Monthly Archives: December 2014

Weekly Legislative Report Dec 18, 2014

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup

Appropriations

The Senate on Saturday voted 56-40 to pass the $1.1 trillion “cromnibus” appropriations package.  The House cleared the bill last Thursday.

The spending bill passed despite objections from Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mike Lee (R-UT), who advocated for completely defunding the Department of Homeland Security.  The point of order raised against the bill by Cruz failed with 20 Senators opposing him.

The “cromnibus” includes an omnibus of 11 appropriations bills funding all but one branch of the government through September 30, 2015; and a continuing resolution funding the Department of Homeland Security through February 27, 2015.  Moving forward, the February timeframe for finalizing DHS funding will provide the new Republican-controlled Congress with time to decide how to dismantle President Obama’s executive actions on immigration.

The president signed the appropriations bill into law on Tuesday evening.

Defense

Last Friday evening, the Senate voted 89-11 to pass the FY15 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), sending the measure to the president for signature.

The House passed the bill by a wide margin the week before, making it the 53rd year in a row Congress has approved this legislation.

Online Sales Tax

After failing to move online sales tax legislation during the lame duck session, retail groups are planning a re-vamped approach for the GOP-led 114th Congress.

Advocates for an online sales tax measure are hoping to focus more on the House in 2015.  The Senate has proven their support for a bill that would give states more power to collect sales taxes from out-of-state residents with the passage of the Marketplace Fairness Act (S. 743) last year.

Supporters and opponents say the measure that passed the Senate last May will have to change to make it through the next Congress.  Since the House has been more skeptical of the measure, many think it is a better strategy to have them take the lead.

House Republican supporters of online sales tax legislation met with Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) earlier this month to push their case.  While Boehner declined to bring up any measure this year, GOP supporters say the Speaker is open to passing legislation next year and that they won’t be as passive in pushing for action.

Tax Extenders

The Senate voted 76-16 to clear a $41.6 billion package of temporary tax breaks on Tuesday, sending the legislation to President Obama in one of the last moves of this Congress.  The measure (H.R. 5771) would extend more than four dozen tax breaks for both businesses and individuals just through 2014.

The tax breaks are both large and small and include the research and development credit for business, deductions for state sales taxes, and an extension of the Production Tax Credit, a major provision helping the wind power industry.

After negotiations on a broader bipartisan package fell through earlier this month, members settled on a one-year deal.  Many lawmakers are pledging to revive plans to build a long-term package next Congress into an ambitious tax overhaul effort.

Washington Outlook

The House left town last week and the Senate adjourned Wednesday night for the holiday break, ending the 113th Congress.  The 114th Congress will convene on January 6, 2015 with Republicans in control of both chambers.

The next Weekly Legislative Update will cover the week of January 6-9 when Congress returns.  Hope everyone has a safe, and happy holiday!

Weekly Legislative Report Dec 5, 2014

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup

Appropriations

The current continuing resolution (CR) expires on December 11, 2014, and while members are desperate to avoid another government shutdown, Congress needs to act by then to keep the government open.  House and Senate Appropriations Chairs Harold Rogers (R-KY) and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) said on Thursday that they are making progress on having all outstanding issues resolved by Friday evening.  They are hoping to release an omnibus bill on Monday and pass it in both chambers by Thursday when the CR expires.

Reportedly a handful of the spending bills are nearly complete, including the Defense, Commerce-Justice-Science, Transportation-HUD and Legislative Branch measures, while work continues on several others, including Interior-Environment and Labor-HHS-Education.  The final spending package could combine detailed spending agreements for some federal agencies and continuing resolutions for others. 

House Republican leaders this week have been pushing for a spending package that they have coined a “cromnibus” that would provide fresh funding for all government agencies, except for Homeland Security agencies which would receive only two to three months of funding allowing Republicans a chance to block recent executive actions on immigration when they control both chambers of Congress next year.

However, many Democrats, along with some conservatives, said they are waiting to see the fine print of the spending package before deciding if they will support the plan. Many conservatives would prefer the package to explicitly block Obama’s executive actions, but going any further than what is being proposed would draw sharp Democratic opposition and would likely end any chance of a deal on spending for the rest of government.

