Monthly Archives: May 2016

Weekly Legislative Report May 27, 2016

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup

Appropriations/ Budget

On Thursday the House voted 112-305 to reject the FY17 Energy and Water spending bill after the bill was bogged down with controversial amendments on wide-ranging topics like the Iran nuclear agreement, sanctuary cities, the North Carolina transgender bathroom law, and protections for LGBT individuals.

Given that this is only the second FY17 spending bill to be considered by the House this year, it is unclear how House leadership will proceed with future appropriations bills. 

Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R- KY) said the setback would not sink the overall appropriations process, but admitted that Republican leaders would have to “adapt to the circumstances” and possibly do away with the open amendment process being used now in the House for consideration of appropriations bills.

Meanwhile, Republican leaders are considering revising budget rules so that amendments to spending bills must be pre-filed in the Congressional Record before they can be offered on the House floor.  This move comes in response to a controversial amendment to the recently passed Military Construction-VA bill that was aimed at preventing federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT employees.

On Tuesday, the Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) and Transportation-HUD spending bills were advanced by the House Appropriations Committee.  For more information on these draft bills see here and here.

In the Senate, the Defense and Homeland Security bills were approved unanimously by the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday.  See here for more details on the draft Defense spending bill, and here for Homeland Security.

We have heard that the Senate Labor HHS bill may be marked up in subcommittee on June 7 and full committee on June 9, but nothing has been officially announced yet.

Defense

The Senate began consideration this week on its annual defense authorization bill, but stalled after more than 75 amendments had piled up to be debated.  Some of the controversial amendments include restrictions on procuring the Russian-built RD-180 engines, Guantanamo Bay, and sanctions on Iran’s ballistic missile program.

Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain (R-AZ) said he anticipates formally proceeding on the $602 billion defense policy measure (S. 2943) starting June 6, the Monday the Senate returns from the Memorial Day recess.

Education

The Department of Education released proposed rules (see attached) on Thursday, which seeks to clarify the details of the Every Student Succeeds Act (PL 114-95), the current iteration of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act signed into law last year.  

Under proposed regulations, states would be able to rate schools on a number of factors, such as graduation rate, how students are doing on tests and achievements in reading and math.  Those indicators would also need to be applied to individual groups of students, such as low-income students, students with disabilities, English-learners and all major racial and ethnic groups.

While GOP lawmakers pushed for minimal federal interference in states’ policymaking, Education Secretary John B. King has asserted the department’s responsibility under the law to implement guardrails ensuring minority and low-income students are treated equitably.

Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) said he was still reviewing the proposed rules on Thursday but threatened to overturn any final rule that didn’t implement the law the way Congress intended.

The proposed rules will be open for comment for 60 days, and final rules are expected later this year. The Education department is expected to issue additional proposed rules under the law.

Washington Outlook

The House and Senate have adjourned for the Memorial Day recess and will not be in session next week.  The next Weekly Legislative Update will cover June 6-10 when Congress returns to Washington.

Weekly Legislative Report May 20, 2016

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup

Appropriations/ Budget

Senators voted overwhelmingly, 89-8, to pass their Transportation-HUD and Military Construction-VA appropriation measures Thursday.  They are the second and third spending bills to advance out of the Senate this year, with a $1.1 billion Zika spending plan attached to the package. 

In total, the Senate bill provided approximately $140 billion in FY17 appropriations: $56.5 billion in discretionary dollars for the Transportation-HUD measure (S. 2844) and approximately $83 billion for Military Construction-VA (S. 2806).  The two measures make up some 13 percent of the $1.07 trillion in discretionary funds up for grabs this year under the budget agreement reached late last year (PL 114-74).  Adding the Zika money, the whole measure comes out to approximately $141 billion.

The bundled FY17 measure (H.R. 2577) now heads to the House, which has passed a much lower $622 million standalone Zika aid package with offsets (H.R. 5243).  The vastly different terms of the two Zika plans set the stage for a complicated conference committee on that issue.

Also on Thursday the Senate Appropriations Committee approved their FY17 Agriculture and Legislative Branch Appropriations bill.  

In the House, members voted 295-129 to pass a $81.6 billion Military Construction-VA spending bill – the first appropriations bill to pass that chamber this year.

The annual spending bill for the Department of Veterans Affairs and military construction projects is typically the first spending bill to get House floor action and the most easily passed.  However, when the House voted Thursday on the measure, a dispute over an amendment aimed at preventing discrimination against LGBT individuals, sent the House into political firestorm.  The amendment failed by a single vote, 212-213.

The measure (H.R. 4974) contains amendments that would prohibit display of Confederate flag imagery in Veterans Affairs’ cemeteries, allow the VA to prescribe medical marijuana in states with legal programs, and prevent spending money to plan for or begin a new round of Base Realignment and Closure, or BRAC, a Pentagon process for overhauling its base structure.

