Monthly Archives: June 2015

Weekly Legislative Report June 26, 2015

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup

Appropriations

Interior/Environment

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.

Labor/HHS/Ed

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.

Transportation/HUD

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.

Healthcare

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.”

Trade/Medicare

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.

Transportation

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.

Washington Outlook

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. 

Weekly Legislative Report June 19, 2015

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup

Appropriations

Agriculture

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies advanced their FY16 spending bill on Thursday.  The $20.65 billion proposed legislation is $175 million lower than the FY15 enacted levels and $1.1 billion below the President’s FY16 Budget Request.

This legislation funds important agricultural and food programs and services, including food and medical product safety, animal and plant health programs, rural development and farm services, marketplace oversight, and nutrition programs.  Republicans were pleased with the savings achieved in the underlying legislation.  While Democrats maintained that cuts to the bill’s programs do not provide adequate funding toward our nations priorities.

Defense

After having threatened to block action on FY16 appropriations measures, on June 18, Senate Democrats succeeded in filibustering the motion to proceed to the debate of the FY16 Department of Defense Appropriations Act.  The final vote on the motion to proceed was 50-45, with Majority Leader McConnell changing his “aye” vote to a “no” vote and entering a motion to reconsider the failed cloture vote at a later time.

It remains to be seen how this and other FY16 spending bills will be considered in the Senate.  Democrats continue to insist on negotiations to revise, modify or eliminate the budget caps imposed by the Budget Control Act of 2011, which they believe provide insufficient funding for federal programs.

Homeland Security

On June 18, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted 26-4 to approve the FY16 Homeland Security Appropriations bill to the Senate.  Whether the bill is brought up for debate by the Majority Leader remains to be seen after Democrats filibustered the motion to proceed to the FY16 Department of Defense Appropriations bill earlier this week.

The House Appropriations Committee has not yet marked up their companion spending bill.  The Senate legislation appropriates $47.09 billion to fund border security, immigration enforcement, cybersecurity, disaster assistance and other domestic safety and security programs.  The measure is $765 million above the FY15 enacted level.  As a reminder, the FY15 legislation was not passed by Congress and signed into law by the President until March of this year.  The legislation appropriates significant increases for activities under the jurisdiction of Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Secret Service, and the National Protection and Programs Directorate.

Interior/Environment

On Thursday, June 18, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the FY16 Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill.  The legislation provides funding for the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Forest Service, the Indian Health Service, and related agencies.

The proposed spending bill is a decrease of $267 million from the FY15 enacted levels and a reduction of $2.2 billion below the President’s FY16 Budget Request.  Senate Appropriations Committee Republicans believe the measure is a responsible approach to promote resource development on public lands while adequately funding America’s important environmental programs.  Senate Appropriations Committee Democrats objected to a number of policy riders that would limit the regulatory authority over controversial EPA rulemaking.  Under the proposed legislation, the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule would be prohibited from final implementation.

Labor/HHS/Ed

On Wednesday, June 17, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services advanced their FY16 spending bill.  The $153 billion proposed legislation is $3.7 billion below the FY15 enacted level and $14.6 billion below the President’s FY16 budget request.

This legislation provides funding for programs within the Department of Labor, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Education, and other related agencies.  During Wednesday’s subcommittee markup, Democrats offered a series of amendments that were intended to highlight how the current spending caps may not adequately fund federal health or education programs.  Committee Republicans were pleased with the increased spending in medical research and the fight against narcotic addictions, while also including riders that would restrict the continued implementation of Obamacare.

Defense

The Senate on Thursday voted 71-25 to pass the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which lays out broad policy requirements for the Defense Department.  The legislation (H.R. 1735) provides $612 billion in funding, including extra war funding for the Pentagon that brought a veto threat from the White House.

 

The usually bipartisan bill garnered strong criticism from Democratic leadership this year for including an extra $38 billion in funds through the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account, the Pentagon’s war fund.  The maneuver allowed Republicans to bypass federal budget caps imposed in 2011.

 

Shortly after the NDAA passed the Senate, Armed Services Chairman John McCain (R-AZ) told reporters that he and his House counterpart, Mac Thornberry (R-TX), could wrap up a formal conference early in the next month.

McCain and Thornberry said they don’t believe the differences between the House and Senate bills are significant, however some variations still remain.  One of the biggest issues to reconcile will be the way in which the Pentagon buys its weapons.  Other differences between the two bills include provisions related to detainees at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba.  While both measures would put new limits on the Pentagon’s authority to move the detainees, the House bill contains more restrictive language, which lasts two years from enactment.  The Senate bill, on the other hand, would permit detainees to be transferred to the U.S. for medical treatment and would permit the administration to shut down the prison after Congress approves a plan from the president on how it would deal with the remaining detainees.

