Monthly Archives: September 2013

Weekly Legislative Report Sept 20, 2013

 

September 20, 2013

 

J.R. Reskovac

Sarah Strup

 

Appropriations/Budget

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.

Education/Labor

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.

Taxes

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.

Water Resources

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.

Washington Outlook

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.

 

 

Weekly Legislative Report Sept 13, 2013

 

September 13, 2013

 

J.R. Reskovac

Sarah Strup

 

Appropriations/Budget

House Republicans and Democrats are pushing forward sharply different budget demands as Congress prepares to take negotiations down to the last minute to avert a government shutdown in less than three weeks.  House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) on Thursday said he may cancel a planned recess the week of September 23 and that members should be ready to work “possibly into the weekend” to get a continuing resolution done before the October 1 start of the 2014 fiscal year.  GOP leaders are looking for a new strategy for the CR (H J Res 59) after many Republicans panned a plan to require only a Senate vote on funding the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148, PL 111-152), short of demand for a measure that would specifically block the flow of funds.

Several alternative CR plans are being considered, including a proposal that would block funds for two years for implementation of the health initiative.  That FY14 spending package would include fresh appropriations for defense, veterans and Homeland Security Department programs and a continuing resolution for the rest of federal programs.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said at a press conference Thursday that if the House sent a CR to the Senate with language defunding or delaying the health care law, he intends to send it back without those provisions.

For more key dates and deadlines regarding spending for Congress in 2013, please see the document attached to the email bearing this report.

 debt and spending – key dates

Taxes

Results of two polls conducted by Mercury, a public affairs firm, show that conservative groups find most voters opposed to federal Internet sales tax legislation, suggesting that lawmakers who vote in favor of the bill could face criticism in the midterm elections.

The results also show that 57 percent of “likely” voters oppose changing the system for how states collect sales taxes from Internet purchases.

Supporters of the Marketplace Fairness Act or MFA (S. 743), which would allow states to collect sales tax on purchases from out-of-state retailers that do not have physical locations in their jurisdiction, say the law unfairly hurts national retailers that have brick-and-mortar stores everywhere.  Many Republican governors, looking to fill budget gaps, have pushed for the federal government to pass the law, allowing for billions in potential revenue.

The poll also tested wording of how the bill is described, potentially changing how it could be perceived.  When the MFA is expressed as “a national sales tax collection mandate,” 69 percent said they are opposed — including 62 percent of Democrats.  When those polled were told that “the proposed legislation would allow tax enforcement agents from one state to collect taxes from online retailers based in a different state,” 70 percent opposed and 23 percent supported it.

National Republican strategists said they hope to use the vote for S. 743 against Democratic and moderate Republican senators that are up for reelection next year.  The House has still not taken the measure up; however, House Judiciary Chairman Robert Goodlatte (R-VA) is working on alternatives to the Senate bill, and is predicted to unveil his principles within the next few weeks.  Goodlatte has also indicated he may want to package the online sales tax debate with other related tax issues, such as banning states from imposing business or activity taxes on out-of-state businesses (H.R. 2992), or blocking new taxes on the downloading of digital goods such as music or software (S. 1364).

Transportation

Congress is prepared to give the Federal Aviation Administration flexibility to prevent further furloughs of air traffic controllers, but airport operators and executives are concerned it might come at the expense of their facilities.  The issue first arose in March as the FAA began implementing across-the-board budget cuts under the 2011 budget deal (P.L. 111-25).

Those reductions resulted in furloughs of air traffic controllers beginning in April, a situation that led to airport delays and prompted a legislative remedy (P.L. 113-9) that gives FAA the flexibility to reallocate Airport Improvement Program funds to keep controllers on the job through the end of FY13.  While provisions in the continuing resolution (H.J. Res 59) that would fund the government through December 15 would allow agencies budget flexibility “to avoid furloughs,” it does not specify where the money would be found.

Most groups close to the issue support budgeting flexibility allowing the FAA to keep controllers on the job, but are worried that continuing to take funds from airport improvement would ultimately reduce federal investment in airport runways, taxiways and other critical infrastructure.

House Republicans delayed a vote on the proposed continuing resolution until next week, but the eventual final version is expected to protect airport operations from furloughs and tower closings. Leaders of the airport groups say they’re most concerned with how FAA would deal with keeping controllers on the job without jeopardizing federal support for airport projects.

Water Resources

A House water resources bill – the Water Resources Reform & Development Act or WRRDA-was introduced in the House Wednesday, and Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) is fighting for a levy project in southern Louisiana to be included in the final legislation.  The $6.7 billion project was included in a Senate-passed bill (S. 601) but left out of the House companion (H.R. 3080) introduced by Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA).

The House measure would authorize funding for 23 projects with a cost to the federal government of $7.6 billion that already have been reviewed by the Army Corps of Engineers.  Aides suggested the Louisiana project was left off the list even though it also has undergone that review because of its high cost.

The dispute emphasizes the difficulties both chambers have had in writing a water bill free of earmarks. Previous authorizations have been lists of lawmaker-designated port, inland waterway, drinking water and environmental restoration projects.  That approach would conflict with the current ban on earmarks.  The Senate solution was to set some funding criteria and then turn the job of selecting individual projects over to the Army Corps of Engineers.  The House bill would let the corps select projects after conferring with state and local officials, then would give Congress an opportunity to sign off on or reject the recommendations.

In the future, those reports would be generated after local officials proposed projects to the corps.  The lists would be available publicly, a committee aide said Thursday, and the Transportation panel would only sign off on projects after public hearings on the completed reports.  Projects included in the annual reports for congressional approval would first undergo a meticulous review by the corps, and include information about project feasibility, impact and costs.

The bill, scheduled for committee markup on September 19, is likely to draw criticism from conservative anti-spending groups that argue the measure would cost too much without making adequate changes to Army Corps of Engineers procedures.  Conservation groups were concerned that provisions to speed up the project review process would weaken environmental standards.

Washington Outlook

Next week in Congress, the Senate will reconvene on Monday to resume consideration of an energy-efficiency bill (S. 1392) that would seek to develop energy-saving technology and building codes for new homes and commercial buildings.  Work on the bill stalled soon after it was brought to the floor Wednesday.

Wednesday, Senator David Vitter (R-LA) blocked any attempt to call up amendments on the bill until he is assured a vote on his measure to shift more government officials to health insurance exchanges established under the 2010 health care law (PL 111-148, PL 111-152).  Vitter’s measure would require the president and certain other executive branch officials to enter the exchanges and ban them from receiving federal contributions to their premiums.  Democrats are developing an alternative amendment to Vitter’s, a Senate Democratic aide said, which could pave the way for a side-by-side vote next week.  Vitter has said he would accept a vote on his proposal outside the confines of the efficiency bill debate, as long as it happens before October 1, when coverage under the exchanges begins.

Democrats criticized the approach, which could potentially derail the bipartisan energy bill, as an effort to push an unrelated conservative agenda, while some Republicans, even those with amendments filed on the energy bill, supported Vitter’s stance.

Meanwhile, senators are watching developments in Syria as diplomatic efforts continue to eliminate the Syrian regime’s stockpile of chemical weapons.  Senators agreed Tuesday to set aside a joint resolution (S J Res 21) that would authorize the use of military force against the Syrian government.

While lawmakers say they are skeptical that Syria will cooperate as the international community seeks to confiscate and destroy the weapons, support for the resolution is fading.  Lawmakers in both chambers are now looking to alter existing drafts of the resolution to take account of any multilateral agreement that emerges.