The House on Thursday defeated 195-234 a five-year farm policy bill (H.R. 1947) that would reauthorize agriculture programs through fiscal 2018. The bill would cut $20.5 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Benefit Program (SNAP), the nation’s largest nutrition program, and end direct payments to farmers. Overall, the bill would reduce agricultural program authorizations by $33 billion from current law.
Most Democrats opposed the bill due to the $20.5 billion cut to food stamps, while Republicans were split. Sixty-two Republicans voted against the bill, mostly because they believe it is too expensive, while two dozen Democrats supported it.
Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) urged House members to take up the Senate-passed bill (S. 954), but GOP leadership has said that will not happen- that bill is likely a non-starter for most Republicans because it would cut SNAP by only $4 billion. The bill’s commodity title also is less favorable to southern growers. An extension of the 2008 farm bill expires on September 30th, but lawmakers could wait until the end of the year or longer to pass an extension.
On Tuesday, the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee marked up the FY14 Energy and Water spending bill. Although the bill will cut nearly $3 billion from current federal levels, funding will be maintained for traditional energy sources — most notably research and development for advanced coal, natural gas, oil, and other fossil energy, — for nuclear energy research, and for programs that will address current gas prices. Cuts will come primarily from those renewable energy programs favored by Democrats and the White House. This bill is the first move by House appropriators to advance the most contentious of the 12 spending plans in the coming fiscal year.
The House also unveiled reductions to the FY14 Transportation-HUD spending bill on Tuesday. Proposed cuts under the bill would largely come from passenger rail, mass transit, and housing grants. While the bill will cut funding to the Federal Aviation Administration and the Housing and Urban Development Department, those highway and transportation safety programs authorized last year will remain fully funded.
Over at the Senate, markups began on the Military Construction-VA spending bill. The bill is largely non-controversial and consistent with the administration’s request for $74.7 billion, with priority funding dedicated to reducing the backlog of disability claims. Similarly, Senate Agriculture Appropriators backed a bill that would increase funding by around $420 million for the Agriculture Department, the Food and Drug Administration, and other related programs. Both bills had bipartisan support.
Partisan battles did, however, begin at the Senate on Thursday when the full Senate committee considered the overall discretionary funding for FY 2014, known as 302(b) allocations. Appropriations Chairwoman Mikulski (D-MD) proposed a plan that is $91 billion more than the spending plan in the House. Senate Republicans opposed the allocations proposed by Mikulski and Senator Shelby (R-AL) stated that he plans to offer an alternative plan to keep discretionary spending under $967 billion.
Wednesday, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce approved the Student Success Act (H.R. 5), Chairman John Kline’s (R-MN) rewrite of the No Child Left Behind Act. The panel voted 23-16 vote along party lines to support the bill that will dramatically reduce the federal government’s role in K-12 education law, and put more control in the hands of state and local leaders.
Before advancing the bill, the panel adopted two Republican amendments by voice vote; one by Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN) that would allow states to use Title II funds, currently provided for teacher development, to assist teachers in meeting the needs of students with different learning styles, particularly English learners, gifted students and students with disabilities. The second was offered by Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV) and would encourage local school districts to expand dual enrollment programs and early college high schools. Ranking member Rep. George Miller (D-CA), offered an amendment that would replace the Kline bill with something closer to the 2001 law, but the measure was rejected.
The Senate voted last week to advance their version of the reauthorization, Strengthening America’s Schools Act (S. 1094), authored by Senate HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA), which would provide school districts with more flexibility in creating student accountability systems, require teacher evaluation systems and mandate interventions to assist failing schools.
Kline said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) has told him to expect a floor vote in July. While it’s possible the bill could pass the House, it is unclear how it would be conferenced with the competing Senate bill.
On Tuesday, the Congressional Budget Office released an analysis claiming that the Senate immigration bill (S. 744) would reduce the deficit by around $175 billion over the next ten years. The bill, which would increase the U.S. population by 10.4 million people and would legalize roughly 8 million people, would create tax revenue to more than offset its cost.
House and Senate Republicans are working to block House consideration of an internet sales tax bill (S. 743) that passed in the Senate on May 6 by a vote of 69-27.
Several Republican lawmakers, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), spoke out at a press conference on Tuesday, claiming the legislation infringed on the freedom and innovation of the fast-growing Internet sector of the economy, while also depicting the measure as a $23 billion tax increase.
The bill would allow states to force retailers in other states to collect sales tax on internet-based sales; consumers are already required to pay such taxes through state income tax returns, but analysts say most shoppers do not follow this rule.
Proponents of expanding the collection of Internet sales taxes include the retail industry, as well as state and local government officials. They argue that brick-and-mortar businesses cannot compete against online retailers that aren’t forced to collect sales taxes.
Rep. Steve Womack (R-AR) is sponsoring a companion House bill (H.R. 684), and House Judiciary Chairman Robert Goodlatte (R-VA) has said he does not support the Senate legislation, but is not opposed to moving some sort of bill that would deal with the issue.
Next week in Congress, House Republicans plan to pass two energy bills aimed at facilitating energy development in offshore areas, as well as a bill funding the Department of Agriculture for 2014.
First on the agenda is the Offshore Energy and Jobs Act (H.R. 2231) which would open up new areas to offshore energy production along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts requiring the White House to implement a new offshore lease plan including these regions. Republicans say Obama’s current lease plan keeps 85 percent of offshore areas closed to energy production. The House Natural Resources Committee approved this bill last week.
The second bill is the Outer Continental Shelf Transboundary Hydrocarbon Agreements Authorization Act (H.R. 1613), which would approve the terms of the U.S.-Mexico Transboundary Hydrocarbons Agreement that would allow production of shared energy reserves along the maritime border of the U.S. and Mexico.
House leaders hope to move both these bills next week, in addition to H.R. 2410, the FY14 Agriculture Appropriations measure, which provides $19.5 billion in discretionary funding, $1.3 billion less than the levels in 2013, and $516 million below the President’s request.
In the Senate, the chamber today is resuming consideration of an overhaul of immigration laws (S. 744). The focus is on an amendment by John Hoeven (R-ND) and Bob Corker (R-TN) that would condition permanent legal status on a range of heightened border security measures. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said hoped the chamber would be ready to move forward on the bill, and is expected to file cloture on the measure soon after it is filed.