Monthly Archives: April 2016

Weekly Legislative Report April 29, 2016

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup

Appropriations/ Budget

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.

Defense

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. 

Foreign Policy

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.

Health Care

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.

Water Resources

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.

Washington Outlook

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.

Weekly Legislative Report April 22, 2016

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup

Appropriations

Agriculture

The House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday approved the FY17 Agriculture Appropriations bill.  The proposed legislation totals $21.3 billion in discretionary funding, which is $451 million lower than the FY16 enacted level and $281 million below the President’s budget request.  The bill funds agricultural and food programs and services, including food and medical product safety, animal and plant health programs, rural development and farm services, marketplace oversight, and nutrition programs.

Commerce/Justice/Science

The Senate Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science Subcommittee unanimously approved a draft FY17 spending bill on Thursday.  The bipartisan measure provides $56.3 billion in discretionary spending, with $29.2 billion for the Justice Department, the Commerce Department would receive $9.3 billion, and NASA would receive $19.3 billion. 

The spending level in the bill would be about $563 million above the current enacted level, and $1.6 billion more than the White House request.  The bill keeps in place a Republican-backed rider to counter potential executive action from President Barack Obama on the Guantanamo Bay detention center.  The bill also includes $5.7 billion for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an increase of $33.5 million over the current enacted level for operations including fisheries management and weather satellites as well as funds for grant programs to combat the opioid epidemic.

Energy/Water

On Tuesday, the House Appropriations Committee approved the FY17 Energy and Water Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill.  The bill provides $37.4 billion in annual funding for national defense nuclear weapons activities, the Army Corps of Engineers, various programs under the Department of Energy (DOE), and other related agencies.

The funding is $259 million above the FY16 enacted level and $168 million above the President’s budget request.

The full Senate took up their FY17 Energy-Water appropriations bill this week and is looking to wrap up consideration of the $37.5 billion spending bill by Monday or Tuesday, according to Subcommittee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN).

Transportation/HUD

The Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday unanimously voted to advance a $56.5 billion FY17 Transportation-HUD draft spending bill.   The measure would provide $16.9 billion in discretionary funds for the Department of Transportation and $39.2 billion for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which would be a jump in funding for housing assistance programs but funnel less discretionary money into transportation.

Budget

Senate Budget Chairman Michael Enzi (R-WY) filed discretionary spending toplines for FY17 on Monday, allowing appropriations work to begin in earnest as the chamber prepares to take up its Energy-Water measure (S. 2804) this week.

Enzi set the budget limits at $551 billion for defense spending and $518.5 billion for nondefense spending, equal to the caps enacted under last year’s bipartisan budget deal (PL 114-74).  The agreement provided for Enzi to file the toplines between April 15 and May 15 in the absence of a budget resolution, though Enzi hasn’t ruled out considering a budget later in the year.

Defense

The House Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee, in a pair of voice votes, approved on Thursday its portion of the FY17 defense authorization bill.

The panel’s recommendations include a ban on a new round of military base closures.  However, the legislation would prohibit use of FY17 funds to establish a Base Realignment and Closure Commission.  The committee still expects to receive more information from the Pentagon about excess infrastructure despite a report last week sketching the outlines of the problem.

HASC Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-WA) has been outspoken about the need to close unneeded military bases.  He has repeatedly sought to push for a new base closure panel and is widely expected to do so again this year.  Smith’s efforts are not expected to be successful, but he may be able to draw increased attention to the U.S. military’s 22 percent excess infrastructure.

The subcommittee adopted a package of uncontroversial amendments, one that would require the Navy to brief Congress on use of condition-based maintenance on surface ships and another that would direct the Joint Chiefs of Staff to incorporate operational contract support in joint training programs.

The full committee plans to complete work on the FY17 defense authorization measure (H.R. 4909) on April 27.

Energy

The Senate on Wednesday voted 85-12 to pass an energy policy modernization bill that was stalled for months by Democrats’ efforts to use the measure as leverage for a package of federal spending to address the drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan.

The bill (S. 2012) is the first broad energy policy bill passed by the Senate since 2007.  It provides for modest policy changes that could win bipartisan support, including streamlining the permitting for liquefied natural gas exports, mandating improvements to the electric grid’s reliability and security, raising energy efficiency standards for commercial and federal buildings, and permanently reauthorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

It now faces reconciliation with a House-passed energy bill (H.R. 8).  The Obama administration threatened to veto the House bill over measures that it said would derail the White House’s agenda to reduce climate-warming carbon emissions from fossil fuels.

Washington Outlook

Next week in Congress, the House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a vote on about a dozen anti-overdose bills next week, which already easily cleared the committee’s health panel on Wednesday.

