May 23, 2014
The House passed the FY15 National Defense Authorization Act as well as a bill to end the NSA’s bulk data collection of Americans’ phone metadata. The House also passed legislation that makes it easier for the head of the Veterans Affairs Department to fire and demote poorly performing senior executives, in response to a growing scandal over allegations that VA employees falsified documents related to patient care putting veterans on secret waiting lists. The Senate passed the Water Resources Reform and Development Act conference report in addition to a couple of nominations.
The House Appropriations Committee marked up its $20.88 billion FY15 Agriculture, Rural Development, FDA and Related Agencies spending bill in subcommittee this week. The bill funds agricultural and food programs and services, including food and medical product safety, animal and plant health programs, rural development and farm services, marketplace oversight, and nutrition programs. While the FY15 discretionary funding level for the bill is the same as the FY14 enacted level, the overall bill (mandatory and discretionary funding) is $1.5 billion below the President’s FY15 request and $3 billion below the FY14 enacted level. The bill provides $2.65 billion for agriculture research programs; $6.6 billion in discretionary funding for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC); $870.8 million for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service; $869 million to help farmers, ranchers, and private forest landowners conserve and protect their land; $1.5 billion for the Farm Service Agency; $2.6 billion for rural development programs; $45 million for the rural business and industry loan program; $1.3 billion for rural water and waste program loans, and $606 million for grants; $24 billion in loan authority for the Single Family Housing guaranteed loan program; $1 billion for food safety and inspection programs; almost $2.6 billion in discretionary funding for the FDA; $218 million for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission; and $1.7 billion for overseas food aid. The bill will be considered in full committee next Thursday.
The House Appropriations Committee also approved its $52 billion FY15 Transportation-Housing and Urban Development bill in full committee on a near-party line vote of 28 to 21. While this was the fourth FY15 spending bill for the full committee to consider this year, it was the first one to require a recorded vote instead of advancing on a voice vote. Democrats offered a number of amendments to reverse proposed funding cuts for Amtrak, the TIGER grant program, and Community Development Block Grants, all of which were either rejected or withdrawn. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) also offered an amendment to raise the minimum wage that Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) said was an attempt to disrupt the committee’s work. The bill provides $1.2 billion more than what was enacted in FY14, but $7.8 billion less than the President’s FY15 request.
The FY15 Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill that was approved by the full House Appropriations committee on May 8 was considered by the House Rules Committee earlier this week. The bill is expected to be considered on the House floor next week. The Rules Committee approved an open rule meaning that any Member may offer an amendment during floor consideration of the bill.
The Senate Appropriations Committee marked up its FY15 Military Construction-Veterans Affairs and Agriculture, Rural Development, FDA and Related Agencies spending bills in subcommittee on Tuesday and full committee on Thursday.
The Senate’s $20.575 billion FY15 Agriculture appropriations bill is slightly lower than the House’s version and $90 million below the FY14 enacted level, but $228 million above the President’s budget request. The bill includes $100 million in disaster relief funding as well as $1.139 billion for the Agriculture Research Service; $6.623 billion for WIC; $1.094 billion for rural development rental assistance; $1.7 billion in water and waste loans and grants; $25 billion for single family housing financing; $2.588 billion for the FDA; $1.183 billion for the Farm Service Agency; and $876 million for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. During the full committee markup, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) offered an amendment to add fresh white potatoes to the eligible items list for the WIC program. The amendment was agreed to.
The Senate also marked up its $71.898 billion FY15 Military Construction-Veterans Affairs bill. This bill could be the first bill to hit the Senate floor in late June. The bill provides $6.559 billion for military construction and family housing, $3.25 billion below the FY14 enacted level. It also provides $158.6 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for FY15, $93.5 billion of which is for mandatory programs (equal to the request and $8.8 billion above the FY14 enacted level). For VA discretionary funding the bill provides $65.1 billion, $1.85 billion above the FY14 enacted level. The bill appropriates $5 million for the VA’s inspector general to conduct an investigation into accusations that veterans died while awaiting care at a Phoenix VA hospital. The bill also provides $326.4 million to modernize the VA’s Electronic Health Record System, and requires oversight controls to ensure that interoperability remains the focus of efforts within both the VA and DOD as they modernize their respective electronic health record systems.
The committee also approved its 302(b) allocations. Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) moved some State Department funding into the OCO account to avoid making cuts to domestic programs for FY15. The allocations were approved 16-14.
