House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) met with authorizing committee chairs on Wednesday to put together a package of mandatory spending cuts, which may be the best chance to get enough conservatives on board to adopt a FY17 budget resolution.
Conservative members in the House Freedom Caucus have threatened to vote against a budget resolution unless it removes the higher FY17 discretionary spending caps approved in the budget deal (PL 114-74) last year. However, some are open to supporting a budget resolution containing the higher caps if they can be guaranteed that the House will vote on at least $30 billion in immediate mandatory spending cuts.
The 2015 budget deal raised the discretionary caps over two years by $80 billion – including by $30 billion to $1.070 trillion in FY17.
It remains unclear how much mandatory spending would be cut in the bill, or how much would be cut in the first year as opposed to spread over several years. A stand-alone bill to cut mandatory spending is currently the strongest option for GOP leaders to pursue. House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers (R-KY) said he would support a stand-alone bill, which reportedly could go to the House floor ahead of consideration of the first appropriations bill in April.
Senators are still working through the specifics of moving a comprehensive energy bill (S. 2012) as well as the procedural actions needed to advance both the bill and a provision that would provide assistance to Flint, Michigan for the drinking water crisis.
The energy bill would streamline permitting for gas exports, raise energy efficiency standards for commercial and federal buildings, permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund and mandate electric grid improvements.
In the latest version of the agreement, Flint would receive $100 million from the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, though the state must first submit a plan that explains how the money will be spent. In addition, $70 million would come from the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act fund, and $50 million would go toward health accounts for national programs, including a health registry and advisory committee and a childhood lead poisoning prevention program. The bill would also establish a process for other lead-stricken communities to receive federal aid.
Proponents of the deal said the cost of the Flint aid would be offset by the rescission of a $250 million advanced vehicle technology loan program for auto companies. However, Senate Budget Committee staff member said ending the loan program could not be counted as an offset because was approved as an emergency appropriation without offsets of its own.
According to a Senate aide, the Republicans are trying to get a few holdouts onboard with the unanimous consent agreement that would “hotline” the consideration of the two bills.
The hotline agreement, which would eliminate floor debate and allow for a faster consideration of amendments to the energy measure, would set in place 30 voice vote amendments and eight amendments for a roll call vote. There would be no amendments to the Flint provisions.
The energy bill had bipartisan support up until late January, Michigan Democratic Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters insisted that the bill include their aid proposal for Flint. Republicans initially dismissed the proposed $600 million plan, but Democrats would not allow the bill to move forward without a Flint provision.
Several bills aiming to improve transportation security and track terrorist travel passed the House this week. They are as follows:
- Transportation Security Administration Reform and Improvement Act (H.R. 3584) – would specify a variety of requirements related primarily to aviation security programs implemented by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and would modify programs for screening air passengers, vetting certain employees with access to secure areas of airports, conducting maintenance of screening equipment, and would require various administrative analyses and reports.
- Foreign Fighter Review Act (H.R. 4402) – directs the President, acting through the Secretary of Homeland Security, to initiate a review of known instances since 2011 in which a person has traveled or attempted to travel to a conflict zone in Iraq or Syria from the United States to join or provide material support or resources to a terrorist organization.
- National Strategy to Combat Terrorist Travel Act (H.R. 4408) – requires the President to transmit to Congress a national strategy, including updates, to combat terrorist travel and will address efforts to intercept terrorists and foreign fighters and constrain the domestic and international travel of such persons.
- DHS Acquisition Documentation Integrity Act (H.R. 4398) – requires a documented report from the President regarding Homeland Security acquisition over $300 million. Waivers are allowed in cases that have not entered the full rate production phase in the acquisition life-cycle; had a reasonable cost estimate established; and had a system configuration defined fully; or does not meet the definition of capital asset.
The Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization Act (H.R. 4441) has been put on hold in favor of a stopgap measure to avoid an April 1 shutdown. H.R. 4441 is a six-year, $69 billion aviation reauthorization bill that would spin off the nation’s air traffic control from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved the reauthorization bill in a 32-26 vote on Feb. 11. The proposal would have moved the air traffic control operation to a separate nonprofit corporate entity with the ability to issue bonds and borrow money in the private sector. The FAA would have retained safety oversight. The Government Accountability Office issued a report this month with a long list of transitional issues that would be raised by a spin-off, and appropriators from both parties and chambers have opposed it.
The duration of the temporary extension and the time frame for floor action are still being worked out. The current aviation authorization (PL 114-55) expires March 31.
Next week in Congress, FBI Director James B. Comey and Apple’s General Counsel Bruce Sewell are scheduled to testify before the House Judiciary Committee on March 1. They will testify regarding the dispute between Apple Inc. and the government over access to the iPhone used by one of the shooters in the San Bernardino, California attack.
On the Senate side, members will vote to limit debate on the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (S.524) at 5:30 p.m. Monday, February 29. On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) filed cloture on the motion to proceed to S. 524, which provides grants to address the prescription opioid and heroin use epidemic.