Monthly Archives: July 2016

Weekly Legislative Report July 15, 2016

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup

Appropriations/ Budget

To date both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have approved all twelve of their FY17 spending bills.  The Senate has passed three and the House six of the FY17 bills so far. 

The Senate on Thursday rejected a second attempt to move toward a vote on the Military Construction-VA and Zika conference report.  The move was the last opportunity for Congress to send additional money to fight Zika to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health before leaving for a seven-week recess.  Sixty votes were needed for the report to advance toward a final passage vote.

In addition, for the second time in a week, the Senate on Thursday failed to get the 60 votes necessary to move to consideration of the annual Defense spending bill, pushing off consideration of the measure until at least September.  Democrats have said they are wary of proceeding to the defense bill because they don’t trust their counterparts to follow through with the rest of the appropriations process.

Given that Congress left town Thursday for the summer recess through Labor Day, a continuing resolution (CR) is going to be needed to keep the government running past September 30.

House Republicans were scheduled to meet on Thursday to discuss how to keep the government open past the end of the fiscal year on September 30, but the highly anticipated conference meeting was canceled.

Conservative Republicans, appropriators, and defense hawks have different ideas on how to fund the federal government past September 30th

Members of the House Freedom Caucus and several members of the Republican Study Committee have called for a six-month continuing resolution to run through March 2017, but Senate Democrats and appropriators from both parties have said they do not like that idea and could oppose it during floor votes.  However, several top Senate Republicans said on Thursday that they also prefer a six-month CR.  Any CR would also need President Barack Obama’s signature before October 1 to avoid a government shutdown.

Labor/HHS/Ed

The House Appropriations Committee Tuesday morning released the report accompanying their FY17 Labor HHS bill.  A copy of the report can be found here.  The Committee met all day on Wednesday and returned on Thursday to finish consideration of the bill, which passed 31-19.  The committee adopted five amendments over the course of the markup, but Republicans defeated more than 20 Democratic amendments on a wide range of issues.

On Wednesday, the committee considered several amendments throughout the day, including one offered by Subcommittee Ranking Member Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) to increase NIH funding by $750 million, for a total of $2 billion or the same level included in the Senate FY17 bill. 

The amendment would have allocated $550 million of the increase to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) for the Cancer Moonshot initiative, with the remaining funds proportionately distributed to the other institutes and centers at NIH.  The amendment would have been offset by declaring funding provided in the House bill for opioids and for an Infectious Diseases Rapid Response Reserve Fund as emergency funding.  The amendment failed on a party line vote of 19-29. 

During the debate, Chairman Cole acknowledged the “importance of building on what we accomplished [for NIH] last year and even what we’ve proposed this year so far,” and stated, “Frankly, I don’t have much doubt over the course of the bill that we will be able to raise the number that’s already in the base bill substantially, working together across the aisle, because our friends in the Senate have the same goal.”

Committee members also discussed NIH funding during debate on an amendment offered by full Committee Ranking Member Nita Lowey (D-NY) to provide $1.9 billion in emergency funding to respond to Zika.  The Zika amendment failed, 21-29.

Defense

The Senate on Thursday agreed to move to conference on the FY17 defense authorization bill by a vote of 90-7.  The agreement to invoke cloture on the motion to move to conference on the bipartisan bill came one day after the House and Senate hosted their first meeting to kick off bicameral negotiations on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

The chamber also approved, 84-12, two motions to instruct conferees, including one from New Hampshire Democrat Jeanne Shaheen addressing the visa program for Afghans who served as interpreters for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, many of whom face death threats there.

Senators approved, 85-12, another motion to instruct conferees offered by Alaska Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan on authorizing adequate funding to maintain sufficient forces for worldwide military operations. Sullivan’s motion comes in the wake of President Barack Obama’s recent decisions to boost the size of the forces deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Republicans in both chambers have lambasted the White House for not requesting any funding to pay for increased presence overseas, or providing an estimate of the costs.  After a closed-door meeting Wednesday, the leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services committees expressed optimism they will resolve differences in the two bills and come to an agreement on a final conference report.

They would not address head-on the prospect for an expansive veto threat already lodged by the administration on both the House and Senate versions of the bill.

McCain called the well-attended meeting a “very fruitful discussion,” while his House counterpart, Republican Mac Thornberry of Texas, said the committees are “off to a good start.”

Healthcare

The Senate on Wednesday voted 92-2 to pass the conference report for the legislative package addressing the opioid misuse and overdose epidemic.  The House passed the legislation last Friday, and it now heads to the President’s desk for signature. 

In a statement following passage, the White House stated, “While the President will sign this bill once it reaches his desk because some action is better than none, he won’t stop fighting to secure the resources this public health crisis demands.”

Washington Outlook

Lawmakers left town on Thursday for a seven week recess.  The next month and a half members will focus on conventions and campaigning, returning to session on Tuesday, September 6th to address unfinished spending bills, among other legislation.

A stopgap spending measure likely will be needed in September to avoid a government shutdown when FY16 expires on September 30.  But lawmakers have at least laid the groundwork for potentially completing their work later this year.