The Senate bill also includes language, added as an amendment during the Armed Services markup, that would permit the transfer of additional OCO funds to the base Pentagon budget in the event of a new budget deal that raises defense and non-defense spending caps by proportionally equal amounts.

Internet Sales Tax

On Monday, House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) introduced a new online sales tax measure – H.R. 2775, the Remote Transactions Parity Act (RTPA).  The legislation, which will be referred to the House Judiciary Committee because of its interstate commerce nexus, will promote states’ rights, and bring sales tax parity to e-retailers and brick-and-mortar stores.

Chaffetz made the case that his new online sales tax measure, which he says is an improvement to the Marketplace Fairness Act (MFA) that passed the Senate in 2013, has fully united brick-and-mortar retail advocates and online giants like Amazon and Overstock.

Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has made it clear that he opposed previous sales tax measures, and while supporters say the Speaker told them last year that he wanted to work out an online sales tax solution, GOP leaders are deferring to House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) on the issue.

Chaffetz’s bill remedies several of MFA’s issues that more conservative members were concerned with.  RTPA would give online sellers more audit protection, and phase out an exemption for smaller Internet retailers.  Chaffetz and other online sales tax advocates say that the sales tax rate on out-of-state purchases should be based on the customer’s location; however Goodlatte said he wants to use the seller’s location.

Supporters of RTPA are still hoping that the online sales tax bill will get attached to a measure permanently barring taxes on Internet access.  Even Senate supporters of an online sales tax bill agree that the real battleground right now is in the House and they need to see some proof that Chaffetz’s bill can get some momentum.

Trade/Medicare

On Thursday, the House approved the President’s fast track trade authority measure.  This vote came after the House rejected the measure last week.

 

On Tuesday, the Senate will vote to end debate on the fast track bill and, assuming debate is ended, would then likely vote on final passage of the measure later that day or Wednesday.  Immediately after, the Senate will vote to end debate on a separate package of trade preferences for African nations combined with the extension of the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program which helps workers displaced by foreign competition.  That second package contains the removal of the $700 million Medicare offset and, assuming Senate passage next week, would be subject to another vote in the House.

 

McConnell will need at least 11 Democratic votes to make up for the expected loss of 5 Republican senators who voted against fast track last month.  But, Democrats are upset TAA has been separated from fast track.  Rep. Cole (R-OK) told reporters, “We’ve made a commitment to Democrats in the House and Senate to follow up with TAA.  Strangely enough, this could be a trust-building exercise among people who don’t normally trust each other.”

 

Washington Outlook

Conflicts between Democrats and Republicans, and divisions within the GOP over government spending levels will likely leave Congress in gridlock in the weeks ahead, slowing the unusually rapid pace House and Senate appropriators have managed to set with their FY16 appropriations bills.

A breakthrough would come only if both parties are able to negotiate a new budget agreement later this year, although there is hardly any indication there is movement in that direction.

Between recent filibuster threats by Senate Democrats and the thin margin by which the House passed a spending bill for transportation and housing programs last week, there could be a halt in both chambers due to the larger disagreement over spending.

Work at the committee level is likely to become more problematic, with mark ups on the most contentious spending bills coming up in the next few weeks.  Key members of both parties have indicated they are open to another budget deal that could end the appropriations standoff, but each side appears to be talking past the other.

Coming up in the Senate, the Banking Committee will conduct a hearing that will examine the oversight of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), and a subsequent hearing that will seek to examine how FEMA can improve flood insurance management and accountability in the wake of Superstorm Sandy.

On Tuesday, June 23, 2015, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development will markup their proposed spending bill for FY16.  In addition, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies will mark up their FY16 spending bill.

The authorization for the Export-Import Bank is set to expire on June 30, 2015 unless Congress acts to reauthorize the Bank.

 

 

 

Weekly Legislative Report June 12, 2015

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup

Appropriations

Commerce/Justice/Science

The Senate Appropriations Committee advanced their FY16 Commerce-Justice-Science spending bill on Thursday with a provision directing the Justice Department to take no action against states where marijuana use for medical purposes is legal.

 

During the markup, Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Ranking Member of the CJS Subcommittee, won a vote 21-9 to include language directing the federal drug enforcers not to interfere with states, the District of Columbia and the territory of Guam as they implement laws on medical marijuana cultivation and use.  Mikulski noted that 39 states have legalized medical marijuana.

