When the Senate returns from the Memorial Day recess, they will resume consideration of a five-year farm policy bill (S. 954). They will vote on two amendments — one that would require research and development of a crop insurance program for alfalfa and another that would add $20 million in funding for food aid projects in developing countries. Further votes are possible.
About 200 amendments have been filed on the farm bill, but the Senate has already rejected controversial proposals to eliminate a $4 billion cut over 10 years in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, and to change the sugar program.
In a 59-33 vote, senators backed an amendment by Sens. Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) that would reduce federal premium subsidies by 15 percent for producers with adjusted gross incomes of more than $750,000. Overall, the federal government pays 62 percent of a farmer’s premium and the farmer pays the rest.
Despite the support in the Senate, the proposal could still face problems in the House. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) dislikes any conservation compliance or income restrictions on farm subsidies, and the bill his committee passed does not include either provision.
Tuesday, the House Appropriations Committee approved by voice vote an amended Military Construction-VA spending bill that would provide $152.8 billion, including $73.3 billion for discretionary spending. The Department of Veterans Affairs would get $63.1 billion and military construction would get $9.9 billion. VA medical services would receive $43.6 billion. The measure reflects a $1.4 billion increase over the FY13 enacted level and $2.4 billion more than that level after the sequester, which affected military construction accounts but not veterans’ spending.
Before reporting the measure, the panel rejected Democratic amendments that would have replaced $150 billion in cuts from sequestration with over $182 billion in tax raises and spending cuts and another proposal that would have eliminated the civilian pay freeze and increased the cost of the bill by $186 million. The committee did adopt a manager’s amendment that would change the amount rescinded from Army construction from $14 million to $89 million.
It also would provide an additional $75 million for Navy and Marine Corps construction. The amendment further added a number of reporting requirements to the bill, including one on veterans’ suicide and another on veterans’ mental health. The spending bill is expected to move to the House floor in June. The Senate plans on marking up their version of the bill on June 17th.
The House Appropriations Committee approved by voice vote an amended draft spending bill on Wednesday that would provide $38.9 billion for the Department of Homeland Security and departments it oversees. The measure is about $1.2 billion above FY13 spending with sequesters cuts considered, but is about $35 million below the White House request. It would provide small increases to $10.6 billion for Customs and Border Patrol and to $5.4 billion to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but cut the Transportation Security Administration by 7 percent to $4.8 billion.
The committee adopted in a partisan vote a provision that would maintain a ban on abortions, in most cases, for military detainees. It also approved an amendment that would effectively block the federal government from approving any immigration visa petitions from Brazil to pressure the South American country to extradite a person involved in an Ohio murder investigation. House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers (R-KY) said the bill could go to the floor sometime in June.
After a deadly tornado tore through Moore, Oklahoma this week, lawmakers immediately began debating whether the cost of addressing the damage caused should be offset. However, the disagreement is likely premature because sufficient federal disaster assistance is available and the Obama administration says a quick infusion of emergency funding is not needed.
President Barack Obama issued a major disaster declaration on Monday for Cleveland, Lincoln, McClain, Oklahoma, and Pottawatomie Counties in Oklahoma, hoping to increase the speed and flow of federal aid. The declaration opens a path for programs including grants for temporary housing and home repairs and low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses.
Obama on Tuesday also sent the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Craig Fugate to Oklahoma City to help coordinate federal aid efforts. Fugate will join FEMA staffers already on the scene.
FEMA’s disaster fund is relatively substantial with about $11.6 billion in its disaster relief fund due to an injection of more than $5 billion from the Sandy recovery package (PL 113-2). Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY), the House Appropriations chair, also said Tuesday that it appears for now there may be “sufficient” money in the Disaster Relief Fund for immediate response to the tornado, but he said his committee will be prepared to act if more is needed.
Rogers said he would oppose bids to seek funding offsets if a supplemental aid bill proves necessary for the Oklahoma tornado, a stipulation Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) has been adamant about.
The House on Wednesday voted 241-175 to pass legislation green-lighting the Keystone XL pipeline’s northern route, making it the seventh time that House Republicans voted to approve or expedite a decision on the pipeline, which if completed would carry oil sands crude from Alberta, Canada, to refineries in Texas. Project developer TransCanada has already begun construction on the southern portion of the pipeline.
Republicans rejected a handful of amendments sought by Democrats to scale back the measure. Democrats took particular issue with provisions that would deem the State Department’s 2011 environmental impact statement enough to satisfy National Environmental Policy Act (P.L. 91-190) requirements and would require the secretaries of the Interior and the Army to issue the necessary permits for construction and operation of the pipeline.
The legislation (H.R. 3) was authored by Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE) and despite its support in the House; it is unlikely that the measure will gain traction in the Senate. President Obama also threatened to veto the bill, saying that the legislation is unnecessary and that it conflicts with long-standing executive branch procedures.
In other energy news, the House on Wednesday passed a bill (H.R. 271) that would allow utilities to provide electricity under federal emergency orders without facing criminal or civil liability for not complying with environmental rules.
The legislation was sponsored by Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX) by voice vote and would allow utilities complying with Energy Department emergency orders to override any liabilities posed by federal, state or local environmental regulations. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission would be allowed to renew or reissue the emergency electricity orders for 90 days but would have to include conditions to minimize any adverse environmental effects.
The House and Senate have adjourned for the Memorial Day recess, and will not be in session next week. The next Weekly Legislative Update will cover the week of June 3-7.