Monthly Archives: January 2017

Weekly Legislative Report Jan 27, 2017

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup Herbert

 

Appropriations/Budget

On Thursday, Leader McConnell told reporters that the large amount of legislative business this year will likely leave little time to complete all twelve FY2018 spending bills needed to fund the government before the start of the new fiscal year on October 1, 2017. 

The Senate is already busy with confirmation fights over President Trump’s Cabinet nominees and will soon start the confirmation process for a Supreme Court nominee.  Furthermore, Congress hasn’t completed work on FY17 spending bills and has to come up with a solution for funding the government when the existing continuing resolution expires in April.

McConnell did signal that he would like to get some of the FY18 appropriations bills through the Senate, but his comment largely signaled a likely return to continuing resolutions and catchall omnibus spending measures at the end of the year.

Congressional Committee Membership

The Senate Appropriations Committee released subcommittee assignments this week.  The full committee chairman remains Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) and the new Democratic ranking member is Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

The announcement, released on Tuesday, assigns the following new subcommittee chairs:

  • Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Military Construction-Veterans Affairs — Jerry Moran (R-KS), replacing Mark Kirk of Illinois, who lost re-election
  • Agriculture Subcommittee –John Hoeven (R-ND)
  • Homeland Security Subcommittee — John Boozman (R-AR)
  • Financial Services Subcommittee — Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV)
  • Legislative Branch Subcommittee — James Lankford (R-OK)

On the Democratic side, the new subcommittee ranking members are:

  • Commerce-Justice-Science Subcommittee –Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), replacing former Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), who retired at the end of the 114th Congress
  • Homeland Security –Jon Tester (D-MT)
  • Military Construction-VA Subcommittee –Brian Schatz (D-HI)
  • Legislative Branch –Christopher Murphy (D-CT)

Six subcommittees that remain unchanged at the leadership level are:

  • Energy-Water –Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)
  • Defense –Thad Cochran (R-MS)  and Richard Durbin (D-IL)
  • Interior-Environment –Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Tom Udall (D-NM)
  • State-Foreign Operations –Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT)
  • Transportation-HUD –Susan Collins (R-ME) and Jack Reed (D-RI)
  • Labor-HHS-Education –Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Patty Murray (D-WA)

Energy/Environment

On Friday, January 20, after President Trump’s inauguration, the White House issued a memorandum to all executive departments and agencies to freeze new or pending regulations — giving the new administration time to review them.  A copy of that memo can be found here.

As such, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said this week it will freeze 30 regulations, most of which were published in the Federal Register after the 2016 election but have not yet taken effect.  They will be delayed until March 21.  There is also a moratorium on issuing grants and contracts, but EPA communications officials have not responded to a request for a list of the frozen grants and contracts.

The renewable fuel standard published in December is the EPA’s highest-profile rule to fall victim to Trump’s regulatory moratorium.  Emissions standards for wood manufacturers will also be delayed.

This will give Trump’s EPA pick, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, time to review the rules after he is confirmed by the Senate.  At that point, many of the EPA’s more controversial rules could be entirely dismantled.

The freeze, in conjunction with other reported edicts at EPA, including the removal of the agency’s climate change webpage and a gag order on agency employees’ interactions with the public, have raised concerns about the Trump administration approach to the agency’s environmental responsibilities.

Lawmakers on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) warned that this type of freeze raises questions about instituting a politically motivated influence into the EPA’s contracting.

Healthcare

Administration Action

In his first week in office, President Trump appears to be making good on his campaign promise to do all he can to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

On January 20th, one of Trump’s first executive orders was to instruct the federal agencies to use their authorities to repeal the ACA and grant more flexibility to the states.  The order does not give the Agencies any new powers and does not repeal the law by itself, but it may change how the law is implemented.  For example, the Agencies could use it to stop enforcing the individual mandate.  There is a great deal of uncertainty about the full implications of the order, which will probably remain until the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) are confirmed in the coming month or so.

Additionally, yesterday the Trump Administration pulled the plug on advertising for the final days of the 2017 enrollment season.  Individuals may still enroll in exchange plans until the January 31 deadline, but no advertising, even ads that have already been placed and paid for, will be shown.  The pulling of the ads is considered potentially significant because many individuals, especially young healthy adults who are critical to making the markets work, often wait until the last minute to sign up.  Last night it was reported the Administration was also banning follow up emails to individuals who had been shopping for a plan on healthcare.gov, but this afternoon those emails resumed. 

