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Weekly Legislative Report Feb 3, 2017

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup Herbert

Appropriations/Budget

Senate Budget Committee members met this week to discuss the best ways to increase government revenue and reduce the deficit and the debt, following testimony from Congressional Budget Office (CBO) Director Keith Hall.

Chairman Michael Enzi (R-WY) said, “we need to look beyond the annual appropriations process,” and suggested entitlement programs may need to be looked at in order to meet budgetary requirements.

Ranking member Bernie Sanders (I-VT) rebuked Enzi for what he believed was a proposition that Congress should overhaul mandatory spending programs, such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Hall warned that there would be consequences for allowing the debt to continue increasing during the next decade and noted that if Congress addresses Social Security’s insolvency soon, it could require a 33 percent reduction in benefits, but that number increases by 5 percentage points every six years that lawmakers do not take action.

Defense

Nuclear Arsenal

The Defense Science Board, a panel of outside experts that advises military officials, has recommended via an unpublished report that the U.S expand its nuclear arsenal.  The issue could generate a greater debate as the Pentagon prepares for an up-to-$1 trillion update of the U.S. nuclear arsenal in the next several years.  Currently the update involves primarily building new versions of the same submarines, bombers, missiles, bombs and warheads.  Support for the modernization effort is bipartisan, but expansion for any reason other than deterrence will receive pushback from Democrats.

Federal Hiring Freeze

On February 1, Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work issued a memo exempting thousands of jobs at shipyards, depots and maintenance facilities from the Trump administration’s hiring freeze.  Without such an exemption, part-time and temporary employees in many, mostly Republican, districts would have lost their jobs.   

Other exemptions include, but are not limited to: positions directly supporting contingency operations, scheduled military operations and deployments and security cooperation exercises and training; positions required for cybersecurity, cyberspace and space operations or planning; positions at medical and dental facilities; first responder and law enforcement positions; positions necessary to carry out treaties and other international obligations; and positions providing operational support to the president, Defense secretary and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman.

Education

Republican lawmakers who have advocated for a federal school choice voucher system now see a possible opening to push through legislation that once couldn’t garner enough support.  Vouchers can allow families to use federal or state funds to send their children to the school of their choice, whether that is a religious or a charter school.

In 2015, eight Republicans in the Senate and 49 in the House joined Democrats to reject several amendments that would have allowed states to use federal funds to create voucher programs through the Every Student Succeeds Act (PL 114-95).  However, with the White House and Dept. of Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos advocating for school choice, lawmakers who have praised voucher and school choice programs, including House Education and the Workforce Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), there could be a push for similar legislation this Congress.

Despite the support for school choice and vouchers, passage of ESSA was less than two years ago, and making changes to the bill could prove difficult.  Senate HELP Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) has also made statements that his committee’s main focus will be reauthorizing the higher education act (PL 110-315).

Energy/Environment

The Senate voted 54-45 on Thursday to pass a Congressional Review Act joint resolution (HJ Res 38) to nullify the Interior Department’s Stream Protection Rule aimed to limit polluted runoff from surface coal mining into nearby water sources.

The resolution passed the House by a vote of 228 – 194 on Wednesday, and now goes to President Trump for signature.  Trump is expected to sign, as helping the coal industry was one of his campaign promises.  The controversial stream rule, also known as the stream buffer rule, was finalized in December.  It was written to update a 1983 federal rule limiting runoff contamination from open pit coal mines.

Congress has used the CRA to nullify a regulation only once before, but Republicans plan use the law in the coming weeks to undo regulations that were finalized in the past 60 legislative days of the Obama administration.  That time frame would allow Congress to act on rules made final on or after June 13, with the Senate only needing a simple majority to pass.

Trump Cabinet

Attorney General

The Senate Judiciary Committee met on February 1st and voted among party lines in favor of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) for attorney general.  His full Senate vote has not been scheduled.

Department of Education

The Senate moved one step closer Friday to confirming the nomination of Betsy DeVos for Education secretary after clearing a procedural hurdle, setting up a confirmation vote on Tuesday, February 7.

