Monthly Archives: August 2014

Weekly Legislative Report Aug 1, 2014

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup

 

Immigration

This week, the Senate failed to pass its supplemental spending proposal to address the unaccompanied minor crisis at the border.

Additionally, the House fell into disarray on Thursday when leadership pulled its package from the House floor when it became apparent the votes were not there for passage.  The House was scheduled to start its August break yesterday and some Members were already at the airport when leadership called them back to Capitol Hill, vowing that the House would stay in session until passing a bill to address the border crisis.

This morning, House leaders presented a new package to their Members.  While the situation is fluid, as of press time, a two-step process is expected this evening, with a vote on the $659 million funding bill – which will include changes to a 2008 anti-trafficking law – followed by a vote to prohibit funding for the President’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.  The second vote is expected to be contingent on the success of the first.

However, Senate Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) said the Senate has no plans to return to Washington until September and added, “If the House does pass a bill, I can’t imagine it could be cleared on either side over here.”

Transportation

The House voted yesterday to strip the Senate’s amendments from a transportation bill (H.R. 5021) that would replenish the Highway Trust Fund through next spring.  Earlier in the week, the Senate voted to amend the House-passed Highway Trust Fund bill, changing the length of the extension to December to pressure lawmakers to come up with a long-term solution after the midterm elections.

After the Congressional Budget Office reported Wednesday that the Senate’s plan is $2.4 billion short of the amount needed to offset the fund’s infusion, Democratic leaders began insisting the deficiency was due to a technical error the House could easily fix and bounce back to the Senate for clearance.  House leaders chose put forward a motion to disagree with the Senate amendments and revert to a bill the House first passed July 15.

Senators were left little choice but to pass the measure as-is, voting 81-13 vote a few hours after the House voted 272-150 to keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent, bringing a weeklong cross-Capitol standoff to a close and giving lawmakers an accomplishment to take home to their districts during the August recess.

The House’s nine-month extension relies on so-called “pension smoothing” a proposal that budget experts across the ideological spectrum have dubbed a budget gimmick, and boosting customs user fees to extend highway funding.

The bill now heads to President Obama’s desk for his signature.  The White House has said it would accept the House legislation but would have preferred a $302 billion four-year extension of highway funding.

Veterans Affairs

Senators voted 91-3 to adopt the conference report for the emergency veterans’ bill (H.R. 3230) that provides $15 billion in emergency funds to tackle the immediate crisis in health care access for veterans.

Conferees agreed to permit veterans who cannot schedule an initial appointment within established VA wait-time goals, no more than 30 days, or who live 40 miles or more away from a VA facility to seek medical services outside of the VA health system.  The bill would provide $10 billion in emergency mandatory funding to subsidize the provisions that permit contracting for medical care.  The funds would be available until expended and, if unspent, could be rolled over into the next fiscal year.

Conferees agreed to provide $5 billion in emergency funds for the VA to hire additional staff and upgrade facilities to meet demands for health care.

The agreement also would call for granting the VA secretary wider latitude in firing senior VA employees for poor performance.  It would permit the dismissal or demotion of an employee who is a member of the senior executive service if the secretary determines that the employee’s performance or conduct warrants it, and would require the secretary to notify Congress of any dismissal within 30 days.

The measure now goes to the President’s desk for signature.

Washington Outlook

The Senate has begun its August recess and the House is expected to adjourn following final votes this evening.  The next Weekly Legislative Update will cover the week of September 8-12.