Monthly Archives: September 2016

Weekly Legislative Report Sept 23, 2016

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup

Appropriations/ Budget

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has scheduled a vote on a continuing resolution (click here for CR and CR Sections) without legislative riders to keep the government operating beyond the end of the month.

Democrats oppose the bill due to the exclusion of emergency funding to rebuild water infrastructure in Flint, Michigan where officials discovered last year that the city’s drinking water system had been contaminated with dangerous levels of lead.

The measure includes emergency funding for flood relief in Louisiana, as well as West Virginia and Maryland.  It also includes emergency funding to fight the Zika virus, an issue that has been contentious over Planned Parenthood gaining access to a small amount of funds.

Democrats also are objecting to the GOP proposal because it leaves in a policy rider included in last year’s omnibus spending package that blocks the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) from requiring companies to disclose their political spending. 

Democrats say keeping in that language is equal to including a rider in the stopgap spending deal, but Republicans argue that it is current law and would require a new rider to end.

A copy of the CR and a section-by-section summary is attached to the e-mail bearing this report.

Defense

Democrats and Republicans continue to argue over provisions in the FY17 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). 

The main points of contention are: an amendment in the House-passed bill (H.R. 4909) by Rep. Steve Russell (R-OK) concerning discrimination in federal contracting, and a disagreement on whether to require that a species of bird called the greater sage grouse be removed by law from the endangered species list on the grounds that protecting it is impairing the military from full use of training ranges in the Western U.S.

Critics of Russell’s provision say it would overturn an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating against people based on sexual orientation or gender identity.  Russell argues his amendment, which the committee adopted before sending the bill to the House floor, is meant to protect religious liberty.

HASC Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-WA) has been meeting with Armed Services Committee leaders to reconcile the House bill with its Senate companion (S. 2943).  On the sage grouse issue, Smith has suggested that the dispute was unnecessary, because the Environmental Protection Agency plans to remove the bird from the endangered list anyway.

Given that conference talks are not likely to conclude before the lame-duck session, there will be little time for Congress to send the president a second version of the bill, if he vetoes the first one over one of these issues.

Still, Smith is confident that lawmakers and the president will get the measure done before New Year’s Day.

Healthcare

Bipartisan negotiations on the CR package, despite arguments in other areas, appear to have come to a consensus over health care program spending.  Zika virus response spending provisions include $1.1 billion in funding but exclude disputed previous provisions regarding the distribution of funds for contraception services and a waiver of environmental rules on pesticide spraying to kill mosquitos.

The spending package includes $400 million in offsets taken from previously appropriated money to combat the Ebola virus and the package rescinds unobligated funds allocated to set up health insurance exchanges in U.S. territories.  The measure also includes increased temporary funding to aid opioid misuse response programs.

The stopgap spending provisions continue funding for federal health agencies until December 9, but would match FY16 discretionary spending levels.  Additionally, the new stopgap spending package includes provisions delaying the expiration of a Food and Drug Administration program seeking to entice the development of rare pediatric diseases. 

Separately on Thursday, the Senate passed revised measure (S. 1878), which also extends the FDA drug voucher program until the end of the year.

Water Resources

House water reauthorization bill (H.R. 5303) negotiations have stalled over the removal of a provision to strengthen the use of Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, meant to help pay for port and harbor dredging.  The bill now omits the section that would have effectively made spending by the trust fund mandatory rather than discretionary starting in 2027.

Originally, the Water Resources and Development Act moved out of committee with bipartisan support, but Democrats have expressed opposition to the measure over the trust provisions as well as the lack of aid to Flint, Michigan.  The Senate version of the bill (S. 2848), passed on September 15, included assistance for the city.

Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) says he supports more investment in infrastructure, but the Harbor Trust Fund provision “had to be removed to ensure compliance with the Rules of the House and the Congressional Budget Act.”

Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-WI) said Thursday that the House is likely to consider WRDA next week, and the Rules Committee set a Monday evening hearing to consider amendments to the bill.

Washington Outlook

The House originally scheduled votes today but abruptly adjourned for the week at the end of voting on Thursday.  The Senate has also concluded activity for the week. 

With just nine days remaining before government funding expires on September 30, lawmakers insist that everything remains on the table until a final agreement has been reached.  But several issues have remained the key sticking points.

