Monthly Archives: January 2015

Weekly Legislative Report Jan 23, 2015

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup

Appropriations

Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran (R-MI) is planning to establish regular order with an agenda that calls for moving all 12 spending bills – allowing for nearly unlimited amendments in committee and on the Senate floor, and only relying on an omnibus as a last resort.

It has been ten years since Cochran was last Appropriations chairman, and managed to pass all 12 spending bills in 2005.   However, he no longer has the benefit of having a Republican in the White House or the widespread use of earmarks.

Meanwhile, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is grappling over how to clear the House version of the $39.7 billion FY15 Department of Homeland Security spending bill (H.R. 240).  With riders blocking recent immigration executive actions, leaders will either need to significantly alter the language or strip it out entirely to secure the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster or the two-thirds necessary to override a presidential veto.

If leaders move to pass a clean bill or continuing resolution in advance of its expiration on February 27, they risk angering conservatives by looking like they gave in to the administration.

Energy/Environment

The Senate will reconvene Monday afternoon to resume consideration of a bill (S. 1) to approve construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, and is then expected to vote on seven amendments to the measure.

Votes are also possible on motions to end debate on the substitute amendment that senators have been modifying and on the underlying bill.  Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) filed the cloture motions Thursday.

The bipartisan amendment process fell apart yesterday evening when Republicans asked Democrats to choose a handful of proposals to bring up for evening votes.  Democrats asked for more time, offering Friday morning for action, but McConnell refused.

Earlier in the week, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced an amendment that “climate change is real and is not a hoax” which passed 98-1, with Senator Roger Wicker (R-MI) as the only dissenting vote.

Surprisingly, Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) who is usually an outspoken skeptic of climate change, voted in favor of the amendment.  However, he made it clear he doesn’t believe humans are the primary driver of climate change.

Congressional Affairs

On Tuesday Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran (R-MS) announced subcommittee chairmen for the 114th Congress.  They are as follows:

  • Agriculture: Jerry Moran (R-KS)
  • Commerce-Justice-Science: Richard Shelby (R-AL)
  • Defense: Thad Cochran (R-MS)
  • Energy-Water: Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
  • Financial Services: John Boozman (R-AR)
  • Homeland Security: John Hoeven (R-ND)
  • Interior-Environment: Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)
  • Labor HHS: Roy Blunt (R-MO)
  • Legislative Branch: Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV)
  • Military Construction-VA: Mark Kirk (R-IL)
  • State/Foreign Operations: Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
  • Transportation-HUD: Susan Collins (R-ME)

Transportation

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx spoke at the U.S. Conference of Mayors on Friday, urging Mayors to propose ambitious transportation projects this year in order to incentivize Congress to pass a long-term highway bill.

Long-term highway legislation would provide the funds necessary to complete these sorts of projects, and Foxx hopes that mayors will present these project to put pressure on members to come up with a comprehensive bill.

“The Highway Trust Fund getting topped off is really not going to take us very far but putting more investment in infrastructure so that you can realize your vision will help this country create jobs,” Foxx said.

He also made a pitch for raising the Passenger Facility Charge, a $4.50 fee that passengers pay to board an airplane.  The administration wants to raise it to $8.00 to help pay for airport improvements. Foxx said mayors should be “conveying directly to members of Congress how this impacts you.”

Washington Outlook

Next week, the U.S. and Cuba will continue to hold discussions related to normalizing relations, including plans to open embassies in each country.

President Obama is planning to release his annual budget request to Congress on time this year.  In his request, which is scheduled for release on February 2, the President is expected to seek a 7 percent, or $68 billion, increase in funding.

In Congress, the House will likely vote during the week of January 26 on a bill aimed at securing the U.S. border with Mexico.

In the Senate, members will resume consideration of the Keystone XL Pipeline bill.

 

Weekly Legislative Report Jan 9, 2015

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup

Appropriations

House Republicans have begun drafting legislation to fund the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) through the end of FY15, and are expected to introduce the bill next week.

DHS was funded only though February 27 in the FY15 “cromnibus” spending bill passed in December in order to provide the GOP with additional time to determine how best to respond to the agency tasked with enforcing the President’s executive actions on immigration.

