Monthly Archives: April 2015

Weekly Legislative Report April 24, 2015

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup

Appropriations/Budget

This week the House and Senate Budget Committees continued to narrow their differences on the Budget Resolution.

Meanwhile, in anticipation of the overall 302(a) allocation, House appropriators adopted a set of 302(b) spending allocations for the 12 Appropriations Subcommittees.  They are said to provide small funding increases for science programs, veterans’ health care, and the Transportation and Housing and Urban Development departments, while trimming funding for the IRS, EPA and the Department of Education.

Criticisms of the allocation plan voiced during the markup, however, highlighted the reductions in funding for NIH research and efforts to combat climate change.  Overall, the new allocations are within this year’s sequestration spending cap of $1.017 trillion.

This week’s action on the budget resolution, the allocations, and the initial action on the appropriation bill for energy and water has again brought into focus the larger issues looming in the background—that the sequestration caps will dramatically affect both defense and non-defense programs, but there will still be little progress on entitlement reform and taxes.  Thus, a growing number of members have called for another higher level bipartisan agreement such as the Ryan-Murray budget blueprint of two years ago.

Doc Fix/SGR

The House is planning to bring a conferenced budget resolution to the floor next week.  Despite conservatives’ misgivings that the recently passed sustainable growth rate formula (SGR) legislation was only partially offset, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-WY) indicated that the issue likely would not be included in reconciliation language that is expected to focus largely on the repeal or modification of the 2010 health care law.

 

Beyond the “doc fix” offset, Enzi said he was still trying to resolve with House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-GA) a number of other issues.  Enzi has said he is optimistic a deal would be completed in coming days.

 

Education

This week, the GOP version of the America Competes Reauthorization Act of 2015 (H.R. 1806) advanced through full committee markup in the House.  America Competes reauthorizes federal research programs at the National Science Foundation, NASA, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Office of Science and Technology Policy and other agencies.

The Committee on Science received over 30 letters from science organizations expressing concern about funding levels and various policy provisions.  During consideration of the bill, a Democratic alternative intended to fix many of the problems articulated by outside letters, H.R. 1898, was offered, but it was then rejected on party line vote.

Chairman John Thune (R-SD) of the Senate Subcommittee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation has stated his intent to work with the House in passing a bill this year.

Trade/Medicare

 

The House Ways and Means Committee voted 25-13 to approve a Trade Promotion Authority bill (H.R. 1890) after adding two provisions from a Senate Finance bill (S. 995).

Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) added a provision on human rights as well as a provision to discourage Europe from taking what it called politically motivated anti-trade actions against Israel to bring the two chambers’ bills closer into line.

Ryan also engineered a voice vote to move a bill (H.R. 1892) on the Trade Adjustment Assistance Program out of committee without a recommendation after Democrats threatened to vote against the legislation.  The program aids workers and businesses hurt by trade, but Democrats opposed the bill’s proposal to fund that aid with a sequester cut to Medicare.  The legislation, if enacted, would renew the program until June 30, 2021, authorize funding at $450 million and make service industry workers eligible for the program.

The Senate Finance Committee approved its trade adjustment and trade promotion bills on Wednesday.  Finance Democrats also raised concerns about a $700 million sequester cut to Medicare in 2024, but Sens. Ron Wyden (R-OR) and Mark Warner (D-VA) are exploring alternatives.

Leader McConnell (R-KY) said Thursday he hoped the Senate could pass its package before Memorial Day.

 

Washington Outlook

 

Next week in Congress, the Senate will continue with consideration of legislation that is likely to be the vehicle for a compromise measure to force congressional review of a nuclear deal with Iran.

The Senate Armed Services Committee voted 17-9 on Thursday to keep the markup of the FY16 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) a closed session.  The panel will likely roll out its version of NDAA within the next three weeks.

In the House, the full House Armed Services Committee will mark up its FY16 defense policy bill, starting at 10 a.m. on Wednesday.  The legislative session is likely to go well into the evening, as lawmakers push through dozens of amendments.

At least one of the FY16 spending bills that passed the House Appropriations Committee this week – Energy and Water and Military Construction-VA – can be expected on the House floor.  There will likely be numerous proposals and at least one late-night vote series.

The Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will address a joint meeting of Congress midday Wednesday.  The speech comes at a key moment, as the U.S. and Japan revise their defense cooperation agreement.

Weekly Legislative Report April 17, 2015

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup

Appropriations

House appropriators have begun marking up this year’s spending bills to the sequester-level ceiling set by the budget resolutions (H Con Res 27, S Con Res 11) and the 2011 Budget Control Act (PL 112-25).

The budget resolutions essentially freeze discretionary spending for the third year in a row at $1.017 trillion.  Their Senate is expected to mark up the bills later this spring.

