Monthly Archives: April 2017

Weekly Legislative Report Apr 28, 2017

source: Capital Decisions Newsletter
J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup Herbert

Appropriations/Budget

Fiscal Year 2017

Late Wednesday night, House appropriators filed a one-week continuing resolution to fund the government through May 5 and buy more time for negotiators to reach a final spending deal for the remainder of the current fiscal year.  The CR maintains funding levels and policy provisions under the current continuing resolution, which was set to expire at midnight tonight. 

Both the House and Senate passed the CR today, but not before some drama threatened to hold things up.  On Thursday, House Democrats, angered by Republican efforts to revive a health care bill aimed at dismantling Obamacare, warned they may vote against the CR if a vote on the GOP’s health care bill was scheduled for a floor vote this week.

The same sense of displeasure disrupted plans for swift passage of the CR in the Senate Thursday night when Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) objected to passing the measure by unanimous consent once it is approved by the House.  He said Republicans must first agree to eliminate “poison pill” policy riders that remain contested in the larger spending deal.  Schumer’s move forced the Senate to stay in session today to await House action on the CR and take its own formal vote on the measure to ensure there would be no government shutdown.

Lawmakers took a significant step toward a FY17 spending agreement this week when President Trump made two concessions that paved the way toward a deal.  He agreed to forgo immediate funding for construction of a wall along the Mexican border, settling for other border security money instead, and he agreed to continue making payments for health insurance subsidies created under Obamacare to help reduce out-of-pocket costs for those in the individual marketplace despite earlier threats that he would withhold the payments.

Leaders of both parties say they are making progress on an FY17 bill and still appear determined to get a spending deal in place to fund the government through the end of September when the current fiscal year expires.

FY18 Budget Resolution

House Budget Committee Chairwoman Diane Black (R-TN) this week said that she hopes that her committee will mark up an FY18 budget blueprint that eliminates the deficit within 10 years the week of May 15, with adoption by the full House before the Memorial Day recess.  Wiping out the deficit in 10 years is estimated to require finding $8 trillion in cost savings over the decade, assuming no major increase in taxes.  Black suggested the savings could come in part by restructuring Medicare and Medicaid, but such a plan could set up a clash with the Trump administration, which has promised to avoid Medicare cuts.

Education

The House Education and the Workforce Committee approved the Working Families Flexibility Act of 2017 that amends the Fair Labor Standards Act to allow private-sector employers to offer workers the choice of paid time off in lieu of cash wages for overtime hours worked.  The bill passed by a vote of 22 to 16.

The full Committee held a hearing on strengthening accreditation in post-secondary education and is initiating efforts to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, which efforts were advanced in the Senate side last year.  Concerns exist that the current accreditation system has evolved to focus on ensuring   quality learning outcomes and is consumed with compliance.  Other concerns have been raised that the current system can stifle innovation.  The hearing brought attention to the changes in delivering post-secondary higher education, (including STEM technical trade and on-line learning) and the need for metrics that respect the diversity of IHE missions and types of students served to assess learning outcomes that are not credit hour based.

In other education news, the Department of Education is reportedly considering in-house training to conduct reduction in force actions.  Both President Trump and Secretary Betsy DeVos has previously stated they are looking for areas to cut at the department and lessen the role of the federal government in education policy.

President Trump signed an executive order that empowers Sec. DeVos to conduct a study on  how the federal government “has unlawfully overstepped state and local control.”  The executive order gives Sec. DeVos almost a year to identify any regulations or guidance related to K-12 schools that are inconsistent with federal law.

Energy/Environment

Paris Climate Agreement

Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND), a key energy adviser to President Donald Trump during his campaign advocated Thursday that the United States remain in the Paris climate agreement, although it should demand changes to voluntary targets that do “not do harm” to nation’s economy.  Cramer led a letter with nine other GOP House members advocating that the U.S. renegotiate the global agreement’s goals for reducing climate-altering emissions from fossil fuels like coal and oil. 

The Trump administration continues to debate whether to remain in the Paris climate accord, which was agreed to by the Obama administration in 2015.  GOP Members of Congress remain split on the issue – many of them criticized Obama’s decision to enter into the agreement without congressional consent, but now see remaining in the accord necessary to advancing U.S. international interests.

Industry advocates such the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES), along with 13 companies including Walmart, Google and Shell Oil, among others, also advocated staying in the Paris agreement for fear of economic fallout from leaving it.  But key administration officials like EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and White House advisor Steven Bannon have pushed for the U.S. to exit.  Also advocating to exit is Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY), who issued a memo this week highlighting potential negative economic impacts from remaining in the agreement. 

