Washington Weekly – December 11, 2015

December 11, 2015

The House and Senate passed by voice vote a five-day FY16 continuing resolution (HR 2250) funding the federal government through December 16, which the President said he would sign. The House also passed the conference agreement to HR644, the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015; HR 158, the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015; HR 3842, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers Reform and Improvement Act of 2015; HR 2130, the Red River Private Property Protection Act; HR 3578, the DHS Science and Technology Reform and Improvement Act of 2015; and HR 2795, the First Responder Identification of Emergency Needs in Disaster Situations or FRIENDS Act. The Senate passed the conference report to accompany S 1177, the Every Student Succeeds Act, by a vote of 85 to 12, which President Obama signed into law on Thursday. The Senate passed by unanimous consent S 1719, the RAISE Family Caregivers Act; HR 2820, the Stem Cell Therapeutic and Research Reauthorization Act; S 142, the Child Nicotine Poisoning Prevention Act; S993, the Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act; S 209, the Indian Tribal Energy Development and Self-Determination Act Amendments; S 2308, the Church Plan Clarification Act; and S 2393, a bill to extend temporarily the extended protection for members of uniformed services relating to mortgage foreclosure and eviction. The Senate also confirmed Linda Etim to be an Assistant Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, Richard Howorth to be a Member of the Board of Directors of the Tennessee Valley Authority, Cherry Ann Murray to be Director of the Office of Science at the Department of Energy, Eric Eberhard to be a Member of the Board of Trustees of the Morris K. Udall and Stewart L. Udall Foundation, and Darryl DePriest to be Chief Counsel for Advocacy at the Small Business Administration.

FY16 Omnibus Appropriations Negotiations Continue

With the deadline of the current continuing resolution (CR) looming, the House and Senate passed a five-day CR funding the government through December 16. Negotiations will continue over the weekend, but are proceeding at a “snails pace” according to House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY).

While funding levels appear to be settled, there are still several other items outstanding. Republicans are trying to use the $1.1T omnibus bill as a vehicle for a number of policy riders including ones suspending the immigration of 10,000 Syrian refugees, rejecting a joint EPA-Army Corps of Engineers rule on the Waters of the United States, relaxing restrictions on coordination between political parties and candidates, ending the crude oil export ban, extending congressional authority over the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, exempting community banks under a certain size from Dodd-Frank regulations, shielding E-cigarette manufacturers from an FDA approval process, undoing a recent decision by the National Labor Relations Board that redefines the board’s standard for determining joint employer status, and providing legal standing for businesses and organizations that provide health insurance to sue a government entity that punishes them if they refuse to provide access to abortion-related services. Democrats are considering accepting the provision repealing the ban on crude oil exports in exchange for some of their priorities including the removal of environmental riders, a reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and extensions of tax credits for renewables, energy efficiency measures, and tax breaks targeted to East Coast oil refiners.

In order for House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-WI) to abide by his promise that he would not waive the three-day rule, the omnibus package will have to be posted and made available to members by Monday for passage by Wednesday’s deadline.

Tax Extenders

Negotiations over an $800B tax extenders have been proceeding, but prospects for a permanent extension of expiring tax breaks are dimming. Republicans may consider scaling back the cost of the package to get more support for it. At the same time, they are trying to build consensus for a two-year extension that would not include any offsetting spending cuts. The two-year extension would cost around $108.4B and would extend many of the tax breaks through 2016. Part of the opposition to the permanent tax extension deal is coming from Democrats who are balking at the cost of the package without offsets. And House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has been pushing for inclusion of provision that would index the Child Tax Credit to inflation so that it would not lose value over time. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said that as of now the House would consider tax extenders and the FY16 omnibus appropriations bill as separate measures, but that no final decision has been made.

Budget Reconciliation

The Senate passed a budget reconciliation measure last week by a vote of 52 to 47. The measure (HR 3762) repeals most of the Affordable Care Act, and also denies federal funding for one year for Planned Parenthood. The House was expected to consider the measure this week, but instead chose to defer action until January when they may be able to get more public attention. Republicans hope to use the vote as a political wedge in the 2016 election year cycle. The vote is largely symbolic, as the President has promised to veto the measure if it reaches his desk and Republicans don’t have the 2/3 majority needed to override his veto.

House Republican Steering Committee

House Republicans elected six new members to the House Republican Steering Committee to serve as at large representatives for the remainder of the 114th Congress. The GOP lawmakers elected Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) of the House Freedom Caucus, Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) and Rep. Susan Brooks (R-IN) of the Tuesday Group, Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), Rep. Jason Smith (R-MO), and Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL). The Steering Committee is the panel that determines committee assignments and chairmanships.