The next Weekly Legislative Update will cover the week of September 6-9, when Congress returns. 

As always, we will keep you apprised of relevant events.

 

Weekly Legislative Report July 8, 2016

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup

Appropriations/ Budget

Senate Democrats are beginning to revolt against FY17 spending bills they say violate last year’s bipartisan budget deal and are threatening to drop their support for further work on FY17 spending bills.

They say the budget deal called for roughly equal levels of defense and domestic discretionary spending and an absence of controversial policy riders.  In a letter sent to Republican leaders on Thursday, Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Minority Whip Richard Durbin (D-IL), Conference Secretary Patty Murray (D-WA), and Policy Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (D-NY) say defense bills moving through Congress are raiding a war spending account to boost other defense spending without an equivalent increase for domestic spending, and the Military Construction-VA bill, which also contains funding for the Zika virus, includes “poison pill riders” that would block funds to Planned Parenthood and weaken clean-water protections for pesticide spraying.

If Democrats do not support appropriations bills, it makes it unlikely that McConnell would be able to move past the motion to invoke cloture and hold floor votes on the nine spending bills that haven’t yet been passed by the Senate.  The first test came late last night when Democrats made good on their threat and blocked the advancement of the FY17 Defense spending bill.

While House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and McConnell have not yet given up hope of passing FY17 spending bills in regular order, most do not expect all of the bills to pass before the end of the fiscal year on September 30, making a continuing resolution (CR) likely.

No decisions have been made on the length of a CR, but House conservatives would like to see current funding extended through March 2017 because they fear that in a lame duck session Republican leaders will cut deals with Democrats and the outgoing Obama administration to pass major legislation they oppose.  They are pushing for a vote next week on a six-month stopgap funding measure and are coupling their request with support for the level of discretionary spending included in the budget deal last year ($1.07 trillion), which they have previously opposed.  

Republican leaders are considering the proposal, but GOP leadership aides indicated the odds are against a vote next week.  Appropriators are opposed to passing a CR next week, since it would effectively end the appropriations process for the year.  The House has tentative plans to take up the Interior-Environment spending bill next week. 

Labor/HHS/Ed

On Thursday morning the House Labor HHS Appropriations Subcommittee approved by voice vote their FY17 bill.  The bill would provide $161.6 billion in discretionary funding, $569 million less than the FY16 level.

For the Department of Health and Human Services the bill includes a total of $73.2 billion, an increase of $2.6 billion above the FY16 level and $3.5 billion above the President’s budget request 

The text of the House Labor-HHS spending bill can be found hereThe report accompanying the bill will be released prior to full committee consideration, which will likely take place next week.

In opening statements many members spoke about their support for the funding included for the opioid and heroin epidemic, highlighting the $500 million included for a first-ever comprehensive state grant program that will address the opioid epidemic nationwide.  In addition, Labor HHS Subcommittee Chairman Tom Cole (R-OK) said that he hopes to see the National Institutes of Health eventually get a larger increase than the $1.25 billion increase he proposed in the draft. He described this figure as a “floor, not a ceiling” for deliberations on the NIH’s budget. 

During the markup six amendments were offered by Democrats, all of which were rejected on voice/show of hand votes.  The proposals included an amendment by Labor HHS Ranking Member Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) to boost the total funding of the bill by restoring funding to cut programs; an amendment offered by Nita Lowey (D-NY) to reverse a proposed elimination of the Title X family planning program and instead provide $300 million for the effort; an amendment by Lucille Roybal-Allard to restore year-round Pell grants; an amendment by Barbara Lee (D-CA) to strike policy riders in the bill; and amendments by DeLauro and Lowey to support gun violence research at CDC.

Healthcare 

Today, the House approved the conference report for the legislative package addressing the opioid misuse and overdose epidemic by a vote 407 – 5. The legislation now heads to the Senate for consideration next week. 

A section-by-section summary of the report is available here.

While earlier this week Democratic conferees did not sign the conference report because emergency funding was not included, on the Floor today they softened their stance and said they would hold Republicans to their promise of providing money through the regular appropriations cycle.  House Energy and Commerce Ranking Member Pallone (D-NJ) stated, “Mr. Speaker, after much thought, I’ve decided to support the Conference Report on S. 524.  It is not perfect, and does not do nearly enough from a funding perspective, but it makes some important steps that will allow us to begin to address the opioid addiction crisis that is impacting our nation.”  Pallone’s full statement is available here 

As of press time, the Senate is expected to begin considering the legislation early next week.  At least 6 Democrats will need to support the bill in order for it to reach the procedural 60-vote threshold to advance to the President’s desk for his signature 

In other health news, on Wednesday, by a vote of 422 to 2 the House overwhelmingly voted to pass HR 2646, the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act.  A section-by-section summary of the bill as passed by the House Energy and Commerce Committee is available here.

