Monthly Archives: January 2014

Weekly Legislative Report Jan 17, 2014

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup

Agriculture

The top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN) said on Thursday that a draft conference report for a Farm Bill could be ready by next week and there could be floor action by January 27.  There has been an impasse regarding dairy policy in the farm bill, but lawmakers say that issue is close to being resolved.

Several other snags remain, but lawmakers appeared increasingly optimistic that the long battle to pass a new farm bill might be coming to a close.

The FY14 omnibus (H.R. 3547) does not provide funding for the Payments In Lieu of Taxes program, which makes payments to local governments who cannot collect property taxes from nontaxable government-held land.  House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) has assured his colleagues that he will include funding for the program in the farm bill.

However, dairy policy and payment limits on farm subsidies remain the most critical issues, and if Lucas and his Senate counterpart, Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), can cut deals now, they will be in far better shape when lawmakers return at the end of January.

Appropriations

The Senate on Thursday voted 72-26 to approve the $1 trillion omnibus spending bill, sending it to the White House for President Obama’s signature and avoiding another government shutdown.  On Wednesday, the House voted 359-67 to pass the omnibus bill; with 64 no votes coming from Republicans who argued that it spends too much money.

The package includes all 12 of the annual appropriations measures and does not include any continuing resolutions.  The omnibus sets discretionary spending for FY14 at the December budget deal agreed upon level of $1.012 trillion, which is $25.7 million more than the $986.3 billion discretionary spending level set for FY13 and $45 million more than the $967 billion level set for FY14 under the sequester.

The bill provides $20.9 billion for Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies; $51.6 billion for Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies; $572.6 billion for Defense; $34.1 billion for Energy and Water Development, and Related Agencies; $21.85 billion for Financial Services and General Government; $39.3 billion for Homeland Security; $30.1 billion for Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies; $156.8 billion for Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies; $4.26 billion for the Legislative Branch; $73.3 billion for Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies; $49 billion for State, Foreign Operations, and Related Agencies; and $50.9 billion for Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies.

The Senate Appropriations Committee press release can be found here and the House Appropriations subcommittee summaries here.  Also, please find attached to the e-mail bearing this report, a summary document of the FY14 Omnibus prepared by the House Appropriations Committee.

Congressional Affairs

Several members of Congress announced this week that they plan on retiring this year.  They are as follows:

·         Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK)

·         Congressman Jim Moran (D-VA)

·         Congressman Bill Owens (D-NY)

·         Congressman Buck McKeon (R-CA)

·         Congressman George Miller (D-CA)

Transportation

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held a hearing on Tuesday to discuss the prospects of producing a Highway Bill this year.  The current authorization (P.L. 112-141) expires at the end of September, and Committee members are hoping to bring a bill to conference before then.

The biggest issue facing lawmakers on the panel is how to fund a new bill in light of lagging motor vehicle tax receipts, however there is also the issue of just how broad the bill should be.  The Congressional Budget Office estimates the fund, which has been dependent on fuel taxes that haven’t increased since 1993, will be unable to cover its obligations beginning in early fiscal 2015.  Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced legislation late last year (H.R. 3636) to raise the gas tax, which could potentially be a solution to the issue.

Water Resources

With the passage of the omnibus (H.R. 3547), the odds for a conference agreement on legislation authorizing Army Corps of Engineers water projects have increased since the bill increases disbursements from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund by $1 billion.

The money, collected in annual user fees, has been held back to help reduce the budget deficit, leaving about $700 million in the trust fund available for port projects.  Releasing the remainder could help conferees who have been trying since November to bridge the gap between a $5.7 billion Senate water resources bill (S. 601) and the House’s $3.1 billion counterpart (H.R. 3080).

The omnibus also codifies a new cost-sharing agreement for the long-delayed Olmsted lock and dam project on the Ohio River, leaving another federal trust fund for inland waterways on the hook for just 25 percent of ongoing project costs.  That decision has the effect of freeing up tens of millions of dollars for other projects that have been delayed because of Olmsted’s decades-long cost overruns.

