Monthly Archives: June 2016

Weekly Legislative Report Jun 24, 2016

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup

Appropriations/ Budget

The House voted 239-171 early Thursday morning to pass a $1.1 billion Zika virus response package and FY17 Military Construction-VA appropriations bill (H.R. 2577), following a sit-in demonstration by Democrats who demanded a vote on gun control legislation.  There was no debate allowed on the spending bill.

The vote was the last major order of business before the chamber recessed for the July Fourth recess. 

The conference report was the result of an agreement between House and Senate Republicans, but Democrats in both chambers have promised to oppose it on the floor.  It’s not yet clear if it will be signed into law by President Barack Obama, who had requested $1.9 billion to combat the Zika virus.

The House had to pass the package this week if there would be any shot of it reaching the President’s desk before the end of June, the latest deadline lawmakers set for providing additional resources for the anti-Zika effort. 

The final Zika virus legislation provides $1.1 billion, according to a House Appropriations Committee summary, including:

  • $476 million to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for mosquito control, surveillance of the disease, laboratory activities, and public education efforts;
  • $230 million to the National Institutes of Health for vaccine research and development;
  • $85 million to the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority for new rapid diagnostic tests;
  • $40 million for community health centers in Puerto Rico and U.S. territories;
  • $95 million for the Social Services Block Grant to be used in U.S. territories;
  • $175 million for the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development to combat Zika for the remaining three months of FY16

Democrats object to language in the bill that allows the use of certain pesticides for mosquito control without certain environmental permits as well as approximately $750 million in offsets.  The measure pulls $107 million from efforts to combat the Ebola virus; $100 million from administrative funding for the Department of Health and Human Services; and $543 million intended for health exchanges under the 2010 health care law (PL 111-148, PL 111-152) that were never set up in the territories, according to the summary.

The Military Construction-VA measure provides $82.5 billion in discretionary funding, a boost of $2.6 billion from FY16, according to the House summary of the legislation.  The bill includes $7.9 billion for military construction projects, a cut of $273 million from FY16 but $282 million over the president’s request.  The funding includes:

  • $172 million in Overseas Contingency Operations funding for counterterrorism projects and the European Reassurance Initiative;
  • $1.27 billion for military family housing;
  • $304 million for military medical facilities;
  • $246 million for Department of Defense education facilities;
  • $178 million for the NATO Security Investment Program

The Department of Veterans Affairs would receive $176.9 billion in discretionary and mandatory funding, an increase of $14.2 billion from enacted levels.  The $74.4 billion in discretionary funding is a $2.9 billion increase from FY16 and includes funding for:

  • $52.8 billion for medical services for veterans, including $7.9 billion in mental health services and $173 million in suicide prevention efforts;
  • $260 million for the modernization of the VA electronic health record system;
  • $2.9 billion to process disability claims, a boost of $148 million over fiscal 2016;
  • $66.4 billion in advance appropriations for veterans’ medical programs in fiscal 2018, along with $103.9 billion in advance mandatory funding for the VA

 Education

The Education Department has chosen 67 colleges to participate in a pilot program where incarcerated individuals could receive Pell Grants, evading a provision in the Higher Education Act that banned them from grant eligibility.

The Dept. of Education received about 200 requests from interested schools who will offer classroom-based education in the correctional facilities, online or a combination of the two.  Programs can begin as early as July 1 or this fall semester.

The 1994 Higher Education Act (PL 110-315) banned the incarcerated from participating in the law.  But by creating an experimental program, the Education Department is able to use the funds to evaluate how Pell Grants might help imprisoned men and women.  The program will allocate roughly $30 million in Pell Grants, a fraction of the nearly $15 billion program. 

Education Secretary John King, Jr. said it will not impact any other students eligible for Pell.

Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) has dismissed the Department’s authority to launch this program, saying Congress could change the ban when it reauthorizes the Higher Education Act, but for now the department had no power to act.

A House bill (H.R. 3327) by Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) to block the funding was introduced, although it has not advanced.