The procedural cloture vote to limit debate on the nomination came after two Republicans, Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), said they would vote against DeVos’ confirmation after a flood of phone calls, letters and social media postings by constituents pressured Republican senators to oppose the nominee.  With nays from Collins and Murkowski, it brings the Senate to a 50-50 tie which Vice President Mike Pence can break in what would be an unprecedented move on a Cabinet nominee.

Department of Energy

The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on Tuesday voted 16-7 to advance Governor Rick Perry (R-TX) as Energy Secretary.  His Senate vote is not yet scheduled.

Department of Health and Human Services

The Senate voted 51-48 yesterday for cloture on the motion to proceed to executive session, which allows consideration of HHS secretary nominee Rep. Tom Price (R-GA).  The action comes a day after the Senate Finance Committee took the unusual step of waiving committee rules to advance the nomination to the Senate floor without the presence or support of a single Democrat. 

Department of the Interior

Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-MT) was approved on Tuesday by the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and now goes to the full Senate for confirmation to lead the DOI.

Department of State

The Senate on Wednesday confirmed former Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson as secretary of State with a vote of 56-43.  Senate Democrats were nearly unanimous in their animosity toward the nominee.  Initially, some high-profile Republican Defense hawks, including Armed Services Chairman John McCain (R-AZ), had expressed skepticism about Tillerson’s relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.  But following his confirmation hearing, all Senate Republicans threw their support behind the nominee.

Department of Transportation

The Senate on Tuesday voted 93-6 to confirm Elaine Chao as Secretary of Transportation.  The Senators to vote against her confirmation were Cory Booker, Jeff Merkley, Bernie Sanders, Chuck Schumer, Elizabeth Warren, and Kirsten Gillibrand.

Department of the Treasury

The Senate Finance Committee was scheduled to vote Wednesday on the nomination of Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin, but as the case with Tom Price, Democrats did not show up for the vote, and Republicans moved to suspend the rules and vote without Democrats present.  Mnuchin, a former partner of Goldman Sachs and hedge fund manager, has also been a controversial choice due to his time with OneWest Bank, which has been criticized for cruel and overly aggressive foreclosure practices.

Environmental Protection Agency

Despite a boycott by committee Democrats, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee advanced Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s nomination to lead the EPA to the full Senate.  Republicans agreed by voice vote to suspend panel rules requiring at least two Democrats to be present for a vote, after the minority party sought for a second day to block Pruitt’s confirmation over questions about potential conflicts of interest and ties to the oil and gas industry.  Nonetheless, Pruitt is expected to be confirmed.

Office of Management and Budget

Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s pick for director of OMB, was approved on Feb. 2nd by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and the Budget Committee.  He now goes to the full Senate for a floor vote.

Small Business Administration

Linda McMahon was approved by the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee on January 31st, in an 18-1 vote, to head the SBA.  The only senator to vote against McMahon was Cory Booker.  Her Senate vote has not yet been scheduled.

Washington Outlook

Next week in Congress, the Senate will continue confirmation hearings and floor votes on the remainder of President Trump’s cabinet nominations. 

Currently, the cabinet positions that have been confirmed are Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.  Mattis and Kelly were sworn in on Jan. 20th, Haley on Jan. 24th, Chao on Jan. 31st, and Tillerson on Feb. 1st.

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

Weekly Legislative Report Dec 9, 2016

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup Herbert

Appropriations/ Budget

Senators today will determine whether to pass a continuing resolution (CR) or force a temporary government shutdown.

The House easily passed the continuing resolution (H.R. 2028) Thursday by a vote of 326-96.  The measure would extend current funding levels for most federal agencies through April 28.  The government is currently operating on a similar CR (PL 114-223) that ends at midnight.

A summary of the CR and bill text are available here.

A dispute over expiring health insurance for more than 16,000 retired coal miners has angered the White House and Senate Democrats, who are considering blocking the spending bill.  They are joined by Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), who said she is prepared to vote to block the stopgap unless the miners’ problem gets resolved.

With thousands of retired miners facing a lapse in health care at the end of this month, the CR would provide money to extend benefits through April.  But Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) who is leading the threat, said a four-month extension of health care would be “inhumane” to worried miners who would get notices next month warning of an impending insurance cut-off.

