Monthly Archives: December 2013

Weekly Legislative Report Dec 20, 2013

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup

 

Appropriations

Senate Appropriators are looking to bring an FY14 omnibus spending bill on the Senate floor by January 13, and will likely have some Senators and staff working during the holiday break in order to get it done in time.

Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and her House counterpart, Rep. Harold Rogers (R-KY) had been waiting until after the Senate’s Wednesday passage of the budget deal (H.J. Res 59) to divide its $1.012 trillion for FY14 discretionary spending among the 12 Appropriations subcommittees.

Mikulski said negotiations over those individual allocations, known as 302(b) levels, are “still a work in progress” but will be completed shortly.  As those figures are finalized and handed out to the subcommittees, appropriators and their staffs will compile policy and funding differences in the House and Senate versions of all 12 spending bills.  Over the holiday recess, subcommittees will try to iron out as many differences as possible.  Mikulski said the panels have until January 2 to report any ongoing disagreements over spending and policy to her and Rogers.

 

Budget

On Wednesday, Senators voted 64-36 to endorse the Bipartisan Budget Act (H.J. Res 59), which would eliminate $63 billion of sequestration cuts and set top-line spending for FY14 at $1.012 trillion and $1.014 trillion in FY15.  Stopgap funding that will expire January 15 (P.L. 113-46) establishes spending at an annualized rate of $986 billion.  Nine Republicans joined all 53 Democrats and two independents to support the legislation.

The House passed the measure last week, 332-94, and the bill is now awaiting signature from the president.

Defense

The Senate on Thursday voted 84-15 to clear the FY14 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 3304), sending it to the president’s desk for signature.

The measure would authorize $625.1 billion in discretionary national defense funding for FY14, roughly $3.1 billion less than the FY13 enacted level.  Of that, the legislation would authorize $526.8 billion for the Defense Department’s base budget.  It would authorize $80.7 billion for overseas contingency operations and $17.6 billion for national security programs within the Energy Department.

The bill omits some of the more controversial amendments, such as Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-NY) amendment to prosecute military sexual assault in civilian courts, and President Obama’s request to allow the transfer of detainees from Guantanamo Bay to the United States.  After the original Senate bill was filibustered over disagreements about the number of amendments, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) fast-tracked the conference bill to avoid discussing amendments that would impose tougher sanctions on Iran.

 

Washington Outlook

The House and Senate have both adjourned for the remainder of the year.  The next Weekly Legislative Update will cover the week of January 6-10 when Congress returns from the holiday recess.

 

 

Weekly Legislative Report Dec 13, 2013

J.R. Reskovac

Sarah Strup

  

Agriculture

House members on Thursday backed a bill (H.R. 3695) by voice vote that would extend the 2008 farm bill through January 31.  Although the bill is described as a short-term extension, it would be retroactive to September 30, the day the FY13 renewal and extension of the 2008 farm law (P.L. 110-246) expired.  Senate Democratic leaders, however, have said they will not take up the short-term extension because it would ease pressure on negotiators to come up with a new farm bill.  House and Senate farm bill conferees are working to finish by January.

 

Appropriations/ Budget

Last night, the House voted 332-94 to pass a budget deal (H.J. Res 59) that would increase discretionary spending by $63 billion over the next two years and replace sequester spending cuts.   The Senate is expected to take up the bill next week and is expected to pass it despite opposition from many Republicans in the chamber.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA) released the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 on Tuesday, which would provide $63 billion in sequester relief over two years by setting overall discretionary spending at $1.012 trillion for FY14 and $1.014 trillion for FY15 (up from the $995 billion cap set by the BCA for FY15).  Under the sequester, the cap is set at $1.016 trillion in 2016.

The FY14 level is about halfway between the Senate budget level of $1.058 trillion and the House budget level of $967 billion and is $26 billion above the current CR level of $986 billion.  The $63 billion in sequester relief would be over two years and would be split evenly between defense and non-defense programs.  In FY14, defense discretionary spending would be set at $520.5 billion, and non-defense discretionary spending would be set at $491.8 billion.