Capitol Hill

This week, Senators Collins (R-ME) and Cassidy (R-LA) introduced an ACA replacement bill.  The Senators’ plan lets states choose from three options: keep the current ACA system, reject any federal assistance, or transition to a new program that will automatically enroll eligible individuals in a high-deductible plan linked to a health savings account. 

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) also introduced a replacement plan this week.  Some of the key provisions in Paul’s plan include eliminating the ACA’s essential health benefits requirements, allowing for unlimited savings in Health Savings Accounts, allowing for the sale of insurance across state lines and bringing together associations to create insurance pools.

Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY) has not committed to any one proposal at this point.  Some insiders called the Collins/Cassidy bill a compromise which neither side is quite ready for just yet.

While the budget resolution passed by the House and Senate earlier this month set a deadline of January 27 (today) for the Committees of Jurisdiction to develop their pieces of the ACA repeal/replacement plans, the Committees are obviously missing the deadline, which was non-binding.  At this point, at least the House Committees are reportedly targeting to hold markups of legislation in mid to late February.  It is expected the House Committees will go first and no dates have been circulated for consideration by the Senate Finance and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committees.

Washington Outlook

Next week in Congress, the House is set to begin the process of repealing regulations issued by the Obama administration in the last half of 2016 using the Congressional Review Act and have picked five rules for disapproval next week.

In the Senate, members will continue with confirmation hearings for President Trump’s picks for top Cabinet positions.

Donald Trump has been in office for seven days and has already issued a slew of Executive Actions.  They are summarized below:

  1. Provide “relief” from Affordable Care Act from Agencies
  2. Freeze Obama Regulations
  3. Block taxpayers dollars to NGOs overseas who provide abortions
  4. Pull Out of Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Agreement
  5. Freeze Federal Workforce (no new hires outside of national security).
  6. Advance Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipelines
  7. Streamline Infrastructure Environmental Reviews
  8. Promote “Made in USA” Pipelines
  9. Review Domestic Manufacturing regulations
  10. Build border wall between U.S. and Mexico (will need Congress to appropriate money – likely around the April 28 spending showdown)
  11. Pursuit of Undocumented Immigrants

President Trump announced Tuesday that he will reveal his choice for the new Supreme Court justice next week after meeting with Senate leaders to discuss the vacancy.

Weekly Legislative Report Jan 13, 2017

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup Herbert

Appropriations

House appropriators are looking at several options to wrap up the FY17 appropriations bills, including bringing the FY17 Defense bill to the floor soon after President-elect Donald Trump takes office.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, said that appropriators will immediately start work on the Defense spending bill, then move to a domestic omnibus bill.   Cole said, “This will give the new administration an opportunity if they want to do something a little different or add something here or there.  The aim would be to get that passed by the April 28 end of the CR.  Then we could operate the rest of the [fiscal] year with a normal functioning government; without the restraints of a CR.”

Fiscal 2017 has seen two continuing resolutions so far – the first (PL 114-223) extended from October 1 through December 9; the second (PL 114-254) will expire on April 28.

Spending bills will also have to be approved by the Senate, before they can be sent to the White House for the president’s signature.  While House Republicans do not need Democratic support to pass appropriations bills, that legislation will have to have bipartisan support in the Senate to move past procedural votes.  Without 60 senators agreeing to a spending bill, it stands no chance of advancing past cloture motions to a floor vote.

Budget

The House today voted 219-189 to adopt a FY17 budget resolution (S Con Res 3) aimed at repealing the 2010 health care law, the Affordable Care Act.  The budget resolution sets up a partial repeal of ACA (PL 111-148, PL 111-152) that would occur separately through the budget reconciliation process.  The budget also was adopted by the Senate 51-48 Thursday.

The concurrent resolution does not require a signature from the president and does not become law, but sets targets for spending and revenues that are expected to be met, under budget law.

In supporting a budget resolution with ever-rising deficits, Republican leaders said the budget outline amounts only to a “placeholder” that reflects current spending trends and is needed only to put the repeal of the health care law on a fast track.  A real budget, they promised, would be written in coming months for FY18, which begins October 1.  That plan, they suggested, would offer a new path to a balanced budget.

