Appropriations & Budget
House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-TX) this week hinted that the House could take up a “clean” debt limit measure. Sessions said top congressional Republicans have been working with the White House on legislation to extend the government’s borrowing authority.
Sessions added that the bill “would be ready possibly on Friday” and that he anticipates another Rules Committee meeting this week to take up the measure. For that to happen, the Rules Committee would have had to draw up a rule on the bill Thursday, which did not happen. Action is possible early next week.
On Wednesday, a Republican Study Committee bill to raise the debt limit until 2017 in exchange for procedural overhauls and spending cuts ran into problems with House Republicans. Many members were displeased that the bill did not go through the committee process and are skeptical about some of its provisions. Others expressed their opposition to the bill because they know that the Senate will not be able to pass such a bill and will ultimately end up sending a clean debt limit increase back to the House.
The Treasury Department has been employing “extraordinary measures” to avoid hitting the $18.1 trillion debt ceiling, but Secretary Jacob Lew has warned lawmakers that those emergency maneuvers would likely be exhausted by November 3, earlier than the original date given of November 5.
The House Rules Committee on Wednesday endorsed 9-2 a closed rule for a reconciliation package (H.R. 3762) that would repeal parts of the 2010 health care law and cut federal funding to Planned Parenthood for one year. One change is that the bill will not get rid of a controversial Medicare cost-cutting board created under the law in an effort to protect the bill from possible procedural challenges in the Senate. The package was approved by the Budget Committee along party lines on October 9th. The House passed the bill today by a vote of 240-189.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said the Senate plans to take up the legislation, but the timing is unclear. The White House has already said that President Obama will veto the package.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) announced Thursday he will run for speaker after receiving sufficient support from three major factions of the House GOP.
Tuesday he was open to the speakership if the conference could meet his conditions. One of those demands was endorsements from the Republican Study Committee, the center-right Tuesday Group and, the House Freedom Caucus (HFC). Of the 39 members of the Freedom Caucus, he received 27 votes, clearing the 80% threshold for endorsement.
Ryan’s other conditions included that he be able to keep his weekends free for his family and that the House change the rules governing “the motion to vacate the chair.” In its official statement announcing a supermajority support for Ryan, the HFC was careful to note it did not support Ryan’s conditions.
The GOP conference nominating election will take place on October 28 and the full House is scheduled to elect a speaker the following day.
The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (S. 2123). The measure reduces some mandatory minimum prison sentences, gives judges more discretion to impose sentences shorter than those minimums and would make some criminals eligible for early release in exchange for participating in programs aimed at reducing recidivism.
The outcome of months of talks between Republicans and Democrats on the committee, the bill reflects widespread consensus on both sides of the aisle that decades-old sentencing minimums imposed to combat drug offenses in the 1980s have led to prison overcrowding and failed to reduce violent crime.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said, “This bill is a success because we found common ground,” who noted the legislation had receive backing from a diverse coalition that included both civil liberties and conservative activists.
As he has threatened for months, President Barack Obama vetoed the FY16 defense policy bill (H.R. 1735) on Thursday afternoon in a brief ceremony in the Oval Office. The event was a rare public veto for Obama, who has now rejected five bills during his presidency.
In his brief remarks, Obama highlighted three key areas of disagreement: the use of additional war funds, rejection of Pentagon proposed cost savings and prohibition on closing Guantanamo detention center.
Shortly before Obama issued the veto, House and Senate Armed Services Chairmen Mac Thornberry (R-TX) and John McCain (R-AZ) gathered with over a dozen lawmakers who served in the military to highlight the bill’s key provisions and give the administration one final warning.
The House is scheduled to vote on overriding the veto Thursday, November 5. The Senate can only take up the bill again if the House votes successfully to override.
On Thursday, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved a six-year authorization bill for surface transportation programs (H.R. 3763) by voice vote.
The bill authorizes spending of about $330 billion over six years but the Congressional Budget Office estimates that revenue from taxes on gasoline and diesel fuels will amount to only $245 billion during that period. Therefore, without any new revenue, the funding gap would be $85 billion.
House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R- PA) said he is working with House GOP leaders and the Ways and Means Committee to find revenue that would pay for at least the first few years of the bill and predicted the pay-fors would be similar to those already included in the highway bill (H.R. 22) that the Senate passed in July. Shuster said the bill will likely go to the House floor next week or the week after.