 

Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), chairman of the CJS subcommittee, said Marijuana remains illegal under federal law and he is uneasy about telling the Justice Department not to enforce federal drug laws.  Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) also urged caution on approving the amendment saying, “There may very well be a place for medical marijuana, but the research has to be done.”

Defense

Thursday, the full House voted 278-149 to approve the FY16 Defense Appropriations bill (H.R. 2685).  The legislation funds critical national security needs, military operations abroad, and health and quality-of-life programs for the men and women of the Armed Forces and their families.

The bill provides $578.6 billion in discretionary funding, an increase of $24.4 billion above the FY15 enacted level and $800 million above the President’s request.  This includes $88.4 billion in Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) funding for war efforts and related costs, which is within the level assumed in the House and Senate budget conference agreement.  For more information on the bill, see here.

The Senate Appropriations Committee also cleared their FY16 Defense spending bill, voting 27-3 to approve the bill on Thursday.  The measure provides a total of $575.9 billion for the Department of Defense, recommending $489.1 billion in base funding and $86.8 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations funding.

Legislative Branch

Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted 27-3 to approve the FY16 Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill which provides $4.309 billion in funding for operations and security of the U.S. Capitol, Congress and support agencies.  This is an increase of $9 million (0.2 percent) above the FY15 enacted level, and $220 million (5 percent) below the FY16 budget request.  The legislation includes a provision to freeze the pay of Members of Congress, preventing any pay increases in FY16.  A freeze on Members’ salaries has been in place since 2010.

 

State and Foreign Operations

The House Appropriations Committee on Thursday approved the FY16 State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill by voice vote.  The legislation funds the State Department and foreign assistance – prioritizing funding for American security efforts abroad, as well as critical humanitarian aid to areas facing war, conflict, and instability. The bill also supports activities to increase stability and security in areas such as the Middle East, Ukraine, and Latin America, and targets funds to embassy security, global health, refugee, and democracy programs.  The bill provides a total of $47.8 billion in both regular discretionary and Global War on Terror (GWOT) funding.

Transportation/HUD

The full House voted 216-210 to approve the FY16 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development funding bill (H.R. 2577) on Tuesday.

 

In total, the bill reflects an allocation of $55.3 billion in discretionary spending for the Department of Transportation, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and other related agencies.  This is an increase of $1.5 billion above FY15 and $9.7 billion below the President’s budget request.  However, given reduced offsets – primarily caused by a $1.1 billion decline in Federal Housing Administration receipts – the bill actually represents an increase of only $25 million above the current level.  For details on the legislation, click here.

Defense

The Senate spent the week debating the FY16 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  Despite devoting the full week to the bill, little progress was made towards addressing amendments filed to the bill.

The week featured only three roll call votes, an amendment to transfer funding from the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account to the “base budget,” a procedural vote regarding an amendment to re-authorize the U.S. Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im), and a procedural vote on the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act.  The amendment offered by Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) to transfer funds from the OCO account to the base budget failed along party lines, 46-51.

An effort to table or break off debate on the re-authorization of the U.S. Ex-Im Bank failed on a vote of 31-65.  The sponsors of the measure then withdrew their amendment after having demonstrated strong Senate support for re-authorizing the bank.  Finally, the Senate failed to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to an amendment offered by Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) that incorporated the legislation passed by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence regarding cyber security.  The measured was reported out of committee on a 14-1 vote.

Among other things, the legislation would provide liability protection for companies monitoring networks and sharing information on cyber threats.  However, Senate Democrats objected to this legislative maneuver and, after having their own counteroffer rejected by the Majority Leader, the Senate failed to invoke cloture on a 56-40 vote.

Under Senate procedure, 60 are required to invoke cloture.  The Senate will resume debate on the NDAA next week, with two cloture votes pending on the legislation.  These votes will reveal if additional progress is or is not possible on the bill.
Internet Sales Tax

Senate Budget Chairman Michael Enzi (R-WY) said Tuesday that he would push for a summer vote on an online sales tax collection mandate as an amendment to a House-passed proposal to provide a permanent extension of a ban on Internet access tax (H.R. 235) that expires October 1.

 

Enzi’s bill, the Marketplace Fairness Act of 2015 (S. 698) or MFA would require the collection of state and local sales taxes on out-of-state, or remote, online vendors.  The House passed the permanent Internet access tax ban (H.R. 235) by voice vote on Tuesday.  A previous version of MFA had bi-partisan support and was approved by the Senate in 2013, but died in the House after some lawmakers voiced concern about the complexity of sales tax compliance and potential political fallout from consumers.

