Monthly Archives: October 2016

Weekly Legislative Report Oct 28, 2016

Recess and Election Update
October 28, 2016

J.R. Reskovac

Sarah Strup Herbert

Congressional Leadership Election

House conservatives are reportedly undecided on who they will vote for as Speaker of the House should the GOP keep the majority.  Nine House Republicans rejected current Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) in the special election to replace Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) last year.

Ryan is almost certain to face a tougher reelection fight after tumultuous year in which he has publicly feuded with Donald Trump.

The far-right Freedom Caucus has threatened to oust Ryan from the Speaker’s chair over his handling of Trump, but do not have a clear alternative to replace him.  No one is actively fielding a candidate, and not a single lawmaker has yet announced they’ll seek the job.

Freedom leaders now are pressing Ryan to delay the House GOP leadership elections until after the lame-duck session.  Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) and other conservatives say they want to see how Ryan handles a FY17 spending bill and other items after the election before voting to give him another two years.  But there is no indication that Ryan plans to grant their request.

Republicans will first hold closed-door leadership elections next month, where only a majority vote within the conference is needed for victory.  The more critical vote will come in January, a public roll call in which lawmakers will shout out the name of their choice for Speaker from the House floor.  Ryan will need 218 votes for victory.

The House currently holds a 246-seat GOP majority, but Republicans are expected to lose seats in the November 8 election.

House and Senate Races

Based on the latest state and national polls, Democrats and Republicans are neck and neck for the Senate majority, with a slight tilt toward Democrats to take over.

The Senate is currently controlled 54-46 by the Republicans.  Every election cycle, at least one-third of the Senate is at stake.  The 2016 cycle is bad for the GOP (the 2018 cycle is bad for Democrats): of the 34 seats up for election, 24 are defended by the GOP and 10 by the Democrats.  Seven of those 24 seats are in states that Obama won twice. 

The Democrats can take control of the Senate by either gaining five seats to take a 51-seat majority, or by gaining four seats and wining the White House (Vice President Kaine would break the tie for a 50-seat majority). 

Right now, of the 34 Senate races, the ten most competitive are:

  • Arizona: Ann Kirkpatrick vas John McCain (R) – Sitting Senator McCain is suffering Trump collateral damage making this race too close for comfort, but still is likely to oust Rep. Kirkpatrick.
  • Florida: Patrick Murphy (D) vs. Marco Rubio (R) – Rubio is currently favored in the polls and his favored to win, but will face a tough battle to defend his seat against Rep. Murphy.
  • Illinois: Tammy Duckworth (D) vs. Mark Kirk (R) – Rep. Duckworth is all but guaranteed to take over sitting Senator Kirk’s seat.
  • Indiana: Evan Bayh (D) vs. Todd Young (R) – If the election were held today, Bayh would reclaim his seat as a Democratic Senator, but the GOP has been spending a lot of money on this race to push Young ahead.
  • Missouri: Roy Blunt (R) vs. Jason Kander (D) – Democrats are using the anti-establishment momentum to push against Sen. Blunt for this toss-up race, but the GOP is still slightly up at +1.0.
  • Nevada: Joe Heck (R) vs. Catherine Cortez Masto (D) – this open seat left by Minority Leader Harry Reid is a toss-up with Rep. Heck at a slight advantage at +1.4
  • New Hampshire: Kelly Ayotte (R) vs. Maggie Hassan (D) – Governor Hassan is doing her best to associate Senator Ayotte with Trump and take her seat, very tight race with Democrats +0.8.
  • North Carolina: Richard Burr (R) vs. Deborah Ross (D) – Senator Burr is has a close race in increasingly purple North Carolina, but is still favored over Ross +2.8.
  • Pennsylvania: Katie McGinty (D) vs. Pat Toomey (R) – This is probably the most expensive Senate race in the Country, Sen. Toomey is fighting to keep his seat with a slight lead of +1.3.
  • Wisconsin: Russ Feingold (D) vs. Ron Johnson (R) – Another slam dunk for Democrats, former Senator Feingold will take Johnson’s current seat.