Congressional Affairs

Senate Chairs

This week, it was confirmed that the following Senators will be Committee Chairs:

·       Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) – Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry Committee

·       Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) – Appropriations Committee

·       Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) – Armed Services Committee

·       Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) – Banking, Housing & Urban Affairs Committee

·       Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) – Budget Committee

·       Sen. John Thune (R-SD) – Commerce, Science & Transportation Committee

·       Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) – Energy & Natural Resources

·       Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) – Environment & Public Works Committee

·       Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) – Finance Committee

·       Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) – Foreign Relations Committee

·       Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) – Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee

·       Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) – Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee

·       Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) – Intelligence Committee

·       Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) – Judiciary Committee

·       Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) – Rules & Administration Committee

·       Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) – Small Business & Entrepreneurship Committee

·       Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA)- Veterans Affairs Committee

 

Senate Ranking Members – Appropriations Committee

Today, Senator Mikulski (D-MD), Ranking Member on the Senate Appropriations Committee, formally announced the new Appropriations Subcommittee Ranking Members.  A full list is available here.

House Leadership

After securing 220 votes, Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) was re-elected to the position of Speaker of the House of Representatives for the 114th Congress.  Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) received 192 votes and will remain the Democratic Leader.

Speaker Boehner faced opposition from within his own party as Republican members of the House cast protest votes in favor of Reps. Daniel Webster (R-FL), Louie Gohmert (R-TX), and Ted Yoho (R-FL), as well as former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Senators Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Rand Paul (R-KY).

The 25 Republicans who voted against Speaker Boehner, or did not vote, are the largest number of opposition votes to a speaker from his own party since 1923.  As a possible hint of things to come, Speaker Boehner removed Florida Reps. Webster and Nugent from the prestigious House Committee on Rules due to their votes for Speaker.  It remains to be seen if there will be further retribution for those Republicans who opposed the Speaker.

Education

Chairs of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) and House Education and Workforce Committee have both pledged to work expeditiously in order reauthorize the No Child Left Behind law (P.L. 107-110) – which expired in 2007.

An overhaul of the legislation is expected to materialize from both House and Senate committees within the next few weeks, and Senate HELP Committee Chair Lamar Alexander (R-TN) said he hopes he can have a bill that is ready to go to the floor by late February.

Energy

The House on Friday voted 266-153 to pass a bill to approve construction of the Keystone XL pipeline hours after a Nebraska court ruled in favor of the proposed route.

The legislation now goes to the Senate, where it is expected to be approved.  However, President Obama will likely veto the legislation.

Nebraska’s Supreme Court reversed a lower court ruling today, upholding a 2012 law giving authority to the governor to approve Keystone’s route through the state.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said the Senate would hold a cloture vote on Monday evening, expects the Senate to pass the legislation, and wants it to be the first item sent to the president’s desk by the 114th Congress.

Healthcare/Labor

The House on Thursday voted 252-172 to approved legislation that would waive fees on businesses that do not offer health insurance to employees working fewer than 40 hours per week.

The “Save American Workers Act” (H.R. 30) received 12 Democratic votes with no Republican opposition.

Democrats claim that increasing the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) definition of a full-time workweek would result in more employees being forced to work more hours and still not be eligible for insurance.

Republicans argue that the current statute gives employers an incentive to cut workers’ hours to avoid paying fines as a result of the healthcare law.  ACA imposes fees on businesses that do not provide health insurance to employees who work 30 hours per week.

The legislation will now move to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has promised it will see a vote.  The White House has threatened to veto the bill.

Terrorism Insurance

The Senate on Thursday voted 93-4 to extend a federal terrorism insurance backstop one day after the House overwhelming passed the same measure.

The Terrorism Risk Insurance Act aka TRIA (H.R. 26) includes a rollback to Dodd-Frank (P.L. 111-203).  The change to Dodd-Frank would exempt end-users, or nonfinancial firms, from some derivatives regulations.

TRIA would raise the threshold on the government’s backstop on terrorism claims to $200 million, up from $100 million in aggregate losses and would increase insurance companies’ copayments to 20 percent from 15 percent.

The legislation also would create a nonprofit board under the National Association of Registered Agents and Brokers to license insurance agents and brokers to operate outside their home states.

Washington Outlook

The 114th Congress is now officially underway, with the Republican Party in control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Items on the agenda for 2015 include: the debt ceiling, the “Doc Fix,” a budget blueprint, the future of the Export-Import Bank, granting the President “fast-track” trade authority to negotiate deals with other countries, a surface transportation reauthorization (the current bill expires in May) including addressing the shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund, tax reform including tax extenders, and a repeal of at least some provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) announced that the President’s budget request will be released by the statutory deadline (the first Monday in February).  If the FY16 request is indeed submitted to Congress on February 2, 2015, it will be the first time in five years that the president’s budget request was on time.

Confirmation hearings for the President’s nominee for Secretary of Defense, Ashton Carter, are expected to begin in early February.