Monthly Archives: June 2014

Weekly Legislative Report June 27, 2014

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup

Appropriations

Financial Services

On Tuesday, the Senate Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee marked up the FY15 appropriations bill which includes a proposed budget authority of $22.673 billion.  The bill’s goal is to protect the public and consumers by focusing on five priority areas, including: protecting investors from fraud, safeguarding the financial system from abusive and illegal practices, promoting a fair marketplace by preventing fraud, creating jobs by supporting Americans who start their own small businesses, and ensuring the appropriate balance between anti-terrorism efforts.

On the House side, the Appropriations Committee voted 28-21 to approve its FY15 Financial Services and General Government spending bill on Wednesday.  The bill provides $21.3 billion in funding for the Treasury Department, the Judiciary, the Small Business Administration, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and several other agencies.

For more information on the Senate bill, click here.  For details on the House bill, click here.

 

Homeland Security

Tuesday, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security approved a FY15 bill that totals in $47.2 billion.  $45.65 billion of the funding will be used towards several discretionary programs including the Coast Guard overseas contingency operations as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Disaster Relief Fund.  This bill has five core mission areas which include; preventing terrorism, securing and managing U.S. boarders, enforcing and administering our immigration laws, safeguarding and securing cyberspace, and ensuring resilience to disasters.

For more information regarding the measure, click here.

 

State and Foreign Operations

On Tuesday, the House Appropriations Committee approved the FY15 State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill by voice vote.  The bills funding is $48.3 billion in both regular discretionary and Overseas Contingency Operations funding.

For more details on this bill, click here.

 

Education

On Wednesday, both the Senate and the House released proposals for an upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.  There is agreement in some areas between Democrats and Republicans, such as modifying income-based student loan repayment programs, expanding the availability of Pell Grants, and overhauling teacher training programs.

Despite some agreement between parties, there are differences which reflect broader themes that have been raised throughout the reauthorization process.  Senate Democrats are focused on affordability and student loan debt, Senate and House Republicans have narrowed their sights on reducing the federal footprint and maintaining student choices.

House Education and Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) said he will begin introducing a series of bills to promote the ideas laid out in the white paper, and expects the full House to vote on some of his piecemeal Higher Education Act rewrites before the November elections. 

Intelligence

The House on Tuesday passed a bill (S. 1681) that would authorize a classified amount of spending for U.S. intelligence agencies this year, sending it to the President’s desk for signature.  The measure would overhaul the security clearance process and would subject the director of the National Security Agency to the Senate confirmation process.  The bill also would require an annual report on the number of deaths and injuries from drone strikes and would establish a review process for when a U.S. person is targeted with lethal force.

Taxes

Supporters of the Marketplace Fairness Act (S. 743) are looking to attach the bill to a bipartisan proposal that would extend an Internet access charge moratorium that expires November 1.

Senator Michael Enzi (R-WY) is the sponsor of the Marketplace Fairness Act or MFA, and signaled his support to link his stalled online sales tax proposal to the Internet Tax Freedom Forever Act (S. 1431), which provides a permanent ban on new Internet access charge levies.  Enzi’s bill passed the Senate last year and would allow states to enforce sales taxes on out-of-state vendors selling goods in the state.  The House has yet to act on the plan.

Finance Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) is the sponsor of the Internet Tax Freedom Forever Act and is also opposed the MFA.  Wyden said he hoped to move his own proposal as a stand-alone bill, and that the access-charge ban had broad support because it was “all about nondiscrimination.”  He argued that online sales tax proposals like the Enzi bill would “subject the online retailer to different requirements than you would subject the offline retailer.”

The National Governors Association and National Conference of State Legislatures came forward asking lawmakers to set aside the House Judiciary Committee-approved stand-alone permanent extension (H.R. 3086) of the access-charge ban and called instead for a final deal on the Senate-passed tax measure followed by the access-charge bill.

One of the main points of contention that Wyden has with MFA is that his home state of Oregon does not have a sales tax, therefore he believes the new regulations and procedures would be burdensome to online retailers based in his state and other sales-tax free states such as New Hampshire and Montana.

Transportation

On Tuesday, Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) released the outlines of a plan to raise $9 billion to extend the Highway Trust Fund through the end of this year.  Wyden wants to focus on providing reimbursement to states for road and bridge construction, transit infrastructure and operations, and safety programs.  Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee are not in favor of Wyden’s plan, and want to work with the House Ways and Means Committee on a bi-partisan proposal to pay for an extension that does not rely on tax hikes.

On Thursday, modifications to Wyden’s plan were drawn up, such as stripping out a provision for higher fees on heavier trucks and adding in tax savings for liquefied natural gas.  The revised proposal would raise an estimated $7.6 billion over the next ten years.  The committee postponed markup votes on the plan to allow members to continue tweaking the changes.  The Panel will reconvene after the recess and plan to hold a markup of the draft bill the week of July 7th.

Without action from Congress the Highway Trust Fund will no longer be sustainable this July.  Wyden stated, “If the situation is not addressed by July 18 it will be the transportation equivalent of a government shutdown”.  Both Wyden and Finance Committee Republicans have acknowledged the urgency of the situation and have agreed that they want to work together to find a temporary solution.  The issue will most likely be revisited to find a permanent long-term solution after elections take place and Congress enters a lame duck period this November.