But repeal of the health care law, as currently envisioned, could make balancing the budget far more difficult.  A new analysis by the non-partisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget found the new budget resolution passed by the Senate this week would provide as little as $2 billion in savings over the next decade that could be used to reduce annual deficits, which are projected to return to trillion-dollar levels.

That plan would yield enough savings to reach a balanced budget in 2027, the analysis found, but the new budget resolution would still leave a deficit of $350 billion in that year.

Congressional Committee Membership

For the current list of House members with Committee assignments, see here and for the current list of Standing Committees and Subcommittees (along with the Chairs and Ranking Members) see here.

The House Appropriations Committee also released GOP Subcommittee Chairs and membership this week, which can be found here.

For Senate Majority Committee membership and leadership assignments, see here and for the Minority, see here.  For Senate Appropriations Subcommittee Ranking Members, see here.

Energy

The U.S. Energy Information Administration released their Annual Energy Outlook, which provides modeled projections of domestic energy markets through 2050, and includes cases with different assumptions of macroeconomic growth, world oil prices, technological progress, and energy policies.

The AEO is developed using the National Energy Modeling System (NEMS), an integrated model that aims to capture various interactions of economic changes and energy supply, demand, and prices.  With strong domestic production and relatively flat demand, the United States becomes a net energy exporter over the projection period in most cases.

For the full report, see here.

Environment

The Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released the results of a comprehensive, public review of the Nation’s federal coal program this week after Secretary Sally Jewell ordered the review of the coal program in January 2016.

The Federal Coal Program Programmatic Environmental Impact Study Scoping Report summarizes public comments and outlines the need for modernization of the federal coal program by: ensuring a fair return to Americans for the sale of their public coal resources, assessing the structure and efficiency of the coal program in light of current market conditions, and considering impacts on communities and the environment including climate change.

The Department of Interior placed a moratorium on any new federal coal leases while the study was underway, which will continue unless the incoming Trump administration lifts the ban, which they are expected to do.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) sent a letter this week to the President-elect asking his administration to end the government’s legal defense of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which would limit carbon from existing power plants, and the Waters of the United States drinking water pollution rule, which are both on hold pending court challenges.  He also urged the halt of the Interior Department’s stream protection rule as well as the EPA carbon emissions standards for new coal plants.

McConnell and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) have both vowed to scrap the stream protection rule, and House members have already introduced two disapproving resolutions (H.J.Res. 11, H.J.Res. 16) to revoke the rule through the Congressional Review Act, which lawmakers can begin to pass after 15 legislative days, starting January 30.

Despite division among the GOP on certain issues, the Trump administration and Republican leadership seem to be aligned on the topic of energy and environment.

 Healthcare

As previously stated, a FY17 budget resolution was approved by the House today that tees up a repeal of ACA aka Obamacare.

The concurrent resolution does not require a signature from the president and does not become law, but sets targets for spending and revenues that are expected to be met, under budget law.

Still, some Republicans are concerned about moving ahead with repeal legislation so quickly without first knowing what the replacement would be.  House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) told reporters Thursday that a replacement would come “at the same time” as the repeal of a health care law (PL 111-148, PL 111-152) that has provided insurance to more than 20 million Americans.

GOP lawmakers will rely heavily on the incoming Trump administration, which will be able to enact some changes on its own.  Using administrative action could avoid the need for writing some replacement legislation that would have to overcome a Democratic filibuster in the Senate.

However, waiting on the administration could mean a delay in producing legislation.  President-elect Donald Trump said this week that a plan to replace the health care law would come as soon as his nominee for Health and Human Services secretary, Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) gets confirmed by the Senate.  That confirmation may not occur until mid-February.

Trump Cabinet Appointments

Senate Committee hearings began this week to approve President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet picks.  For a full list of the nominees and their hearing schedules see: here.

Washington Outlook

Congress will not be in session next Monday for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, and the House will be in recess the rest of next week.  The Senate will return on Tuesday, where they will continue the nomination hearings for the Trump administration’s cabinet choices.

Weekly Legislative Report Jan 6, 2017

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup Herbert

Appropriations

Republicans start a new Congress burdened with last year’s unfinished spending business after punting Fiscal Year 2017 appropriations bills to April 28 with the continuing resolution passed in December.  Only one of the 12 FY17 spending bills — a measure funding military construction and veterans’ programs — was enacted by the time FY17 began on October 1.