Differences that still need to be reconciled include deciding how Army Corps projects are selected, and deciding whether to allow the administration to pursue an ocean management plan aimed at reconciling fishing, recreation and offshore energy interests.

Washington Outlook

The House and Senate have both adjourned and will be in recess next week in recognition of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day holiday.  The next Weekly Legislative Update will cover the week of January 27-31.

Weekly Legislative Report Jan 10, 2014

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup

Agriculture

Farm bill negotiators are hoping to get a final measure through at least one chamber next week, though work will likely extend to late January since the Senate is scheduled to recess the week of January 20.

Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) said Thursday that the goal is to begin moving a compromise bill through at least one chamber the week of January 13.  Conferee Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) said dairy supply management is the biggest outstanding issue, but lawmakers also are seeking compromise on the possible repeal of country-of-origin labeling for meat products and the definition of who qualifies for farm subsidies.

The group seems to have settled one large point of contention — how much to spend on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps.

A final agreement is expected to reduce SNAP spending by up to $9 billion over the next 10 years by increasing the threshold for an energy deduction used to calculate monthly food stamp benefits.

 

Appropriations

Today, House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers (R-KY) filed a three-day continuing resolution to avert a government shutdown next week.  House negotiators are aiming to introduce a $1 trillion omnibus spending bill on Sunday or Monday.  Congress will have to approve a stopgap measure first to avoid a shutdown, since Congress won’t have time to consider and pass the omnibus to meet a January 15 deadline.

Details of the omnibus, including the allocations for the 12 bills, remain hushed.  Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) said Tuesday that work on six of the 12 annual spending bills has been largely wrapped up and that two more, Energy-Water and Homeland Security (H.R. 2217), are also close to completion.  The completed spending bills are Defense (H.R. 2697), Military Construction-VA (H.R. 2216), Agriculture (H.R. 2410), Commerce-Justice-Science, Legislative Branch and Transportation-HUD (H.R. 2610), all of which are considered some of the politically easier bills to finish.  Divisive policy riders appear to be tripping up the remaining spending bills, and senior appropriators said language related to the implementation of the 2010 health care law (P.L. 111-148, 111-152), the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul (P.L. 111-203), abortion and the EPA’s carbon regulations still divided the parties.

The plan is for the House to vote Monday on the CR, Rogers said.  The stopgap spending bill would extend through 11:59 p.m. on January 17.

Transportation

The House voted 406-0 to pass legislation (H.R. 3628) that would eliminate or consolidate more than two dozen congressionally mandated reports dealing with federal transportation and infrastructure issues.  The bill would eliminate six Transportation Department reports and three EPA reports.  It also would consolidate other agency reporting requirements and mandate that 11 reports be provided electronically instead of on paper.

Washington Outlook

Next week in Congress, the Senate will resume consideration of a bill (S. 1845) that would extend emergency unemployment insurance for three months.  Two cloture motions are pending on the bill, one relative to an amendment to further extend the benefits and another on the underlying bill.

The Senate is also scheduled to consider the nomination of Robert Wilkins to be a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.  His confirmation vote will occur at 5:30 p.m.

After the confirmation vote, the Senate will vote on the motion to limit debate on the amendment introduced by Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) to the bill which would extend unemployment benefits until mid-November.  The proposal would tack on another year to automatic cuts on some mandatory spending, such as Medicare funding for health care providers, extending the sequester reductions through fiscal 2024.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said the offset mirrors provisions in the new budget deal (H.J. Res 59), which extended the spending cuts on such mandatory spending for two additional years, through fiscal 2023.  A Senate Democratic aide said the one-year extension of sequester would save roughly $18 billion in fiscal 2024.

Meanwhile, lawmakers are hoping to finalize an omnibus spending bill, with the government’s current funding set to expire January 15.  Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) said she wants to avoid another stopgap continuing resolution but negotiators may need more time to complete the $1.012 trillion package. 

Negotiations have snagged on issues related to the 2010 health care law (P.L. 111-148, 111-152), the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul (P.L. 111-203), abortion and the EPA’s carbon regulations.  The House is expected to act on the measure first, leaving little time for consideration in the Senate before the midweek deadline.