The sequester relief is fully offset by savings elsewhere in the budget and would be paid for with a combination of increased revenues and budget savings, although the agreement does not include tax increases or entitlement cuts.  The offsets include:

  • Extending Medicare sequestration cuts for an additional two years (2022 and 2023)
  • Raising Transportation Security Administration aviation security service fees
  • Extending Bureau of Customs and Border Protection user fees
  • Authorizing the National Resources Conservation Service to collect conservation planning and technical assistance fees
  • Increasing federal-employee contributions to their retirement programs (limited to some new employees)
  • Increasing premiums for pensions backed by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation
  • Terminating the Ultra-Deepwater and Unconventional Natural Gas and Other Petroleum Resources Program
  • Ending the Maritime Administration’s policy of reimbursing other federal agencies for the cost of shipping food aid on U.S. ships rather than less expensive foreign vessels
  • Allowing the Treasury Department to receive Prisoner Update Processing System data from the Social Security Administration to help prevent prisoners from receiving improper payments, such as unemployment compensation
  • Requiring all states to use the Treasury Offset Program to recover unemployment insurance debts resulting from overpayments due to fraud or failure to report earnings

 

Defense

The House on Thursday voted 350-69 to pass a defense policy bill (H.R. 3304) authorizing $625.1 billion in discretionary spending for FY14 before adjourning for the remainder of the year.  The Senate is expected to take up the bill next Wednesday.

The $625.1 billion funding level is roughly $3.1 billion less than the FY13 enacted level, and would authorize $526.8 billion for the Defense Department’s base budget, $80.7 billion for overseas contingency operations and $17.6 billion for national security programs within the Energy Department.

The legislation would meet the Pentagon’s request of $1.36 million for active-duty end strengths for individual military branches; authorize funding for several weapons procurement programs; meet the administration’s request for a 1 percent military pay raise for FY14; reject a Defense Department proposal to increase enrollment fees for Tricare health benefits and copayments for prescriptions; continue the existing ban on transferring detainees held at the Guantánamo Bay detention center to the U.S.; and also includes nearly two dozen provisions addressing the epidemic of sexual assault in the military.

If the Senate passes the measure without further amendment, it would be cleared for the president’s signature.

 

Health

On Thursday, both the Senate Finance Committee and House Ways and Means Committee each reported reform bills to permanently replace how Medicare pays physicians, laying the groundwork for work on a package next year.

The House Ways and Means Committee voted 39-0 to approve a bill (H.R. 2810) that would shift how the 2 percent Medicare reduction would be applied in fiscal 2023.  It also would provide a 0.5 percent payment update through 2017 and maintain stable payments through 2023.

The Senate Finance Committee approved by voice vote a proposal that would repeal the “sustainable growth rate” or SGR formula for Medicare payments to physicians and would freeze payments for 10 years.  Under a new consolidated value-based incentive program, doctors would get incentive payments based on how they score on certain performance factors.  As an alternative, physicians who receive a significant portion of their revenue from alternative payment models, like accountable care organizations, under certain conditions could receive bonus payments.  The proposal also contains a number of Medicare and Medicaid extenders.  The panel also gave voice vote approval to an amended draft bill that would extend for three years certain child welfare programs.

Additionally, as part of the budget deal that passed last night, the House passed a short-term 3 month SGR patch to stave off the cut that would otherwise go into effect on January 1.  A variety of other health provisions were also included in the package, including the delay of Medicaid Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) cuts.  The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration as part of the budget package.

Water Resources

Water resources conference committee members met on Tuesday with the goal to complete negotiations on major issues in the authorization bill this week, although it is unlikely they will reach a final agreement before the Christmas recess.

