Monthly Archives: September 2014

Weekly Legislative Report Sept 19, 2014

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup

Appropriations

Both the House and Senate this week passed a Continuing Resolution running through December 11th.  On Wednesday evening the House passed the CR by a vote of 319-108.  The Senate passed the CR on Thursday by a vote of 78-22.  Both chambers also adopted amendments that authorize the administration to train and equip Syrian rebels in the fight against the Islamic State terrorist group.

The FY15 continuing resolution would fund the government at its current rate of $1.012 trillion annually, but would impose an across the board cut of 0.0554 percent to get to that level.

Included in the resolution is the administration’s $88 million request to fight the Ebola crisis, providing money to both speed the development and manufacturing of Ebola drugs and to support medical specialists on the ground in West Africa. 

The measure also extends the Export-Import Bank’s authorization through June 30, 2015, and includes an extension of the Internet Tax Freedom Act, but does not include any extra funding for the child migrant crisis, though it does include some added flexibility for border agencies to shift dollars.

Taxes

This week Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-IL) said that Democrats hope to bring up a proposal that would allow states more leeway to enforce online sales taxes after the elections.

Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY) sponsored the Marketplace Fairness Act or MFA (S. 743) that passed the Senate last year, but has gone nowhere in the House.  In order to make the bill more appealing to more conservative House members, Enzi has since come up with a newer online sales tax proposal entitled, the Marketplace and Internet Tax Fairness Act (S. 2609).  This bill combines online sales tax enforcement authority with a 10-year extension of the Internet access tax moratorium, which will be extended for six weeks starting November 1 through December 11 under the new continuing resolution (H. J. Res 124).  Still, the latest proposal is opposed by adversaries of online sales taxes and advocates of a permanent extension of the Internet access tax moratorium.

Originally, House Republicans pushed back against MFA voicing concern that it could be perceived as a tax measure, however the bill is not a new tax, but rather enforces an existing tax.  In addition, lawmakers from states without sales taxes oppose the bill.

Still, compliance concerns remain a sticking point in the House, where some conservatives have portrayed it as an effective tax hike on consumers who now bypass state directives to remit sales taxes on their own.  The federal mandate drive backed by states and Main Street retailers has been complicated by invalidating efforts to block new state and local taxes on Internet access and other types of communications services like mobile devices (S. 1235, H.R. 2309).

House Judiciary Chairman Robert Goodlatte (R-VA) called for a framework of online sales tax principles to protect states’ rights and simplify compliance in order to “render a small business exemption unnecessary,” but offered no timetable for moving a House alternative to the Enzi bill.

In a post-election session, lawmakers will have the choice of cutting a deal on a measure like the new Enzi bill, possibly as an add-on to an extension of tax breaks, or delaying action until next session.

Transportation

Several members from both chambers this week released transportation-related bills before heading back to their districts for the mid-term elections.  The bills’ are more symbolic than anything, and will be used more for discussions with constituents and as placeholders for possible action in the next Congress.

Of significance are two bills, one regarding the employment rules for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and another dealing with federal grants for local governments.

The first is a House measure authored by Reps. Randy Hultgren (R-IL) and Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) and would overturn the FAA’s new hiring rules for air traffic controllers.  Put in place this year to comply with federal employment rules, the rules no longer give preference to applicants who have graduated from college-level training courses or who have relevant military experience.  The lawmakers also say it takes too long for the agency to score the tests, leaving some candidates to “age out” after they turn 31.  Their bill would allow them to reapply.

The second bill (S. 2891) was offered by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Roger Wicker (R-MS) and would give local governments the ability to compete for more federal highway funds.  Right now, much of the money disbursed under the highway bill flows through the states before reaching local governments.  The senators want to give local officials a way to leapfrog over their state governments and apply directly for the federal grants.

The Obama administration has endorsed giving local governments more autonomy in making transportation policy so we can expect to hear more about directly funding local projects when Congress takes up another highway bill in the spring.