Democrats also have registered other concerns about the continuing resolution.  The measure includes $170 million to help repair the contaminated water system of Flint, Michigan, but most of the money hinges on passage of a separate water projects bill (S. 612) that would authorize the work.  While the House cleared that bill Thursday, it has bogged down in the Senate over an unrelated provision concerning drought relief for California.  Democrats also object to a “Buy America” provision requiring the use of American-made material, a provision that they said needs to be strengthened.

We predict a stopgap funding bill will ultimately to win approval, however, Senators may need to work through the weekend—and potentially a weekend government shutdown — to get it done.

Defense

The Senate on Thursday voted 92-7 to pass the FY17 National Defense Authorization Act (S. 2943), sending the legislation to Obama’s desk.  The House voted last Friday to pass the measure.

Although the White House had threatened to veto the annual measure, many of the most contested provisions have been removed or modified and the President is expected to sign. 

Healthcare

On Wednesday, December 7th, the Senate passed the 21st Century Cures Act in a 94 to 5 vote, and is now headed to President Obama’s desk to be signed into law.  The President will hold a signing ceremony for the bill on Tuesday, December 13.  The House passed the measure last Wednesday.

The Cures Act makes investments of $1 billion to address the opioid crisis, $1.8 billion in new resources for cancer research, $3 billion to build upon the major biomedical research initiatives such as the BRAIN and Precision Medicine Initiatives – which research and treat diseases like Alzheimer’s; there are also important steps to improve mental health and advances to improve the Food and Drug Administration’s drug development process.

More information about the Cures bill including bill text and summary materials is available here.

Trump Administration

Since last week’s update, the following Cabinet positions have been filled:

  • Ben Carson, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
  • Andrew Puzder, Secretary of Labor
  • Scott Pruitt, Environmental Protection Agency
  • Linda McMahon, Small Business Administration
  • Retired General (USMC) John Kelly, Secretary of Homeland Security

Secretary positions that are still outstanding are: Secretary of the Interior – although Trump has reportedly chosen Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Secretary of State, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Secretary of Agriculture, and Secretary of Energy.  Cabinet-level officials still outstanding are: Director of the Office of Management and Budget, United States Trade Representative, and Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers.

Water Resources

The House on Thursday voted 360-61 to approve a water resources bill that would authorize nearly $11.7 billion for water infrastructure projects and $170 million to help Flint, Michigan repair its lead-tainted drinking water system.  House Democrats voiced objections to the bill and opponents in the Senate may have enough votes to block it. 

The Bill, entitled “Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation” or WIIN Act (S. 612) would authorize 30 new Army Corps of Engineers navigation, natural disaster management and ecosystem restoration projects and modifications to eight existing projects.  Previous versions were called the Water Resources Development Act (H.R. 5303 and S. 2848) and attracted bipartisan support and passed both chambers with wide margins in September, but several Senators are unhappy with recent changes in the bill that they consider anti-environmental and insufficiently pro-worker.

Supporters say the bill includes a number of worthy provisions and delivers needed spending on infrastructure.  House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) touted the approval of many water projects of national importance and the return of a water resources bill to a two-year cycle, which he said is a benefit to U.S. businesses. 

House Transportation and Infrastructure Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-OR) voted against the bill.  He backed it in the committee markup in the spring, but became an opponent when Republican leaders removed a provision allowing money from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund to be spent without congressional appropriation.  The fund collects taxes based on goods imported and exported at U.S. ports, but it has a balance of $9 billion that hasn’t been appropriated on necessary projects, he said.

The water bill and the Flint aid still faces a potential hurdle in the Senate.  Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) said Monday she would seek to block the bill because she objects to provisions on drought aid for California.

The 70-page provision was added to the bill Monday, the result of an agreement between House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) that would relax Endangered Species Act protections to allow additional pumping, desalination and storage of water in drought-stricken areas of California.  West Coast lawmakers and others say they are worried about the environmental impact that could affect fisheries and related jobs.  Some senators have a second objection to the water bill: a provision that limits to FY17 a requirement that some projects authorized by the bill and receiving money from the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund use U.S. made iron and steel.  The senators want no time limit on that provision.

A fact sheet on the bill is attached.