The 302(b) allocations for the House and Senate are as follows:
|Subcommittee||FY13 (with sequestration)||FY14 Omnibus||FY15 House||FY15 Senate||House-Senate|
| Overseas Contingency
|Energy & Water||34,263||34,060||34,010||34,208||(198)|
FY2015 Appropriations Bill Status
|Appropriations Subcommittee||House Action||Senate Action|
|Agriculture, Rural Development, FDA and Related Agencies||Subcommittee: May 20
Full Committee: May 29
|Subcommittee: May 20
Full Committee: May 22
|Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies||Subcommittee: April 30
Full Committee: May 8
House Floor: May 28
|Full Committee: June 5|
|Energy and Water Development, and Related Agencies|
|Financial Services and General Government|
|Homeland Security||Subcommittee: May 28|
|Labor, HHS, Education, and Related Agencies|
|Legislative Branch||Subcommittee: April 3
Full Committee: April 9
Floor: May 1
|Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies||Subcommittee: April 3
Full Committee: April 9
Floor: April 30
|Subcommittee: May 20
Full Committee: May 22
|State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs|
|Transportation, HUD, and Related Agencies||Subcommittee: May 7
Full Committee: May 21
|Full Committee: June 5|
FY15 National Defense Authorization Act
The House passed the FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act this week by a vote of 325 to 98. The bill provides $495.8 billion for the core defense budget, $17.9 billion for energy programs, and $79.4 billion for the war in Afghanistan and other overseas operations. The bill does not specify where the overseas contingency funds are to be spent because the administration has yet to formally submit a detailed budget request for the account to Congress. The House Rules Committee allowed 162 amendments to be offered during floor consideration. Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-WA) criticized fellow lawmakers for “ducking every difficult decision” and “playing accounting games and cutting readiness.” Smith had proposed amendments to authorize a 2017 BRAC and permit the Navy to take cruisers out of service, neither of which were made in order.
Some of the amendments that were agreed during floor consideration include requiring the president to report to Congress on the identity and location of the perpetrators of the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi; restricting funding for the implementation of the 2010 New START nuclear arms reduction treaty until the Defense secretary certifies that Russia is no longer occupying Ukranian territory; requiring the DOD IG to publicly release reports of investigations that confirm misconduct by members of the senior executive service, political appointees or commissioned officers in the armed forces in pay grades O-6 or above; and requiring the GAO to complete a report on the National Telecommunications & Information Administration’s planned hand-off of some oversight of the ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) domain naming system.
Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA) said that he hopes to conference the bill with the Senate and complete action before the November election. The White House issued a veto threat (although the vote count makes it veto proof) over the inclusion of restrictions regarding Guantanamo detainees as well as other issues that made the final bill.
The Senate Armed Services Committee marked up its version of the FY15 NDAA in subcommittee and full committee this week. The committee passed the bill on Thursday by a vote of 25 to 1 (Sen. Mike Lee, R-UT was the lone dissenter). The bill authorizes $514 billion in FY15 for the Department of Defense and the national security programs of the Department of Energy. The Senate also rejected many of the administration’s proposed cost-cutting proposals including reversing the proposal to retire the Air Force’s A-10 attack jets, BRAC, and cut compensation costs. However, unlike the House bill, the Senate bill provides a path to closing the Guantanamo detention facility by authorizing the transfer of detainees to the United States, subject to a congressional vote on a joint resolution of disapproval. Green energy advocates are applauding several provisions in the bill including authorization for DOD programs establishing infrastructure for natural gas and other alternative fuel vehicles and requiring DOD to set up an office to manage R&D and deployment of radios and other equipment powered by solar or other advanced sources. A committee summary of the bill can be found at: https://www.vantagepointstrat.com/?attachment_id=197.
The biggest issue the two committees may have to resolve during conference negotiations is the official title of this year’s NDAA. As both HASC Chairman McKeon and SASC Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) are retiring at the end of the year, the House and Senate versions of the bill are being named after them, respectively.
The House Homeland Security Committee marked up three bills in subcommittee this week: HR 3202, the Essential Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) Assessment Act; HR 3488, a bill establishing the conditions under which the Secretary of Homeland Security may establish preclearance facilities, conduct preclearance operations, and provide customs services outside the United States; and HR 3846, the US Customs and Border Protection Authorization Act. HR 3202 was introduced by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) last Fall in response to a June 2013 GAO report on the TWIC program. The bill would require the Secretary of DHS to prepare a comprehensive security assessment of the TWIC program as well as a corrective action plan. HR 3846 would provide for the authorization of border, maritime, and transportation security responsibilities and functions in DHS. This measure is the first to formally authorize CBP and clarify the security missions of the Department since the Department of Homeland Security was created in 2002.