Here are five unresolved issues that could possible stall a continuing resolution needed to avoid a partial government shutdown:

  • Emergency Aid: The biggest funding dispute that is unresolved is whether or not to provide relief for Louisiana, ravaged by severe flooding, or aid for Flint, Mich., devastated by lead contamination in the city water supply.  The White House recently indicated it wants to leave those issues for December rather than further bog down the CR negotiations.
  • Export-Import Battle: A bi-partisan coalition want the continuing resolution to include a rider that would effectively restore full operations at the Export-Import Bank.  But many conservatives, including House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-WI), dislike the credit financing agency.  Senators on both sides of the debate have staked their vote on the overall spending package to whether or not the Export-Import Bank rider is included.
  • Internet Transition: Members have given conflicting accounts of whether negotiators are still debating a provision to stop the Obama administration from transferring oversight of internet domain name registrations to an international organization.  Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and other conservative Republicans continue to push for the provision’s inclusion, but at least one senior Senate Democrat has suggested the rider has been dropped.
  • SEC Rider: A policy dispute that emerged during the negotiations was over a campaign finance rule by the Securities and Exchange Commission that could force corporations to disclose campaign spending. 
  • Syrian Refugees: Language to effectively freeze the resettlement of certain Middle Eastern refugees in the U.S. has been the main policy ask for conservatives, led by the House Freedom Caucus.  This language has been deemed a “poison pill” by Democrats and will not be included in the spending package.

 

Weekly Legislative Report Sept 16, 2016

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup

Appropriations/ Budget

Talks continued this week on a continuing resolution (CR) extending spending until December 9 at FY16 levels and including emergency aid to fight Zika, as well as the FY17 Military Construction-VA spending bill. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has teed up a procedural vote on the legislative vehicle for the CR, the FY17 Legislative Branch spending bill passed by the House, and it was announced Thursday that a cloture vote would occur Monday evening on the motion to proceed to the bill.  Negotiations on several policy riders are ongoing and a deal is not expected to be announced until this weekend or early next week.

The key sticking points appear to be language in the Zika conference report that bars a Planned Parenthood affiliated organization in Puerto Rico from accessing anti-Zika funds and an exemption for certain types of mosquito-killing spraying under the Clean Water Act.

In addition, numerous lawmakers have requested that emergency spending, including money for Flint’s lead-contaminated drinking water problem and Louisiana flooding, be added to a continuing resolution.  Other possible additions include funds to address the opioid misuse and overdose epidemic, a request from Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) to prevent the transfer of management of internet domain names from the United States to an international body and a rider by advocates of the Export-Import Bank.

Even with the setbacks, there were signs of progress this week with Senators Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Patty Murray (D-WA) reporting that they are working on a compromise on Zika funding and Planned Parenthood so that the Senate can move forward.  Blunt and Murray wrote the Zika portion of a spending bill that passed in the Senate in May and contained $1.1 billion in funding to fight the mosquito-borne Zika virus. 

Even though lawmakers have until the end of September to pass a CR, it is widely thought that both the House and Senate will pass legislation and leave town to campaign by the end of next week.

Defense

House and Senate Armed Services Committee leaders have reportedly deferred the annual defense authorization bill until after the November election.  The two panels had hoped to complete negotiations on the NDAA by the end of this week and push the final measure through both chambers sometime next week.  The legislation is expected to be vetoed by the President, which Congress could then deal with during the lame duck.

However, arguments over House language that would ban placing the sage grouse on the endangered species list.  With the Senate hoping to leave town after next week, HASC and SASC Committee leaders reportedly decided to delay negotiations until November.

Water Resources

The Senate on Thursday voted 95-3 to pass a $10.6 billion water projects authorization bill.  The Water Resources Development Act (S. 2848) renews the previous WRDA bill (PL 113-121), authorizes 30 water projects, and includes $220 million in loans and grants to help Flint, Michigan rebuild and recover from its lead-tainted drinking water system. 

The Senate bill includes $4.9 billion for Environment Protection Agency drinking water infrastructure programs, including authorization of grants of up to $300 million over five years for communities to replace lead service lines, and $1.4 billion in grants over five years for small and poorer communities to comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act, with priority given to those without “basic drinking water or wastewater services.” 

Attention now turns to House’s version (H.R. 5303) of the bill, which does not include the Flint provision.  Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) said during the committee markup of the bill that those provisions were outside the jurisdiction of the committee. 

Washington Outlook

As you know, the House is waiting on the Senate to act on a continuing resolution to fund the government.  We have been told by House leadership that they expect this will happen by next Wednesday. 

The Senate reportedly “has a deal worked out” but obstacles remain, including continued issues with Planned Parenthood funding, Louisiana flood relief, West Virginia flood relief, and Flint water issues.  If the House gets the bill by midweek, they will likely go out of session by Friday of next week. 

 The Senate passed their WRDA bill this week, and the House would like to take up their own version (H.R. 5303) next week on the Floor.  However, House Democrats are pushing back on the lack of funding in the bill to address the Flint water crisis, so discussions continue.

Other potential items in the House that could be taken up next week are:

  • Around 50 suspension bills, many of these bills are sponsored by House Members who have vulnerable elections approaching, and some are just for “housekeeping”  
  • Rep. Jeb Hensarling’s (R-TX) Financial Choice bill (H.R.5983) that moved out of committee this week 
  • A revised and stripped down version of the 21st Century Cures Act