Defense

On Wednesday, the House voted 277-147 to pass H.R. 4909, the FY17 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

House members went through hundreds of amendments over two days to pass the $602.2 billion bill, which would use five months’ worth of war funding, or $18 billion, to bankroll a larger military with new weapons and facilities improvements. Those improvements were not in the White House budget request; and has already has drawn veto threat.

Key provisions included in the bill are:

·         Although HASC voted to require women to sign up for the military draft, if the Pentagon decides to call for one in the future, the House Rules Committee watered down the provision by turning it into a study rather than a mandate.

·         An amendment limiting the size of the White House National Security Council to no more than 100 people.  If the council’s size exceeds the number, the president’s national security adviser would be subject to Senate approval.

·         An amendment that would require the U.S. to enter into a memorandum of understanding with any country that agrees to take prisoners from the Guantánamo Bay prison.

·         A provision requiring the administration to give Congress the full cost of buying and operating the B-21 bomber, a provision similar to one adopted by SASC companion bill.

·         An amendment to ease the process for special immigrant visas for Afghans who helped the U.S. government perform missions in Afghanistan and whose lives may now be in danger.

·         A proposal by John Lewis (D-GA) would force the Pentagon to post on its website the cost of the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

·         An amendment to ban Military-to-military contacts with Cuba until the administration certifies that the Castro government has undergone “material change.”

·         A set of amendments imposing tougher requirements on Pakistan.

The Senate is expected to debate the FY17 defense authorization measure (S. 2943) next week. Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain (R-AZ) said Thursday he will introduce a floor amendment to the annual Pentagon policy bill that would increase authorized defense spending by about $17 billion above mandated caps, which will likely be one of the most divisive issues that will come up during consideration of NDAA. 

Health Care

This week, House leadership announced conferees who will negotiate the package addressing the opioid misuse and overdose epidemic with the Senate (for full list see: here). 

As of press time, Senate leaders have not yet named their conferees.  Staff indicated Senate leaders may announce conferees next week.  Staff also reported that Senate leaders are trying to do some pre-conference negotiations among senators to resolve some issues such as if the Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN)/Patty Murray (D-WA) mental health package, which was reported out of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee in March, that could be included as part of the omnibus package addressing the opioid misuse and overdose epidemic.

Reportedly, some Senate sponsors of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), while supportive of the mental health package, would prefer that they not be combined as they are worried about risking CARA’s enactment.  Adding the mental health piece would raise the cost of the underlying bill and potentially bring the issue of guns into the discussion.  Another option would be to move the mental health bill at the same time as the opioid omnibus, but not as one legislative package.  

House leadership has said they want to have a package addressing the opioid misuse and overdose epidemic to send to the President’s desk by July.

Washington Outlook

The House and Senate are out today, after a full week of appropriations action.  Next week, the House is expected to take up Energy-Water appropriations and the latest version of a measure to overhaul the nation’s toxic chemical review law.

The measure is a compromise between House and Senate bills (H.R. 2576 and S. 697), which passed  overwhelmingly in both chambers last year, and aims to strengthen the Toxic Substances Control Act (PL 94-469) by subjecting all new and existing chemicals in commerce to an Environmental Protection Agency review. 

Senators said they anticipate getting the legislation to the president’s desk by the Memorial Day holiday, with a bill text released by the end of this week.  The House would then pass the compromise bill most likely by Tuesday, and are not expected to consider any amendments to the new version of the bill.  The Senate would then pass it by a unanimous consent agreement.

Weekly Legislative Report May 13, 2016

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup

Appropriations/Budget

The full Senate on Thursday voted 90-8 the FY17 Energy-Water appropriations bill, the first under regular order since 2009.  The $37.5 billion FY17 bill (H.R. 2028) would raise spending by $355 million above FY16 enacted levels and $261 million over the president’s budget request, rejecting a $1.4 billion cut to the Army Corps proposed by the administration.

Resolution on the bill came only after Republicans forced a procedural vote related to an amendment by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), which would bar purchases of heavy water from Iran.  Democrats called the amendment a “poison pill” and blocked advancement.

The measure taps $5.4 billion for science research and roughly $2 billion for energy efficiency and renewable energy programs, equal to FY16 levels.  Energy programs would receive $11.2 billion, up $157 million from FY16, including prioritization of “all-of-the-above” strategies for U.S. energy independence.

House appropriators advanced its $37.4 billion FY17 Energy-Water bill (H.R. 5055) last month.  Energy-Water is anticipated to be among the first few spending bills waiting to be brought up on the House floor after May 15.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) says the chamber will now turn to the $56.5 billion Transportation-HUD (S. 2844) and $83 billion Military Construction-VA (S. 2806) spending bills.  The bills would share a legislative vehicle, likely the House-passed FY16 Transportation-HUD measure (H.R. 2577).