Washington Outlook

The House and Senate have both adjourned for the Fourth of July holiday.  The next Weekly Legislative Update will cover the week of July 7-11, when Congress returns from recess.

 

Weekly Legislative Report June 19, 2014

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup

Appropriations

Agriculture

 

This week the House began consideration of the Fiscal Year FY15 Agriculture and FDA spending bill, but Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R-VA) surprising primary loss on Tuesday disrupted Floor action and delayed final consideration.

Defense

Tuesday, the House Appropriations Committee approved the FY15 Defense Appropriations bill by voice vote.  The legislation provides $491 billion in discretionary funding, an increase of $4.1 billion above the FY14 enacted level and $200 million above the President’s request.  In addition, the bill includes $79.4 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) for the ongoing war efforts abroad, the same level assumed in the President’s budget request and in the House-passed National Defense Authorization Act.

For more information on the bill, click here.

Energy/Water

The House Appropriations Energy and Water Subcommittee backed a $34 billion energy and water draft spending bill on Tuesday that boosts fossil fuel and nuclear spending and targets several recent actions by the Obama administration.  The panel advanced the measure by voice vote, sending the proposal to the full Appropriations Committee.

The draft FY15 bill would provide a 5.5 percent increase from FY14 levels for research on advanced coal, natural gas, oil and other fossil energy technologies, to $593 million, while cutting renewable energy development by 6.4 percent to $1.8 billion.  Funding for nuclear energy research and development would be increased by $9.8 million to $899 million, and the Army Corps of Engineers would receive $5.5 billion, $25 million more than the FY14 enacted level, according to a summary from staff.

For more information on the draft legislation, click here.

Homeland Security

Wednesday, the House Appropriations Committee approved the FY15 Department of Homeland Security spending bill by voice vote.  The draft legislation would provide $39.2 billion in discretionary funding which is about $50 million below funding enacted for the department in FY14 and nearly $888 million above the Obama administration’s FY15 budget request.

For more details on this legislation, click here.

Labor/HHS

On Tuesday the Senate Labor HHS Appropriations Subcommittee, during a very brief markup, approved by voice vote a FY15 bill that provides $156.8 billion in discretionary funding, the same as the FY14 level.  No amendments were offered during the subcommittee markup.

A summary of the bill can be found here.

Transportation-HUD

Tuesday, the full House voted to approve the FY15 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations bill by a vote of 229-192.  The bill will provide $105.5 billion for the departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development and related agencies, including $52 million subject to discretionary caps and $53.5 billion from the highway and aviation trust funds.  House Democrats who voted against the bill are concerned that it cuts too deeply in rail and public transit spending.

For more details regarding this bill, click here.

Taxes

On Thursday the House advanced the latest attempt at making a series of expired tax breaks permanent.  The House passed the bill (H.R. 4457) which would permanently extend the Section 179 expensing allowance for small businesses.  A second bill was also passed in the House (H.R. 4453) which would permanently extend the preferential treatment of built-in gains for S corporations.  The White House has threatened to veto both bills which are not expected to pass in the Senate.

 

Water Resources

The proposed FY15 House Appropriations Energy-Water bill would mildly boost spending for navigation and other water civil works programs under the Army Corps of Engineers, meeting some industry goals for the legislation.

The bill includes language that may indirectly allow barge industry fuel tax collections to be spent on more lock upgrades.  It does that by absorbing a higher federal share for one expensive and over-budget Ohio River project that is using up most annual cost-share allocations out of the Inland Waterways Trust Fund.

For many years, Congress and the administration have only applied about half the roughly $1.5 billion in annual harbor tax collections to seaport harbor upgrades, using the rest for other budget accounts.  Under the Water Resources Reform and Development Act  or WRRDA (H.R. 3080), which President Barack Obama is expected to sign Tuesday, Congress authorized phasing in stepped-up percentages of those revenues for their intended purpose, until 100 percent of those taxes would go toward harbor work starting in 2025.  The appropriations measure would continue to require the normal 50-50 cost share for qualifying IWTF lock projects, but added “except as otherwise specifically provided for in law.”

Washington Outlook

Next week in Congress, the full House will consider the FY15 Department of Defense Appropriations bill.  The House Appropriations Committee will mark up the Energy-Water spending bill on Wednesday, June 18, and the same day, the committee’s Financial-Services panel will mark up its legislation.

 

The House will also consider the Customer Protection and End User Relief Act (H.R. 4413), sponsored by Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK).  This legislation will reauthorize the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, protect customers and reduce the regulatory burden on America’s job creators.

 

Consideration of the FY15 Agriculture Appropriations bill (H.R. 4800) will be resumed later this summer.

 

On the Senate side, the Senate Appropriations Energy-Water Subcommittee will consider the FY15 spending bill on June 17, followed by full committee action June 19.  The Senate Appropriations State-Foreign Operations Subcommittee will also take up the FY15 measure on June 17, followed by full committee action June 19.