Monthly Archives: February 2016

Weekly Legislative Report Feb 26, 2016

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup

Appropriations/Budget

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.

Energy/Environment

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.

Homeland Security

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.

Transportation

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.

Washington Outlook

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.

Weekly Legislative Report Feb 11, 2016

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup

Budget

House and Senate Budget Committee Chairs, Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY), announced Thursday they will not hold a hearing with the director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to ask questions about President Barack Obama’s upcoming FY17 budget.

Normally the OMB director would appear before the budget panels to discuss the president’s FY17 request, which will be released on Tuesday.  The unexpected rebuff highlighted the hostility between the GOP-controlled Congress and the Democratic president over fiscal matters and suggested that Obama’s budget will be dead on arrival.

Energy/Environment

The Energy Policy Modernization Act (S. 2012) in the Senate fell apart on Thursday when a GOP proposal to direct federal loans to the Flint drinking water crisis did not win the support from Michigan’s Democratic senators, who sought more direct aid.

Democrats joined with a group of Republicans in voting against a cloture motion, 43-54, that would have ended debate and advanced the broad energy policy overhaul bill to a vote for final passage.

S. 2012 would streamline permitting for liquefied natural gas exports, mandate improvements to the electric grid’s reliability and security, raise energy efficiency standards for commercial and federal buildings, and permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) offered a Flint aid amendment that would have provided $50 million up front to the lead-stricken community while making available up to $550 million in loans, 90 percent of which would have to be paid back over time.  But Michigan Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters balked at the amendment for not doing enough to resolve their concerns.

The energy legislation had bipartisan support until Wednesday morning, when Stabenow announced that a bipartisan agreement to attach a version of her and Peters’ Flint amendment to direct federal aid to Flint had fallen apart.  Their amendment would have provided $600 million in federal funds to address the crisis, including $400 million to fix the city’s water pipes and another $200 million for long-term support for children with lead poisoning and their families.

Democrats promised to prevent the energy bill from moving forward unless Republicans agreed to their measure, and Murkowski said multiple times that any amendment to the bill that has a cost would need an offset for it to move forward.

Finance

The House on Monday passed bipartisan legislation that would direct federal regulators to treat municipal securities the same way they view corporate bonds when measuring a bank’s liquidity.

The bill (H.R. 2209) would require regulatory agencies, such as the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, to include securities issued by municipalities such as cities and counties when applying the so-called liquidity coverage ratio.  The House passed the bill under suspension of the rules.  On Nov. 4, 2015, the House Financial Services Committee overwhelmingly voted to approve the legislation, 56-1.

Under rules issued in 2014, municipal bonds weren’t considered the type of high-quality liquid assets that banks are required to hold as a buffer in order to maintain liquidity during periods of significant stress.  High-quality liquid assets can be converted easily and quickly into cash.

Regulators’ decision to exclude municipal securities from the definition of high-quality assets, while including certain forms of corporate debt in the category, has brought strong protests from lawmakers and local officials who say the rule will dry up funding for much-needed infrastructure improvement projects such as road and bridge repairs.

Washington Outlook

The biggest news in Washington next week is the release of the White House budget proposal and the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday.

Ahead of the budget release, the administration proposed yesterday a fee on imported oil to help pay for transportation improvements.

In the Senate, leaders will try to salvage the bi-partisan Energy Policy Modernization Act that was de-railed over a Flint, Michigan aid amendment and attempt to work out a deal to get it passed early next week.

The Senate will also vote on legislation to crack down on North Korea after the country said it tested a hydrogen bomb.  Under the Senate proposal, the Obama administration is required to sanction anyone involved with North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, arms-related materials, luxury goods, human rights abuses, activities that negatively impact cybersecurity and the use of coal or metals in any of the activities.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said the Senate will take up sanctions legislation on Feb. 10 and have a final vote after up to seven hours of debate.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee is planning a hearing next month on the drinking water contamination in Flint, Michigan.

The hearing is the third to be announced in the House on Flint’s water crisis, following a Wednesday gathering of the House Oversight Committee and a hearing next week hosted by House Democrats.

Weekly Legislative Report Feb 5, 2016

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup

Budget

House and Senate Budget Committee Chairs, Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY), announced Thursday they will not hold a hearing with the director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to ask questions about President Barack Obama’s upcoming FY17 budget.

Normally the OMB director would appear before the budget panels to discuss the president’s FY17 request, which will be released on Tuesday.  The unexpected rebuff highlighted the hostility between the GOP-controlled Congress and the Democratic president over fiscal matters and suggested that Obama’s budget will be dead on arrival.

Energy/Environment

The Energy Policy Modernization Act (S. 2012) in the Senate fell apart on Thursday when a GOP proposal to direct federal loans to the Flint drinking water crisis did not win the support from Michigan’s Democratic senators, who sought more direct aid.

Democrats joined with a group of Republicans in voting against a cloture motion, 43-54, that would have ended debate and advanced the broad energy policy overhaul bill to a vote for final passage.

S. 2012 would streamline permitting for liquefied natural gas exports, mandate improvements to the electric grid’s reliability and security, raise energy efficiency standards for commercial and federal buildings, and permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) offered a Flint aid amendment that would have provided $50 million up front to the lead-stricken community while making available up to $550 million in loans, 90 percent of which would have to be paid back over time.  But Michigan Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters balked at the amendment for not doing enough to resolve their concerns.