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the administration would have an official position before the G7 meetings at the end of May.  Media reports indicated that key White House advisors will meet Thursday to discuss the administration’s options.

Antiquities Act

President Trump signed an executive order Wednesday to review and potentially change previous national monument designations.

At a Wednesday signing ceremony, Trump framed the order as a way to return power to states and individuals after former President Obama and his predecessors blocked development on hundreds of millions of acres of federal land and water by creating monuments.  The order is aimed primarily at the highly controversial Bears Ears National Monument, a 1.3 million-acre site in Utah that Obama designated in December.  His action protected areas sacred to American Indian tribes but also prevented any potential development, like oil and gas drilling.  Trump said the designation happened “over the profound objections of the citizens of Utah.”

The review covers all monument designations over 100,000 acres going back to 1996, which includes more than three-dozen monuments.  Under the Antiquities Act, presidents have nearly unlimited power to create national monuments on land the federal government already owns.

Democrats will likely to resist any effort to change the Antiquities Act legislatively, another goal of Trump’s order.

Healthcare

ACA Repeal and Replace

There was a renewed push this week to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  On Wednesday, the House Freedom Caucus announced their support for an amendment negotiated by Rep. MacArthur (R-NJ). The amendment would allow states to waive essential health benefits and community rating requirements if the state has established a high-risk pool.

 

However, while the amendment garnered the support of more conservative Members, moderates remained hesitant to support it.  On Wednesday, House leadership posted the MacArthur amendment text on the Rules Committee website, laying the groundwork for a vote to happen as soon as today or tomorrow. However, last night House leaders announced no vote will be held until next week at the earliest.  When pressed at the House Rules Committee meeting last night on the Continuing Resolution about the likelihood of the House voting next week, Chairman Pete Sessions (R-TX) said the possibility is a “definite maybe.”  

In an effort to bring moderates on board, an amendment making changes to the Medicaid title of the bill is under discussion. Rep. Collins (R-NY) described the potential changes as “tweaks,” telling reporters “there are a couple of other tweaks that could occur on the Medicaid side to help in some extent, without it being such a huge issue that it would lose anybody.”  As you know, moderates, particularly those from expansion states, have been opposed to the $800 billion in cuts to Medicaid in the bill. However, significant changes could cause some conservatives, who in some instances believe the bill remains “too generous,” to flip from “yes” to “no.”

With the House scheduled to be on recess the second week in May, if they do not vote next week, the earliest opportunity after that would be the week of May 15.

Trump Administration

FDA Commissioner Nomination

On Thursday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee approved the nomination of Scott Gottlieb, MD, to serve as Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) by a vote of 14 – 9. Gottlieb was approved on a largely party line vote with Senators Bennet (D-CO) and Whitehouse (D-RI) voting by proxy in favor of the nomination. The nomination now goes to the full Senate for a vote; a timeline for Senate floor consideration has not yet been announced.

Washington Outlook

Next week in Congress, Senators will continue to process President Donald Trump’s nominations and will need to come up with a solution to funding the government through September.  The one week CR (H J Res 99) gives negotiators a little more time to finalize an omnibus deal.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) indicated that text of an agreement could surface Monday evening.  At that point, senators would need to reach a unanimous consent agreement to process the final bill quickly enough to avert a shutdown.

The immediate business for the Senate on Monday will be a rather customary 5:30 p.m. cloture vote to limit debate on Trump’s nomination of Jay Clayton of New York to be a member of the Securities and Exchange Commission. 

Weekly Legislative Report Apr 7, 2017

source: Capital Decisions Newsletter
J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup Herbert

Appropriations/Budget

Negotiations continued this week to try and finalize FY17 spending bills before the current continuing resolution (CR) expires on April 28.  When lawmakers return from the two-week recess in late April, they will have just four joint legislative days to complete floor action on an FY17 package or pass another short-term CR to buy more time to reach a deal or complete consideration of a package to avoid a government shutdown.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) this week said leaders expect to pass an FY17 spending bill before government funding runs out on April 28, while House lawmakers and aides have said they anticipate enacting a week-long stopgap measure to buy time beyond the April 28 deadline.

