Monthly Archives: April 2014

Weekly Legislative Report Apr 11, 2014

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup

Appropriations

The House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday approved by voice vote a $165 billion draft FY15 Military Construction-VA spending measure.  The panel also approved by voice vote a $71.5 billion discretionary allocation, commonly known as a 302(b) allocation, for Military Construction and Veterans Affairs.  The discretionary total is $1.8 billion less than the FY14 enacted amount.

The House Appropriations Committee also advanced a $3.3 billion FY15 spending bill for the legislative branch by voice vote, which includes the House of Representatives and the various agencies that serve the Capitol at the current enacted spending levels.

The draft bill does not include funding for Senate operations and would provide $122.5 million less than what was requested by the White House.  The bill would fund House operations, including member offices and committees, at roughly $1.2 billion.  Despite concerns raised last month by Democrats in the House Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee over the lack of post-sequester relief for House office salaries, the bill would not increase members’ representational allowances past FY14 levels.

The House Appropriations Committee plans to mark up the Commerce-Justice-Science measure after the two-week recess.

House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers (R-KY) is continuing his aggressive schedule on spending bills, hoping to complete consideration of all 12 annual appropriations bills before the end of June and passing all spending measures before the August recess.

The Senate Appropriations Committee will move to take up its first bill, Military Construction-Veterans Affairs, in late May.

Budget

The House on Thursday voted 219-205 in support of Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) spending proposal (H Con Res 96) calling for a balanced budget by fiscal 2024.  Twelve Republicans voted with Democrats against the budget plan.

The blueprint proposes to achieve a $5 billion surplus over the next 10 years by reducing spending by $5.1 trillion.  The reduction in spending is achieved by repealing the 2010 health care law (PL 111-148, PL 111-152) and reducing spending on Medicare, Medicaid and other health programs.

Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA) has no plans to write a budget, and is sure to ignore the House version.

Transportation

Leaders of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee announced Thursday that they have agreed on an outline for a six-year bipartisan highway bill.  Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and ranking Republican David Vitter (R-LA) said they expect to mark up the surface transportation bill that would authorize highway, bridge and transit programs at current funding levels after the upcoming two-week recess.

The senators said their plan does not include a funding mechanism, which Boxer and Vitter said would be left up to the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees.  For a six-year bill, the tax writers would need to find about $16 billion per year, or $96 total, to address the shortage in the Highway Trust Fund, which is currently funded by declining motor fuels tax receipts.  The Transportation Department projects the fund will be depleted by this summer.

Some of the ideas that have been floated to address the revenue gap are funds from a corporate tax overhaul, which House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) proposed in a broader tax code rewrite and was also endorsed by Senate Transportation-HUD Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Patty Murray as well as the White House.  Boxer had previously proposed replacing the federal gas tax with a wholesale oil tax, which didn’t pick up much support. 

Additionally, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced legislation that would increase the gas tax to 33.4 cents per gallon, nearly double the current rate of 18.4 cents, over the next few years, but the GOP strongly opposes this proposal.

Washington Outlook

The House and Senate have adjourned for two weeks for their spring recess.  The next Weekly Legislative Update will cover the week of April 28-May 2.

 

Weekly Legislative Report Apr 4, 2014

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup

Appropriations

The House Appropriations Legislative Branch Subcommittee on Thursday advanced, by voice vote, a draft FY15 spending bill that would maintain the same $3.3-billion funding level for the House and joint activities with the Senate as established in 2014.  The bill, which was released Wednesday, includes $21 million for the third and final phase of the Capitol Dome restoration project.

Also on Thursday, the House Appropriations Military Construction-VA Subcommittee advanced by voice vote its draft FY15 spending bill.  The measure would provide $71.5 billion in discretionary spending for the VA and the military construction accounts of the Defense Department, a decrease of $1.8 billion from the FY14 enacted level.  The bill also would provide $58.7 billion in FY16 advance appropriations for VA medical services, facilities, support and compliance. 