Washington Outlook

The House and Senate adjourned on September 18 and do not plan to return until November 12, after the midterm congressional elections.  During the Lame Duck session, Congress hopes to address numerous measures, some of which may include: online sales tax legislation, tax extenders, the National Defense Authorization Act, and a new funding mechanism to keep the government open past December 11.

The next Weekly Legislative Update will cover the short week of November 12-14 when Congress returns to Washington.  As always, we will keep you apprised of relevant events

Weekly Legislative Report Sept 12, 2014

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup

Appropriations

On Tuesday the House Appropriations Committee released its fiscal 2015 continuing resolution (CR).  The text is available here, and a summary here.  The CR would fund the government until December 11, 2014 at its current rate of $1.012 trillion annually.

To get to that level, the CR imposes an across the board cut of 0.0554 percent that applies to all programs.  Included in the resolution is the administration’s $88 million request to fight the Ebola crisis, providing money to both speed the development and manufacturing of Ebola drugs and to support medical specialists on the ground in West Africa.

The measure also extends the Export-Import Bank’s authorization through June 30, 2015, and includes an extension of the Internet Tax Freedom Act, but does not include any extra funding for the child migrant crisis, though it does include some added flexibility for border agencies to shift dollars.

The continuing resolution was originally expected to move through the House this week, with Senate consideration next week, but on Wednesday afternoon the Housepostponed its scheduled Thursday vote on the CR in order to give members time to reach an agreement on whether to include the Obama administration-requested language to aid Syrian rebels against terrorist insurgents.

The House Rules Committee is now expected to take up the CR on Monday night, setting up floor action on Tuesday.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has said the Senate will follow the House’s lead on whether to authorize military authority in a separate bill or in the CR.  Since no FY15 Appropriations bills have been signed into law, Congress must pass a CR by September 30th, the end of the current fiscal year.  At this time, it looks more likely than not that Congress will enact the CR and avoid a repeat of last year’s shutdown prior to the election.

 

Taxes

Supporters of online sales tax legislation are planning a strong push to bring up legislation after the November elections.

Key players in both parties say there will be an opening for a potential postelection deal on the online sales tax under terms of the pending House continuing resolution (H.J Res 124), which would extend through December 11 the Internet access tax moratorium that expires November 1.

It is still uncertain whether House Republicans would accept legislation that merges the online sales tax with a longer extension of the Internet access tax moratorium.  But Marketplace Fairness Act or MFA (S. 743) sponsor Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) said he believes some wavering lawmakers will lean in favor of such legislation after the election.  He and Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-IL) plan to work with the National Retail Federation and other allies to push for a package that includes an online sales tax collection mandate and a longer-term extension of the Internet access tax moratorium.

MFA passed the Senate last year by a wide margin, and the latest proposal includes language to delay implementation of the online sales tax collection mandate for one year in order to ensure that there is no effect on retail sales during the coming winter holiday season.  The new bill also would provide for a 10-year extension of the Internet access moratorium.

House Republicans have made the case for a House-passed stand-alone permanent extension of the Internet tax ban (H.R. 3086) and pushed back against an online sales tax measure.  Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) said he was putting off plans to unveil his own online sales tax proposal until after the election.  House Judiciary Chairman Robert Goodlatte (R-VA) has also looked into online sales tax issues, but has not offered a time frame for action.

Washington Outlook

Next week will likely be the final week Congress is in session before the midterm elections, and there are still three must-pass bills to deal with.  The House is poised to pass their stopgap spending measure (the Continuing Resolution or CR) as early as next Tuesday, which also contains the Export-Import Bank reauthorization to June 30, 2015, the Internet Tax Freedom Act (IFTA) extension to December 11, money for the Ebola crisis, and potentially money and authorization for Obama’s ISIS strategy.

The Senate will then modify the CR around midweek and send it back to the House for final approval, or it is possible the Senate will just take the House bill as-is.  Regardless, the CR contains the other two must-pass bills – the Export-Import reauthorization and IFTA.

The House Appropriations Committee has been adamant that the CR will not be a vehicle for controversial policy riders.

Congress is scheduled to return to Washington for a final week beginning September 29, though it is probable that once the three obligatory bills are cleared, they will leave town until after the November 4 midterms.