October 23, 2015
The House passed HR 3493, the Securing Our Cities Act; HR 3350, the Know the CBRN Terrorism Threats to Transportation Act; HR 692, the Default Prevention Act; HR 10, the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results Reauthorization Act; and HR 1937, the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act of 2015. The House also passed its budget reconciliation measure, HR 3762, the Restoring Americans’ Healthcare Freedom Reconciliation Act. The Senate failed to invoke cloture on the Stop Sanctuary Policies and Protect Americans Act (S. 2146) by a vote of 54 to 45. The Senate then took up S 754, the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act and the motion to invoke cloture was agreed to by a roll call vote of 83 to 14. The Senate will resume consideration of the measure when it meets next week. The Senate adopted the following measures by unanimous consent: S 799, a bill to combat the rise of prenatal opioid abuse and neonatal abstinence syndrome; S 1403, the Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act; HR 208, a bill to require the Small Business Administration to establish a program to make loans to certain businesses, homeowners, and renters affected by Superstorm Sandy; and HR 774, the Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing Enforcement Act.
House Leadership Elections
After a weekend of “will he or won’t he” run, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) returned to Congress this week and said that he would seek the speakership if certain conditions were met. The conditions included the support from the Freedom Caucus, the Republican Study Committee, and the Tuesday Group, as well as changes to the motion to vacate the chair; no speaker travel on weekends for fundraising; committees, not leadership, lead the policy process; and whatever new rules the conference adopts are applied to all. Ryan did say that he would respect the “Hastert Rule,” which requires a majority of the majority to support legislation in order for it to move to the floor.
It wasn’t clear at first if the House Freedom Caucus would support Ryan. The caucus prefers to vote as a bloc, but under the group’s rules, that can only happen if 80% of its members agree on a leadership candidate. The caucus met Wednesday night and fell a few votes short of the 80%. However, since the Freedom Caucus’ leaders said that a “super majority” would support Ryan’s candidacy, Ryan decided to continue his bid. The Tuesday Group unanimously supported Ryan for Speaker, and the Republican Study Committee voted overwhelmingly to endorse Ryan. Ryan needs 218 GOP votes on the House floor. With only a few holdouts in the House Freedom Caucus, Ryan appears to have the 218 and more.
The GOP conference will meet next Wednesday to vote internally, and the full House will vote on Thursday Oct. 29.
Ways and Means Committee Chair
If Rep. Ryan wins the speakership, he will have to vacate his chairmanship on the Ways and Means Committee. Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) is interested in the position, is third in seniority on the committee, chairs the Health subcommittee and is seen as the frontrunner. Brady was the point person on the Medicare “doc fix” issue earlier this year and is a cosponsor of the “Fair Tax” proposal that would eliminate the IRS and replace most federal taxes with a national sales tax. Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-OH) and Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) may also be mounting campaigns for Ways and Means. Tiberi chairs the Trade subcommittee and Nunes is chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
FY16 National Defense Authorization Act Conference Report
On Thursday, President Obama officially vetoed the conference report to the FY16 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). This was just the fifth veto of Obama’s presidency. The President vetoed the bill (HR 1735) over the use of the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account for funding an additional $38B as well as provisions preventing the closure of the Guantánamo Bay detention facility. Congressional Republicans are waging an all-out public relations campaign in response to the veto seeking to portray the President is indifferent to the needs of service members. House Republicans have scheduled a Nov. 5 vote to override the veto and are whipping votes now to try to get to the required 2/3 majority. The House originally passed the measure by a vote of 270 to 156 (10 Republicans and 146 Democrats voted against the measure). A vetoed bill can become law if 2/3 of the Members voting in each chamber agree, by recorded vote, a quorum being present, to repass the bill. If there aren’t the votes for an override, the bill will have to be part of any potential overall budget agreement for the current fiscal year.
The Senate took up S 754, the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA) this week and the motion to invoke cloture was agreed to by a roll call vote of 83 to 14. One possibility that could sidetrack the bill would be if Sen. Tom Cotton’s (R-AR) amendment is adopted. Cotton’s amendment would allow companies to share threat data with the FBI or Secret Service while still getting the same liability protections afforded under CISA that they would by sharing the threat data with the Department of Homeland Security. The Senate will resume consideration of the bill next week and is expected to complete its work on the bill on Tuesday.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) has said that his committee needs about a month to write an omnibus bill after any deal is reached on lifting the budget sequestration caps. With that in mind, in order to pass an omnibus before the current continuing resolution (CR) expires on Dec. 11, Rogers would need his new budget caps by Nov. 11.
