Monthly Archives: March 2016

Weekly Legislative Report Apr 15, 2016

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup

Department of Defense Infrastructure Capacity March 2016 report – click here

Appropriations

The House Military Construction-VA Appropriations Subcommittee approved its FY17 draft spending measure on Wednesday by voice vote.

The draft measure provides $81.6 billion and relies on the discretionary spending level set in a two-year budget agreement signed into law in November (PL 114-74).  Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers (R-KY) gave the subcommittee a “notional” discretionary spending level that adheres to the budget agreement’s $1.070 trillion topline across all 12 appropriations bills.

The bill would provide funds for the Department of Veterans Affairs benefits and healthcare programs as well as the Pentagon’s military construction accounts, including housing for military families.  The Military Construction-VA appropriations bill also receives a slice of the Overseas Contingency Operations account, a war fund.  The appropriations committee said Tuesday that $172 million is provided for OCO and European Reassurance Initiative projects.  Most of the discretionary funding goes to the VA.  Medical services at the department are funded at $52.5 billion.

The measure will go to the full appropriations committee when the House returns from its spring break, with a target date around April 13.

On the Senate side, Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY) has indicated he intends to devote significant floor time to the Appropriations bills this spring, and we anticipate Subcommittee and Full Committee markups to begin mid-April.

Budget

As you know, lawmakers have started the appropriations process without any agreement on an overall budget.  House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said no spending bills will move to the House floor until there is a budget resolution, but appropriators are proceeding with committee work in case a budget never materializes.

A budget resolution passed out of the House Budget Committee last week, but the conservative freedom caucus is insisting that mandatory cuts be attached alongside the budget.  Many expect any cuts to entitlements would be blocked in the Senate, where Democrats could threaten a filibuster.

Transportation

The Senate passed their version of a short term Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization which extended FAA programs and the Airport and Airway Trust Fund collection authority to July 15, 2016.

This week, the House passed the Senate version by voice vote.  Next, goes to the President’s desk where he is expected to sign ahead of the March 31st deadline (when current FAA authorities expire).

Now that the House has passed the extension, Congress will have just over 3 months to come to a solution before the new July deadline.  Congress could choose to enact another short-term patch of FAA authorities, or consider a long-term FAA bill.   The full Senate is scheduled to consider S.2658, the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act, when they return from Easter recess in April.  S. 2658 would extend FAA authorities to September 2017.

Washington Outlook

The House recessed on Wednesday for Easter break and will return April 12.

The Senate adjourned last Friday and will return April 4.  Both chambers will be out for the remainder of March.

The next Weekly Legislative Update will cover the week of April 4-8.

 

Weekly Legislative Report Mar 18, 2016

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup

Appropriations/Budget

The House Budget Committee on Wednesday night voted 20-16 to report out the FY17 budget resolution.

Also Wednesday evening, the House Ways and Means Committee approved, with party-line votes, three measures that provide about $98 billion in spending cuts and offsets over 10 years, including a proposal to deny benefits to undocumented workers by requiring a Social Security number for the refundable child tax credit.

Although the House budget panel easily cleared the spending blueprint, the House Freedom Caucus still threatens the bill’s fate and is unhappy with the $1.07 trillion spending levels in the bill, which are $30 billion higher than last year.  Those figures were cemented into law last fall as part of a deal between President Obama and former House Speaker John Boehner.

Without support from the 40-member Freedom Caucus, the trillion-dollar budget proposal will come up short on the House floor.  The House GOP can only afford to lose 28 votes to ensure a bill’s passage without Democratic support.

The House is postponing consideration of the FY17 budget resolution until after the spring recess, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) announced.

House appropriators are moving ahead, however, with a markup expected Wednesday, March 23 of the Military Construction-VA spending bill.  The Senate Appropriations Committee is expected to hold its first full committee markup of FY17 on April 14, also on the Military Construction-VA bill. 

Education

On Monday, March 14, the Senate voted 49-40 to confirm John King, Jr. as Secretary of Education.

The full Senate vote came after the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee voted in favor of his confirmation.  King has been serving as Acting Secretary of Education since January, after former Secretary Arne Duncan stepped down at the end of last year.

Health Care

On Wednesday, the Senate HELP Committee approved by voice vote the following 5 bills on mental health and addiction:

  • ]S. 2680, Mental Health Reform Act of 2016
  • S. 1455, The Recovery Enhancement for Addiction Treatment Act
  • S. 2256, Co-Prescribing Saves Lives Act of 2015
  • S. 480, National All Schedules Prescription Electronic Reporting
  • S. 2687, Plan of Safe Care Improvement Act

At the close of the markup, Chairman Alexander (R-TN) said that Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY) has promised Floor time if Committees send him legislation that is bipartisan and likely to be signed by the President.  McConnell said these bills meet those characteristics and would be ready to go as early as when the Senate returns from its spring recess in early April. 

Earlier in the markup, Alexander referenced the passage of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) by the Senate last week and said the Senate Finance and Judiciary Committees are also working on mental health/addiction legislation.  Alexander had previously said that each Committee would work on issues within its jurisdiction and then the bills would likely be combined on the Floor.

