Appropriations & Budget
The Senate this week started consideration of their second standalone FY16 spending bill, the Transportation-HUD bill, which was expected to pass until Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) blocked progress on two transportation-related amendments while demanding consideration of his amendment barring assistance to refugees from certain countries. Leaders announced Thursday that there would be no more votes this week in the Senate, opening the door to the Thanksgiving recess.
The House also has concluded all its legislative business prior to the recess. It is unlikely Senators will resume consideration of the Transportation-HUD bill when they return from Thanksgiving recess given the fast approaching December 11 deadline when the current continuing resolution expires and the expected introduction of an omnibus in early December.
On Tuesday, Labor HHS Subcommittee Ranking Member Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) expressed her disappointment with the post-budget-deal allocation for the Labor HHS spending bill. DeLauro said the revised discretionary allocation for the Labor HHS bill is $5.2 billion above the FY15 enacted level of $156.76 billion, or roughly $161.96 billion.
By way of comparison, the Senate Labor HHS subcommittee’s original FY16 allocation was $153.2 billion and the House’s $153.1 billion, which means that the 2016 Conference level for the Labor HHS bill should be approximately $8.7 billion over the original FY16 House and Senate subcommittee allocations. DeLauro said the bill should receive an increase of closer to $10 billion above the enacted level.
Appropriations subcommittees are expected to wrap up as much subcommittee-level work as possible ahead of Thanksgiving, sending the most contentious remaining issues to the full committee so a package can be ready for floor action by early December, ahead of the December 11 deadline. At this time it remains unclear how Congress will deal with the contentious policy riders included in many FY16 spending bills, including the Labor-HHS bill.
On Thursday, House and Senate conferees voted 39-1 to approve a bicameral, bipartisan compromise of the No Child Left Behind Act overhaul (S. 1177) that would scale back the federal role in education in the for the first time since the early 1980s.
The agreement gives more flexibility to states and local school districts from the rigid sanctions NCLB imposed on schools, but still conserves the federal requirement that public schools administer annual standardized tests. Unlike NCLB, the new bill would not require that all children reach proficiency in reading and math by a certain date. The new agreement also requires schools to make the scores public and to break them down by students’ race, income and disability status, but allows schools to determine how to define and respond to poor performance.
The agreement helped guide the conference process and formed the basis for the official compromise approved Thursday. The legislation is expected to be on the floor of both chambers shortly after the Thanksgiving recess.
A summary of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act conference framework can be found attached to the e-mail bearing this report.
The Senate on Thursday passed a two-week extension (H.R. 3996) of highway and transit programs by voice vote, beating expiration of the current authorization (PL 114-73) by one day and giving lawmakers until December 4 to work out differences between House and Senate versions of six-year measures.
Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD) said that conferees have already worked out most of the differences within the committee’s jurisdiction, which includes highway safety, motor carriers and rail safety.
The House and Senate conferees are still contemplating whether the long-term bill (H.R. 22) should run six years, as both chambers’ versions now have it, or be shortened.
The Senate’s funding levels are higher than those envisioned by the House. According to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, the Senate’s measure has a total funding of approximately $367 billion over six years, while the House’s measure contains approximately $339 billion. Neither chamber has written a funding plan into the bill that would keep programs going for six years.
House Transportation and Infrastructure and conference committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) said Wednesday that conferees plan to file a report by November 30, the day Congress returns from the Thanksgiving recess.
The House and Senate have adjourned and will be in recess next week for the Thanksgiving holiday. The next Weekly Legislative Update will cover the week of November 30-December 4.