Monthly Archives: November 2015

Weekly Legislative Report Nov 20, 2015

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup

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. 

Education

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.

Transportation

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.

Washington Outlook

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.

Weekly Legislative Report Oct 29, 2015

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup

Appropriations & Budget

The House on Wednesday voted 266-167 to pass a two-year budget and debt ceiling agreement, sending it to the Senate.  All 187 Democrats voting supported the bill with just 79 Republicans.  The rule (H Res 495) governing floor consideration of the bill easily passed 392-37.

The legislation (H.R. 1314), which raises federal spending levels and expands the government’s borrowing authority, would push two of the biggest fiscal fights in Congress well beyond next year’s elections, avoiding potential standoffs with President Obama and easing Ryan’s transition into the Speaker’s chair.

The Senate passed the two-year budget deal early this morning, sending the agreement to President Obama’s desk.  The deal was approved in a 64-35 vote after 3 a.m. after a late speech by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who criticized the legislation as a blank check for President Obama to add to the nation’s debt.

The package was a final legislative victory for outgoing House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), who officially submitted his resignation on Thursday.  It also gives new Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) breathing room as he settles in to the House’s top spot, by allowing him to avoid what had been a looming November 3 deadline to pass a debt bill and mid-December deadline fund the government.

The deal suspends the limit on borrowing until March 16, 2017, leaving the next fight to Obama’s successor.  It also raises spending levels above the 2011 Budget Control Act, increasing funding by $80 billion through September 2017.

Congressional Affairs

Thursday, members voted to elect Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) as the 54th Speaker of the House, receiving 236 votes.  The only opponent was Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL), whom Ryan defeated in an internal GOP election Wednesday, received 9 votes on the floor.

 

The House GOP steering committee is expected to meet by mid-November to decide on a successor to Chair the Ways and Means Committee.

 

Under the current system, the steering committee has seats for 33 members controlling a total of 38 votes used to select nominees for vacant chairmanships, subject to approval by the full caucus.  Traditionally, Republicans have not challenged steering panel recommendations.  Some conservatives are pushing to restructure the process for awarding gavels, but it is unclear whether such changes would be adopted or when they might take effect.

 

Defense

House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-TX) told reporters Wednesday that he was unsure of what the path forward would be for the for the FY16 NDAA bill (H.R. 1735), which was vetoed by President Obama last week.

Thornberry has said the House can continue with an effort to override the President’s veto or introduce new legislation that reflects roughly $5 billion less in defense funding contained in the budget deal for this fiscal year.  While a new bill would have new funding tables that correct the $5 billion gap, an override would require a separate measure to correct the funding tables.

Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain (R-AZ) has suggested drafting a revised NDAA that could be attached to an omnibus appropriations measure.  Attaching the NDAA to a government wide appropriations measure is possible but could be problematic.  An omnibus is likely a ways off, while lawmakers have signaled NDAA should be ready much sooner than that.

Trade

The House voted 313-118 on Tuesday to renew the Export-Import Bank for four years, successfully using a rare discharge petition to get the bill (H.R. 597) past strong conservative Republican and leadership resistance that had bottled up the renewal in committee.

The measure had 127 Republicans and 186 Democrats voting for it.  Democrats denied GOP opponents the chance to offer a symbolic motion to recommit the measure to committee.  The maneuvering prevented the Republicans from offering their own motion to recommit with instructions that might have made it a difficult vote for some of the 127 Republicans to oppose.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) voted against the renewal, he and other conservatives view the bank as benefitting large exporters that could finance their own deals.  The Ex-Im Bank provides more than $20 billion in annual loans and other financing to U.S. exporters.  The bank is currently managing its existing portfolio, but can’t provide new financing.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said Tuesday the Senate wouldn’t consider standalone legislation to renew the bank.  He said its best bet is to ride on a highway bill.

Transportation

On Wednesday, the Senate extended surface transportation authorization until November 20, giving Congress three more weeks to work on long-term authorization for highways and transit.

The Senate adopted the legislation (H.R. 3819) by unanimous consent one day before the current authorization (P.L. 114-41) expires.  The House passed the bill the day before.  The extension includes a three-year postponement of a deadline for railroads to install safety technology to prevent some accidents.  The new deadline is December 31, 2018, but the bill also contains a provision for two additional years’ worth of extensions if federal officials review and approve the railroads’ plans.

The Senate passed a six-year highway and transit bill (H.R. 22) in July, but identified only three years of funding.  The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved a six-year bill (H.R. 3763) and the full House is expected to take it up next week.

Transportation leaders in both chambers are hoping they can agree on a long-term bill by the time the extension expires.

Washington Outlook

With the debt ceiling now raised until 2017 and the sequester patched through the elections, there are still at least four big bills left to clear by year-end: 1) highway bill; 2) tax extenders and bonus depreciation; 3) Export-Import Bank reopening; and 4) a Continuing Resolution to fund the government by December 11 to prevent a shutdown.

A short term, one-year highway bill by the end of the year is looking more likely since the budget deal used many of the best offsets that could have financed a longer-term highway bill (the Strategic Petroleum Reserve being the most obvious).

Since Republicans will not want to debate highway funding in the middle of the summer construction season and the election, kicking the can one year into the 2016 Lame Duck seems the most probable scenario, though the funding mechanism is still the big question.

Although the House passed an Ex-Im bank reauthorization this week, it is unclear whether or not the Senate will take it up, and the likelihood that the bank is reopened this year is low.  The debt deal makes the December 11 budget easier in that it establishes the top line discretionary spending numbers and patched the sequester, but lawmakers still have to figure out how to spend the money.