The House is on track to keep a Republican majority, but the GOP is expected to lose 15-20 seats.

For more information on the Senate elections, see the New York Time’s Election Forecast and for House elections, see the Real Clear Politics site.

Presidential Election

Attached is an inside look at both Clinton and Trump’s transition teams, the policy and personnel experts serving the campaigns; just click here – the-presidential-transition-roadmap-people-to-watch

Washington Outlook

After the November 8th election, Congress will return November 14-18, will recess November 21-25 for Thanksgiving, and return November 28 to December 16 to finish out the lame duck session.

This leaves Congress four weeks to tackle a multitude of issues, first and foremost being to fund the government beyond December 9, when the current stopgap measure (PL 114-223) lapses.

Attached is the GOP House floor schedule for the remainder of the year; just click here – house-gop-schedule

Both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan have said they would like to pass small groups of appropriations bills, known as minibuses, rather than rolling all of the remaining bills into one omnibus package.

In addition to the spending bills, GOP leaders in both chambers also expressed interest in passing a 21st Century Cures Act during the lame-duck.  The measure is aimed at promoting medical research and developing innovative medical solutions.

Other top priorities for the lame duck session include:

  • The National Defense Authorization Act – The House and Senate have finished their respective NDAA bills and need to conference before sending to the President.  The biggest obstacle to an agreement is unrelated language in the House-passed bill (H.R. 4909) on the greater sage-grouse which the Senate bill doesn’t contain.  To further complicate matters President Obama spoke out this week saying he would veto the bill if it includes a provision currently in the House bill that would allow some forms of discrimination in federal contracting.
  • Water Resources Development Act – A water infrastructure bill has been passed by both chambers, who still need to iron out the differences the House (H.R. 5303) and Senate (S. 2848) versions, the main difference being the amount of funding for aid to Flint, Michigan to address lead contamination in its drinking water system.
  • Energy policy modernization bill – Lawmakers are working through a host of controversial issues in the Senate (S. 2012) and House (H.R. 8) energy bills in order to wrap up a conference.  The main items of contention are western drought, wildfire spending and natural gas pipeline permitting, while still trying to find common ground on energy efficiency and grid infrastructure measures.
  • Criminal justice reform bill – This is a priority of Speaker Paul Ryan who will push to move on a bill.  The House Judiciary Committee has already reported out 11 bills on the matter.
  • Taxes – Congress in recent years has passed legislation extending provisions of the tax code that are set to expire, as lawmakers did in the FY16 omnibus (PL 114-113).  More than 30 tax provisions are set to expire at the end of 2016, with roughly half dealing with renewable energy and energy conservation.  Other expiring provisions affect homeowners and their mortgages and rum producers, as well as owners of race tracks and race horses.  House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) has said he’d rather address the issue of expiring tax provisions within the context of a tax code overhaul or through regular order, by marking up legislation in committee and considering it on the floor.  But Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) has said a tax extenders bill is possible for the lame-duck session, with the final decision is up to leadership.

The next regular issue of Weekly Legislative Update will cover the week of November 14-18 when Congress returns to session.

Impact Aid Regulations Webinar – Slides and Logistics

One of our members attended an online meeting regarding updates to the Impact Aid Program’s regulations.   Here are some documents from the meeting that may be useful.

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Weekly Legislative Report Sept 30, 2016

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup

Appropriations/ Budget

After nearly a month of ongoing negotiations, both the House (342-85) and Senate (72-26) on Wednesday passed a continuing resolution (CR) funding the government through December 9.

President Obama signed the CR into law on Thursday as lawmakers left town to campaign ahead of the November elections. As previously reported, the CR also provides $1.1 billion to combat the Zika virus, a full year of funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs and military construction projects, $500 million for flood relief in Louisiana and other states, and $37 million in annualized funding for new programs authorized by the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) (an estimated $7 million may be spent during length of the CR).

Enactment of the spending package averts a government shutdown tonight at midnight when the new fiscal year begins, and gives lawmakers additional time to complete appropriations work after the election.

