September 20, 2013
House Republicans passed a continuing resolution today that would defund the health care overhaul and maintain post-sequester spending levels. The House passed the measure (H J Res 59) along party lines, 230-189. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is expected to strip out any language that would defund the so-called “ObamaCare” when the Senate takes up the legislation.
The legislation would defund the 2010 health care law (PL 111-148, PL 111-152) and continue post-sequester spending at an annualized rate of $986.3 billion through December 15. It also includes a measure (H.R. 807) that would require the Treasury Department to make debt payments and pay Social Security benefits before other payments if the government reaches the debt ceiling.
The Senate’s votes are scheduled for next Tuesday, and the House is set to return Wednesday evening.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee approved by voice vote an amended bill (S. 1086) that would reauthorize a child care block grant program and institute educational and health and safety standards for child care providers that receive federal funds. The committee adopted, without objection, a manager’s amendment that would address federal relationship with American Indian tribes and would allow children to stay in the program for a year even if their families’ income changes.
The panel also approved 13-9 the nomination of Richard Griffin, Jr. to be general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) joined all the Democrats in supporting Griffin’s nomination. It also approved by voice vote the nomination of Scott Dahl to be inspector general at the Department of Labor.
On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee released a list of principles regarding the highly debated topic of an internet sales tax. Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) received input from various entities with a stake in the passage of online sales tax legislation (local government officials, small businesses, trade groups etc.) and says the principles are intended to guide discussion on this issue and generate creative solutions. They are as follows:
- Tax Relief – Using the Internet should not create new or discriminatory taxes not faced in the offline world. Nor should any fresh precedent be created for other areas of interstate taxation by States.
- Tech Neutrality – Brick & Mortar, Exclusively Online, and Brick & Click businesses should all be on equal footing. The sales tax compliance burden on online Internet sellers should not be less, but neither should it be greater than that on similarly situated offline businesses.
- No Regulation Without Representation – Those who would bear state taxation, regulation and compliance burdens should have direct recourse to protest unfair, unwise or discriminatory rates and enforcement.
- Simplicity – Governments should not stifle businesses by shifting onerous compliance requirements onto them; laws should be so simple and compliance so inexpensive and reliable as to render a small business exemption unnecessary.
- Tax Competition – Governments should be encouraged to compete with one another to keep tax rates low and American businesses should not be disadvantaged vis-a-vis their foreign competitors.
- States’ Rights – States should be sovereign within their physical boundaries. In addition, the federal government should not mandate that States impose any sales tax compliance burdens.
- Privacy Rights – Sensitive customer data must be protected.
Supporters of the Senate and House online sales tax bills (S. 743, H.R. 684) praised Goodlatte for trying to level the playing field for online vendors and brick-and-mortar retailers and Rep. Womack (sponsor of the House bill) said the principles are a step in the right direction.
Thursday, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee gave voice vote approval to an amended water resources development bill (H.R. 3080) that would seek to increase the amount of money spent from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, require the Army Corps of Engineers to send Congress annual reports on proposed activities, and set up a process to de-authorize $12 billion in programs. It also would include provisions to speed up the environmental review process, such as limiting feasibility studies to three years and federal costs of a study to $3 million, and establishing a process to elevate issues that could delay the process to agency heads.
In previous water reauthorizations, Congress generated a list of projects for funding, but would now be prohibited due to the House rule banning earmarks. Instead, the Corps will generate lists of approval-worthy projects going forward, which Congress will then consider in future bills.
Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) said that the congressional approval process for water projects was preferable to the language in the Senate’s corresponding bill (S. 601), which passed that chamber in May.
The measure would authorize 23 water projects and would require the corps to annually report to Congress with a list of project proposals. It also would set up a process for de-authorizing $12 billion in water projects and would automatically de-authorize projects approved under the bill if construction money is not obligated within seven years.
The bill also would seek to increase spending of taxes collected for the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund- approximately half of the taxes collected are spent each year. The bill would set out annual goals for appropriating trust fund money collected each year, which would increase gradually until they reach 80 percent in 2020. Democrats supported the measure, compromising to move forward with the bill despite their reservations about provisions aimed to speed up project reviews.
Prior to approving the measure, the panel gave voice vote approval to the following amendments:
- A manager’s amendment that would make combating invasive aquatic species an eligible corps activity, and would let states and local governments contribute additional money to carry out projects that have exceeded their cost.
- An amendment from Rep. Steve Southerland II (R-FL) that aims to address declining oyster populations in Florida related to water supply issues in Georgia. The amendment would encourage the Army secretary to develop interstate water agreements if governors request it, and that Congress should promptly consider these agreements and that the Army secretary should adopt policies for operating corps reservoirs that are consistent with these agreements.
Shuster said he expects House leadership to move quickly to appoint conferees should the bill get approval from the full chamber, which could lead to final legislation heading to the White House by year’s end.
Next week in Congress, the Senate will consider the nomination of Todd Hughes to be a judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. The confirmation vote is set for Tuesday.
The Senate also still needs to take up an energy efficiency bill (S. 1392) that has been debated for nearly two weeks, though action on the measure will likely be delayed until work on a continuing resolution (H J Res 59) is finished. Congress will only have about a week to pass the stopgap spending bill before the fiscal year, since funding for government operations ends on September 30. The House measure, which passed this afternoon, includes a provision to defund the 2010 health care law (PL 111-148, PL 111-152), which Majority Leader Harry Reid has said will not pass in the Senate.
Reid will likely have to take procedural steps to end debate on both the motion to proceed to the measure as well as the CR itself. Depending on Republicans willingness to yield back debate time after cloture is invoked, the Senate could be forced to work into the weekend. Democrats could also seek to amend the House proposal using a 60-vote threshold.
It is unclear whether the Senate will be able to turn back to the energy efficiency bill immediately after finishing the CR. Action on the measure stalled when Republicans pushed for votes on amendments relating to the health care law and the contentious Keystone XL oil pipeline.
Votes on those proposals could come up during the CR debate, however it is unclear that will suffice to clear a path for the energy efficiency bill.