Gun Control

House Republican Leadership abruptly adjourned early this week following a Democratic sit-in on the House floor demanding votes on gun control legislation.

The GOP refused to yield to those demands and managed to regain enough control of the floor to approve an emergency funding package to combat the Zika virus after 3 a.m. Thursday.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) dismissed the sit-in as “nothing more than a publicity stunt,” and said he had no intention of allowing a floor vote on the legislation sought by Democrats.  The proposal, which the Senate rejected Monday, would block a gun purchase from anyone on a terrorist watch list maintained by the FBI.  “We’re not going to take away a citizen’s due process rights,” Ryan said on Wednesday.

But even as he spoke, lawmakers in both chambers continued inquire about a potential bipartisan compromise.  In the Senate, Susan Collins (R-ME) was building support for a more limited measure that would deny a gun purchase to about 109,000 people on a no-fly list and a smaller “selectee list” of terror suspects, with the right to appeal in court.  The FBI would be notified if anyone who is or was on the broader terrorism watch list in the last five years buys a gun, although the sale wouldn’t be blocked.  In the House, Reps. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) and Seth Moulton (D-MA) began work on a bipartisan measure similar to the Collins legislation.

Despite efforts to bring up compromise legislation, the likelihood of passing a gun-control bill in a Republican-controlled Congress remains unlikely.

Washington Outlook

Next week in Congress, the House will not be in session.  The Senate will be in session Monday through Thursday.  Both chambers will return July sixth.

The House on Wednesday was scheduled to take up the $21.7 billion FY17 Financial Services spending bill (H.R. 5485), a policy rider-heavy piece of legislation with 70 amendments filed on the measure.

But by the end of the day, a sit-in by Democrats had pushed the day’s business aside and an emergency funding measure to combat the Zika virus had taken priority. 

The House had adjourned for its July Fourth recess.  The House will likely return to the Financial Services appropriations bill upon their return, and if passed would be the fourth spending measure approved by the House for almost two weeks.

Currently, the Senate has district judge nominations scheduled for floor time next week.  The Senate is also expected to take up the House-passed Puerto Rico bill (H.R. 5278), which would provide the commonwealth with the tools to restructure about $70 billion in debt

Weekly Legislative Report Jun 17, 2016

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup

Appropriations/ Budget

Defense

The full House on Thursday voted 282-138 to pass a $575.8 billion FY17 defense appropriations bill (H.R. 5293) that includes $58.7 billion to pay for Overseas Contingency Operations or ongoing wars. 

The legislation provides $517.1 billion in discretionary funding, an increase of $3 billion above FY16 and $587 million below the President’s budget request.  The measure, however, faces a White House veto threat for using $15.7 billion of the war funds to pay for ships and aircraft that the Pentagon did not request.

Financial Services

The Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday approved the FY17 Financial Services and General Government spending bill, providing $22.4 billion in funding for the U.S. Department of Treasury, Small Business Administration, the federal judiciary, and a variety of independent federal agencies.

The panel approved amendments that would lift the travel ban to Cuba, allow U.S. banks to extend credit to Cuban buyers of U.S. agricultural commodities, and allow aircraft to refuel in the U.S. and obtain other airport services on flights to and from Cuba.

The Senate bill does not include many of the controversial riders that are in the House version (H.R. 5485), including proposals to hold up regulatory rules or funding at the FCC, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and other agencies that had caused a Democrat to dub the House bill “veto bait.”

Interior/Environment

The House Appropriations Committee voted 31-18 on Wednesday to approve the FY17 Interior and Environment Appropriations bill after Democrats’ attempts to fund efforts to fight the Zika virus and pay for clean water projects in Flint, Michigan, failed.

In total, the bill provides $32.1 billion, $64 million below the FY16 enacted level and $1 billion below the President’s budget request.  Included is $480 million to fully fund “Payments in Lieu of Taxes” (PILT) – which provides funds to local communities with federal land to help offset losses in property taxes – and $3.9 billion for the Department of the Interior and U.S. Forest Service to prevent and combat devastating wildfires.  The bill also includes funding to help address the problem of lead in drinking water across the United States.