 

Several Senators, particularly those from states without a statewide sales tax, want to vote on a clean permanent Internet access tax ban and are concerned MFA would hurt some vendors and slow the growth of online commerce.  Enzi said he’s hoping to broker a final deal among key players in both chambers before the current Internet access tax moratorium (P.L.113-235) expires September 30.

 

In the House, Judiciary Chairman Robert Goodlatte (R-VA) said he was continuing to weigh several options in the hope of working out an agreement.  He opposes some of the provisions in the Enzi bill but has gotten little traction with a draft proposal aimed at allowing a remote vendor’s home state to collect any sales taxes on every online transaction and distribute the proceeds to the buyer’s home state.

 

House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) has authored his own Internet sales tax bill to be introduced next week.  His bill is called the “Remote Transaction Parity Act,” and is similar to Enzi’s proposal, but would have a few differences like streamlining potential audits of remote vendors and expediting tax collection.

 

Trade/Medicare

On Thursday, the House voted 397-32 on a bill to renew trade preference programs for developing countries.  The bill served as a vehicle for eliminating the $700 million Medicare offset to pay for a separate worker assistance program that is part of the trade package.

 

However, this afternoon, in a staggering blow to President Obama’s trade agenda, the House easily defeated the trade package by a vote of 126-302.  The aid package was critical to securing Democratic support for fast-track trade authority for the president, which he’s seeking to complete the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact.  The President has been lobbying heavily for the fast track authority – to the point where he attended the Congressional baseball game last night and went up to Capitol Hill this morning.

 

Washington Outlook

 

Both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have been working on the FY16 spending bills, the status of those measures are as follows:

 

In the Senate, the full Appropriations Committee has considered the Commerce, Justice, Science, Defense, Energy and Water, Legislative Branch, and Military Construction-VA spending bills.

 

The FY16 Appropriations bills that are still on the docket are Agriculture, Financial Services, State & Foreign Operations, and Transportation-HUD. The Homeland Security and Interior spending bills are scheduled to be considered by subcommittee on June 16. The Labor, Health & Human Services spending bill is reportedly going to be considered in subcommittee on June 23 and in full committee June 25.

 

In the House, the Financial Services appropriations bill has been considered by the subcommittee and the full committee is slated to consider on June 17.  The Interior appropriations bill has also been considered by subcommittee and the full committee will consider on June 16.

 

The State & Foreign Operations spending bill has been considered by full committee, and Commerce, Justice, Science; Defense; Energy & Water; Legislative Branch; Military Construction-VA and Transportation-HUD have all passed the House floor.

 

The House has not yet considered the Agriculture, Homeland Security and Labor/HHS spending bills, but the Labor/HHS Appropriations Subcommittee is scheduled to consider the measure on June 17.

 

Weekly Legislative Report June 5, 2015

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup

Appropriations

Commerce/Justice/Science

The full House voted 242-183 on Wednesday to clear the $51.4 billion Commerce-Justice-Science FY16 spending bill (H.R. 2578).  The measure provides funding for the Justice Department, Commerce Department the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and related agencies.

The House considered several amendments and passed a proposal that would add $10 million to increase police use of body cameras in the new $53 million community trust program for criminal justice reform by voice vote.  The provision would take money from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to increase funding to half of the $50 million the administration requested for FY16.  Another amendment proposed by Rep. Dave Reichert (R-WA) would shift $100 million from the Census Bureau to the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) for grants to local governments for hiring and training of new police officers passed by voice vote in an effort to continue the hiring portion of the Community Oriented Policing Service (COPS) program eliminated by the bill.

 

Defense

The House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday approved the FY16 Defense spending bill by voice vote.  The measure funds national security needs, military operations abroad, and health and quality-of-life programs for the men and women of the Armed Forces and their families.

 

In total, the bill provides $578.6 billion in discretionary funding, an increase of $24.4 billion above the FY15 enacted level and $800 million above the President’s request. This includes $88.4 billion in Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) funding for war efforts and related costs, which is within the level assumed in the House and Senate budget conference agreement.

The bill will now head to the House floor for consideration.

Transportation/HUD

On Wednesday, June 3, the House began consideration of the Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for FY16 (H.R. 2577).  The bill would provide $55.3 billion in budgetary authority for the Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development for FY16.  This is an increase of $1.5 billion above FY15 spending levels, and $9.7 billion below the President’s FY16 budget request.

The House is expected to wrap up further consideration of the THUD spending bill next Tuesday.