The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC) marked up S 2354 the DHS Cybersecurity Workforce Recruitment and Retention Act of 2014 in committee this week. The bill gives the DHS Secretary hiring and compensation authorities for cybersecurity experts like those of the Secretary of Defense. Ranking member Tom Coburn (R-OK) said that he is supportive of the bill with a caveat that it has to have an offset. Chairman Tom Carper (D-DE) assured Sen. Coburn that he would hold the bill on the floor until an offset is identified. One potential offset is savings from S 1691, the Border Patrol Agent Pay Reform Act sponsored by Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). The bill was also on the markup schedule for the committee, but was pulled after Sen. Coburn raised concerns. Sen. Tester offered to hold a hearing on S 1691 after the Memorial Day recess to address Sen. Coburn’s concerns. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Chair of the Senate Homeland Security Appropriations subcommittee and a member of the Senate HSGAC raised concerns about the bill’s focus on the need to hire cybersecurity workers in the DC area. Landrieu said that one of the solutions to the problem is to find talent outside of the Beltway where $185,000 is a more competitive salary. Instead of opposing the bill, Landrieu voted “present” after Chairman Carper assured her he would work with her to assuage her concerns prior to Senate floor action. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) offered an amendment to the bill that would require DHS to implement the framework for the federal cybersecurity workforce from the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education that would provide a common lexicon and job codes. After being amended, the bill passed by voice vote.
When the White House issued Executive Order (EO) 13636 “Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity in February 2013, the administration required all Executive Branch agencies (not independent regulators) to assess whether and how existing cybersecurity regulation could be streamlined and better aligned with the Cybersecurity Framework launched in February 2014. The EO specifically directed Executive Branch departments and agencies with responsibility for regulating the security of private-sector critical infrastructure to: (1) assess the sufficiency of existing regulatory authority to establish requirements based on the Cybersecurity Framework to address current and projected cyber risks; and (2) identify proposed changes in order to address insufficiencies identified. Three departments and agencies were required to submit reports: Environmental Protection Agency (drinking water and waste-water), Department of Health and Human Services (medical devices, electronic health records, health exchanges), and the Department of Homeland Security (chemical facilities and transportation). The agencies responded to the White House this week in reports made public Thursday afternoon that current law gives them authority to regulate cybersecurity in sectors of privately owned critical infrastructure, but that they were reluctant in calling for new regulations. Their individual reports can be found here:
Even though Google, Facebook and other tech groups joined privacy advocates and pulled their support for HR 3361, the USA Freedom Act citing concerns that vaguely worded provisions in the modified bill could allow bulk collection of Americans’ phone records to continue, the bill passed the House this week by a vote of 303 to 121. The modified bill terminates the authority to collect metadata in bulk but also provides a means for the FISA court to order production of metadata associated with individual identifiers and those within two hops of those identifiers. The Administration endorsed the bill on Wednesday in a Statement of Administration Policy stating that the bill ensures “intelligence and law enforcement professionals have the authorities they need to protect the Nation, while further ensuring that individuals’ privacy is appropriately protected.” The controversy over whether or not the bill ends bulk collection stems from the change in the bill for the definition of “specific selection term.” The change in the definition came after weeks of negotiation with the administration. Opponents to the bill were concerned that the new definition was too vague and would not end bulk collections. The bill requires notices to Congress and the public when the court makes any new interpretation of that definition.The FISA Court will likely issue an opinion interpreting the term and the bill as a whole. The Senate may try to tighten up some of the language when they consider it, but in doing so may lose the support of the intelligence community. Timing of Senate consideration is unclear at this point.
Later today Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan is expected to be nominated by President Obama to be the next director of the Office of Management and Budget. Donovan would replace Sylvia Mathews Burwell who was nominated to be the next secretary of Health and Human Services. Donovan will be replaced at HUD by San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro.
Two cities, Las Vegas and Cincinnati, withdrew their bids this week from the Republican National Committee (RNC) to host the 2016 Republican convention. The RNC site selection committee will now make visits to the four remaining would-be host cities: Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, and Kansas City, Missouri. Last month, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) asked 15 cities to bid:: Atlanta, Chicago, Cleveland, Columbus, Detroit, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Miami, Nashville, New York, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, and Salt Lake City. Initial proposals are due back in the next few weeks; then party officials will start the review process.
Robert Gates, the former secretary of defense and director of the Central Intelligence Agency, was elected president of the Boy Scouts of America on Thursday.
The House will take up the FY15 CJS appropriations bill as well as HR 4681, a bill authorizing classified funding levels for U.S. intelligence agencies for FY14 and FY15. The Senate is in recess next week, but will take up Sylvia Mathews Burwell’s nomination to be Health and Human Services secretary when they return.