Monthly Archives: May 2015

Weekly Legislative Report May 22, 2015

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup

Appropriations

On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee adopted subcommittee allocations, informally known as 302(b)s, by a party-line vote of 16-14.  The figures would lock in sequester-level spending caps for FY16, but the blueprint would allow for an additional $86.87 billion in war-related Overseas Contingency Operations funding for the Pentagon and $9.26 billion for the State Department.

The adopted allocations would boost funding for the bills to finance the departments of Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs above current enacted levels, while trimming the allocations for the measures to fund the EPA and the departments of Labor and Education.  For LHHS, the Senate allocation is $153.188 billion, marginally better than the House’s $153.05 billion allocation.  The numbers, however, are unlikely to hold in the months ahead since Democrats and the White House have vowed to kill anything that moves once appropriations measures advance beyond the committee level.

Commerce/Justice/Science

On Wednesday, the House Appropriations Committee approved by voice vote the FY16 Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) Appropriations bill which funds the Department of Commerce, the Department of Justice, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and related agencies.

The legislation provides $51.4 billion in total discretionary funding, an increase of $1.3 billion over FY15 and $661 million below the President’s request for these programs.  For more details on the bill click here.

Defense

The House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee approved their draft FY16 spending bill Wednesday, which seems to defer the most contentious issues to the full committee markup and the House floor.

The legislation was advanced by voice vote during a closed session and would allocate $578.6 billion in discretionary spending, which is $24.4 billion above the current level and $800 million more than the president requested.  The legislation also would bar the transfer of funds to the National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund, contradicting the House Armed Services Committee, which endorsed the account to fund the Ohio-class replacement ballistic missile submarine in its FY16 defense authorization bill (H.R. 1735). 

Energy/Water

The Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday approved, 26-4, a $35.4 billion FY16 Energy-Water spending bill that would direct $1.2 billion more than current levels to programs at the Energy Department, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Reclamation, and other agencies, even as it proposes cuts to wind power research.

The total spending matches that of the House-passed bill.  Both versions would fund programs at a level $668 million less than proposed by the White House in its annual budget request.  For more details on the measure, click here.

Legislative Branch

The full House on Tuesday voted 357-67 to advance the FY16 Legislative Branch spending bill (H.R. 2250) that funds the House of Representatives and Capitol agencies.  The bill would provide $3.3 billion for the Legislative Branch, not including Senate operations, which is the same as current levels.

In funding House operations at $1.2 billion, the measure continues a downward trend in Legislative Branch spending that began in fiscal 2010.  It would provide no added funding to member offices’ budgets, which have been cut by 14 percent since FY10, and would maintain a member’s pay freeze instilled that same year.  No pay raise for House members is included in the legislation.

Military Construction/Veterans Affairs

Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the FY16 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs (MilCon-VA) spending bill, which provides resources for veterans’ benefits and programs and makes funding available to equip and house military personnel.

The bill totals $77.6 billion in discretionary funding, $5.5 billion above the FY15 level and $1.2 billion below the President’s budget request.  Military construction is funded at more than $8.0 billion and contains $163.8 billion in discretionary and mandatory funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).  For more details on the measure, click here.

Defense

Thursday, the Senate Armed Services Committee completed work on S.1376, the National Defense Authorization Act or NDAA.  The bill will likely be taken up by the full Senate in June.

Trade/Medicare

On Thursday, the Senate voted 62 – 38 to invoke cloture on the trade package (H.R. 1314).  As of press time, the Senate has not taken a final vote on the package, but is expected to begin voting on amendments and final passage at around 5pm ET today.

The package contains an extension of the Medicare sequester provider cut into the second half of 2024.  Rep. Tiberi (R-OH), Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee Trade Subcommittee told reporters, “I don’t like the pay-for, to be honest with you, but it’s the one that was agreed to by both parties that negotiated TAA and it was bipartisan, it was bicameral.”  Tiberi added, “That Medicare pay-for is not for several years, so we could ultimately pass these bills and have the president sign them and still replace that pay-for before it goes into effect.”

Transportation

The House on Tuesday voted 387-35 to float the Highway Trust Fund an additional two months in an attempt to prevent an interruption in the nation’s infrastructure funding at month’s end.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said that, although they preferred a long-term extension, but reluctantly supported the short term patch in order to prevent the possibility of more than 4,000 Department of Transportation employees being furloughed if Congress failed to Act by May 31.

Ahead of Tuesday’s vote, White House officials said President Obama is willing to sign the temporary transportation funding extension if it is passes the Senate, even though he would also prefer a longer-term solution.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said he hoped to tie a long-term Highway Trust Fund renewal to tax reform.  Negotiators will work to find funding sources to sustain an extension lasting beyond more than just a few months at a time.

Weather Forecasting

The House on Tuesday passed Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act of 2015 (H.R. 1561) on a motion to suspend the rules by voice vote.  The measure would require the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to launch a research program focused on improving forecasting, including earlier severe weather warnings.  For more details on the bill, see here.

Washington Outlook

The House and Senate will be in recess next week for the Memorial Day holiday.  The next Weekly Legislative Update will cover the week of June 1 – 6 when Congress returns to session.  As always, we will keep you apprised of relevant events.

