The Senate voted 52-46 at 3:00 a.m. Friday morning to approve their FY16 budget resolution (S Con Res 11).
Only two Republicans voted against the budget: Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rand Paul (R-KY). Cruz announced this week he is running for president in 2016, and Paul is expected to do the same shortly.
The House voted 228 -199 to pass its version of the budget resolution Wednesday, which means that the two chambers will now have to form a conference committee to resolve their differences after the Easter recess.
The Senate spent about 15 hours considering amendments during the “vote-a-rama,” and Senators approved the resolution after rejecting bids on Thursday to scale up defense spending, an issue that has divided the GOP. The resolution still contains a potential hurdle to providing for higher war funds – a point of order against spending more than $58 billion in the Overseas Contingency Operations account, which would require 60 votes to waive.
The budget blueprints now move toward conference committee negotiations. If conferees can agreed on a bicameral reconciliation plan by the target date of April 15, Republicans can move to appropriations bills and tee up other legislation through the privileged reconciliation process. The last time a House/Senate conferenced budget report was approved was in 2009.
Longtime Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced today that he will not seek reelection next year. Reid is endorsing New York Senator Chuck Schumer to succeed him as the Senate Democrats’ next leader.
On March 26, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its second annual “Greenhouse Gas Emissions Standards for Light Duty Vehicles: Manufacturer’s Performance Report.” The report notes that greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles manufactured by the U.S. automotive industry are currently lower than required under law. This marks the second consecutive model year of the industry outperforming federal standards.
According to the report, the majority of manufacturers (representing more than 99 percent of sales) met both the 2012 and 2013 standards. The remaining manufacturers have several more years to come into compliance.
Over the next few years, the EPA is expected to evaluate proposed standards for the 2022-2025 model years and determine whether they deserve alteration, given the ability of manufacturers’ ability to meet the existing standards.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which was created by the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, proposed new regulations on March 26 to rein in short-term payday loans. These loans are often used by the working poor who run out of money between paychecks and rely on payday loans to make up the difference.
The loans can carry interest rates of 400 percent or more, driving borrowers into a cycle of debt. The new rules would not eliminate payday loans, but would require lenders to verify borrowers’ incomes before approving the loan to ensure they have the means to repay it. Payday lenders balked at the proposal, saying they welcome sensible regulations, but that this proposal may harm the individuals and families who rely on the loans to pay their bills.
Meanwhile, financial protection advocates argued the proposed rules do not go far enough. Until now, payday lending had largely been regulated by the states.
On Thursday by a vote of 392 – 37, the House passed HR 2, the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act; the legislation would permanently replace the Medicare physician sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula.
However, the Senate failed to consider the bill before adjourning for the 2 week recess. Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY) said the Senate will bring up the bill when the chamber returns and said, “I think there’s every reason to believe it’s going to pass the Senate by a very large majority.” Last night, McConnell tried to “hotline” the bill, a procedure where a vote would be held under a limited time agreement; all 100 senators would have had to agree to holding the vote quickly, which was not achievable.
Senate Minority Leader Reid (D-NV) said he hopes Senators may be able to vote on a very limited number of amendments when the Senate considers the bill next month. Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-IL), said yesterday “Democrats will quickly fall in line as long as they receive votes on three amendments, including a four-year extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program instead of the House plan’s two years.”
As you know, the current SGR “fix” expires on March 31. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has said it can hold claims for about 2 weeks, which should put pressure on the Senate to act quickly when it returns on April 13.
The House and Senate have both adjourned for their spring recess. The next Weekly Legislative Update will cover the week of April 13-17 when Congress returns.