The current authorization for surface transportation programs expires October 29. If the full House passes the bill, the two chambers would then likely go to conference to work out their differences. Congress is expected to have to pass a short-term extension of the authorization to allow time to finish the long-term bill.
Next week in Congress, the Senate will proceed on Monday to consider the nomination of Lawrence Joseph Vilardo to be United States District Judge for the Western District of New York. Tuesday, the Senate will resume consideration of a cybersecurity information sharing bill (S. 754).
In the House, members may take up a measure to override the President’s veto of the NDAA bill as well as the Highway bill next week or the following week. The House leadership elections are also scheduled to take place next week.
The outlook for the long term is that there are three major fiscal issues to tackle: 1) debt ceiling by November 3; 2) establishing top-line discretionary spending numbers for the fiscal year/patching sequester; and 3) keeping the government from shutting down on December 12.
|This week the Impact Aid Program released initial FY 2016 Section 8003 payments to 172 applicant LEAs that requested an early payment. These initial payments are set at a rate of 60% of LOT and $700 per weighted unit for children with disabilities.
We do not have full funding for Impact Aid at this time. Last week the Congress provided continuing resolution to keep the Federal government operating until December 11. Under the continuing resolution, the Impact Aid Program has $248,568,316 available for FY 2016 Impact Aid payments. The payments released so far total $76,431,185. This is approximately 30% of the funds available.
Some applicants that requested an early payment cannot receive an initial payment at this time because of unresolved application review issues. In some instances an amendment submitted late in the season must be reviewed before a payment can be released.
If your school district will need an initial payment before the end of November and you have not requested an early payment, you may request a payment now using this link http://goo.gl/forms/8QDJsO8Wf6. Please do not send duplicate requests.
On Monday evening, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) began the procedural steps to bypass the committee process on the floor by bundling 11 of the 12 FY16 spending bills into four packages, or “minibuses,” for potential floor consideration. The only FY16 spending measure left out of the minibuses is the least controversial Legislative Branch title. McConnell could file cloture on the motion to proceed to some or all of the bills, but no timeline has been outlined at this time. McConnell also unexpectedly teed up floor consideration of the FY16 Energy-Water Appropriations bill as a standalone measure, which Thursday by a vote of 49-47 failed to get the required 60 votes needed to advance.
McConnell grouped the “minibuses” into four thematic packages, with some duplication:
- Infrastructure (S. 2129) – including Agriculture, Energy-Water, and Transportation-HUD
- National Security (S. 2130) – including Defense, Energy-Water, Homeland Security, Military Construction-VA, and State-Foreign Operations
- Law Enforcement (S. 2131) – including Commerce-Justice-Science and Homeland Security
- Regulatory Agencies (S. 2132) – including Interior-Environment, Labor-HHS-Education, and Financial Services
Democrats are expected to continue to block the measures, but the move by McConnell is intended to put them on record against the FY16 bills even as budget talks continue. As you know, Democrats have vowed to block the consideration of FY16 spending bills on the floor due to the budget caps currently in place and have blocked the Senate from kicking off debate on FY16 spending measures four times in recent months, twice on the Defense title, once on the Military Construction-VA bill, and now once on the Energy-Water bill.
There are two separate fiscal cliffs on the horizon, the November 5 debt ceiling and the December 11 government funding/sequester. If House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) does get the debt ceiling raised, the threat of a government shutdown on December 11 will likely increase because the House GOP members to the far right will be up in arms over a vote raising the debt ceiling.
There are a few scenarios that could play out for the debt ceiling in October: A grand deal – Speaker Boehner and Senate Leaders McConnell and Reid are said to be trying to complete a two-step budget process through 2016. The first part, to be completed by the end of October, is top-line numbers linked to a deal on the debt ceiling. The second would be the implementation of the budget, tax extenders, and other pending items); Boehner pushes through a debt ceiling raise with Nancy Pelosi’s 188 Democrats and a handful of moderates on his way out the door; or the Department of the Treasury pushes the ceiling date to later in November.
On the heels of John Boehner’s retirement announcement, Washington was shocked again Thursday when Republicans emerged from their midday meeting telling reporters that Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy had informed the conference that he was withdrawing from the speaker election.
The decision set off a scramble, with Boehner clarifying that he would stay in office until a new speaker is confirmed and the GOP looking for a new standard-bearer. Two candidates are still officially in the race: Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) and Daniel Webster (R-FL). Other names, including Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), were mentioned in the hours after McCarthy made his decisions public, however Ryan has spoken out that he is not interested in the job. The House GOP met again this morning to discuss a resolution to the situation.