Milcon/VA

The U.S. House and Senate Appropriations Committees met Wednesday in a joint Conference Committee on the FY17 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Zika Response appropriations bill (H.R. 2577).  The meeting is the official start to the conference, and members of the committee will now begin to negotiate the final legislation to be approved by both the House and Senate.

Defense

The Senate on Tuesday voted 85-13 to pass the FY17 National Defense Authorization Act (S. 2943), which would authorize approximately $602 billion in spending on defense programs, mainly at the Pentagon, and would set policies on everything from weapons procurement to detainee policy.

Some Senators were upset over their amendments that were blocked from being considered.  Among the amendments that did not get votes were: one to increase the number of visas for Afghans who served as interpreters for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, many of whom face death threats there; another proposal would put prosecution of major crimes outside the military chain of command; and a third would authorize State Department programs.

However, a previously controversial amendment regarding Russian RD-180 rocket engines did pass by unanimous consent one amendment Tuesday.  Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) authored the compromise proposal that would ensure the Pentagon can use Atlas V rockets (powered by RD-180 engines) through 2022.  The rockets lift military and intelligence satellites into orbit and would allow the Air Force to use 18 more of the RD-180s.

The compromise on RD-180s was a victory for administration officials and appropriators, who had said the bill’s restrictions to nine rocket engines would create new risks for the military.

The House and Senate will begin conference negotiations on the measure right away, in the hopes of getting an agreement before mid-July, Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain (R-AZ) said.  But he would not commit to wrapping up work on the bill before Congress adjourns for the summer recess.

Healthcare

The Senate on Thursday voted 95 to 1 to go to conference with the House on legislation to address the opioid overdose epidemic.  Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) was the only Senator voting in opposition.

Senate conferees include:

  • Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA)
  • Se. Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
  • Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT)
  • Sen, Jeff Sessions (R-AL)
  • Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT)
  • Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA)
  • Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR)

The House already named 34 lawmakers to the conference committee last month, the week after passing their opioid package (H.R. 5046).  The Senate passed their version of the legislation, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (S. 524), in early March.

Homeland Security

The House voted 402-15 on Thursday to pass a counterterrorism bill that aims to boost government efforts to combat terrorist recruitment and violent extremism in the United States.

The Counter Terrorist Radicalization Act (H.R. 5471) combines three bills the chamber already passed into one piece of stand-alone legislation.  House leaders repackaged the measures following the mass shooting in Orlando, FL on Sunday in the hope that the Senate will find time to quickly pass the bill as well.

The first bill (H.R. 4401) aims to increase training on countering violent extremism for Homeland Security representatives at state and local fusion centers.  The second (H.R. 4820) would require the Homeland Security secretary to use the testimonials for former violent extremists in efforts to counter recruitment efforts by the Islamic State and other terrorist groups.  The final measure (H.R. 4407) would establish at DHS a board to coordinate and integrate the department’s intelligence and counterterrorism activities.

Washington Outlook

Next week in Congress, the Senate will reconvene Monday, June 20, at 3 p.m. for continued consideration of the legislative vehicle for the FY17 Commerce-Justice-Science spending bill (H.R. 2578).  The chamber will also hold up to four cloture votes on gun-related amendments at 5:30 p.m.

Senate Democrats have secured an agreement for votes on two of their gun control measures, but it’s unlikely they have the votes to see those amendments adopted — raising questions about whether Democrats will decide to hold up work on the FY17 CJS spending bill and potentially the appropriations process in the months ahead if their efforts are thwarted.

In the House, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) left open the possibility that Republicans will hold a floor vote on some kind of legislation aimed at trying to prevent terrorists and suspected terrorists from legally buying guns.

Weekly Legislative Report Jun 10, 2016

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup

Appropriations/ Budget

On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved their FY17 Labor HHS bill by a vote of 29-1.  Senator James Lankford (R-OK) was the only dissenting vote. 