On Thursday, Speaker Boehner signaled that he did not expect to make any major changes to the spending measure in order to gain more conservative votes and said he expects there will be bipartisan support to pass the legislation. 

While work on some FY15 bills is largely complete, lawmakers still have to decide on things such as how much, if any, emergency funding to provide for combating the Ebola virus, as well as fighting the Islamic State, among other issues.  Under the Labor-HHS-Education title, policy disputes related to abortion, labor issues, employment non-discrimination, risk corridors and the 2010 health care law have reportedly been elevated to the leadership level for final resolution. 

A handful of sticking points must also be resolved in the Financial Services spending bill, including provisions related to blocking legal marijuana possession in D.C. and guidance for financial institutions servicing legal marijuana-related businesses.  Additionally, leaders are likely to have to weigh last minute requests for unexpected legislative add-ons as the omnibus is likely to be the final significant measure to move in the 113th Congress.

Defense

The House on Thursday voted 300-119 to pass the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to fund the Pentagon and programs for FY15.  The legislation now heads to the Senate, where it is expected to be approved next week before the end of the lame-duck session.

The $585 billion measure is the product of weeks of talks between the House and Senate Armed Services committees.  It is one of the few pieces of legislation that has always been renewed on time, with Congress passing it for 52 consecutive years.

This year’s negotiated bill was named after the retiring chairmen of the armed services committees: Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA) and Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI).  It authorizes $521 billion in base discretionary spending for Defense Department activities, as well as $64 billion for overseas contingency operations.

One of the most controversial aspects of the bill is its inclusion of a variety of public land and energy provisions, including designating new national parks and wilderness areas, speeding the permit process for oil and gas drilling, and measures related to energy and minerals.

The bill also reduces benefits for troops and their families.  It would raise the copay by $3 for most pharmaceuticals under Tricare, the military health insurance plan.  The bill sought a compromise on some platforms, such as the A-10 aircraft, which the Pentagon is seeking to retire but has strong support from lawmakers who oppose its grounding.  It permits the Air Force to move 36 of the fighter jets into a backup inventory, which would keep the plans active but reduce their flying time, pending a review by the Pentagon.  It also allows the Air Force to move some maintenance personnel from the A-10 to other airframes.

Internet Sales Tax

A group of House Republicans attempted a last-ditch effort this week to convince Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to take up an online sales-tax measure during the lame duck session.

The Marketplace Fairness Act (MFA), a bill that gives states the authority to collect sales tax from online purchases even if the retailer does not have a physical presence in the state, was passed last year in the Senate.  It is a largely bi-partisan bill, but some House members disagree over provisions included in MFA.  The House would like to take up their own version of the bill that includes, among other things, a higher threshold to exempt small businesses.

Rep. Steve Womack (R-AR) led the group in a closed door meeting on Wednesday, and although they failed to convince Boehner to allow action on a bill, he promised to revisit the issue early next year.

Tax Extenders

The House on Wednesday voted 378-46 to pass a one-year renewal of more than 50 tax breaks that expired at the end of 2013.  The measure (H.R. 5771) would extend nearly all of the tax breaks until just the end of this year and would cost approximately $42 billion.  The dissenting votes were split almost evenly between Democrats and Republicans.

The package includes tax breaks for corporate research, wind production, renewable fuels, corporate expensing and expanded depreciation schedules.  It also includes tax breaks for individuals including a deduction for mortgage debt forgiveness, a break for state and local sales taxes paid as well as breaks for teachers and commuters.

The Senate is expected to approve the measure early next week.

Washington Outlook

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) told Senators that next week could be a long one.

On the to-do list is a bill to fund the government, as well as a defense spending measure before adjourning for the year.  He also said he hopes to pass a tax extenders package, but he wasn’t sure if that would be possible.

The House passed the National Defense Authorization Act and a one-year retroactive tax extension bill this week, but still has to pass a funding mechanism – whether it be a CR, omnibus, or “cromnibus” remains up in the air.

Both chambers hope to adjourn for the rest of the year by December 12.