Some of the changes that were made to the bill at the full Committee markup prior to floor consideration included:

  • Adopting the language from the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee mental health bill as reported in March
  • Scaling back changes to privacy provision rules to direct HHS to issue a regulation clarifying what information can be shared
  • Aligning coverage at Institutions of Mental Diseases (IMD) for individuals in Medicaid fee-for-service plans with the 15 days of coverage in the Medicaid managed care rule

Washington Outlook

Next week in Congress, the full House is planning to consider the Interior-Environment spending bill and the House Appropriations Committee will hold a markup of the Labor/HHS/Education draft spending bill that passed subcommittee this week 

The House Rules Committee on Tuesday postponed consideration of legislation (H.R. 5611) introduced by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) as a Republican counterpoint to gun control measures sought by Democrats after the Orlando nightclub shooting.  The bill also includes provisions to create a new office at the Department of Homeland Security that would identify risk factors contributing to “radical Islamic terrorism” and come up with ways to counter the propaganda from militant groups 

The postponement was intended to give lawmakers a chance to study the proposed legislation that was unveiled last Friday.  Timing for floor action on the bill remains unclear.

The Senate will take up the House passed Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (S. 524) early next week where it is expected to pass.

With recess for the conventions and August break expected to start next Friday, it is likely Senate floor consideration of mental health legislation will wait until at least September.  Additionally, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Upton (R-MI) promised Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-MA) a hearing on mental health and addiction parity at Committee in September.

 

Weekly Legislative Report July 1, 2016

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup

Appropriations/ Budget

The Senate Appropriations Committee this week completed work on all 12 of their FY17 spending bills with the approval of their FY17 State-Foreign Operations bill.  The vote marked the earliest the panel has completed its work since 1988.  The House was not in session this week, but could consider their remaining two FY17 bills (Labor HHS and State, Foreign Operations) in early July before the summer recess.

The Senate left town on Wednesday evening without progress on funding to fight the Zika virus.  On Tuesday the Senate voted 52-48 to block the conference report on the Zika and Military Construction-VA spending package, short of the 60-vote threshold needed to invoke cloture and move the package forward.  Democrats were adamant that the Republican-written proposal was not an adequate response to the crisis, and they objected to policy language related to environmental protections and access to contraception.

Republicans insist the Senate must reconsider a vote on the $1.1 billion package, while Democrats want Republicans to work with them on a new deal.  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said the Senate would again vote on the conference report following the July Fourth recess. 

Given that conference reports are not amendable, the vote next week would be on the exact same package considered Tuesday, but even if passed by the Senate, the House-passed measure faces a Presidential veto.  Regardless, little time remains for additional negotiations given that Congress adjourns for a seven-week recess on July 15.

Gun Control

The House next week will vote on a counter-terrorism package that will include a provision to prevent suspected terrorists from buying guns.  Members will also vote on a mental health bill (H.R. 2646) and believe that taking up legislation on these two topics is a positive step toward addressing the mass shootings that have been taking place throughout the country.

Speak Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) decision comes a week after Democrats disrupted House activities in a nearly 26-hour sit-in demanding action on gun control in the wake of the deadly mass shooting in Orlando, Florida.  It’s unclear whether Ryan’s proposal would include the broad “no fly, no buy” proposal Democrats have supported that would block individuals on terror watch lists from purchasing firearms or a more limited version endorsed by the National Rifle Association.

Healthcare

Staff negotiations continued this week on the conference agreement addressing the opioid misuse and overdose epidemic.  On Wednesday, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Upton (R-MI) announced the conference committee will convene formally on Wednesday July 6.  Assuming an agreement has been reached by Wednesday’s meeting, the House would vote on the conference report as early as July 8 or July 11, sending the package to the Senate for its consideration before the recess begins on July 15.

Remaining sticking points in the negotiations appear to be the addition of funding to address the opioids epidemic outside of the regular appropriations process, which Democrats support, and policy decisions such as if the limits on buprenorphine prescribing will be addressed.  Staff indicate there is already agreement on some issues such as including naloxone co-prescribing and including the recovery grant programs from the Senate-passed Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) in the bill under the jurisdiction of HHS.

While there were rumors circulating that the 21st Century Cures and/or mental health bills might be added to the opioids package, staff have said the tight timeline would likely not allow for their addition.  Subsequently, it was announced that the full House is expected to vote on the mental health bill reported by the House Energy and Commerce Committee when the House returns to session next week. 

Puerto Rico Debt Crisis

The Senate voted 68-30 late Wednesday approved legislation to address Puerto Rico’s growing debt crisis, stepping in to help the ailing territory restructure its massive debt load, while establishing an outside control board to police its troubled finances.  The bill was signed by President Obama on Thursday.

The measure became law just before Puerto Rico would have defaulted on $2 billion of debt payments.  The default would be the largest yet for the troubled island, and was expected to unleash a torrent of messy litigation without congressional action.

Washington Outlook

Next week in Congress, the House and Senate will return after the July 4th holiday with several pressing bills on the agenda that Members want to tackle before adjourning for a seven-week recess on July 15.

Before leaving town this week, Majority Leader McConnell scheduled procedural votes to move to the Defense spending bill (S. 3000).  But Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), on Thursday said that the Senate may not have time to take up that motion before the prolonged summer recess because of a crush of other legislation.  McConnell entered a motion to reconsider the Zika vote so lawmakers can take another crack at the conference report following the July Fourth recess. 

House members will take votes on mental health and gun control legislation next week.