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