Washington Outlook

With a government shutdown looming, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told senators today to “take yes for an answer” and move forward on the continuing resolution that funds the government through April 28 so as to avert a partial government shutdown at midnight.

The House has rejected expanded benefits for coal miners that Senate Democrats want to re-negotiate on the stopgap bill (H.R. 2028).  The House passed the measure overwhelmingly Thursday by a 326-96 vote and it cannot be amended by the Senate without the House taking it up again.

Many House members have left town with the expectation that work is over for the year, although the chamber has adjourned only until Monday and is scheduled for what’s expected to be a pro-forma session.

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

Weekly Legislative Report Dec 2, 2016

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup Herbert

Appropriations/ Budget

Wednesday, House and Senate Republicans said that a continuing resolution (CR) will most likely be extended to April 2017 or longer due to the Senate’s crowded schedule that will be full with confirmations of President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet.  Senators are reportedly seeking a CR from the House that would run through April 28. 

House Appropriations Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee Chairman Tom Cole (R-OK) told reporters after the weekly GOP conference meeting that lawmakers haven’t decided but said “the implication was it’s probably going to be April,” when asked about the length of a continuing resolution.  He added that Republicans will again discuss the issue Friday.  Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said he sees the benefit of a longer stopgap that punts final fiscal 2017 spending decisions past March, given the Senate’s schedule.

News of a longer continuing resolution has raised alarm in the defense community, which is concerned there will be a delay in the start of new projects at a time of increased security concerns. 

One potential complication for the stopgap spending bill is funds for the Flint, Michigan for its lead-contaminated water crisis, which Democrats including have insisted should be addressed in the lame duck.

Ryan said that aid to Flint would get done through either a water resources authorization bill (H.R. 5303), his preference, or the CR.

Yesterday Ryan said he plans to bring a continuing resolution to the House floor “as soon as possible next week,” but negotiations with the Senate over the duration of the stopgap were ongoing.

Congressional Leadership

Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) on Wednesday overcame a challenge from seven-term Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan to retain her position as House Minority Leader for the 115th Congress in a 134-63 vote.

Pelosi announced Friday that the Democratic Steering & Policy Committee approved Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut and Eric Swalwell of California as Co-Chairs, Jared Polis of Colorado as Vice Chair and Parliamentarian, and Barbara Lee of California as Vice Chair.  The Steering & Policy Committee also nominated the following Ranking Members for House Committees to be approved by the Democratic Caucus:

  • Appropriations: Nita Lowey (D-NY)
  • Energy and Commerce: Frank Pallone (D-NJ)
  • Financial Services: Maxine Waters (D-CA)
  • Ways and Means: Richard Neal (D-MA)

On Thursday, the House Republican Steering Committee approved the following recommendations for committee chairs in the 115th Congress:

  • Agriculture: Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX)
  • Appropriations: Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ)
  • Armed Services: Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX)
  • Budget: Rep. Tom Price (R-GA)
  • Education and the Workforce: Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC)
  • Energy and Commerce: Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR)
  • Financial Services: Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX)
  • Foreign Affairs: Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA)
  • Homeland Security: Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX)
  • Judiciary: Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA)
  • Natural Resources: Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT)
  • Oversight and Government Reform: Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT)
  • Science, Space, and Technology: Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX)
  • Small Business: Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH)
  • Transportation and Infrastructure: Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA)
  • Veterans’ Affairs: Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN)
  • Ways and Means: Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX)

In addition, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) has made the following committee chair appointments:

  • Administration: Rep. Gregg Harper (R-MS)
  • Ethics: Rep. Susan Brooks (R-IN)
  • Joint Economic Committee: Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-OH)
  • Intelligence: Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA)
  • Rules: Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX)

These recommendations will be presented to the full House Republican Conference today for official ratification.

Defense

The House voted 375-34 this afternoon to pass this year’s annual defense policy bill, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

The bill would authorize a total of $618.7 billion in spending, including $59.5 billion for a war fund known as the overseas contingency operations (OCO) account.  Another $8.3 billion from the OCO account — $3.2 billion more than Obama requested — would be used for base budget requirements such as a pay raise for troops and troop increases.  The troop pay raise would be 2.1 percent, above the president’s request for a 1.6 percent pay raise.

