February 7, 2014
The House passed a bill to promote hunting and shooting on public lands, a California Water bill, and package of public lands bills including land conveyances and legislation on grazing, the Chesapeake Bay and national parks. The Senate passed the farm bill conference report, which the President is scheduled to sign today. The Senate also confirmed Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) to be Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China, and resumed consideration of the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act, but was unsuccessful in invoking cloture on the measure.
The President is now expected to release his FY15 budget request in two installments – top lines will be released on March 4 and detailed budget justifications and appendixes will follow on March 11. In the meantime, some details of the President’s FY15 budget request for the Department of Defense were “leaked” this week, including word that the President’s FY15 budget request will come in above the congressional budget caps.
Some of these leaks served as trial balloons floated just in time for the administration to reverse course if needed. They include the following: another request for domestic base closures, a reduction in the Army National Guard force, a request to transfer 192 AH-61 Apache and 105 Lakota helicopters from the Army National Guard to active units in exchange for 111 UH-60 Black Hawks, termination of the Ground Combat Vehicle, elimination of one Navy aircraft carrier along with one carrier air wing, reversal of the Air Force’s previous decision to kill the Global Hawk Block 30, no funding for an upgrade program to replace avionics and radars on F-16s, and an early retirement of the USS George Washington reducing the carrier fleet to 10.
With the new FY15 budget, the Pentagon is expected to present a list of programs it would like to see funded if given an extra $26 billion. Former DOD Secretary Gates halted the practice of submitting an unfunded priorities list from each of the service components to Congress back in 2012. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) recently sent a letter to the current Secretary Hagel asking him to bring back the lists stating that they provide Members of Congress with, “essential and important information about current and emerging programmatic requirements.” Some defense analysts are concerned that bringing back the practice will have a negative effect on budget discipline inside DoD.
The deadline for raising the debt ceiling is today. The Treasury Department will begin now to take extraordinary measures to push the deadline to the end of February. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew warned this week that the drawdown on the nation’s cash balance is faster now than at other times of the year as outlays are greater than net inflows due to the payment of income tax refunds. He urged Congress to act quickly as “simply delaying action on the debt limit can cause harm to our economy.” House Republicans are at odds over what to demand in exchange for raising the debt limit. Some want to see it linked to repealing the 2.3% medical device tax or repealing the cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) for younger military retirees. Others want to link it to limiting IRS investigations of nonprofit groups, approving the Keystone XL pipeline, or repealing a section of the Affordable Care Act that helps insurance companies avoid risk. President Obama has said he will not negotiate on this issue and has demanded a “clean” increase. A vote on a debt limit extension bill could be delayed until late February, but time is running out as there are only seven more legislative days left in February for the House.
The minority staff of the Senate Homeland Security Government Affairs Committee released a report this week following an investigation they conducted of the federal government’s efforts on cybersecurity and protecting critical infrastructure. The report focuses in on DHS, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, IRS, SEC, Department of Education, and the Department of Energy. The chairman of the committee, Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) concurred with many of the findings in the report. A copy of their report can be found here.
The House Homeland Security Committee met this week and marked up H.R. 3696, the National Cybersecurity and Critical Infrastructure Protection Act of 2014. The bill amends the 2002 law that created DHS to expand its scope to cover cybersecurity codifying DHS’ central role for cyberthreat information-sharing between the federal government and private sector. The bill is aimed at protecting crucial domestic industries by putting the private sector in charge of coming up with cyber standards, in contrast to the more government-driven method called for in the executive order released by the President last year. During the markup, Chairman McCaul (R-TX) offered an amendment in the nature of a substitute, which can be found here. In addition to Chairman McCaul’s amendment in the nature of a substitute, five other amendments were offered by Reps. Brooks (R-IN), Jackson Lee (D-TX), Barber (D-AZ), Payne (D-NJ) and Swalwell (D-CA), all of which passed by voice vote. Two amendments offered by Reps. Swalwell and Sanchez (D-CA) were withdrawn. Swalwell will modify his amendment to report language, and Sanchez will work with Rep. Sanford (R-SC) to redraft her amendment for floor consideration. The bill has been endorsed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the American Chemistry Council (ACC), AT&T, Boeing, the Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation (DTCC), members of the energy and utilities sector, the GridWise Alliance, the financial services sector, the National Defense Industrial Association, Oracle, Entergy, Pepco, and the Professional Services Council.
At the Woodrow Wilson Center today, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson gave his first major policy address since taking office. He talked about the progress the administration was making on cybersecurity with the President’s Executive Order released last February. Johnson said that while the administration is making progress, there is still a need for legislation to do the following: provide DHS with new hiring and pay flexibility, modernize FISMA to reflect new technology, codify DHS’ responsibility to protect .gov/FedCiv networks, give legal clarity so that DHS can provide assistance to the private sector, give legal clarity so that DHS can exchange information with the private sector, and enact penalties for cyber crimes.
Rep. Rob Andrews (D-NJ) announced earlier this week that he will resign from Congress on Feb. 18 to take a job with a law firm in Philadelphia. Andrews has represented the heavily Democratic Philadelphia-area suburbs since 1990. He has been facing a congressional ethics probe into his campaign finances for nearly a year. Andrews was the second most senior Democrat on the House Education and Workforce Committee. With his resignation, and the retirement announcement earlier this year from Ranking Democrat George Miller (D-CA), the third most senior Democrat on the committee, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), has expressed his interest in the leadership position. Andrews is also on the House Armed Services Committee. As for filling Rep. Andrew’s seat in Congress, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie could schedule a special election on its own date or one that coincides with dates already scheduled for the regular primary and general elections. Andrews’s seat is in a heavily Democratic district and would likely remain that way.
On Thursday, the Senate voted 96 to 0 to confirm Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) to be the next Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China. His confirmation set off a chain reaction of changes at the top of key Senate committees. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) is expected to take over the helm of the Senate Finance Committee. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) will replace Wyden as the Chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, vacating the leadership post of the Small Business Committee. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) is thought to be the odds-on favorite for that chairmanship. As for who replaces Baucus in the Senate, Montana Governor Steve Bullock today named Lt. Gov John Walsh as Baucus’ temporary replacement. This would give Walsh time to build a Senate record and gain visibility to defend the seat against the expected Republican candidate, Rep. Steve Daines before the election later this year.
Today the White House announced it would nominate Robert Work, a retired U.S. Marine colonel and a former undersecretary of the Navy, to serve as the deputy defense secretary. Work has most recently served as CEO of the Center for a New American Security. Christine Fox has been serving as acting deputy defense secretary since Ashton Carter stepped down in December.
Next week the House will consider a bill to reform the Consumer Financial Protection Board. House Democrats hold their annual issues retreat on Thursday and Friday, so the House will not be in session. The Senate will take up a measure to repeal the military-retiree COLA cut and may consider the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act and the California Water bill that were passed by the House this week. Finally, the Senate may also consider two competing bills offered by Sens. Gillibrand (D-NY) and McCaskill (D-MO that would overhaul the Pentagon’s sexual assault policy.