This week 101 House Republicans wrote a letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) in which they said that they would block any FY16 defense appropriation bill that does not raise the defense spending level to the level ($561B) requested by the President and the Pentagon. The letter was spearheaded by Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH), a member of the House Armed Services Committee and Chairman of the Tactical Air and Land Forces subcommittee. The House and Senate FY16 defense appropriations bills do fund defense at the level they are demanding, but the bills rely on the OCO account to provide an additional $38B so that the bills don’t violate the Budget Control Act spending caps.
The members who signed the letter also wrote that they would oppose a full-year CR. And speaking of a CR, White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz today told reporters that the President would not sign another short-term CR and would oppose any CR that does not fund the government for the remainder of the fiscal year.
The House took up a measure (HR 692, the Default Prevention Act) that would prioritize payments from the U.S. Treasury in the event that the debt ceiling is breached, but they did not consider any legislation to raise the debt limit this week. And it’s not clear yet if they can avoid a default. If all 188 Democrats in the House vote in favor of a clean debt ceiling increase, they still need 30 Republicans to join them. The last time the House passed a debt limit bill only 28 Republicans voted for it, and nine of those “yes” votes have left the House replaced by more conservative members. The House may now look to the Senate to take up an increase first.
The Republican Study Committee had proposed a debt ceiling increase that was tied to new limits on executive branch power, procedural overhauls, and spending reductions. The Terms of Credit Act did not get a whip count of the needed 218 votes, so floor action was postponed.
Terms of Credit Act:
The current debt limit is $18.1 trillion. Any increase passed by Congress would likely be another debt limit suspension (probably through 2017). Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-V) said that the debt limit and a budget deal would be handled separately, and that the budget deal would come after a debt limit bill is passed. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew estimates that the U.S. will hit its borrowing limit on Nov. 3 after all extraordinary measures are exhausted. The Congressional Budget Office estimated the extraordinary measures would be exhausted “sometime in the first half of November.” If Congress does not raise the debt ceiling before the extraordinary measures are exhausted, the government would be unable to fully pay its obligations. This would lead to delays of payments for government activities, a default on the government’s debt obligations, or both.
In the meantime, the U.S. Treasury on Thursday postponed the 2-year note auction that was scheduled for Tuesday due to debt ceiling constraints. They may also have to postpone the Nov. 2 auction of the 2-year notes. Two other auctions scheduled for next week will continue as scheduled.
The Democratic field for Presidential candidates narrowed greatly this week. With President Obama and Dr. Jill Biden by his side, Vice President Joe Biden announced that he would not seek the Democratic nomination for President. This morning, former Rhode Island Senator Lincoln Chafee dropped out of the race. And earlier this week, former Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) withdrew from the Democratic presidential primary, but indicated that he may pursue the presidency as an Independent depending on “what voters have to say.”
President Obama nominated Lisa Fairfax, a George Washington University law professor, and Hester Peirce, a former Senate Banking Committee aide, to fill the two open seats on the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
Thad Odderstol, Director of Industry Engagement and Resilience at DHS’ Office of Cybersecurity and Communications stepped down last Friday and the agency has not announced you who would replace him.
At the Department of Defense the following appointments were made this week: Karen Hughto to be Deputy General Counsel; Stephen Hedger to be Assistant Secretary of Defense for Legislative Affairs; and Adrienne Schweer to be Special Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Protocol. Two reassignments were also made this week – Andrew Haeuptle was assigned as the Director of the Management, Policy and Analysis Directorate in the Office of the Deputy Chief Management Officer and Dr. Zachary Mears was assigned as the Deputy Chief of Staff in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
Deputy Chief Technology Officer Ryan Panchadsaram is stepping down from his position and returning to San Francisco to be with this family. Panchadsaram helped form the U.S. Digital Services and also helped implement President Obama’s open data executive order, which requires the government to make its data freely available, and helped launch a revamped Data.gov.
Outgoing House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) named announced today that Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) will chair the special panel created to investigate Planned Parenthood about the sale of fetal tissue. The other Republican members named to the panel are: Joe Pitts (R-PA), Diane Black (R-TN), Larry Bucshon (R-IN), Sean Duffy (R-WI), Andy Harris (R-MD), Vicki Hartzler (R-MO), and Mia Love (R-UT). The panel will reside in the Energy and Commerce Committee.
The House will take up a short-term extension of the highway bill, HR 1090, the Retail Investor Protection Act, and legislation relating to the nation’s debt limit. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster was also hopeful that the House would take up HR 3763, the committee’s six-year $330 billion surface transportation authorization bill. The Senate will resume consideration of S 754, the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said the Senate will try to wrap its work on this bill by Tuesday.