Political Updates

House Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Ed Cassidy submitted his resignation on Monday, which is effective at the end of this year. Cassidy is looking to retire from federal service altogether early next year. Will Plaster will serve as Interim Deputy Chief Administrative Officer. The CAO provides support for members of Congress and their staffs on matters ranging from payroll to parking and office furniture.

Rep. John Fleming (R-LA) launched his campaign to replace Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), who is retiring after this term following a failed gubernatorial bid. Fleming, a member of the House Freedom Caucus, is expected to face Rep. Charles Boustany (R-LA), who has said he is running for Vitter’s seat but has yet to formally announce. Fleming has held his north Louisiana congressional seat since 2009.

President Obama nominated Marcela Escobari to be an Assistant Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, Charlotte Kessler and Esperanza Emily Spalding to be Members of the National Council on the Arts, Andrew Mayock to be Deputy Director for Management in the Office of Management and Budget, Edith Ramirez to be Commissioner and Chair of the Federal Trade Commission, Alan Kreczko and James White to be Members of the Internal Revenue Service Oversight Board, and John Kirby to be Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs at the Department of State.

Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA) circulated a letter to each of her colleagues this week asking for their support in her bid to be the Democratic Caucus vice chairwoman for the 115th Congress. Sanchez is the chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and is ranking democrat on the Ethics Committee and a member of the Ways and Means Committee. The current caucus vice chairman, Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY), is term limited in 2017 and is expected to seek election as caucus chairman succeeding Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA) who is also term limited. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) is also seeking the vice chairman position.

Next Week

The House and Senate will have to take up either an FY16 omnibus appropriations agreement or another continuing resolution as the current funding agreement expires at midnight on December 16. The House will also consider tax extenders and an omnibus appropriations bill. The Senate will consider the nominations of Alissa Starzak to be General Counsel of the Department of the Army, John Conger to be a Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense, Stephen Welby to be an Assistant Secretary of Defense, and Franklin Parker to be an Assistant Secretary of the Navy.

Washington Weekly – December 4, 2015

December 4, 2015

The House passed HR 4127, the Intelligence Authorization Act; S1170, the Breast Cancer Research Stamp Reauthorization Act; and HR 8, the North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act. The House also passed two conference reports – S1177, the conference report to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 and HR 22, the conference report to authorize funds for Federal-aid highways, highway safety programs, and transit programs. The Senate also passed the highway bill conference report, so it now goes to the President for his signature. The House passed two resolutions – SJRes 23, providing for Congressional disapproval of a rule submitted by the EPA relating to “Standards of Performance for Greenhouse Gas Emissions from New, Modified, and Reconstructed Stationary Sources” and SJRes 24, providing for congressional disapproval of a rule submitted by the EPA relating to “Carbon Pollution Emission Guidelines for Existing Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units.” The Senate has already passed both resolutions, so they now go to the President who has vowed to veto the measures. The Senate passed HR 3762, the Restoring Americans’ Healthcare Freedom Reconciliation Act of 2015 and S 1698, the Treatment of Certain Payments in Eugenics Compensation Act. The Senate also confirmed Gayle Smith to be Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development.

FY16 Omnibus Appropriations Negotiations Continue

Lawmakers left DC this week not having reached agreement on a final FY16 omnibus spending bill and frustrated by partisan differences. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-WI) met with his Republican conference on Thursday and characterized the impasse as a “crap sandwich.” Democrats were also unhappy with the process saying that the Republican proposal was a “tea party wish list” with over 30 policy riders that Democrats consider poison pills. Earlier this week, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) said that he had hoped to file the text of an omnibus bill on Monday to allow for passage by December 11 when the current continuing resolution expires. Chairman Rogers reiterated that hope later in the week.

Negotiations between the House and Senate over the funding levels for seven of the 12 bills are nearly complete, with the three most contentious bills still in flux (Interior, Financial Services, and Labor HHS), but policy rider disputes are still the main threat to the omnibus. The potential riders include the treatment of Syrian refugees, amending Dodd-Frank financial regulations, campaign finance restrictions, defunding Planned Parenthood, blocking the Labor Department’s fiduciary duty rule, overturning the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers Waters of the US rule, blocking President Obama’s Clean Power Plan and carbon standards, modifying or restricting spending under the Affordable Care Act, barring FCC enforcement of net neutrality rules, lifting the ban on crude oil exports, and restricting relations with Cuba. The Syrian refugee issue could be resolved by the bipartisan compromise legislation introduced by Rep. Candice Miller (R-MI) this week that the House will consider next week. All of the other policy rider issues are likely to be dealt with in the 11th hour and behind closed doors.

If Congress can’t get an omnibus done by December 11, leaders of both parties and the White House have indicated that they would accept a short-term (a few days to a week) CR giving them enough time to complete the omnibus and avoid a shutdown. Whether or not they finish it by the 11th or the next week depends on the desire of members to leave next week or the following week. Negotiations are continuing this weekend.

