska to the Canadian border.  The House Energy and Commerce Committee approved the legislation April 17.

Miscellaneous

The House Homeland Security Border and Maritime Security Subcommittee approved, by voice vote, an amended bill (H.R. 1417) that would direct the Homeland Security Department to develop a national border security strategy to maintain operational control of the U.S. border within two years.  The bill defines “operational control” as achieving at least a 90 percent apprehension rate of illegal border crossers in high traffic areas, along with a significant increase in seizures of narcotics and other contraband.

Taxes

The Senate voted to cut off debate on an online sales tax bill on Thursday, setting up the measure for final passage when the chamber returns from its scheduled week-long recess.

 

The bill (S. 743) would let states require retailers outside their borders to collect sales and use taxes on items delivered to residents.  The chamber voted 63-30 to invoke cloture on the bill, eluding efforts by opponents who have blocked bids to offer amendments on the floor for days.

 

Under a deal announced by Senate leaders, the chamber will hold two votes on May 6: one on a manager’s amendment that would delay implementation of the bill for a total of six months and then on final passage.  The move effectively ends attempts by opponents of the measure to block the bill, which has been on the floor since last week.

Senators in opposition of the measure are mostly from states that do not have a sales tax, and have countered that the measure would be burdensome for businesses that would be responsible for complying with numerous states and local tax laws.  They also argue that the measure would violate state sovereignty by imposing on a state the tax laws of others, force businesses to be tax collectors for other states without benefitting them and harm online businesses.

Supporters of the bill contend that states are losing out on billions of dollars in uncollected revenue, and the measure would simply enable collection of taxes that are already due.  Also, many groups supporting brick-and-mortar stores have argued that they are at a competitive disadvantage with online retailers, many of which do not have to collect sales taxes, thus allowing consumers to pay less.

Transportation

Today, the House passed legislation that would let the government redirect millions of dollars to air traffic controllers’ salaries and expenses in a bid to end sequester-related furloughs that have caused flight delays across the country.

 

Members voted 361-41 to approve the Reducing Flight Delays Act (H.R. 1765) just a day after the Senate approved the same bill by unanimous consent.  A two-thirds vote was needed, as House leaders called it up as a suspension bill.

House Republicans have been pushing for a restructuring of the $600 million sequester cut to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to avoid air traffic controller layoffs, while Democrats were looking for a broader solution to the sequester that included new taxes.

Under the legislation, the Department of Transportation would have authority to immediately move up to $253 million to ensure the FAA can pay salaries and expenses of air traffic controllers.  The money would come from a grant program used for airport improvements around the country.  The bill only allows this money to be moved to pay for air traffic controller salaries and expenses in FY13.

Thursday evening, the Senate passed its version of the bill (S. 853) by unanimous consent.  The Senate-passed bill was a revenue measure, which must normally start in the House. However, the Senate approved the bill in such a way that House passage of “identical language” will trigger automatic Senate passage of the same bill.

Due to a typographical error, the Senate will not act on the measure until at least Tuesday, during a scheduled pro forma session.  Once received in the Senate, it would be cleared for the president’s signature.

Water Resources

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid moved to limit debate on the motion to proceed on The Water Resources Development Act or WRDA (S. 601) when the Senate returns from recess.  The Senate will vote on the cloture motion Monday, May 6, after finishing work on the Internet tax bill (S. 743).

The legislation would authorize Army Corps of Engineers projects, including dredging ports and protecting waterways from storm damage.  The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved the measure 18-0 on March 20.

The measure would create a levee safety program as well as a pilot program to finance flood control, water supply and wastewater projects through loans and loan guarantees.  It would also create a commission to identify corps water projects that are no longer feasible or in the federal interest.

Senate appropriators have spoken out against a provision in the bill that would subject any move to cut corps spending below the previous year’s level to a point of order that would require a two-thirds Senate vote to waive.  They argue that those decisions should be left to their committee, and have already indicated they will try to amend the bill when it comes to the floor.

Washington Outlook

The House and Senate will not be in session next week.  The next Weekly Legislative Update will cover the week of May 6-10.

Weekly Legislative Report Apr 19, 2013

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup

Appropriations

Wednesday, Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) restated her intentions to ignore sequestration when writing FY14 spending bills. This move will likely cause a disagreement with House appropriators, who will use a $967 billion top line as required by the sequester in writing their spending bills.

Mikulski stated at a Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations panel hearing that the bill will likely be at the $1.058 trillion level. She said, “In terms of dealing with sequester, we need a balanced approach, and we call upon the leadership and the president to help come up with that balanced approach so that we can cancel the sequester.”