Conferees are trying to work out differences between their bills (S. 601; H.R. 3080), which would authorize Army Corps of Engineers navigation, flood control and wetland restoration projects.  The Senate bill would authorize about $5.7 billion in water projects through 2018, according to the Congressional Budget Office, while the House bill would authorize 23 projects at about $3.1 billion over five years.

Both bills would avoid earmarks, expedite regulatory and environmental reviews, and restructure the funding mechanism for dredging and harbor maintenance projects, though they would take different approaches toward achieving those objectives.

Committee chair’s Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA) hope successfully enacting a water bill will lay the foundation for more challenging negotiations next year on a surface transportation authorization.  The current authorization (P.L. 112-141) expires next September.

Washington Outlook

The House has adjourned for the holiday recess, and will return the second week in January.  The Senate will be in session next week to finish up votes on several judicial and executive branch nominees, to vote on the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, and to finish up work on the defense bill.

If the budget deal is signed into law next week, the Appropriations Committees will then be able to work on an omnibus spending bill at the agreed-upon level in advance of the January 15th expiration of the current Continuing Resolution (CR).

Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) have begun negotiations on how the $1.012 trillion will be divided among the 12 appropriations bills.  They have said they would like to include all 12 of the annual appropriations bills in a final omnibus spending package for fiscal 2014, but if they are unable to find consensus on one or more of the measures they will move continuing resolutions (CR) to maintain funding for those programs.  It is likely that a bill would be brought to the House floor the week Congress returns from recess starting January 6th, followed by action in the Senate prior to the January 15th deadline.

 

 

Weekly Legislative Report Dec 6, 2013

J.R. Reskovac

Sarah Strup

 Appropriations/ Budget

House and Senate budget negotiators have yet to reach a final deal on FY14 spending levels, but reportedly have the outline for a two year budget agreement.

The potential framework would likely include some sequester relief, and would slightly raise spending for the remainder of FY14 in exchange for other deficit reduction measures.  Under the potential deal being discussed, the $967 billion overall discretionary spending level for FY14 under the sequester would be raised to about $1 trillion evenly divided between defense and non-defense spending.  Discussions have also included talk of extending the general framework to cover FY15 spending, as well as reduce the sequester in FY14 and FY15.

House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA) will continue to work through the weekend with their staff in order to come up with a budget report by the set deadline on December 13. 

If a deal is reached, the House Rules Committee could post the legislation on their web site Monday, pass a rule for the bill on Tuesday, and pave the way for a House vote on the plan on Wednesday.  Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) said he is hopeful that a deal could come by next Tuesday, so that both parties will have time to study its components.

Education

According to a recent report from the National Education Association (NEA), replacing discretionary spending cuts created by the sequester would restore $5.6 billion in federal funding for education programs in FY14.

The NEA based its calculations on the Senate Appropriations Committee-passed discretionary spending allocation of $1.058 trillion, which assumes total sequester replacement.  House and Senate budget conferees are working on a deal that would place discretionary spending somewhere between the sequester level and the Senate-approved level.

The report states that if Congress replaces the sequester in its entirety, the biggest beneficiary in the area of education would be the Head Start preschool program for children from poor families, which is run through the Health and Human Services Department. The $2 billion refund would allow the restoration or new enrollment of 153,193 children in Head Start.  The NEA also found that replacing the sequester would restore services and staff for 6.5 million students with special needs; add $140 million for federal work-study grants, returning some or all financial aid for up to 758,000 college students; and restore $1 billion in Title I grants to school districts to help students from low-income families.

Whatever the amount of sequestration relief Congress ultimately agrees to, most education programs would not see an immediate impact because they receive funding for the entire school year before it begins.  Only Impact Aid payments, which are made to schools that lose property tax revenue because of the presence of military bases or land owned by Native American tribes within their districts, would see an immediate funding boost in the short-term because they are not forward-funded like other education programs.

