Monthly Archives: August 2013

Weekly Legislative Report Aug 2, 2013

Agriculture

House Republican leaders are planning a proposal that would double spending cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) aka food stamps to $40 billion over 10 years.

House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) said the savings is expected to be much larger than the Committee farm bill’s original $20.5 billion in reductions over 10 years.  The Senate-passed bill proposed $4 billion in SNAP cuts over 10 years.

 

This will almost certainly guarantee that no House Democrats will vote for the bill (only 24 Democrats voted for the original Agriculture Committee farm bill), but will probably gain support from the 62 Republicans who voted against the original farm bill (H.R. 1947) on June 20, due to the fact that they felt the SNAP cuts were inadequate.

 

Lucas said Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) is in the process of presenting the plan to members and leaders expect that it will be on the floor in September, when the House returns from Congressional recess.  They plan to conference it with the Senate after that.

Appropriations

Thursday, Senate appropriators voted 22-8 to approve a $594.4 billion FY14 defense spending bill.  The measure would provide $516.4 billion for the base Pentagon budget and $77.8 billion for overseas contingency operations, $2.9 billion less than the president’s request.  The bill would provide $65.8 billion in research, development, testing and evaluation funding, which is $1.7 billion below the president’s budget request, while at the same time providing $98.4 billion for procurement spending, a slight boost over the request.

 

On Wednesday July 31, House Republican leaders said they are halting work on the Transportation-HUD bill (H.R. 2610) until after the August recess, saying the schedule did not leave time to work on the contentious appropriations measure.

Also on Wednesday, House appropriators decided to push back final action on a FY14 Interior-Environment spending bill that would cut funding for environmental programs.  The House Appropriations Committee worked through about a dozen amendments on Wednesday, but ultimately decided not to reconvene before lawmakers return from their August recess.

The delays in passing the FY14 appropriation bills this week have significantly increased the likelihood that Congress will pass a continuing resolution (CR) that will fund discretionary spending at current levels, minus any cuts from the sequestration process when they return in September.

Budget

The pressure is mounting for lawmakers to come up with a replacement for the sequester, however, a deal has yet to emerge.  Democratic and Republican members are working to prepare smaller proposals to protect specific agencies and programs from the next round of cuts.  Alternatively, the White House is turning their efforts to replace the automatic budget cuts altogether.

The situation is creating a dilemma for members because if the measures alleviating the impacts of the sequester pass, it could undermine a proposal for a larger deal by softening public opposition to sequester.

Some of the proposals that have been floating around are plans to exempt entire agencies from cuts, keeping essential employees across the government from being furloughed, and allowing agencies more discretion in carrying out the across-the-board cuts.  Democrats have suggested support for specific programs — such as legislation enacted earlier this year to avert furloughs of air traffic controllers (P.L. 113-9) — would not help larger budget negotiations.

Obama’s chief of staff Denis McDonough has been working with Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA) and several other Republicans on a broad rewrite of the 2011 debt deal (P.L. 112-25) that created the sequester.  The group met for the fourth time in two weeks  on Thursday.  Republicans have called for curbs on entitlements such as Medicare and Social Security as part of any deal, while Democrats have insisted on tax hikes on some multinational companies.  Members involved in the negotiations have said the talks will continue during the August recess.

Science

Tuesday, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee voted 13-12 in a party-line vote to approve an amended bill (S. 1317) that would reauthorize NASA for three years.  The measure calls for $18.1 billion in FY14 funding for NASA, with annual funding increases over the three year period ending with $18.8 billion in fiscal 2016.  The panel also endorsed the nomination of Thomas Wheeler to be chairman of the Federal Communications Commission by voice vote.  In a separate en bloc voice vote, the panel also approved the following measures:

 

  • A bill (S. 267) that would implement an international treaty on illegal fishing by disallowing vessels entry that have participated, or believed to have participated in illegal fishing.
  • A bill (S. 839) that would transfer responsibility for some coral reef programs from the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration to the Department of Commerce, allow the Commerce secretary to enter into partnerships for coral conservation and make damaging coral reef a prohibited act.
  • A bill (S. 921) that would prevent rental car companies from selling or renting vehicles under federal recalls unless the defect or safety violation is repaired.
  • A bill (S. 1254) that would direct an already established interagency task force to develop and submit to Congress a research plan and action strategy for addressing both marine and freshwater harmful algal blooms and hypoxia. It would authorize $21 million for fiscal 2014 through 2018 for activities under the bill.
  • An amended bill (S. 1344) that would allow the Arctic Research Commission to issue grants for research on the Arctic.
  • An amended bill (S. 1072) that would require the Federal Aviation Administration to modify rules for small airplanes.
  • An amended bill (S. 1353) that would require development of voluntary guidelines to reduce cybersecurity risks to critical infrastructure and greater research on cybersecurity issues.

 

Washington Outlook

Now that Congress has adjourned for their month-long break, members are expected to face the issue of how to replace the automatic cuts under sequestration after they return from the recess, before funding for the government runs out in September.

 

Also on the fall agenda is a comprehensive tax overhaul that Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) is working on, completion of the FY14 spending bills, debt ceiling negotiations, and immigration reform.

 

The next Weekly Legislative Update will cover the week of September 9-13, when Congress returns from their August recess.