In the Senate, the CR had failed to advance due to objections from Democrats about the lack of aid for the contaminated water system of Flint, Michigan in the spending package. House and Senate leaders reached a deal Tuesday to provide money for Flint through a water resources authorization bill scheduled to be completed after the elections, paving the way for passage of the CR.

Having failed to pass regular spending bills on time, Congress must still assemble some form of catchall spending package after the elections to fund the government for the remainder of FY17 once the CR expires.  When Congress returns in mid-November, House and Senate leadership and the White House will have to determine how to wrap up the 11 remaining FY17 appropriations bills. Republican leaders are already expressing support for passing a series of “minibuses” that would group appropriations bills together, while Democrats are leaning toward an omnibus bill that would include all of the remaining FY17 bills.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) this week endorsed Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) call to try to pass several FY17 “minibus” appropriations bills in the lame-duck session after the elections, rather than an omnibus or another stopgap spending bill.

Ryan this week said lawmakers have not yet decided which bills would move together under a minibus scenario.  House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers said the committee will be crafting year-end spending legislation over the recess but added, “No decisions have been made as to the form, process or details of any ‘mini-buses.’”

A section-by-section summary of the CR is available by clicking here

Defense

Conference negotiations on the FY17 defense authorization bill ground to a halt in September, just as a deal on the must-pass measure appeared within reach.

The biggest obstacle to an agreement is unrelated language in the House-passed bill (H.R. 4909) on the greater sage-grouse.  The Senate bill (S. 2943) does not contain the provision, and Armed Services Chairman John McCain (R-AZ) has said it doesn’t belong on his bill.

Lawmakers will have to resolve that issue, and a handful of others, before pushing the final conference agreement to the floor.  But the bill carries a wide-ranging veto threat, and President Barack Obama demonstrated last year he will

Healthcare

Republicans leaders in the House and Senate on Thursday voiced their commitment to passing a package of biomedical innovation bills once Congress returns following the November elections.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in addition to funding the government, passing 21st Century Cures legislation would be one of his main goals in the lame-duck session.

McConnell’s thoughts were echoed by House Speaker Paul Ryan who cited the Cures bill as one of his priorities during his weekly press conference this week.  Ryan also listed mental health legislation by Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Tim Murphy (H.R. 2646) as another priority.

The 21st Century Cures bill (H.R. 6) was passed overwhelmingly by the House last year, but has faced a more difficult path in the Senate over disagreements including fights about mandatory funding for the National Institutes of Health.

House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) said earlier this week that a revised version of the legislation would be released when lawmakers return in November. He had hoped to reintroduce the legislation and pass it out of his chamber before Congress left for the October recess, but disagreements with Democrats over ways to pay for the legislation reportedly prevented that from happening. Upton declined to discuss any offsets that might be used to fund the legislation, but did say the bill would remain a comprehensive package. 

Water Resources

The House voted, 399-25, on Wednesday to pass the Water Resources Development Act.  The bill authorizes $9 billion for 31 Army Corps of Engineers projects throughout the country, including watershed restoration efforts, repairs and improvements to waterways and flood-control systems.  It also includes EPA drinking-water infrastructure programs. 

Passage came after the House agreed to amend the legislation and authorize $170 million in aid for Flint, Michigan to address lead contamination in its drinking water system.  The funding for Flint in the House WRDA bill was part of the agreement to get the CR done.

The two chambers would have to resolve differences on Flint aid in the House (H.R. 5303) and Senate (S. 2848) bills in a conference agreement during the lame duck session to enact the measure into law. 

Washington Outlook

The government has been funded for the next 10 weeks, but when Congress returns following the November elections they will have their work cut out for them. 

In addition to the FY17 funding package they must pass by December 9th, they will also need to address a major package of biomedical measures, defense authorization, campaign finance fights, a criminal justice overhaul, an energy policy conference, LGBT rights, a Supreme Court nomination and possibly a revamp of alcohol taxes. 

Congress is hoping to tackle all of those issues during the four week lame duck session between November 14 and December 16.

The next Weekly Legislative Update will cover the week of November 14-18 when Congress returns to session. 

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