Democrats have criticized the use of OCO funds to raise defense spending as a tactic that skirts budget caps to avoid raising nondefense spending.  Despite their concern, most voted on Friday for the bill.

The White House has not said yet whether President Obama will veto the bill over the extra money.  Controversial policy provisions such as requiring women to register for the draft, a piece on religious discrimination in government contracting, and the sage-grouse amendment have been eliminated from the final version.

The bill would also keep the status quo on restrictions on transfers out of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, cap the size of the National Security Council at 200 staffers and reauthorize a program to give visas to Afghans who assisted U.S. troops and diplomats during the Afghanistan War.

The Senate is expected to vote on the bill next week.

Healthcare

The House on Wednesday voted 392-26 to pass a package of biomedical innovation bills intended to advance the development of new drugs and medical devices.  The legislation also includes changes to the U.S. mental health care system and several Medicare-related provisions, among other measures.

The House first passed the bill, known as 21st Century Cures (H.R. 34), last year, but it was delayed in the Senate over disagreements on mandatory funding for the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration, among other things.

The new legislation is significantly different in several other ways from the package (H.R. 6) the House passed last year.  Unlike the previous version, the new legislation contains no drug exclusivity provisions protecting drugmakers’ patents for longer periods.  While the previous bill would have provided $8.75 billion in funding for the NIH over five years, updated language would provide $4.8 billion over a decade for specified projects within the agency, including President Barack Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative and cancer “moonshot” program.  Cures would also provide $500 million over nine years for the FDA and $1 billion in funding over two years to combat the opioid epidemic to the states with the highest need.

Offsets for the bill would come mainly from the federal Strategic Petroleum Reserve and a fund created in the 2010 health care overhaul (PL 111-148, PL 111-152) to promote disease prevention and public health.

The legislation next heads to the Senate, where it is expected to pass.  The White House on Tuesday said it “strongly supports” the bill.  Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) said the chamber would vote on the package early next week.

Trump Administration

Since November 8, the following people have been chosen by President-elect Donald Trump for top Cabinet positions:

  • Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Attorney General
  • Retired Gen. James Mattis, Secretary of Defense
  • Betsy DeVos, Secretary of the Department of Education
  • Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), Secretary of Health and Human Services
  • Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC), U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations
  • Elaine Chao, Secretary of Transportation
  • Steve Mnuchin, Secretary of the Treasury 
  • Wilbur Ross, Secretary of Commerce

Still Outstanding are: Secretary of State (Trump is believed to be considering Rudy Giuliani, John Bolton, Bob Corker, Mitt Romney, and David Petraeus); Secretary of Homeland Security (Michael McCaul and David Clarke are contenders); Secretary of the Interior (Sarah Palin and Mary Fallin are reportedly in the running); Secretary of Veterans Affairs; Secretary of Agriculture; Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (Ben Carson has been offered the position but has not accepted); Secretary of Labor; and Secretary of Energy.

Washington Outlook

Next week in Congress, Speaker Ryan will bring a continuing resolution to fund the government to the floor.  In the Senate, members will vote on the 21st Century Cures package and NDAA bill. 

Today, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said that the House wrap up work on the continuing resolution and Water Resources Development Act (H.R. 5303) by next Thursday.  The current CR expires on Friday, December 9th.

House and Senate calendars for 2017 (115th Congress, 1st Session) were released this week.  Please find combined calendar prepared by Capitol Decisions by clicking here.

Weekly Legislative Report Nov 18, 2016

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup Herbert

Appropriations/ Budget

On Thursday, House Republicans announced that they will begin work on a continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government through March 31, 2017, a strategy requested by President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team.  Senators from both parties raised strong objections, though none went so far as to threaten to shut down the government over the move.

The House Republican conference met with Vice President-elect Mike Pence where they decided to defer final funding decisions into March in order to give the incoming Trump administration a say in final FY17 spending decisions.