Obama’s FY14 budget request proposes a combination of new tax revenue and alternative savings to replace the sequester with $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction.

Senate and House appropriators are both hesitant to take the first step in drafting the bills, dividing up the available pool of money into what are called 302(b) allocations, until after there is a clearer outcome on talks about a compromise FY14 budget resolution.

Budget

House Democrats are trying are putting pressure GOP leaders over budget issues, asking House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to appoint conferees to work out a budget resolution compromise.

Budget Committee ranking member Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and other Democrats on the panel sent a letter to Boehner on Wednesday calling on him to find common ground to work on a budget deal.

House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) said on Tuesday that he first wants to work out a pre-conference framework with Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA) to increase the chances that a conference committee could reach an agreement on a plan that could be adopted in both chambers. Murray has argued that the differences should be worked out after a conference committee is appointed.

Homeland Security

The House on Thursday approved cybersecurity legislation that sets up a framework for companies and the federal government to share information about potential threats.

The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), H.R. 624, was approved in a 288-127 vote despite ongoing reservations from some lawmakers and companies that the measure could give the government access to private information about consumers.
Ninety-two Democrats voted with Republicans in favor of the bill, and 29 Republicans opposed it. It is uncertain whether or not the bill will go anywhere, as Senate Democrats have not said whether they would consider the bill at all.

Miscellaneous

The Senate on Wednesday defeated a compromise plan to expand background checks on firearms sales as well as a proposal to ban some semi-automatic weapons modeled after military assault weapons. The votes were on a series of amendments to a broad package of gun laws pushed by President Barack Obama and Democratic leaders in the aftermath of the Newtown school massacre in December.

The Senate voted 54-46, falling short of the 60 votes needed to pass the legislation (S. 649) that was co-sponsored by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Pat Toomey (R-PA). The Manchin-Toomey language would have expanded background checks to cover all firearms sales at gun shows and over the Internet. It also would have required licensed gun dealers to conduct the checks and keep records of those transactions, exempted sales and transfers between friends and acquaintances outside of a commercial or online venue, and explicitly prohibited the use of records to create a gun registry.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) switched his vote from yes to no in a procedural move that allows him to bring the bill up for another vote in the future.

Water Resources

Four Senate appropriators wrote a letter to Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) asking to modify a water resources development bill, saying that it would infringe on their jurisdiction.

Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), ranking Republican Richard Shelby (R-AL), and subcommittee leaders Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) wrote to oppose a provision regarding the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund. The letter essentially states that the WRDA bill (S. 601), which was approved unanimously by the EPW committee last month, will need to be amended before it can pass the Senate.

At issue is a provision that would subject any move to cut Army Corps of Engineers spending below the previous year’s level to a point of order that would require a two-thirds Senate vote to waive. The intent is to make sure the $1.6 billion raised annually in user fees for the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund is actually spent on dredging and on other port improvements. Currently, only about $900 million raised through a tax on imported and domestic cargo is spent on harbor maintenance, with the balance held back to offset other spending.

Earlier this month, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) considered bringing the water bill to the Senate floor, however now that the Senate is bringing up an Internet sales tax bill next week, Senate leaders should have time to work toward a solution by the time the water bill reaches the floor.

Washington Outlook

Next week in Congress, the Senate will reconvene at 2 p.m. Monday, April 22 to begin consideration of a measure that would allow states to collect sales taxes from most online retailers (S. 743).

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) filed cloture on the motion to proceed to the bill Thursday. By unanimous consent, the Senate agreed to move up the cloture vote to 5:30 p.m. Monday. The bill was previously introduced in February by Senator Enzi (R-WY) as S. 336, and also received bi-partisan support as an amendment to the Senate Budget Resolution last month. However, some Senators, especially those in states that do not collect sales tax, oppose the legislation.

The bill would allow states to require that online retailers collect sales taxes once the states simplify their procedures and provide retailers with automated tax-collection software. Online retailers are now required to collect state sales tax only for states where the retailer has a physical presence, such as a store or distribution center. While individuals are required to remit sales taxes to their states if the tax is not collected by the retailer, it rarely happens.

Next week, the Senate could also take up the nomination of Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the president’s choice to lead the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

Her nomination moved quickly through the Budget and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committees, which share oversight of OMB. Burwell was deputy director of OMB under President Bill Clinton and most recently served as president of the Walmart Foundation. Burwell’s expected confirmation would position her to push the Obama administration’s spending plan on Capitol Hill.