Appropriators plan to continue negotiating the remaining spending bills during the recess and hope to have a bill ready to move when lawmakers return on April 24.  However, it remains unclear if that legislative package will move first in the House or the Senate.  As previously reported, a House-passed FY17 Defense bill awaits action in the Senate and could be used as a potential legislative vehicle if the Senate acts first on a broader spending package.

House Labor HHS Subcommittee Chairman Tom Cole (R-OK) said that negotiations during the two-week recess will be mostly at the leadership level, and that most of the 11 unfinished spending bills are now being polished, with most of the major decisions settled. In regards to the Labor HHS bill Cole said his bill has been largely “closed down” and that “we’ve signed off, the money amounts are all set.” Both Cole and Senator John Hoeven (R-ND) also indicated that some of the more contentious bills may not make it into the final package, meaning the legislation could be a “cromnibus” rather than an omnibus — though most appropriators have indicated that they would prefer the latter.  Reportedly, the agreement will not include the $18 billion in cuts proposed by President Trump.  

While negotiations may be wrapping up, there are still plenty of politically charged issues that could stand in the way of a final agreement, including Trump’s $33 billion supplemental request for the military and border security.  Republican are divided over whether Trump’s supplemental request should be included in the final FY17 spending package or wait for separate legislation. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) declined to confirm this week whether Trump’s supplemental request would be included and appropriators gave conflicting signals on the shape of a final package. 

House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) said Trump’s military and border security money “will be part of the package, yes.” But Rep. Harold Rogers (R-KY) said he was concerned that including the extra money would trigger a Senate filibuster by Democrats.  Less certain is the view of the Trump administration, which must decide whether to veto any emerging spending deal if the president’s supplemental request isn’t part of it.

Whatever spending bill ultimately emerges will likely need the support of House Democrats, which makes it a lot riskier to try to include things like funding for President Trump’s border wall, among other things.  Cole commented, “If you can’t pass repeal and replace, believe me, you’re not passing a spending bill with Republicans only.”  The House conservative House Freedom Caucus did however indicate this week that they won’t hold up the next must-pass government funding bill with fights over Planned Parenthood or health care with former caucus chairman Rep. Jim Jordan saying efforts to cut off federal funding to Planned Parenthood should be dealt with in Obamacare replacement legislation. 

We will continue to keep you posted as the April 28 deadline approaches.

Education

Democrats of the House and Senate Education Committees sent a letter to the U.S.  Department of Education requesting they enforce ESSA requirements that that direct states and school districts to consult with local stakeholders.  Recently, the Department issued revised template for state accountability plan submission and Democrats noted that the stakeholder consultation requirement was removed.  In the letter, members asked Secretary DeVos to reply to their concerns by this Friday.

In other education news, the Bipartisan Task Force to End Sexual Violence was launched this week by Democrats on the House and Senate.  The task force will work to develop legislative proposals and initiatives to address sexual violence, including those on college campuses and is co-chaired by Reps. Jackie Speier (D-CA) and Ann Kuster (D-NH), Patrick Meehan (R-PA) and David Joyce (R-OH).  They expect to conduct hearings on topics and protect potential budget cuts on specific sexual violence issues.  Last year Rep. Speier introduced a bill that in part created a joint interagency (Depts. Of Justice and Education) Campus Sexual Violence Task Force.

Energy/Environment

Carbon Capture

Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Rob Portman (R-OH) introduced the Carbon Capture Improvement Act on Wednesday, which would allow companies to use tax-exempt bonds issued by states and local governments to fund carbon capture energy projects.

The Senators said the bill could help expand the use of carbon capture technology, reduce carbon emissions and support the construction sector.  Previous legislation to incentivize carbon capture has not yielded any success in Congress.

Coal

Environmentalists and Democratic states are fighting the Trump administration’s request that a federal appeals court put on hold its case regarding former President Barack Obama’s main climate change rule, the Clean Power Plan.

The coalition, led by the Environmental Defense Fund said the request to pause consideration of the case is extraordinary and goes against legal precedent.  They told the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that delay “would have the effect of improperly suspending the rule without review by any court, without any explanation, and without mandatory administrative process.”

The appeals court heard oral arguments in the case against the 2015 rule in September.  It could issue a ruling any day, but the Trump administration asked that it pause its consideration while the EPA undertakes its regulatory process.  Supporters of the regulation argued that the EPA is trying to short-circuit the regulatory process by having the court stop its case.

Pesticides

The Pesticide Action Network and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) on Wednesday asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit to force the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate chlorpyrifos, a pesticide used to kill insects on crops, including some meant for human consumption.  The pesticide has been linked to nervous system and brain disorders.  Under pressure from groups, the Obama administration in 2015 proposed banning it for use on food crops.