Congressional Leadership

House Republicans on Tuesday nominated Paul Ryan (WI) to serve as Speaker of the House for the next two years as they make plans for a unified GOP government in 2017.  Ryan ran unopposed for the top leadership post and was nominated in a unanimous voice vote during a closed-door meeting.  The following leadership roles were also assigned:

  • Majority Leader: Kevin McCarthy (CA)
  • Majority Whip Steve Scalise (LA)
  • GOP Conference Chair: Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA)
  • Policy Chairman: Luke Messer (IN)
  • National Republican Congressional Committee Chair: Steve Stivers (OH)
  • GOP Conference Vice Chairman: Doug Collins (GA)
  • GOP Conference Secretary: Jason Smith (MO)

It now appears Ryan will be re-elected as Speaker on January 3, when all members of the House of Representatives cast their vote in a public roll call.  Ryan needs a simple majority, or roughly 218 votes, to win his first full, two-year term as Speaker.

On Wednesday, the Senate Republican caucus unanimously re-elected Mitch McConnell (KY) as Majority Leader.  Cory Gardner (CO) was then chosen to replace Roger Wicker (MS) take over the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC).  The rest of the GOP Senate leadership roles for the 115th Congress remain the same:

  • Conference Chairman: John Thune (SD)
  • Conference Vice Chair: Roy Blunt (MO)
  • Policy Committee Chairman: John Barrasso (WY)

The Senate Democratic caucus met Wednesday to elect Charles Schumer (NY) to replace retiring Harry Reid (NV) as Minority Leader.  As Caucus Chair, Schumer then made the following leadership appointments for the 115th Congress:

  • Minority Whip: Dick Durbin (IL)
  • Assistant Democratic Leader: Patty Murray (WA)
  • Chair of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee: Debbie Stabenow (MI)
  • Vice Chair of the Conference: Elizabeth Warren (MA)
  • Vice Chair of the Conference: Mark Warner (VA)
  • Chair of the Steering Committee: Amy Klobuchar (MN)
  • Chair of Outreach: Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
  • Vice Chair of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee: Joe Manchin (WV)
  • Senate Democratic Conference Secretary: Tammy Baldwin (WI)

Facing heavy pressure from House Democrats, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA) on Tuesday delayed the party’s leadership elections until the end of the month.  Pelosi is now facing several challengers due to frustration with leadership’s unwillingness to re-evaluate strategy after this year’s election has reduced Democrats to its smallest congressional minority since 1929.

Defense

Two controversial provisions in the FY17 defense authorization bill (NDAA) that could have led to a White House veto have reportedly been agreed to be removed.   

One provision would have had the sage grouse bird removed 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.; the second would have overturned an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating against people based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

House and Senate conferees are still in continuing discussions over the most significant remaining issue between the two bills (H.R. 4909, S. 2943), the level of funding.

Earmarks

On Wednesday, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) put a halt to consideration of rolling back a ban on earmarks during a closed-door House Republican Conference meeting to set House rules for the next two years.  He argued that Republicans should not change the prohibition on earmarks right after President-elect Donald Trump campaigned heavily on a “drain the swamp” message.  In return for a postponement, Ryan promised his Caucus a more thorough review of earmarks and a vote on the measure by the end of the first quarter of next year.

During the meeting, two amendments to revive earmarks were debated. The first amendment from Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) would have allowed lawmakers to direct appropriations to federal, state or local government projects.  The second from Rep. Tom Rooney (R-FL) would have modified the earmark ban to allow representatives to direct Army Corps of Engineers funding to projects in their districts.

Republican Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) said it was his opinion that a majority of Republicans in the room were in favor of lifting the earmark ban, saying “It was pretty clear from the number of people speaking and the crowd reaction that had the two amendments had gone forward, they would have passed.”

Even if the House GOP had decided to bring back congressionally directed spending during the 115th session of Congress, the Senate was not expected to follow along.  Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) reinforced his support of the ban during a news conference last week and Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) also voiced opposition to bringing back earmarks on Wednesday.

Removing the earmark ban has been a topic of discussion among Democrats and Republicans since it first took effect in the House in 2011 and support has been building among rank-and-file Republicans to revive the use of them.  Earmark supporters say Congress shouldn’t cede the power of the purse, as provided in the Constitution, to the executive branch.