Environment

On Wednesday, May 27, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in conjunction with the Army Corps of Engineers (COE) finalized the long anticipated Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule.  The final rule will expand the scope of waters protected under the Clean Water Act (CWA) to include updated definitions for “tributaries” and “adjacent waters.”

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-OK) is planning to hold a committee markup this summer on S. 1140, the Federal Water Quality Protection Act.  This legislation would revise the unprecedented regulatory definitions proposed in WOTUS.

In May 2015, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1732, the Regulatory Integrity Protection Act, which would require the EPA and COE to withdraw WOTUS and begin a new round of public comments to issue a new proposal.  The House also included language in the FY16 Energy-Water Appropriations Bill to withhold funds to implement the WOTUS rule as proposed.

Intelligence

On Sunday, May 31, the Senate resumed debate on extending the expiring authorities used by law enforcement and the intelligence community to combat threats to the United States and its citizens.  Sections 206 (roving wiretap authority), Section 6001 (lone wolf provisions), and Section 215 (collection of bulk domestic telephone data) are the three provisions that have been at the center of the debate between proponents and opponents of the Patriot Act.

Because the Senate failed to approve by unanimous consent the expiring provisions of the Patriot Act on Sunday afternoon, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was forced to call up the House-passed bill that authorizes reforms to the current domestic terror provisions.  The Senate did approve the motion to invoke cloture to proceed to H.R. 2048, the House-passed USA Freedom Act, on a vote of 77-17.

However, because the Senate was not able to renew the expiring authorities under the Patriot Act before the end of the day, these authorities lapsed at midnight on Monday, June 1.  On Tuesday, June 2, the Senate invoked cloture on the bill on a vote of 83-14, and then passed the legislation later that day on a vote of 67-32.

The President quickly signed the bill into law later that evening.  The biggest difference between the Patriot Act and the new law is that the government’s telephone data collection effort (Sec. 215) will end in six months.  Under the new law, telephone companies will retain telephone data information and the National Security Agency (NSA) will only be able to access this information with a court order.

Defense

On Wednesday, June 3, the Senate began debate on the FY16 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  The measure authorizes funding for military programs and activities of the Department of Defense, as well as military construction projects, and the weapons activities of Department of Energy.

Democrats object to efforts by the Senate Committee on Armed Services to circumvent the Budget Control Act (BCA) caps established for defense and non-defense spending in the FY16 NDAA, specifically over an additional $38 billion included in the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account of the bill.

These additional funds do not count against the BCA caps as they are exempted for ongoing overseas military operations.  Democrats argue that these additional $38 billion in funds should be included in the base bill and not provided an exemption as part of the OCO account.  Democrats are using this issue as a talking point in efforts to replace the sequestration mechanism contained in the BCA of 2011.  They worry that domestic spending priorities will suffer as a similar OCO mechanism does not exist for the domestic spending priorities they support.

Citing the OCO funding maneuver, a lack of authorization for additional military base closure rounds, and the status of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, the Office of Management & Budget is recommending the President veto the Senate’s legislation.  It is anticipated that the Senate’s debate on this legislation will continue until the end of next week.  It is unclear if Senate Democrats will filibuster the bill to express their displeasure with the spending levels established under the BCA.

Trade/Medicare

The House may vote as early as next week on the trade package passed by the Senate before the Memorial Day recess.  On Thursday, House Minority Leader Pelosi (D-CA) raised strong objections to the Medicare pay-for used to offset the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, which helps US workers negatively affected by the trade deal.  A transcript of Pelosi’s remarks is available here.

 

Washington Outlook

 

Next week in Congress, the Senate is slated to markup several appropriations bills.  The Defense Appropriation Subcommittee will mark up their bill next Tuesday, and the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) Appropriations Subcommittee will mark up their bill on Wednesday.  The full Appropriations Committee will mark up Defense, CJS, and Legislative Branch spending bills on Thursday.

 

The Senate will also continue debate on the FY16 NDAA bill next week.

 

In the House, members are considering the Transportation-HUD spending bill, with a vote by the full house expected next week.  The Foreign Operations spending bill was considered in subcommittee this week and will likely be voted on by the full committee next week.  A markup of the Interior and Environment Appropriations Bill will take place by the Subcommittee next Wednesday.

The House this month is also planning to act on several bills from the Ways and Means Committee that reduce the costs of Obamacare, stop Medicare rationing, and improve the Medicare Advantage (MA) program.  In addition, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is hoping to end the month with several bills from the Energy and Commerce Committee which will protect consumers from burdensome and costly EPA regulations, keep the decision power in the hands of the states, and help modernize outdated laws.