The bill would provide $161.9 billion in discretionary spending, $270 million below the FY16 level and $2 billion below the administration’s budget request.  The Department of Health and Human Services would receive $76.9 billion, a $1.4 billion increase above FY16.

 During both the subcommittee and full committee markup many members on both sides of the aisle praised the bill, saying it was the first bipartisan Labor HHS bill in seven years.  Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) spoke of the continued need for the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee’s medical innovation bill to provide separate mandatory funding for research, in addition to the increase provide for NIH in the Labor HHS bill.  Alexander said that work continues to advance the HELP bill, a companion to the 21st Century Cures package that the House passed last year.   

Report language on opioid abuse and other topics of interest relating to substance abuse is attached.  A copy of the full report and bill can be found here.  

On Wednesday, House Republican leaders announced that they will begin restricting contentious amendments on spending bills in order to find a way forward on the FY17 appropriations process.

For remaining spending bills, all amendments will be approved by the House Rules Committee before the debate reaches the floor.  GOP leaders hope the new rules will lend control to what has been a chaotic appropriations process to date.  The FY17 Energy-Water spending bill was defeated on the House floor last month after a Democratic amendment to bar federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT employees was adopted.

House appropriators on the Homeland Security Subcommittee approved by voice vote the $47.8 billion FY17 Homeland Security spending bill on Wednesday, sending the measure to the full committee, which is expected to take up the legislation on Tuesday.  See here for the Committee’s press release on the bill.  The House Appropriations Committee approved the draft FY17 Financial Services spending bill on Thursday.  The bill provides annual funding for the Treasury Department, the Judiciary, the Small Business Administration, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and other related agencies.  See here for more details.  The House on Friday voted 233-175 to approve Legislative Branch spending bill.  See here for more information.  

So far, the House has passed two appropriations bills, the Military Construction/Veterans Affairs bill and the the Senate has passed three FY17 bills to date.

Defense

The Senate voted 68-23 today to invoke cloture on the FY17 defense authorization bill (S. 2943), and will vote on final passage of the measure for next week. 

Senate debate ground to a halt Thursday evening as Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-AZ) accused Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) of “signing the death warrants” of Afghan interpreters after Lee objected to a unanimous consent agreement to call up an amendment preserving the special immigrant visa program.  Lee said he wanted the Senate to consider his amendment on the detention of U.S. citizens.

The Senate has considered just over 20 of the more than 500 amendments filed to the bill.  The Senate is expected to vote on amendments to, as well as passage of, the authorization measure on Monday night.

Financial Services/Puerto Rico Debt Crisis

In an unusual election year display of bipartisanship, the House on Thursday voted 297-127 to pass a bill that seeks to rescue Puerto Rico from its crippling debt.  The bill (H.R. 5278) included 139 Republicans voting yes and all but 24 Democrats voted in favor of the bill. 

The U.S. territory says it will almost certainly default on a $2 billion debt payment due July 1.  The territory has a staggering $72 billion in debt.  The bill would establish a seven-member fiscal oversight board that would wield control over the island’s finances.  The board would be empowered to seek the reorganization of the island’s debts in federal court, following consensual negotiations between creditor and the territory.

The legislation now moves to the Senate, where Republicans have said they will take it up.  It has not yet been put on the schedule, according to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office.

Washington Outlook

Next week in Congress, the Senate is expected to complete work on the FY17 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  The full Senate is expected to take up the Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) Appropriations bill after work on NDAA is completed.  Senate Leadership is also expected to name conferees to work on a compromise package between the Senate’s Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (S. 524) and the House Opioid package that passed last month.

In the House, members will begin debate on the FY17 Defense appropriations bill (H.R. 5293) next week under a structured rule.  House appropriators on the Homeland Security Subcommittee approved by voice vote the $47.8 billion FY17 Homeland Security spending bill this week, sending the measure to the full committee, which is expected to take up the legislation on Tuesday.