The energy legislation had bipartisan support until Wednesday morning, when Stabenow announced that a bipartisan agreement to attach a version of her and Peters’ Flint amendment to direct federal aid to Flint had fallen apart.  Their amendment would have provided $600 million in federal funds to address the crisis, including $400 million to fix the city’s water pipes and another $200 million for long-term support for children with lead poisoning and their families.

Democrats promised to prevent the energy bill from moving forward unless Republicans agreed to their measure, and Murkowski said multiple times that any amendment to the bill that has a cost would need an offset for it to move forward.

Finance

The House on Monday passed bipartisan legislation that would direct federal regulators to treat municipal securities the same way they view corporate bonds when measuring a bank’s liquidity.

The bill (H.R. 2209) would require regulatory agencies, such as the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, to include securities issued by municipalities such as cities and counties when applying the so-called liquidity coverage ratio.  The House passed the bill under suspension of the rules.  On Nov. 4, 2015, the House Financial Services Committee overwhelmingly voted to approve the legislation, 56-1.

Under rules issued in 2014, municipal bonds weren’t considered the type of high-quality liquid assets that banks are required to hold as a buffer in order to maintain liquidity during periods of significant stress.  High-quality liquid assets can be converted easily and quickly into cash.

Regulators’ decision to exclude municipal securities from the definition of high-quality assets, while including certain forms of corporate debt in the category, has brought strong protests from lawmakers and local officials who say the rule will dry up funding for much-needed infrastructure improvement projects such as road and bridge repairs.

Washington Outlook

The biggest news in Washington next week is the release of the White House budget proposal and the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday.

Ahead of the budget release, the administration proposed yesterday a fee on imported oil to help pay for transportation improvements.

In the Senate, leaders will try to salvage the bi-partisan Energy Policy Modernization Act that was de-railed over a Flint, Michigan aid amendment and attempt to work out a deal to get it passed early next week.

The Senate will also vote on legislation to crack down on North Korea after the country said it tested a hydrogen bomb.  Under the Senate proposal, the Obama administration is required to sanction anyone involved with North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, arms-related materials, luxury goods, human rights abuses, activities that negatively impact cybersecurity and the use of coal or metals in any of the activities.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said the Senate will take up sanctions legislation on Feb. 10 and have a final vote after up to seven hours of debate.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee is planning a hearing next month on the drinking water contamination in Flint, Michigan.

The hearing is the third to be announced in the House on Flint’s water crisis, following a Wednesday gathering of the House Oversight Committee and a hearing next week hosted by House Democrats.

Weekly Legislative Report Jan 29, 2016

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup

Budget

Senate Republicans appear likely to use the expedited process of budget reconciliation again this year to move a FY17 budget resolution through both chambers, though no final decisions have been made.

It only takes a simple majority to adopt a budget resolution in the Senate, not the usual 60 votes needed to advance most legislation.  Still, the growing deficit and election-year politics in the Senate in particular will make it especially hard to get enough GOP votes to pass a budget this year.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects the cumulative or total deficit over the next 10 years at $9.4 trillion, $2.2 trillion more than the cumulative deficit for the 10-year period covered in the previous budget resolution.  This means that in order clear the way to eliminate the deficit in 10 years, which most Republicans desire, the FY17 budget resolution will have to include additional spending reductions than were in the FY16 budget resolution.

The last reconciliation bill (H.R. 3762) was used in attempts to repeal the 2010 health care law (PL 111-148, PL 111-152).  President Barack Obama vetoed it earlier this month, and it’s expected the House will try a likely unsuccessful override of that veto next week.

It’s unclear what the procedure would be used for in the coming budget cycle.  House Budget Chairman Tom Price (R-GA) said using it to overhaul the welfare system is a popular idea among House Republicans.

Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) continues to push for the use of reconciliation to overhaul the tax system.  He said a revision of the way Americans are taxed overseas has the best chance of passage this year because many Democrats also support it.

Both chambers would need to agree on a single, concurrent budget resolution including reconciliation instructions in order for reconciliation to be used.  Reconciliation legislation is drawn up by authorizing committees based on reconciliation instructions in a budget resolution.  As is the case with a budget resolution, it only takes a simple majority to pass a reconciliation bill in the Senate.

Energy/Environment

The Senate began consideration of a rewrite of federal energy policies on Wednesday.  The bi-partisan energy bill (S. 2012) is the product of months of work between Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Energy Committee, which was approved 18-4 last summer.

The legislation contains provisions from 50 different bills proposed by senators on both sides of the aisle.  The bill would streamline permitting for gas exports, boost energy-efficiency standards for commercial and federal buildings, permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and require grid infrastructure upgrades for reliability and security.

Both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) praised the bill on the floor this week.

Washington Outlook

This week in Congress, things were put on hold in Washington due to winter storm Jonas.  The House cancelled votes for the entire week leaving the high-profile House hearing on prescription drug pricing that was likely to feature subpoenaed former Turing CEO Martin Shkreli and others to be postponed.  House Democrats are currently at their annual issues retreat.

Next week, the Senate will reconvene on Monday to resume consideration of an energy policy bill (S. 2012).  Some of the main components of the bill are expanding LNG exports and a number of grid/efficiency regulatory updates and reforms.

The House next week will return to work on an Iran sanctions measure (H.R. 3662) and a GOP override of the president’s veto message on a bill (H.R. 3762) to repeal provisions of the health care law (P.L. 111-148, P.L. 111-152).

Next Monday, February 1, the Iowa Caucuses will be held and the first delegates awarded in the 2016 presidential race with New Hampshire to follow on February 9.  Only 5% of the total delegates are awarded in the month of February.