The director of government affairs at the National Association of Federally Impacted Schools, Jocelyn Bissonnette, said that if an appropriations measure at sequester-replaced levels is signed into law, it would take about two weeks for the money to get to Impact Aid schools.  She also added that the Office of Management and Budget “has to kind of go through its process of getting the money transferred, and the Department of Education has to determine what the payment rate will be and the priority of school districts.”

Nearly $63 million would be returned to Impact Aid schools, according to the NEA report, which is attached to this e-mail.

Science

The House Science, Space and Technology Committee backed by voice vote a bill that would direct the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to prioritize its weather forecasting, including research on more accurate and timely forecasts of extreme weather.  Congressman Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) introduced the bill (H.R. 2413) in June, after a severe outbreak of tornados struck Oklahoma in May.  Bridenstine’s proposal would authorize nearly $400 million to create programs to develop better tornado and hurricane forecasting, as well as require NOAA to produce annual plans for using high-performance computing technology to support its weather prediction efforts.

Some committee members voiced concerns that the bill as introduced would have undercut climate and ocean research, so before approving the measure, the panel adopted by voice vote a substitute amendment authored by Reps. Chris Stewart (R-UT) and Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), the panel’s Environment Subcommittee leaders.  The substitute amendment would establish an advisory panel to offer advice on prioritizing weather research initiatives at NOAA and to identify emerging technologies.  It also would create a program for post-doctoral fellows and academic researchers at NOAA’s nine national centers for environmental prediction.

The panel also backed by voice vote a nearly $70 million reauthorization (H.R. 2431) of NOAA’s system for monitoring and forecasting droughts nationwide.  Panel Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) said the measure could be reconciled with a Senate version (S. 376) and sent to President Barack Obama early next year.  The panel rejected another amendment by Bonamici to increase the House authorization of $13.5 million over five years to match the Senate’s $14.5 million figure.  The panel adopted by voice vote an Eric Swalwell (D-CA) amendment incorporating Senate language calling for research on the role of extreme weather and climate variability in drought.

The committee also approved by voice vote a bill (H.R. 2981) to establish a grant program to promote greater commercialization of technology developed at universities, research institutions and federal laboratories.

Washington Outlook

Next week in Congress, the Senate is scheduled to resume consideration of the FY14 defense authorization bill (S. 1197), and the nomination of Patricia Ann Millett to be a judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

After that, members could revisit the nomination of Rep. Melvin Watt (D-NC) to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency, and two other nominees to the D.C. Circuit, Cornelia “Nina” Pillard and Robert Wilkins.

In the House, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) announced that the chamber could hold a vote pertaining to Medicare’s sustainable growth rate (SGR), and may consider legislation related to Medicare’s flawed physician payment formula next week, although it is unclear whether the chamber will weigh a permanent or short-term “doc fix.”

House and Senate negotiators will also attempt to reconcile each chamber’s versions of a farm bill next week, and are confident they can resolve key sticking points in the coming days and draft the final bill over the Christmas recess so it will be ready for floor action in January.

That scenario would likely require a short-term extension of the 2008 farm law (P.L. 110-246) to prevent a 1948 law from taking effect and triggering spikes in dairy subsidies and, eventually, higher retail milk prices.  Agriculture groups used the threat of a “dairy cliff” last year to push Congress to extend the 2008 law.  Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and her House counterpart, Frank Lucas (R-OK) reported “great progress” after meeting face to face on Wednesday but declined to say how they would resolve major differences in the bills.  The House measure (H.R. 2642) would cut nutrition aid by about $39 billion over 10 years through major changes in eligibility standards, utility deductions, work requirements for unemployed adults, and state authority to extend food benefits.  The Senate bill (S. 954) calls for about $4 billion in cuts over the same period.

Also coming up next week is the big deadline for a budget report from House and Senate conference negotiators.

House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA) are nearing a limited deal that could replace $34 million of sequestration cuts with savings and revenue to bring the $967 billion overall discretionary spending level to $1.001 trillion.  The draft legislation could go before Congress early next week.