Weekly Legislative Report May 15, 2015

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup

Appropriations/Budget

This week the House Appropriations Committee approved the Transportation-HUD spending bill, the fourth measure to advance out of the committee this year.

The House Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations Subcommittee approved by voice vote the $51.4 billion FY16 spending bill Thursday.

Labor HHS Subcommittee Chairman Tom Cole (R-OK) said he will release a FY16 Labor-HHS-Education bill hopefully before the July Fourth recess.  The House Appropriations Committee has not released even a subcommittee draft of the Labor-HHS-Education bill since FY13.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran (R-MS) recently delivered provisional top-line spending allocations to the leaders of 12 Senate Appropriations subcommittees, so members can begin the process of writing and negotiating the dozen annual spending bills as FY16 work ramps up in the weeks ahead, even though the allocations are technically subject to change.

Appropriations Committee Ranking Democrat Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) indicated that Democratic appropriators are likely to offer alternatives to the subcommittee funding allocations, or 302(b)s, that will be advanced by the GOP majority at the first full committee markup.

The numbers will be formally ratified by lawmakers during the Senate panel’s first markup, which the aide said the committee is hoping to schedule before the Memorial Day recess that begins at the end of next week.

Defense

Today the full House voted 269-151 to pass the FY16 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 1735) after clearing the Armed Services Committee earlier in the week by a vote of 60-2.  The bill authorizes nearly $612 billion in spending for national defense.

Obama has threatened to veto the bill over its circumvention of spending caps.  The bill keeps ceilings on defense spending in place under the 2011 budget deal that introduced sequestration spending limits, but would increase funding to the Pentagon’s war fund.

The legislation authorizes roughly $523 billion in base Defense Department spending. Another $90 billion is included in the war fund, formally known as the Overseas Contingency Operations fund.  It includes $38 billion more for the war fund than had been requested by the White House.  The extra spending is not offset by spending cuts or tax hikes.

Other items of contention the White House references in their Statement of Administration Policy (see here) is language meant to prevent the closing of Guantanamo Bay, as well as the fact that the bill does not authorize a new round of Base Realignment and Closures (BRAC).

Meanwhile in the Senate, Armed Services approved its version of the FY16 NDAA on Thursday.

Trade/Medicare

Yesterday, the Senate voted to proceed to a shell bill (H.R. 1314) that will serve as the legislative vehicle for the President’s fast-track authority and the Trade Adjustment Assistance bills.  Yesterday’s vote came after Democrats successfully filibustered the same legislation on Tuesday, which the White House called a “procedural snafu.”

The Senate is expected to begin debate on the bill next week and there will be an open amendment process.  While Senate leaders had hoped to finish action on the trade package by Memorial Day, given the open amendment process, consideration could slip past the holiday break.

An extension of the Medicare provider sequester cut into the second half of 2024 is one of the offsets in the package.

Transportation

House Republican leaders offered a bill today that would extend highway funding authorization to July 31, a two-month patch designed to give lawmakers more time to come up with a longer-term extension as they struggle to find money to pay for roads and transit programs.

The bill offered by Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) would increase the transfer of money from the General Fund to highway spending to $24.99 billion for the fiscal year to date, up from $19.97 billion in the year through May 31, the date the current bill would expire.

The measure comes as congressional Republicans debate whether to do a two-month extension or a seven-month extension.  Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) said the two month extension has the advantage of being scored as having no cost.

The Highway Trust Fund is on course to become technically insolvent this year.  Congress is trying to determine whether to raise additional revenue for the fund, and how.  The alternative would be to limit highway spending to the funds provided by a federal gas tax, a move that would lower spending.

Washington Outlook

Next week in Congress, the Senate will resume consideration of the legislative vehicle for the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) measure (H.R. 1314).

 

The Senate Appropriations Committee will reportedly begin marking up FY16 spending bills as soon as next week.  The Military Construction-VA spending measure most likely will be the first on the docket, followed by Energy-Water.

 

In the House, members are scheduled to vote next week on an extension of federal highway authority that would avert a funding cutoff at the end of the month.

 

Weekly Legislative Report May 1, 2015

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup

Appropriations

Energy/Water

The full House today voted 240-177 to pass the FY16 Energy-Water appropriations bill (H.R. 2028), which advanced after members debated amendments late into the night Thursday and early this morning.

The $35.4 billion spending measure would boost funding for the nation’s weapons programs, Army Corps of Engineers projects and nuclear research.

Military Construction/Veterans Affairs

The full House voted 255-163 to pass the FY16 Military Construction-VA spending bill (H.R. 2029) on Thursday.  The bill provides $76.1 billion to fund military bases and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The historically uncontroversial bill passed by a narrow margin after three amendments were rejected that would have collectively struck the $532 million in military construction-related funding the measure allocates using the un-capped Overseas Contingency Operations account.

Transportation/HUD

The House Appropriations Transportation-Housing and Urban Development subcommittee approved a FY16 appropriations bill that would provide $55.27 billion in discretionary spending for infrastructure and housing programs.  The measure now heads to the full House Appropriations committee.