The two measures make up a combined $139.5 billion in discretionary dollars, some 13 percent of the $1.07 trillion up for grabs this year under the budget agreement reached late last year (P.L. 114-74).

The Senate will likely continue to take up appropriation’s bills two at a time in “minibuses” as long as leadership can prevent more “poison pill” amendments from dismantling the process.

House Republican leaders are planning to bring the first FY17 spending bill to the chamber floor next week, Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers said Thursday, a maneuver that would officially sidestep the regular order of adopting a budget resolution before moving to appropriations work.

Rogers said the popular Military Construction-VA measure (H.R. 4974) will be first up.  He also indicated House Republican appropriators are drafting a stand-alone funding package to combat the Zika virus for the remainder of FY16, including offsets, which he also hopes to have completed by next week.

Defense

The Senate Armed Services Committee voted 23-3 to pass its $602 billion annual defense policy bill in a closed session on Thursday.

Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain (R-AZ) said his panel’s version of the FY17 NDAA bill does not tap war accounts to make up for shortfalls in the Pentagon’s base budget, but will seek additional defense funding when the measure goes to the floor.

The Senate measure also includes:

  • The National Security Council staff is capped at 150, reflecting concerns about the outsized influence the president’s advisers have on operations and policy making.
  • The number of four-star billets within the military would go from 41 today to 27, while also eliminating 25 percent of one-, two- and three-star jobs.
  • The committee’s bill would also require women to register for the draft, starting Jan. 1, 2018 and would create a commission to examine whether the Selective Service is still needed.
  • The bill authorizes $10.5 billion for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter programs, including $8.5 billion to buy 63 of the stealthy jets.
  • The bill also extends the prohibition on retirement of the A-10 Warthog close-air support aircraft until the F-35 initial operational testing and evaluation is completed.
  • On the Air Force’s B-21 bomber program, the bill cuts funding by $302 million due to a lower than expected contract award value. It also requires the Air Force to disclose the contract award value to Congress, something service officials have been loath to do.
  • The bill would limit future use of the Russian-made RD-180 rocket engines to nine, setting up another potential conference battle with his House colleagues, whose bill would allow the Air Force to use 18 of the engines.

The House Armed Services Committee-approved measure (H.R. 4909), which the chamber is expected to debate next week, pays for $18 billion in unrequested ships, fighter jets, personnel and other congressional priorities out of the Overseas Contingency Operations account.  As a result, the House bill only authorizes enough war funding for the first seven months of the fiscal year, a move that would force the next president to send Congress a supplemental spending request early in his or her first term.

Health Care

This week was deemed “opioid week” in the House.  While the Senate passed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act in March, the House chose to break CARA into 18 individual bills, each related to the battle to combat America’s growing epidemic of prescription drug and heroin addiction.

The bills focused on opioid addiction, treatment and recovery and passed with bipartisan support.  The House voted 412-4 Wednesday to pass H.R. 4641, which would require the Health and Human Services Department to create an inter-agency task force to review and change “best practices” for pain management and prescribing pain medicines.  Lawmakers also approved a bill requiring states that receive federal grants for child protective services to have laws or programs in place to ensure that infants born to opioid-addicted mothers will be cared for safely when they leave the hospital.

The bills introduced Thursday, also approved with broad bipartisan support, provided for substance abuse treatment, education and law enforcement efforts to tackle the opioid epidemic, among other provisions.  The largest House bill, approved Thursday by 413-5, establishes grants worth $103 million annually over the next five years but provides none of the actual funds, leaving that for Appropriation delegation later this summer.

Republicans previously rejected a Democratic effort to add $600 million in spending to related bills.  Democrats back the bills but also complain that little would be achieved without money. President Obama has proposed an additional $1.1 billion to address the problem.  House leaders plan to vote to assemble most of the opioid bills into a single measure, a package similar to the CARA act.  After the House and Senate resolve differences between the two versions in conference, President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law.

Washington Outlook

Next week in Congress, appropriators in both chambers are expected to finish their work on two more spending bills each.

The House Appropriations Committee has scheduled full committee markups of the Defense and Legislative Branch appropriations bills on Tuesday, along with additional interim 302(b) allocations.

On the Senate side, appropriators are expected to mark up the Agriculture spending measure in subcommittee Tuesday and full committee Thursday, along with the Legislative Branch funding bill in full committee, according to the top Republicans on those subcommittees.  But the committee has not released an official schedule yet.

Those would be the fourth and fifth FY17 spending bills completed by the House committee this year, and the fifth and sixth considered by the Senate committee.

Up next in the full Senate is tandem consideration of the FY17 Transportation-HUD (S. 2028) and Military Construction-VA (S. 2806) appropriation measures.  Senators have linked that legislation to the House Appropriations Committee’s reported FY17 Military Construction measure (H.R. 4974), which contains language related to combating the Zika virus, making Zika amendments to the Senate’s two-bill spending package fair game.