The measures are in response the national prescription drug and heroin epidemic that has led to overdoses as leading cause of accidental death in the U.S.

As many as eight bills could be voted on, according to a Democratic leadership aide.  The final bill will be the work of at least four House committees: Energy and Commerce, Judiciary, Ways and Means and Education and the Workforce.

In the Senate, Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran (R-MS) said he is planning to bring a major funding package for fighting the Zika virus to the floor of the Senate “in the near future.”

Cochran confirmed Thursday that committee members from both parties have been working on an emergency funding bill to meet at least some of President Obama’s request on the Zika virus.

The move would break a months-long gridlock between the White House and GOP leaders, who have accused federal officials of failing to provide a detailed breakdown of their funding needs.

The Senate will resume consideration of the FY17 Energy-Water Appropriations measure on Monday or Tuesday.

The House Armed Services Committee will continue subcommittee markups early next week, with full committee activity slated for mid-week on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  The Senate Armed Services Committee will work on their version of NDAA in early May.

Weekly Legislative Report Mar 25, 2016

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup

Appropriations & Budget

The FY17 appropriations process began in earnest this week with the Senate Appropriations Committee considering the Energy and Water and Military Construction-Veterans Affairs bills in both subcommittee and full committee.  In the House, the FY17 Military Construction-VA spending bill was considered by the full committee and the Agriculture and Energy and Water bills in subcommittee.

The Senate Appropriations Committee also voted to adopt its 302(b) spending allocations, allowing all 12 subcommittees to begin writing their individual spending bills.  The numbers reflect the $1.07 trillion in base discretionary spending allowed under last year’s budget deal.  The FY17 Labor HHS allocation is $161.9 billion, which is slightly lower than the FY16 Omnibus level of $162.127 billion for the Labor HHS bill.  

Without a budget resolution, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) has declined to reveal the 302(b) spending allocations for each House subcommittee, leaving some panels in the dark as to the amount of money they have to work with. In the meantime, the House Appropriations Committee this week voted 30-20 to adopt an “interim” discretionary spending allocation for the Military Construction-VA Subcommittee, but did not approve allocations for the other 11 subcommittees.

On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced that he is prepared to devote up to 12 weeks to bringing appropriations bills to the Senate floor.  The Senate is expected to consider the FY17 Energy and Water bill on the floor next week, the earliest ever consideration of an appropriations bill since the modern budgeting system was established four decades ago.

In the House, Hal Rogers said he is aiming to have the House Appropriations Committee complete its work on all 12 spending bills by late June.  Rogers said he is eyeing a relatively early wrap up of committee work despite the increasingly likely chance the House will have to wait until May 15 to bring appropriations bills to the floor.  The possible May 15 kickoff to House floor action is the result of House Republicans’ inability to adopt a budget resolution or otherwise set the official spending toplines needed to bring appropriations bills to the chamber floor before that date, under modern budgeting rules.

Education

On April 12, Secretary John King testified before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee on the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) – see the statement and video.

Sec. King discussed how the new law empowers state and local decision‐makers to develop their own strategies for supporting the students and schools most in need based on evidence, rather than imposing the top‐down approach of NCLB and provides States and districts with more flexibility to innovate and implement locally driven reforms. 

Since the law passed last year, comments to the Department of Education from stakeholders expressed the need for regulations and guidance from the Department in order to better understand how to implement the provisions of the new law by July 2017.  Among the most common areas of interest were: accountability, assessments, school improvement, data reporting, fiscal requirements, consolidated state plans, and family engagement.

Defense

The Senate Armed Services Committee will begin Subcommittee markups of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on Monday, May 9 and will begin full Committee markup on May 11.

The House Armed Services Committee is expected to begin Subcommittee markups at the end of this month.

In other defense news, according to a Department of Defense (DoD) report (see attached) on infrastructure capacity, about a third of the infrastructure in the Air Force and Army is unneeded and costs as much as $2 billion a year.  In some categories — including Army testing labs and Air Force space operations buildings — the infrastructure is nearly 50 percent greater than what’s required, the report said.

The report will be scrutinized by every congressional delegation with a military base, as members and aides watch for signs of future spending cutbacks or closures.

Washington Outlook

Next week in Congress, the Senate will re-convene on Monday and is expected to adopt a substitute amendment to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), followed by a debate-limiting cloture vote on the underlying bill (H.R. 636).

A cloture motion is also pending on the motion to proceed to the Senate Energy-Water spending bill, using a House-passed FY16 shell bill (H.R. 2028) in order to avoid certain procedural hurdles.  The Senate will also begin next week 12 weeks of work on appropriations bills, according to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

On the House side, Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers (R-KY) said his goal is to get all 12 bills out of his committee by late June.