Congress will now will have to complete two spending seasons into one year, both FY17 and FY18, if it wants to achieve the GOP leadership’s goal of returning to “regular order,” in which there’s an orderly procession of spending bills through the House and Senate before the start of a new fiscal year.

There are enough Democrats in the Senate to block procedural advancement of appropriations bills, if the 60-vote cloture threshold remains in force.  They want to cut a deal to raise the sequester-level spending caps that return in FY18.  Current budget law places overall discretionary spending under the sequester at $1.06 trillion overall: $549 billion for defense and $515 billion for nondefense, according to the Congressional Budget Office.  That’s a nearly $5.2 billion cut from the overall discretionary spending figure for FY17, $1.07 trillion, in the expiring two-year bipartisan agreement.

Meanwhile, appropriations floor action in the House will be overshadowed by the push to adopt two budget resolutions, the first expected to be a bare-bones vehicle mainly for the repeal of the 2010 health care law and the second a fuller and more traditional measure in which a tax overhaul figures to be the central element.

This combination of factors means work on spending bills that carry out the budget could start late, too.  “The Appropriations Committee will get back to work to write that bill to replace the April 28 deadline, and then we’ll be back in regular order,” House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said, referring to a bill that would replace the current stopgap continuing resolution.

If lawmakers don’t enact FY17 spending legislation before the current resolution’s April 28 deadline, the fiscal year will be more than halfway over before final decisions on spending are made.

Budget

President-elect Donald Trump plans to submit a FY18 budget request to Congress but it may not come until later in the spring, lawmakers and staff said Wednesday.

While it is the usual practice of presidents to submit a budget for the fiscal year beginning after their election, there was a lack of certainty about whether Trump would and even some speculation he would skip it.

Senior Appropriator Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) said he was told by fellow Republican Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina, Trump’s pick for director of the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), that the president-elect will submit a budget.  Cole said it’s likely the president’s budget request would not be submitted to Congress until May, months after the statutory deadline of the first Monday in February.  Other GOP staff have reportedly said they have heard Trump may submit an outline of the budget in late February.

“I’m not sure it will be as robust and full as we’ve had in the past because they don’t have a lot of time,” Cole said of the anticipated budget submission.  “But I think we’ll get some guidance and that’s important if you’re an appropriator and I’m sure important for the other committees as well.”

Education

Even with the passage of the Every Child Succeeds Act (ESSA) in 2015, which replaced the 2002 No Child Left Behind law that gave the federal government more control of local education, Republicans in Congress would like to do more to delegate power to the states.

GOP members may place a number of rules and regulations on the chopping block and rewrite standards for how states must hold schools accountable for student performance and how they evaluate teacher training.  Conservatives also want to end some federal loan programs and repeal a rule allowing student borrowers to discharge their federal loans if they were misled or defrauded; and could try to block funding for the gainful employment rule in the Labor-HHS-Education spending bill, as they attempted to do unsuccessfully last session.

The final rule on preparing teachers for the classroom was released in October 2016, one month before new state accountability measures were finalized.  That makes both likely contenders to be repealed using the Congressional Review Act, which requires just a simple majority in each chamber.  Using that law, lawmakers can repeal rules within 60 legislative days of their delivery to Congress.

Regulations that are more than 60 legislative days old will be more difficult to overturn.  That includes the gainful employment rule, which requires vocational programs to show that graduates paid no more than eight percent of discretionary income or 20 percent of total income toward student loans in order for the programs to remain eligible for federal financial aid.

President-elect Donald Trump has kept mum on his stance on these issues, and they are unlikely to be among his top priorities.  Still, the House and Senate Education Committees chairs, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) and Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), will press ahead.

Energy/Environment

This week the House passed a bill that aims to target “regulatory accountability” measures and regulations issued in the final months and days by President Obama.  The Midnight Rules Relief Act of 2017 (H.R. 21) introduced by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) would let Congress undo multiple Obama administration regulations finalized in the last 60 legislative days of the president’s tenure in a single vote.  The measure passed on Wednesday, January 4 by a vote of 238-184.

In particular, Republicans are looking to alter the Interior Department’s stream buffer rule, which aims to mitigate environmental impacts on streams by surface mining operations.  The Environmental Protection Agency’s regulations to control methane emissions from new and modified sources in the oil and gas sector would also be targeted.