Boehner has postponed the leadership elections for Majority Leader and Majority Whip from October 8 to next month. The House Republican Conference will still choose its nominee for Speaker of the House this Thursday, and the full chamber will vote on the next speaker on October 29 (requires 218 votes).
The Senate on Wednesday voted 70-27 to clear the conference report for the FY16 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), sending it to the president, who might send it back.
The $612 billion policy bill (H.R. 1735) faces veto threats from the administration over its inclusion of some $38 billion in extra Overseas Contingency Operations dollars, evading the defense spending caps.
Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain (R-AZ) and House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-TX) have reportedly called on the White House to back off its veto threat. As has become a frequent refrain for Republicans, the pair highlighted the provisions with wide bipartisan support, the tumultuous world picture and that the total dollar value is equal to the president’s budget request.
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s ranking member Peter DeFazio (D-OR) told reporters Wednesday that he expects a markup of a multi-year surface transportation bill just days before current authorization expires, which would ruin chances for long-term agreement to be reached by month’s end.
Momentum for a six-year bill renewing highway and transit spending appeared to be faltering last week with news that House and Senate tax-writers made little progress in talks on using an international tax overhaul to pay for spending on roads and transit. If the transportation committee were to mark up a bill during that timeframe, the House would have little time to go to conference with the Senate, which has passed a six-year, half-funded measure (H.R. 22), before current authorization expires on October 29.
House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) didn’t dispute the timing scenario outlined by DeFazio.
DeFazio expressed interest in attaching an extension of the deadline for railroads to install a safety technology upgrade known as positive train control to a short-term extension of the highway bill. The current law requires railroads to have it in place by December 31, but many railroads, including Amtrak, have said they won’t be able to meet that deadline and have threatened to suspend service if they don’t get an extension.
Senate Environment and Public Works Ranking Member Barbara Boxer (D-CA) rejected the House’s plan for a short-term measure in a floor speech Wednesday, saying the House should be moving more quickly to put together its own highway bill.
Ways and Means Committee members had hoped to get a highway bill done by the end of October but they acknowledged that no longer seems like a possibility if authorizing language isn’t marked up until the day before the current authorization expires.
Next week in Congress the House and Senate will not be in session due to the Columbus Day recess.
The Senate will return on Monday, October 19th to resume consideration of the motion to proceed to a “sanctuary cities” measure. The bill (S. 2146) would punish cities that choose to limit their cooperation with the federal government in enforcing immigration laws. A cloture vote on the motion to proceed to the measure is slated for the afternoon of Tuesday, October 20. Leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee had been pushing for cybersecurity legislation (S. 754) to be next up post-recess.
The next Weekly Legislative Update will cover the week of October 19-23 when Congress returns from recess.
On Wednesday morning the Senate passed 78-20 a continuing resolution to keep the government operating through December 11. The CR will continue federal funding to Planned Parenthood, despite much opposition from anti-abortion lawmakers and outside groups.
The House approved the CR Wednesday afternoon by a vote of 277-151 after also passing a separate enrollment resolution that would modify the bill and defund Planned Parenthood. This procedure allowed the “clean” CR to move to the President’s desk for his signature even if the Senate defeated the enrollment resolution, which was expected. President Obama signed the CR into law Wednesday evening averting a government shutdown.
Looking to the immediate future, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) plans to force Democrats to vote on whether to filibuster taking up other individual appropriation bills ahead of any broader budget deal. Immediately after passing the CR, McConnell filed cloture on a motion to proceed to the FY16 Military Construction-VA Appropriations bill, which fell short yesterday of the 60 votes needed to advance. Democrats are expected to block any FY16 appropriations bills McConnell tries to bring up until they negotiate a broad budget deal with Republicans and the White House to raise discretionary spending caps.
On Tuesday McConnell confirmed that he and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) have begun preliminary discussions with President Obama about launching budget negotiations, and McConnell said he would like to fashion a two-year budget agreement with the White House that sets new top line spending levels for FY16 and 2107.
Another factor that could affect negotiations of a budget deal is the announcement yesterday by Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew that extraordinary measures to delay reaching the debt limit are estimated to be exhausted around November 5, earlier than some experts have previously projected and accelerating the need to raise the borrowing ceiling.
The accelerated timetable could put pressure on House Speaker John Boehner to try to craft a debt ceiling increase acceptable to both parties before he retires October 30, rather than leave the job to the next speaker. Leadership elections will take place October 8 and it is anticipated that Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) will become the next speaker. There is a race for majority leader between Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-GA) and Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA).
