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