Agriculture groups and chemical companies opposed that decision, and Trump’s EPA agreed.  Last week, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said his agency would not ban the pesticide in order to “provide regulatory certainty to the thousands of American farms that rely on chlorpyrifos, while still protecting human health and the environment.”

The Pesticide Action Network and NRDC said that decision puts public health at risk and want the court to force regulators to crack down on the chlorpyrifos.

Weather

The House on Tuesday approved the Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act of 2017 (H.R. 353) aimed to modernize government weather forecasting and increasing reliance on the private sector to save money and lives.  The legislation then moved to the Senate, who passed the bill on Thursday sending it to the President’s desk for signature.

Introduced by Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK) in the House and Sen. John Thune (R-SD) in the Senate, the bipartisan bill seeks to improve the forecasting ability of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), including the National Weather Service by requiring NOAA to establish and modernize programs to enhance tornado warning and hurricane forecasts, conduct a study of gaps in weather radar coverage around the nation, and advance weather satellite and data innovation, among other items.

Supreme Court

The Senate on Friday voted 54-45 to approve Neil Gorsuch as the next Supreme Court justice on a mostly party-line vote.  He will be sworn in Monday, the court said.

Gorsuch will fill the vacancy created by the death of Antonin Scalia in February 2016, and fulfills President Donald Trump’s campaign promise to find an equally conservative replacement.

To overcome Democratic objections to Gorsuch and advance to the confirmation vote, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senate Republicans used the “nuclear option” to change Senate rules so that it only takes 51 votes to overcome a filibuster on a high court nominee — allowing Republicans to proceed to a confirmation vote without any help from Democrats.  McConnell on Friday said as he looked back on his Senate career that was one of the “most consequential decisions I’ve ever been involved in.”

Washington Outlook

Congress has adjourned and will be in recess the next two weeks for the Easter and Passover holidays.  The next Weekly Legislative Update will cover the week of April 24-28 when Congress returns

Weekly Legislative Report Mar 31, 2017

source: Capital Decisions Newsletter
J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup Herbert

Appropriations/Budget

With just eight days remaining in which both chambers are in session before current government funding expires on April 28, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate republican leaders expect a FY17 spending package to begin in the House.

Only one of the regular 12 appropriations bills was signed into law at the end of 2016 – the House Military Construction-VA measure (PL 114-223).  Lawmakers defaulted to a stopgap to fund the rest of the federal government through the end of April (PL 114-254).

If House negotiations fall through, the Senate has the FY17 Defense spending bill (H.R. 1301) passed by the House March 8 to use as a legislative vehicle.  Senators could attach a continuing resolution or omnibus to it that funds the rest of the appropriations bills that have not been enacted.

The White House asked earlier this month for appropriators to pass a $30 billion defense supplemental and the $3 billion border security supplemental during the current fiscal year, which began October 1.

The Office of Management and Budget proposed paying for those increases with an $18 billion cut to domestic discretionary spending.  The administration did not originally detail what agencies and departments should lose funding in the current fiscal year, but suggested cutting Pell Grants by $1.3 billion; the National Institutes of Health by $1.2 billion; and the Community Development Block Grant program by $1.5 billion, among changes to several other federal budgets.

House leadership has not commented on whether an omnibus would fund the U.S.-Mexico border wall.

Education

The Department of Education on Wednesday cancelled a grant program initiated last fall by then Sec. John King.  The $12 million grant program, Opening Doors, Expanding Opportunities, offered funding for planning, not implementation, for school diversity/integration programs. 

The Department of Education is also shutting down four programs it has been running to test new approaches to federal financial aid.  The Experimental Sites Initiative, which gave colleges latitude to test ways to limit the amounts of unsubsidized federal loans that students could borrow, were informed of the termination in a letter sent last week.  The letter noted that several other high-profile experiments would be continuing, including one on dual high-school and college enrollments, another allowing Pell Grants for prisoners, and the program known as Equip, which makes federal financial aid available to unaccredited educational provider.

The Department of Veterans Affairs also issued a notice of an increase in the Post-9/11 GI Bill maximum tuition and fee amounts payable and the increase in the amount used to determine an individual’s entitlement charge for reimbursement of a licensing, certification, or national test for the 2017-2018 academic year.