Transportation

The Senate on Thursday passed by unanimous consent a four-month extension of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) programs and related taxes.

The Senate adopted a substitute amendment to the House aviation extension (H.R. 4721) which passed on Monday.  The difference between the two bills is the expiration of the revenue-raising provisions. 

Thursday’s Senate action moves the legislation back to the House which will need to act by the March 31 expiration of current authorization (PL 114-55) to prevent FAA authority from lapsing.

The two chambers are working on a bill that will buy them time to work on long-term aviation programs.

Washington Outlook

Next week in Congress the House will be in session Monday – Wednesday before departing Washington for a two-week Easter recess.  House votes after the recess won’t be until April 12.

Apart from noncontroversial suspension bills, Majority Leader McCarthy listed only one other piece of legislation — regarding antitrust laws — for next week’s floor schedule.

The Senate has adjourned for the Easter recess and return April 4th.

Weekly Legislative Report Mar 11, 2016

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup

Budget

Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX), Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and other House authorizing committee chairmen are getting ready to mark up their portions of a standalone package of mandatory program cuts starting next week, if the decision is made to go forward with a FY17 budget resolution.

On Thursday, Brady made public a package of three bills (see here) that he said would decrease the national debt, reduce fraud and reduce spending.  He said the three measures, part of the panel’s package to be considered next week, would trim spending by $16.5 billion over two fiscal years and $98 billion over 10 years.  Upton also announced $25 billion in savings over 10 years (see here) by eliminating the Prevention and Public Health Fund created under the 2010 health care law (PL 111-148, PL 111-152), reducing Medicaid reimbursements to states for prisoners and scaling back the federal match for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, among other proposals.

Finding at least $30 billion in savings over two years and more than $100 billion over a decade has become the key to getting enough Republican support in the House to adopt a budget resolution  at the higher discretionary spending cap levels enacted in last year’s budget deal (PL 114-74).

The Energy and Commerce markup is scheduled to begin with opening statements at 5 p.m. Monday, reconvening at 10 a.m. Tuesday.  Ways and Means is planning a markup at 3 p.m. Wednesday.

In the meantime the Senate is pressing ahead with plans to move FY17 appropriations bills without a budget resolution. Budget Committee Chairman Michael Enzi (R-WY) announced this week that his committee wouldn’t consider a budget resolution this month.  Enzi didn’t rule out returning to a budget resolution in coming months, but he suggested in a statement that the Senate could live without one this year, since last year’s bipartisan budget deal already established broad limits for defense and non-defense discretionary spending.

Senate appropriators confirmed that they expect to receive the spending allocations for each subcommittee around April 15, which would allow subcommittees to begin writing their respective FY17 spending bills.

Education

Wednesday, the Senate Heath, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee advanced the nomination of John B. King Jr. for Education Secretary by a vote of 16 to 6.

King was initially expected to serve for the remainder of the Obama administration as acting secretary, but HELP Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) urged President Barack Obama to nominate someone to helm the department during the implementation of the K-12 education law Every Student Succeeds Act (PL114-95), a successor to No Child Left Behind that gives states and districts control over school standards.

While lawmakers and advocates have voiced concerns that the Department of Education might overstep congressional intent and try to manipulate what programs states adopt, senators at King’s hearing before the committee on February 25 seemed content with his assertions that he intends to give states and localities the leeway they need to establish their own standards.

Health Care

Yesterday, by a vote of 94 – 1 the Senate approved S. 524, Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA).  Sen. Sasse (R-NE) was the only senator who voted against the legislation.  CARA is designed to help curb the nation’s opioid drug and heroin epidemic.

Before the Senate voted, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said CARA “will help tackle this crisis by expanding education and prevention initiatives, improving treatment programs and bolstering law enforcement efforts.”

CARA now moves to the House for consideration.  Senators are hoping that the strong vote will prompt the House to take up the bill without a lengthy Committee process.  However, House staff report they have a lot of Member interest in this issue and they may want an opportunity to review it.  Staff for the House Energy and Commerce Committee indicated the Committee may consider bills addressing the opioid misuse and overdose epidemic in late April or May.

Transportation

Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) introduced the Airport and Airway Extension Act (H.R. 4721) on Thursday.  The bill would extend the authorization of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) programs through July 15, 2016 and also extends key revenue provisions through March 31, 2017.

H.R. 4721 was released a day after leaders of the Senate Commerce Committee introduced legislation to reauthorize FAA programs through September 30, 2017.  The committee will vote on its bill on Wednesday.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed legislation last month that would fund the FAA until 2022.  But that bill has drawn criticism from many Democrats and aviation groups because it includes a plan to separate the air traffic control system from the aviation agency.

Absent an extension, authority for FAA programs and the taxes would expire at the end of this month.

Washington Outlook

Next week in Congress, the Senate is expected to begin consideration of the nomination of John B. King to be Secretary of Education on Monday.  The Senate is expected to vote on the nomination at roughly 5:30 p.m.