This week all three House committees charged with providing reconciliation recommendations approved instructions to be sent to the House Budget Committee. The reconciliation process allows legislation to move through the Senate with a simple majority, sidestepping the usual 60-vote requirement for consideration.
The next step is for the Budget Committee to assemble all three panels’ recommendations into a package without the opportunity for amendments and report it to the House. The timing for House floor action is still uncertain, as is the timing of action in the Senate. President Obama is expected to veto the bill when it is sent to his desk.
The Ways and Means Committee kicked off the process Tuesday by voting along party lines, 23-14, to send language to the Budget Committee that would repeal requirements in the health care law for most individuals to have health coverage and employers to offer it to workers or face penalties. The panel also recommended eliminating the law’s 2.3 percent tax on medical devices and a tax on high-cost employer coverage. By voice vote, the committee also endorsed language that would repeal a not-yet-appointed Medicare cost-cutting board authorized by the overhaul.
On Wednesday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee voted 28-23 to send its reconciliation recommendations to the Budget Committee. The committee recommendations would repeal the Prevention and Public Health Fund created in the President’s health care law and block federal funding for Planned Parenthood for one year, redirecting the $235 million in projected savings to community health centers. The funding infusion to community health centers would flow annually for three years even though the defunding is confined to one year. The three years of funding would be offset in part because the recommendations would also repeal the Prevention and Public Health Fund, the mandatory pool of money in the health care law for prevention and public health activities that Republicans have repeatedly targeted for offsets.
While the Energy and Commerce language does not specifically name Planned Parenthood, it stipulates that federal money cannot be made available to states for payments to a “prohibited entity” for one year after enactment. A prohibited entity is defined as a tax-exempt nonprofit focused on family planning and reproductive health that primarily serves low-income individuals and provides abortions beyond the current federal law exceptions for rape, incest or when a woman’s life is in danger. In addition, the definition is limited to groups that received more than $350 million through Medicaid in FY14. Planned Parenthood fits the definition of such an entity.
The House Education and the Workforce Committee also advanced recommendations Wednesday by a vote of 22-15 that would eliminate the health care law’s requirement for large employers to automatically enroll new full-time employees in coverage – a provision that has yet to be enforced. Chairman John Kline (R-MN) said the move is projected to reduce the deficit by about $8 billion.
The Senate and House agreed to spend $515 billion in discretionary base budget authority, including roughly $496.4 billion for the Department of Defense base budget and $18.6 billion for defense-related activities of the Department of Energy. It also authorizes more than $89.2 billion in discretionary budget authority for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), which is $38.3 billion over the Administration’s request.
The House on Thursday voted 270-156 to advance the conference report for the FY16 defense policy bill (H.R. 1735). While the bill contains more than 600 provisions, floor debate largely centered on the discretionary budget caps: what if anything to do about them and whether lawmakers should oppose the bill over its inclusion of $38 billion in additional OCO funds to supplement the Pentagon’s base budget.
But to override a veto, which administration officials have warned is coming, 290 votes would be necessary. The House garnered one more vote in favor than it had just over four months ago, fewer Democrats supported the final bill this time around.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell filed cloture Thursday on the defense authorization conference report. The chamber is likely to vote to cut off debate Tuesday, when the motion ripens under Senate rules.
The House and Senate approved a bill this week that gives states the ability to decide whether to set their small group market definition to include businesses with 51 – 100 employees. The bill now heads to President Obama’s desk for his signature.
On January 1, the definition of the state based small group market was scheduled to change to include employers with up to 100 employees. The change in definition would have required those employers to comply with various requirements in the health reform law.
Next week in Congress, House and Senate leadership will continue to have behind the scene budget talks as Democrats try to lift sequester caps and Republicans try to hold their ground.
The Senate on Monday will consider the nomination of Dale Drozd to be United States District Judge for the Eastern District of California. A cloture vote on the conference report to accompany the FY16 defense authorization bill (H.R. 1735) — which passed the House yesterday by a margin not large enough to override an expected presidential veto — is likely Tuesday. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) filed cloture Thursday afternoon. The defense authorization passed the Senate, 71-25, in June.
The House next week will consider H.R. 3192, a homeowners’ relief measure; HR 538, a Native American energy bill, and HR 702, an oil export bill. Also, House GOP leadership elections are set for Thursday.