Other regulations issued in November that would be a target of the legislation are an Interior regulation offering financial incentives and a speedier permitting process for renewable energy projects on public lands and the Methane and Waste Prevention Rule also known as the venting and flaring rule.

The House also considered the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act or REINS (H.R. 26), voting 237 – 187 to pass the bill on Thursday, January 5.  The bill is raising concerns among environmental groups that it would cripple federal agencies like EPA and Interior by requiring Congress to first approve any regulations before they are implemented.

Healthcare

President-elect Donald Trump will launch his own effort to dismantle parts of President Barack Obama’s signature health care law with a series of executive actions that could come as soon as the first day of his presidency, Vice President-elect Mike Pence told Republican lawmakers on Wednesday.

Pence set an ambitious timeline, reportedly aiming to get legislation repealing the health care law to the new president’s desk by February 20.

Republicans plan to use reconciliation instructions to repeal as much of the law as they can, which allows them to avoid triggering the Senate’s 60-vote threshold for passage. To use reconciliation, however, they must first pass a budget resolution (S Con Res 3) that includes reconciliation instructions through both chambers — a process lawmakers said they hope to achieve by January 20.

Leaders on the House Ways and Means Committee said work was already underway, over the holidays, to flesh out the repeal legislation.  Key details, like how long the law might be kept in place during a transition or whether Congress intends to repeal the law’s expansion of the Medicaid program, is still unclear.

Washington Outlook

House Republicans met with Vice President-elect Mike Pence this week to discuss legislative priorities for the 115th Congress, the number one priority being the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) aka Obamacare.  Potentially in store are tax reductions; the slashing of environmental, labor and financial regulations; an immigration and border security overhaul; a defense buildup; an infrastructure spending surge; and more.

A deadline to raise or suspend the debt ceiling looms as the national debt approaches a daunting $20 trillion.  Agencies would shut down after a late April deadline without new appropriations and major reauthorizations are due soon, including for farm policy and surveillance programs.

The GOP holds a narrow majority of 52 seats in the Senate, leaving little room for disagreements in an already disjointed conference and gives Democrats significant power to delay legislation using procedural roadblocks.

Congress is expected to take up budget resolutions for two different fiscal years in the same calendar year.  A likely point of contention will be whether to write a budget that balances over 10 years, something that House conservatives have insisted upon in recent years.  In past budgets, eliminating the deficit has required assuming trillions of dollars in spending cuts.  That kind of fiscal plan could be a hard sell in the Senate.

The GOP must also try to reach consensus with Democrats on raising the FY18 discretionary spending caps – in their present form the caps would require a $5 billion fall in base spending from current levels.  They also could potentially rewrite the entire 2011 deficit reduction law that established the constraints on discretionary spending through FY21.

In the meantime, the Senate will also be consumed with confirmation hearings for Trump’s Cabinet nominees.  Some could be approved by a simple voice vote on January 20, the day Trump takes office.  Others likely will face rough committee hearings and floor votes that may split along party lines.  Recent presidents have seen most of their Cabinets filled by late January or early February.  Democrats’ hands are tied to block any nominees if Republicans hold the line, but Trump will also nominate someone to fill the ninth spot on the Supreme Court, a confirmation that requires 60 votes on a procedural vote to move forward on the Senate floor.

Whether Republicans can deliver on their ambitious promises remains to be seen.  House and Senate 2017 schedules hold far more work days than the 2016 calendar, which could help in the large-scale agenda.

Impact Aid Program – Jan 2017 Webinars

The Impact Aid Program has a number of webinars coming up to help applicants prepare their FY 2018 applications. You must register for each webinar in advance using this link — https://educate.webex.com

Click on Training Center, and Upcoming to see the webinar, then click Register. Times are shown as Eastern Standard Time, so adjust your calendar for your time zone. Select the appropriate Impact Aid Webinar topic by date listed below:

January 4 – Section 8002 for New Applicants
January 5 – “Ask an Analyst” open for your questions
January 10 – Novice Section 8003 Applicant Overview
January 12 – “Ask an Analyst” open for your questions
January 17 – “Ask an Analyst” open for your questions
January 19 – “Ask an Analyst” open for your questions
January 24 – “Ask an Analyst” open for your questions
January 26 –“Ask an Analyst” open for your questions
January 30 – “Ask an Analyst” open for your questions