No additional FY17 spending bills were considered by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees this week. The Senate continued consideration of the Energy-Water bill on the floor, but hit a snag on Wednesday when Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) unveiled a surprise amendment related to the Iran nuclear deal that triggered a White House veto threat and led the Democrats to block advancement of the bill.
The Senate was expected to pass the Energy-Water bill this week and the derailment came after days of steady bipartisan progress on the underlying bill. The failure to twice get the 60 votes necessary to move forward on the bill raised questions about the future of the appropriations process despite Majority Leader McConnell’s commitment to devote 12 weeks of time to spending bills on the Senate floor. After next week’s recess, the Energy-Water bill will return to the Senate floor when a third cloture vote is planned.
In the House, no progress has been made on a budget resolution to set overall spending limits and it is still likely that they will have to wait until May 15 to bring any FY17 spending bills to the House floor under rules prohibiting earlier action without a budget blueprint in place.
The House Armed Services Committee voted 60-2 to approve the $610 billion FY17 defense authorization bill, sending to the floor. The panel’s markup spanned more than 16 hours, finally concluding at 2:34 a.m. Thursday after the committee worked through hundreds of amendments.
The National Defense Authorization Act or NDAA (H.R. 4909), which sets military funding levels and sets Pentagon policy, received broad bipartisan support despite deep reservations among Democrats on the panel about the decision to tap the war funds to pay for base budget items not requested by the Defense Department. That maneuver, opponents argue, amounts to an end-run around budget caps, ultimately forcing the next president to request a war supplemental early in his or her first term. The measure adds $18 billion in weaponry and personnel that didn’t make the Pentagon’s budget request but funds operations overseas for just the first seven months of the year.
The panel addressed the issue of satellite launch capabilities, with the committee approving on a voice vote an amendment from Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO) that would allow the Air Force to use 18 more of the Russian-built RD-180 rocket engines as it develops a U.S. alternative. This amendment is strongly opposed by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-AZ). The HASC Committee also agreed to an amendment from Smith that would allow some of the $294 million authorized in the bill for a new rocket engine to be spent on a new launch vehicle to go along with it.
The panel voted 33-29 to adopt a contentious amendment from Rep. Steve Russell (R-OK) that would allow corporations that contract with the federal government the ability to claim religious exceptions to anti-discrimination rules.
The panel approved by voice vote its Personnel Subcommittee’s mark after a lengthy and sometimes contentious debate on the issue of women in combat, ultimately adopting on a 32-30 vote an amendment that would require both men and women to sign up for the Selective Service.
The Senate Armed Services Committee will begin Subcommittee markups of the NDAA on Monday, May 9 and will begin full Committee markup on May 11.
The Senate passed by unanimous consent Thursday evening FY16 legislation (S. 1635) that would reauthorize a number of State Department activities and update embassy security policies, hours after the Foreign Relations Committee advanced a draft FY17 bill that tackles other Foggy Bottom functions that have gone without review for years.
This week, the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved 12 bills on the opioid misuse and overdose epidemic as part of a 3 day markup at the Committee.
Additionally, the House Judiciary Committee approved a slimmed down version of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA). The version approved by the Committee does not include the prevention and recovery provisions that were in the version passed by the Senate last month.
On Thursday, at a markup of the Improving Care for the Prevention of Infant Abuse and Neglect Act at the House Education and Workforce Committee, Ranking Member Bobby Scott (D-VA) advocated in favor of CARA’s prevention and recovery provisions. Scott’s comments echoed remarks made by Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) at the Judiciary Committee markup the day before.
The full House is expected to consider the opioid bills the week of May 9 when Congress returns from the recess. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), lead House sponsor of CARA, commented that he would like to see a final package of bills sent to the President by July 4th.
A bill to reauthorize the Water Resources Development Act (S. 2848) passed the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Thursday by a 19-1 vote.
In total, the bill authorizes more than $9 billion in funding and would approve key water infrastructure projects across the nation. It also provides assistance to Flint, Michigan and other cities with excess lead levels in their drinking water systems. S. 2848 is now ready for the Senate floor, but the House has not yet introduced companion legislation.
According to a committee summary, the bill would authorize grants of up to $300 million over five years for communities to replace lead service lines, among other actions to reduce lead in drinking water that would help Flint deal with its lead contamination crisis. It would also authorize $1.4 billion in grants over five years for small and poorer communities to comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act.
The House and Senate will both be in recess next week, the next Weekly Legislative Update will cover the week of May 9-13 when Congress returns.