Energy/Environment

EPA

President Donald Trump issued an executive order Tuesday that directs the Environmental Protection Agency to review the Clean Power Plan, which sets limits on carbon emissions from power plants. 

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit is currently considering a lawsuit filed by a coalition of conservative states, energy companies, business interests and others, who sued to stop the rule in 2015 after the Obama administration finalized it.  EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who was Oklahoma’s attorney general at the time, was one of the leading challengers.  Late Tuesday, Trump administration attorneys asked the court to hold off on ruling on whether the Clean Power Plan is legal.

Environmental advocates have said they will oppose any efforts to shortcut the court process and will push for a decision.  However, most of the targeted regulations will be protected by legal hurdles that may take years to overcome.

On Wednesday, the House voted 228-194 to pass the Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment Act, or HONEST Act to restrict the kind of scientific studies and data that the EPA can use to justify new regulations.  The bill would prohibit the EPA from writing any regulation that uses science that is not publicly available.  It’s the latest push by House Republicans to crack down on what they say has turned into an out-of-control administrative state that enforces expensive, unworkable regulations that are not scientifically sound.

But Democrats, environmentalists and health advocates say the HONEST Act is intended to unnecessarily restrain the EPA, and would leave them unable to write important regulatory protections, since the agency might not have the ability to release some parts of the scientific data underpinning them.

Coal Leasing

On Wednesday, Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke formally lifted the ban on new coal leasing on federal land, a policy shift that was one of the cornerstones of the climate and energy executive order that President Trump signed on Tuesday.  Interior also suspended a review of federal coal-leasing rates that the Obama administration and environmental activists had touted as a win-win for the climate and for taxpayers.

The order, while fulfilling a key campaign promise from Trump, generated swift opposition from environmentalists and public lands supporters, who immediately sued over the order lifting the coal-leasing moratorium.

But Zinke said he is still committed to one of the basic goals of that review, which was establishing an Interior Department task force to consider raising royalty rates for coal mining.

Nuclear Waste

Republican leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on Friday to ask for an examination of the Department of Energy’s management of nuclear waste cleanup for Cold War legacy sites across the country.

The Committee’s leadership seeks information on how the DOE assesses its own environmental cleanup decision-making processes and how it determines a budget for its Office of Environmental Management, which is charged with cleaning up sites contaminated by the U.S. nuclear weapons program.

The Trump administration requested $6.5 billion for the program in its FY18 “skinny budget,” released earlier this month.  The GAO listed DOE’s contract management in the cleanup office and in its National Nuclear Security Administration as a reason for highlighting the two program areas in its “2017 High-Risk List,” a biennial report on federal government programs most susceptible to waste and mismanagement.

GAO noted in the report that DOE has made progress since 2015 on one of five recommendations — leadership commitment to fixing the problem, but the two programs struggled to mitigate risks and “have also demonstrated limited progress in contract management, particularly in the area of financial management.”

DOE Acting Assistant EM Secretary Sue Cange announced earlier in March that it would launch a new strategic planning initiative to better tackle the longer-term challenges the DOE cleanup program faces by assessing strategies that present opportunities to reduce life-cycle costs, address high risks early and/or achieve other tangible benefits.

Washington Outlook

Next week in Congress, the Senate Judiciary Committee will vote Monday to kick off a week-long confirmation process for Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch.  With the panel’s 11-member GOP majority, the Judiciary Committee is expected to advance the nomination to the Senate floor.

While the House was unable to pass the American Health Care Act (H.R. 1628) last week (the Affordable Care Act (ACA)/Obamacare repeal and replacement legislation), House republicans have reportedly decided to make another attempt to repeal and replace core provisions of the ACA, though there is no agreement on the proposal or on how to close the policy gap between the moderates and the conservative Freedom Caucus. 

While action is unlikely before Congress adjourns for the Easter/Passover recess, there appears to be a strong desire to move quickly on this in May.  If the House passes a bill largely based on the American Health Care Act, there would be considerable pressure on Senate republicans to pass it with only modest changes to avoid having the bill bog down again in the House.

The decision to attempt another health reform bill does not have the support of all House republicans, and it seems that Senate GOP leaders and the Trump administration do not believe a second effort is a good idea and would prefer to set healthcare legislation aside to move to their next top priority, tax reform.

Congress will turn its attention this spring to the FY18 appropriations bills which face another round of spending cuts in defense and non-defense appropriations due to sequestration.  The previous bipartisan budget deal to replace a portion of the sequester cuts expires on April 28 with the FY17 appropriations bills.