In the House, Tuesday and Wednesday have been blocked out for a possible markup of the budget resolution, but Wednesday is more likely.  That would provide additional time to build support for the budget plan.  A special House GOP conference meeting has been called for Monday evening to discuss the budget plan, ahead of the regular conference meeting Tuesday morning. 

Weekly Legislative Report Mar 4, 2016

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup

Appropriations/Budget

Yesterday House leaders laid out their plan for a FY17 budget resolution that’s designed to appeal to all fractious of the Republican caucus (see attached summary).  The plan calls for adopting the higher limits on discretionary spending that were part of a bipartisan budget deal past last year.  Sticking to the higher limits is considered essential to avoid blowing up the appropriations process.

The plan assumes more than $6 trillion in spending cuts over a decade, would eliminate the deficit within 10 years and provides for additional savings in mandatory programs through reconciliation instructions.  The budget resolution also proposes changes or “reforms” in the budget process, including how the baseline or projection of spending and revenue is constructed.  The plan also calls for a vote on a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget.

Due to the fact that most House Republicans opposed last year’s budget deal, House leaders are including a commitment to offset the $30 billion increase with $30 billion in cuts to entitlement programs, including Medicare and Medicaid, over the next two fiscal years.  Dozens of conservatives have threatened to oppose the budget resolution unless there are $30 billion in mandatory savings actually enacted into law.  The budget includes instructions for the mandatory cuts package, and, since last week, the chairmen of authorizing committees have been gathering and submitting proposed mandatory spending cuts to leaders.

Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) already has submitted what he said are tens of billions of dollars’ worth of cuts from his committee’s jurisdiction, which includes Medicare.  Whether that trade-off will prove sufficient is still under consideration with conservatives who are calling for lower spending limits.  Any deal would likely be dead on arrival in the Senate, where Democrats could block the move.

House Budget Chairman Tom Price (R-GA) said that the committee would mark up the resolution “as soon as we get enough votes to move it forward.”  Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) is trying to push a budget resolution through the House by April 15.

Defense

The House Armed Services Committee plans to markup the FY17 defense authorization bill next month, and the panel’s chairman, Mac Thornberry (R-TX), is preparing another legislative package that would overhaul the Pentagon’s buying processes ahead of the markup.

Thornberry plans to introduce his acquisition plan as a stand-alone bill later this month, but it would likely be wrapped into consideration of the massive defense policy measure.  In releasing the text of the legislation early, Thornberry said he hopes to solicit comments and suggestions from colleagues before the subcommittee markups on April 20 and 21.  The full committee will consider the measure during a marathon session April 27, lining it up for floor consideration expected the week of May 16.

While there are no details on the plan yet, the package would apparently encourage the Defense Department to do more experimentation and technology development by ensuring that such futuristic thinking is not just tied to existing programs with stated requirements and established funding streams.

The FY16 authorization law (PL 114-92) included a Senate provision that provided for an increased role for the chiefs of the individual military services in acquisition.  The Pentagon opposed the provision, arguing that empowering the individual services would undermine the department’s civilian acquisition chief.

Energy/Environment

On Thursday evening, the Senate approved by unanimous consent, a reauthorization of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) through 2019 and takes new steps to cut down on spills and other problems with the American pipeline network.

Beyond reauthorizing PHMSA, the bill will direct the agency to prioritize its current regulatory agenda over new rulemaking.  It calls for new mapping technology and safety programs for pipelines and gives the agency new hiring powers.  Of the 42 rules mandated in a major 2011 pipeline safety law, the agency has only completed 26.  This reauthorization bill gives the agency the flexibility to complete those outstanding regulations before focusing on other issues.

Earlier in the week, the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy and Power held a legislative hearing on its own draft pipeline safety measure.  At this hearing, members emphasized the need for PHMSA to prioritize overdue regulations.

Health Care

This week the Senate took up the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act or CARA (S. 524), which seeks to address the national epidemic of prescription opioid and heroin use.

Two amendments were approved unanimously regarding transnational drug trafficking and establishing a Medicare opioid abuse program.  However, efforts to add $600 million in emergency funding for opioid abuse programs and adjust Medicare elements to increase anti-kickback penalties for doctors prescribing opioids failed to advance in procedural voting.

On the House side, members unanimously passed the Ensuring Access to Quality Medicaid Providers Act (H.R. 3716) on Thursday.  This would require states to notify HHS on terminated Medicare and Medicaid providers.  The bill seeks to limit fraud by allowing other states to avoid the terminated providers.

Washington Outlook

Next week in Congress, the House will be in recess.

In the Senate, members will aim to complete work on CARA (S. 524), the measure designed to combat the heroin and opioid misuse.  

The Senate will take a cloture vote to limit debate at 5:30pm on Monday.  After the vote, there will be up to 30 hours of debate on CARA and limited amendments may be considered before the Senate takes a vote on final passage.  The cloture vote on Monday will have a 60 vote threshold for passage while the vote on final passage will require 51 votes.

McConnell scheduled the cloture vote after an exchange with Leader Reid (D-NV) where the two disagreed over amendments.  Democrats have accused Republicans of refusing to hold votes on many of the amendments they would like considered but Reid said they would not hold up the bill over the controversy.