The levels allow $523 billion in spending for defense programs and $493.5 billion for non-defense purposes, and appropriators are frustrated that the top line numbers are too low and undercut critical priorities.

Many senior appropriators this week said they are confident that pressure will continue to build after bicameral negotiators finish conferencing the FY16 budget resolution, but say they must move ahead as if the numbers won’t change since a deal is likely months away.

House appropriators are set to approve their FY16 subcommittee allocations next week, and as usual will move ahead with the least controversial bills first – Military Construction-VA and Energy-Water.  The panel will then proceed with the tougher domestic measures.

Budget

Much of the negotiations to date on the FY16 budget resolution have taken place behind closed doors, but there will be at least one public conference committee meeting on Monday, April 20 at 3 p.m.

 

The thirty members of the House-Senate conference committee were appointed this week.  The Senate named the entire membership of the Budget Committee to the conference on Wednesday.  On Tuesday, the House appointed Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-GA), Ranking Democrat Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Diane Black (R-TN), Todd Rokita (R-IN), John Moolenar (R-MI), John Yarmuth (D-KY), and Gwen Moore (D-WI).

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), said he was “very hopeful” the conference committee would finish its work quickly.  He also said, “When seeing how far they go, I hope they’ll give as much flexibility as possible when it comes to reconciliation.” The House resolution contains much broader reconciliation instructions than the Senate version, which limits its instructions to the two committees with jurisdiction over health care programs.

Education

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) unanimously passed legislation on Thursday updating the “No Child Left Behind” education law, the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), and renaming it the “Every Child Achieves Act.”

The bi-partisan legislation was negotiated by Senate HELP Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) and would give more authority to states and local school districts.  The measure still requires annual standardized tests to measure student performance, but allows the states to determine how much weight to give them in evaluating schools.

The committee considered 57 amendments: 29 were adopted, 20 were withdrawn and eight were defeated.

HELP Committee members are hopeful the bill will be voted on by the full Senate this spring.  Meanwhile the status of ESEA in the House remains uncertain.  Earlier this year the House canceled a vote on its version of the bill when it became uncertain it would pass.  It has not rescheduled a vote.

Health Care

The Senate on Tuesday voted 92-8 to pass the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (H.R. 2), which will permanently replace the Medicare physician sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula.

 

A payment patch (P.L. 113-93) temporarily blocking cuts dictated by the formula expired March 31, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services had said it would begin paying physician claims at the reduced rate Wednesday.

 

After 17 temporary payment patches since 2003 to override the effects of the SGR, which was enacted as part of the 1997 Balanced Budget Act (P.L. 105-33), President Obama signed the so-called “doc fix” measure into law on Thursday.  The House voted to pass the bill on March 26.

 

Transportation

Members of Congress this week discussed different solutions for how to replenish the Highway Trust Fund, the source of much of the money for highway programs.

 

The current deadline for extending federal transportation funding is scheduled to expire on May 31, however, U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Anthony Foxx announced on April 2, that the Highway Trust Fund will remain solvent until July, two months later than originally predicted.

 

Foxx attributed the expanded timeframe to construction projects slowed by bad weather in the winter, leading to lower reimbursements from the federal government.

 

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have expressed a desire to pass a long-term surface transportation bill, but cannot reach consensus on how to pay for it.  Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) the chairman of Environment and Public Works, and EPW Ranking Member Barbara Boxer (D-CA) this week backed a tax on repatriated corporate profits to replenish the Highway Trust Fund.  Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA) the chairman of House Transportation and Infrastructure, also supports this solution.

 

However, Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) oppose a repatriation tax unless it’s part of broad tax overhaul.

 

Secretary Foxx indicated a short-term extension for the fund would be acceptable only if it provides a path forward to a broader infrastructure funding plan.

 

Other members have floated around different proposals to replenish the Highway Trust Fund by raising the gas tax; one that would raise the gas tax by 15 cents over three years, one would link the gas tax to inflation, and another that would create a “user fee” on gasoline.  The federal gas tax is currently 18.4-cent per gallon and hasn’t changed since 1993.

 

Washington Outlook

Next week in Congress, members of the House-Senate Budget Conference Committee will meet on April 20 to attempt to reconcile each chamber’s FY16 budget resolution.

The House Armed Services Committee will hold subcommittee mark-ups on the FY16 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on April 22 and 23.  Following subcommittee activity, the full committee is anticipated to convene on April 29 to mark up the bill.

After Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-OR) joined House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) in introducing Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) legislation on April 16, Hatch indicated the Finance Committee would mark up the legislation on April 23.

The TPA bill would provide for an up-or-down vote with no amendments by Congress on the free-trade agreement currently being negotiated by the Administration with twelve nations who are part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.  Previous congressional TPA expired in 2007.