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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.