The $55.27 billion in discretionary spending is $1.5 billion up from the current $53.8 billion level.  This would keep highway spending at current levels and slightly boost funding for the Federal Aviation Administration and housing programs.  The measure falls $9.7 billion below President Barack Obama’s request.  The reason for the large funding discrepancy is the White House proposal would add to mandatory spending in several programs including Amtrak and the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant program, which previously has fallen on the discretionary side.

Flat funding for the highway program at $40.25 billion depends on authorizers passing a highway bill, which means Congress will have to find a way to plug a shortfall between current authorizations and Highway Trust Fund revenues for FY16 that the Congressional Budget Office estimates is $13 billion.

Budget

The House voted 226-197 to adopt its FY16 conferenced budget resolution Thursday, winning over nearly as many Republicans as supported the House’s own version 228-199 in March.  Reportedly, the Senate is expected to act on the resolution (S Con Res 11) as early as Monday.

The plan reflects the statutory caps on discretionary spending, $523 billion for defense and $493.5 billion for non-defense in 2016, but provides additional resources for the Pentagon through a separate allocation of $96 billion for the Overseas Contingency Operations account.

Pressure from defense hawks in both chambers led the budget conference committee to remove a Senate procedural obstacle that allowed a point of order to be raised against spending more than $58 billion in war funds in 2016 or $59.5 billion in 2017.  The added war funds drew opposition from Democrats and some Republicans.

Defense

On Thursday, the House Armed Services Committee voted 60-2 to advance the FY16 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to the floor after a markup that lasted more than 18 hours, where the panel worked through more than 300 proposals.

The defense authorization bill (H.R. 1735) would authorize $515 billion in national defense funding, $495.9 for the Pentagon’s base budget and $19 billion for national security programs within the Energy Department.  The bill also would authorize $89.2 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations, about $38.3 billion above the president’s request for the Defense Department.

Consideration of the bill slowed considerably during debate over the Readiness subcommittee’s portion of the markup Wednesday afternoon, with topics ranging from base closures to biofuels.  The panel approved the section by voice vote.

Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, tried to persuade his colleagues that they should allow a round of military base closures and realignments (BRAC) in the interest of saving money.  Smith offered and then withdrew an amendment that would have authorized another BRAC round in 2017, as requested by the Pentagon.

Smith, who withdrew the amendment due to referral issues, will push for a floor vote on the language, which would establish a nine-member independent commission to review the Pentagon’s base-closure recommendations.

The bill’s readiness section prohibits a new BRAC round, which Smith’s amendment would strip from the bill.  Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-TX) opposes new base closures on the grounds that facilities can easily be closed but not so easily reopened.

Trade/Medicare

We understand from multiple sources that the $700 million extension of the Medicare provider sequester cut used to pay for health insurance assistance for trade-displaced workers will likely stay in the trade package.

Previously, Ways and Means Committee Chair Ryan (R-WI) said he was open to looking at other offsets that are more palatable to Democrats, but it appears they are moving forward with the Medicare offset. 

Washington Outlook

The House of Representatives will be in recess next week, while the Senate will remain in session.  The main item on the Senate agenda is to take up the joint House-Senate budget.

Looking ahead, the House will focus on legislation regarding national security, preventing over-regulation, and modernizing our government and economy to meet the opportunities and the challenges of the 21st century. 

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) outlined in his May agenda memo which bills he will push the House to take up this month.  Several of those priority measures are listed below

  • The Fiscal Year 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 1735)
  • The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 (H.R. 1191) – This bill is currently being debated in the Senate and ensures that Congress and the American people have their rightful say in reviewing any agreement on Iran’s nuclear program.
  • The American Research and Competitiveness Act of 2015 (H.R. 880) – to simplify and make the research & development tax credit permanent.
  •  The U.S. Commercial Space Act – facilitate a pro-growth environment for the developing commercial space industry by encouraging private sector investment and creating more stable and predictable regulatory conditions.
  • The America COMPETES Reauthorization Act (H.R. 1806) – to provide greater opportunity for American innovation and competitiveness by reforming federal science agencies and prioritizing basic research and fundamental scientific discovery.
  • The Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act (H.R. 1561) – to prioritize NOAA research on a focused program for improvement in weather forecasting and prediction of high impact weather events and to expand commercial opportunities for the provision of weather data.
  • The Research and Development Efficiency Act (H.R. 1119) – to establish a working group under the National Science and Technology Council to streamline federal regulations on research and in research universities.
  • The International Science and Technology Cooperation Act (H.R. 1156) – to establish a body under the National Science and Technology Council to coordinate international partnerships that strengthen U.S. science and technology.
  • The Science Prize Competitions Act (H.R. 1162) – to remove bureaucratic obstacles and encourage federal science agencies to partner with private organizations on science prize competitions aimed at addressing important national problems.

In addition, McCarthy noted other legislation on the docket to be considered, including: the FY16 Legislative Branch Appropriations Act, the impending expiration of the authorities under the Highway Trust Fund. 

He also remains committed to laying the groundwork for the Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (H.R. 36), and the Student Success Act (H.R. 5).