Education

The Education Writers Association held a panel discussion at the National Press Club Monday on how a Trump presidency and GOP Congress is likely to reshape federal policy on education from preschool to college.

During his campaign, President-elect Trump spent relatively little time discussing a platform on education.  However, he did briefly touch on some issues, including: criticism of Common Core, the need to scale back or eliminate the Department of Education, high student debt, support of charter schools and proposing a plan to significantly expand school choice.

Speakers on the panel weighed in on some of these issues, starting with higher education – an issue on Congress is hoping to address in 2017.  After passing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in 2015, a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (AHA) was put on the back burner.  Members of the Senate HELP and House Education and Workforce Committee have said this is an issue they are hoping to tackle in the 115th Congress.

Regarding Common Core and charter schools, experts doubted a Trump Administration could or would do much to change the law at the federal level since ESSA gave significant power to states and localities to handle these issues as they see fit.  School choice is a more bi-partisan issue that may have an easier pathway to be altered.

The panel discussed the role of the Department of Education, and given the difficulty of dismantling a cabinet, predicted that the agency would be scaled back so as to implement ESSA without overreach.

Healthcare

House lawmakers are hoping to reach a consensus on a package of biomedical innovation bills that would also include legislation that would help overhaul the U.S. mental health care system, according to lead sponsor Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI).

House Republicans were informed at a meeting with Vice President-elect Mike Pence Thursday morning that House negotiations on the package known as 21st Century Cures (H.R. 6) are nearing completion.

The package is still expected to provide some additional funding for research.  While no funding numbers have been officially finalized, the committee is reportedly considering $4 billion for NIH and $1 billion for the moonshot.

Water Resources

Now that Congress has opted for a CR, federal funding for to aid Flint, Michigan in repairing its lead-poisoned water system could be separated from the water resources conference to a new stopgap spending bill.

House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) told reporters Thursday that an aid package for Flint is likely to be included in a CR.  There is currently $170 million in aid for Flint included in the House water projects authorization bill (H.R. 5303), but if moved to a CR, would be in the form of an appropriation rather than an authorization.

That amount, however, is lower than the Senate included in its bill (S. 2848) to authorize projects under the Water Resources Development Act.  The Senate’s Flint package totals $220 million. 

If the Flint funding issue is removed from the WRDA bill, prospects should increase for the House and Senate completing a conference agreement on the legislation.

Washington Outlook

Both chambers have recessed for the Thanksgiving holiday.  The next Weekly Legislative Update will be sent on December 2.  As always, we will keep you apprised of relevant events.

A lot has happened since Election Day on November 8 – Republicans will have control of the White House and both chambers in 2017, and there is talk about reviving the stalled FY17 budget resolution, passed by the House Budget Committee in March but never taken up on the floor, to help speed the partial repeal of President Obama’s health care law.

Last year, Congress failed to pass a budget for fiscal year 2017, creating an opportunity for Congress to pass two budgets resolutions next year, rather than just one.

Using the FY17 budget resolution would allow Republicans to accomplish their long held objective of repealing the health care law before turning to a brand-new FY18 budget resolution to accomplish tax reform or other objectives.  Rewriting the stalled fiscal 2017 budget and later adopting a FY18 budget with reconciliation instructions could allow Republicans to complete two of their top legislative priorities without hitting the Democratic firewall in the Senate since both measures would include instructions for reconciliation, a streamlined budget procedure that gives the Senate the power to approve items with a simple majority vote instead of the 60-vote super-majority normally required.  In addition, they will have President-elect Donald Trump in the White House to sign the bills.

In the meantime, plenty of questions remain unanswered about whether the reconciliation process would be sufficient to repeal and replace vast portions of the health care law simultaneously without causing disruption in the marketplace, which Trump has said he does not want to see while making a transition.  Senate rules require that any reconciliation provisions affect spending or taxes.  Key provisions of the health care law, like its coverage requirements, caps on annual spending, or the ban on pre-existing condition exclusions, cannot be overturned through that process. 

The strategy currently being discussed involves reviving the FY17 budget resolution in January to ensure swift passage of a measure that would repeal, at least partially, the 2010 health care law.  It remains unclear whether a replacement law would be part of the package or would be handled separately at a later time.