During the markup, Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers (R-KY) said he aimed to have all 12 appropriations bills through the full committee by July 4.  He also noted that the subcommittee’s markup was the earliest markup of an appropriations bill since 1974.  The full committee markup is expected to take place next week.

Budget

The House Budget Committee on Wednesday approved Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) FY15 budget plan, sending it to the floor for a vote next week.

The panel voted 22-16 to back the proposal after debating for nearly 10 hours.  Republicans rejected 24 Democratic amendments aimed at restoring funding for domestic programs and endorsing immigration, minimum wage and unemployment insurance proposals.

The resolution would call for $5.1 trillion in cuts to federal spending over the next decade, and would adhere to the outlines of the budget deal (P.L. 113-67) struck last year by Ryan and Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA).

Democrats claim that the bulk of the proposal’s deficit reduction would impose burdens on lower-income Americans.  Defense spending would be spared from cuts.  Ryan’s plan would allow for an increase in military spending by $483 billion above sequester levels over the next decade.

Energy/Environment

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved, in an en bloc voice vote, legislation (S. 1961) that would tighten the oversight of chemical facilities and enhance state inspection procedures.  Lawmakers drafted the measure in response to the West Virginia chemical spill that occurred in January, leaving 300,000 people without drinking water for over a week.

The panel also approved various measures in the same en bloc vote to reauthorize restoration and conservation programs, including one (S. 491) that would modernize the EPA’s brownfields development program, legislation (S. 2080) that would expand fish habitat restoration projects and partnerships and a bill (S. 2042) that would reauthorize the national estuary program.

Taxes

The Senate Finance Committee approved by voice vote draft legislation that would renew nearly all of the 55 tax breaks that expired December 31.  The tax extenders package would renew and extend for two years popular business tax preferences such as the credit for research and exploration, individual breaks for mortgage interest and mortgage debt relief, and wind energy’s production tax credit (PTC).  The panel also approved by voice vote another draft measure that would make technical corrections to existing recent tax laws and repeal “deadwood” provisions.

Washington Outlook

Next week in Congress, the House is expected to consider a measure (H.R. 1871) that would do away with the baseline budget assumption that discretionary spending grows each year with inflation, and a bill (H.R. 1872) to account for the costs of market risks in federal credit programs.  Opponents of the bill, mainly Democrats, say the measures are aimed at validating the GOP position that tax cuts promote economic growth and generate additional revenues.  The bills are unlikely to advance in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

 

On the Senate side, the chamber is scheduled to resume consideration of the bill (H.R. 3979) that would extend for five months a supplemental unemployment assistance program.  The expanded assistance program would allow unemployed workers to receive up to 47 weeks of additional benefits, depending on a state’s unemployment rate, after they exhaust up to 26 weeks of aid under the standard compensation program.

 

The benefits, which expired in late December, would be paid retroactively and continue through May.  Under the proposal, the five-month extension would be paid for by a combination of offsets including temporarily reducing companies’ pension payments, also known as pension smoothing, and extending U.S. Customs and Border Protection user fees through 2024.  After its expected passage, the measure would head to the House, where that chamber’s Republicans are considering amendments they say would spur job growth.

 

Democrats were hoping to clear an unemployment benefits measure this week in order to begin work on a bill (S. 2199) to tackle wage discrimination.  The measure was supposed to be voted on Tuesday, which is recognized as “Equal Pay Day” by the National Committee on Pay Equity, but an amendment disagreement on the jobless assistance bill delayed Senate action, so a vote on the pay equity legislation could slip to the middle of the week.

 

The wage discrimination bill, sponsored by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), would expand legal options for paycheck fairness complaints and bar retaliation against workers for discussing salary information.  After that, Democrats are looking to move to a bill (S. 1737) that would increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10.  Debate on that measure will likely be pushed until after the two-week recess that starts April 14.