House lawmakers began debate on the FY16 Interior-Environment spending measure (H.R. 2822) on Thursday, but decided to delay votes until after the Fourth of July recess. When members return, they are expected to consider a slew of amendments related to policy riders to limit EPA regulations and other conservation initiatives that are mostly loaded onto the end of the bill.
Republicans are already targeting EPA programs to shift money for other agencies, and the chamber adopted by voice vote several GOP amendments that would take about $90 million from the EPA’s environmental programs and management account and redirect the funds to the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees approved their FY16 Labor HHS bills this week, however, further action to resolve differences between the bills is likely to wait until later in the year following a potential deal to raise the spending caps put in place by the sequester.
As previously reported, Senate Democrats have indicated that they will vote against kicking off debate on the Senate floor on any spending bill that adheres to the statutory, sequester-level framework, and the White House has said they would veto any spending bills that adhere to the current caps.
This week Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told reporters that he plans to bring up FY16 spending bills for test votes on the Senate floor “periodically” in the weeks ahead. Democrats insist they will hold strong on their vow to block appropriations measures, looking to pressure Republicans to the negotiating table on another spending agreement.
The Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday voted 16-14 to approve the FY16 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education and Related Agencies draft spending bill, a $153.2 billion measure funding a range of priorities involving health, education, and workforce training and development.
The House Appropriations Committee approved their draft FY16 Labor/HHS/Ed funding bill Wednesday on a vote of 30-21. In total, the draft bill includes $153 billion in discretionary funding, which is a reduction of $3.7 billion below the FY15 enacted level and $14.6 billion below the President’s budget request.
The Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday voted 20-10 to approve the FY16 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (THUD) Appropriations Bill which includes funding for the Department of Transportation, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and other related agencies.
The $55.65 billion measure recommends $40.26 billion for federal-aid highway programs and increases funding for U.S. aviation, rail safety and the nation’s ports and intermodal water and land transportation. The bill also adds funding for housing for the most vulnerable while improving the efficiency of these programs. It now goes to the full Senate for consideration.
As you know, yesterday the Supreme Court ruled 6 – 3 that subsidies provided through states with federally facilitated exchanges are legal. Democrats celebrated the decision and, at a Rose Garden press conference, President Obama said, “The Affordable Care Act is here to stay.”
While Republicans are unified in their dislike of the health reform law, they have not yet come to a consensus about next steps. House Speaker Boehner (R-OH) told reporters, “There was a lot of talk using reconciliation to deal with Obamacare, I’m sure there probably still is, but my point is there’s been no decision made as to how to pursue.” Reconciliation is appealing because it is a protected process, but only policy provisions that will decrease the deficit can be included. Sen. Grassley (R-IA) warned, “there are very strict rules.”
Some Republicans also want to use the annual appropriations process to repeal parts or all of the law. Sen. Cruz (R-TX) said Congress should use “every single tool at our disposal.” However, fellow Texan Sen. Cornyn (R-TX) stated, regarding the use of spending bills, “We’ve tried that before, and it didn’t work very well.”
Regardless of what strategy Republicans decide to pursue, the law is likely to be front and center in the 2016 presidential race. Presidential hopeful Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) told reporters, “It means that the most significant domestic issue in 2016, at every House race, in every Senate race and for president will be centered around whether or not the country wants to keep Obamacare.”
The Senate voted 60-38 on Wednesday to approve fast-track, or trade promotion authority (TPA), securing a big second-term legislative win for President Obama after a months-long struggle. The House voted 218-208 last week to pass the TPA (H.R. 2146). As passed, the package does not include the $700 million Medicare offset.
Fast track will allow the White House to send trade deals to Congress for up-or-down votes. The Senate will not be able to filibuster them, and lawmakers will not have the power to amend them. The expedited process, which lasts until 2018 and can be extended until 2021, greatly increases Obama’s chances of concluding negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade deal Obama is negotiating with 11 other Pacific Rim nations, which is a key goal of the president’s.
GOP leaders pushed the legislation through both chambers after the House decided to separate TPA from a larger trade package that also included the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) bill – a longstanding program designed to aid American workers harmed by free trade agreements. To win approval for TAA, McConnell and Finance Committee leaders added the bill language to a trade preferences bill (H.R. 1295) which was passed separately by the House on Thursday by a vote of 286 to 138.
Both trade bills now head to President Barack Obama’s desk for signature.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee voted 20-0 on Wednesday to approve a six-year, $278 billion highway bill, sending it to the full Senate. Senators are hoping they can pass the measure (S. 1647) before the August recess despite doubts that they can move a long-term bill that fast or find the money to pay for it. The current highway authorization expires July 31.
The bill follows the general framework of the previous surface transportation authorization (P.L. 112-141) known as MAP-21, but provides increased funding for six years. The committee handles only the highway portion of a surface transportation bill that historically has included a transit component. The Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee is now responsible for the portion of the bill related to federal rail and highway safety programs, the Banking Committee writes the public transit portion, and the Finance Committee is responsible for the funding mechanism. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) said he was working on a combination of funding methods in order to pay for a long-term bill.
Lawmakers have floated several proposals to replenish the Highway Trust Fund, the vehicle that provides money for highway and transit projects, which is expected to become insolvent in September. The fund draws revenue from the federal gas tax and Congress has refilled with transfers since 2008.
House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) is pushing for a stopgap measure to buy time for a business tax overhaul to accompany a multi-year highway bill, which could delay passage.
The panel advanced four amendments as well as a manager’s amendment on a voice vote. Those amendments made relatively minor and technical changes and are as follows:
· An amendment from Sens. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Cory Booker (D-NJ) that would give local governments and metropolitan planning organizations access to research deployment grants.
· An amendment from Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE) that would provide states flexibility in developing and administering state freight plans.
· An amendment from Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) that would direct a study on a bridge research and construction program.
· An amendment from Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) that would encourage plantings on transportation rights-of-way that provide habitats for pollinators including honeybees and monarch butterflies.
· A manager’s amendment that made various changes, including modifying language related to limitations for a water infrastructure finance program.
The House and Senate have adjourned for the Independence Day holiday and will return to session on July 7. The next Weekly Legislative Update will cover Congressional activity from July 7-10.