Highway, Transit, and Rail Conference Bill Passes

The House and Senate both passed a five-year transportation infrastructure reauthorization bill, the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, which now heads to the President for his signature. The Senate passed the conference report by a vote of 83 to 16 (2 Democrats and 14 Republicans voted against the bill) while the House passed it by a vote of 359 to 65 (all 65 nay votes were from Republicans).

The $305B bill sets federal policy and funding levels for highways, transit, passenger rail, and bridge programs. With the Highway Trust Fund only expected to generate $208B over the five years from the gas tax, the rest of the bill was paid for with General Fund revenues, with most of that coming from reducing the size of the Federal Reserve surplus account.

The bill also reauthorizes Amtrak and the expired Export-Import Bank. But while the bank has been reauthorized, its lending cap has been reduced from $140B to $135B and only two of the five seats on the EXIM’s Board are filled. Without a quorum, the agency can’t approve loans for greater than $10M. While bigger loans are less than 20% of the bank’s transactions, they make up an overwhelming majority of the bank’s total financing. So the bank’s supporters will have to gear up for another potential fight over nominations next year.

FAST Act Bill Text:


FAST Act Joint Explanatory Statement:


Department of Defense Announcement on Women in Combat Jobs

Department of Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced yesterday that all military combat jobs would be open to women at the beginning of 2016. The policy change will allow women to serve as Army Rangers and Green Berets, Navy SEALS, Marine Corps infantry, Air Force parajumpers, and in other roles that were previously open only to men. The Secretary directed all military services to formulate implementation plans for integrating women into these positions 30 days from December 3. The 30-day waiting period is required by law. The chairmen of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees released a joint statement in response to the announcement stating that they will utilize the 30-day period to review the implications of the decision, including the Department’s views on any changes to the Selective Service Act that may be required as a result of this decision. The announcement from the Pentagon on Thursday did not include any requirement that females register with the Selective Service when they turn 18, like males currently are required to do.

Cybersecurity Conference Report

House and Senate staff continue negotiations over cybersecurity information sharing legislation. The Senate passed S 754, the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act in late October and the House passed two cybersecurity bills – HR 1560, the Protecting Cyber Networks Act and HR 1731, the National Cybersecurity Protection Advancement Act – earlier this year. There is a chance that a conference agreement could be released early next week and voted on before Congress adjourns for the year. Reports are that a conference bill is drafted and industry input has been given on the draft.

FY16 National Defense Authorization Act Enacted Into Law

On November 25, President Obama signed the $607B National Defense Authorization Act into law despite his opposition to restrictions in the bill that ban him from moving Guantanamo Bay detainees to the United States.

House Leadership Memo

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) sent a memo to his Whip Team earlier this week in which he asks members to vote for bills that they vote no on even though they actually hope the bill passes as they know the outcome will be even worse if they bill fails.

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise”s memo:


Political Updates

After losing the race to become Louisiana’s next governor, Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) announced that he would complete his term but not seek re-election to the Senate in 2016. Reps. Charles Boustany Jr. (R-LA) and John Fleming (R-LA) both said they would run for Vitter’s seat, but New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu announced this week that he would not run for the seat.

Department of Defense Secretary Ash Carter tapped Marine Corps Brigadier General Eric Smith to be his new senior military assistant. Smith replaces Army Lt. Gen. Ron Lewis who Secretary Carter fired amid allegations of sexual misconduct. Smith is a graduate of Texas A&M, has fought in Operation Desert Storm, and was deployed to Iraq twice. He has been the commander of the US Marine Corps Forces, South for the past five months.

The Department of Defense Inspector General, Jon Rymer, is resigning from government in early January after having served 30 years in the military and in the federal civilian service. The office’s Principal Deputy IG, Glenn Fine, will serve as Acting Inspector General once Rymer officially departs on January 8.

Christopher “Kappy” Kapellas has been assigned as Director of Human Resources Directorate at the Department of Defense. Kapellas previously served as the Deputy Director of the Human Resources Directorate.

Carnegie Mellon Professor of Computer Science, Engineering, and Public Policy Lorrie Faith Cranor has been named Chief Technologist at the Federal Trade Commission. Cranor is replacing Ashkan Soltani who took up the post a year ago, but had only committed to staying at the commission for a year. Cranor was previously a researcher at AT&T Labs Research and has also taught at the Stern School of Business at New York University.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has named Roderick (Rod) Allison as Acting Deputy Administrator. Allison will temporarily fill the position left bacant by the departure of Mark Hatfield. Before being named Acting Deputy Administration, Allison served as the TSA Assistant Administrator for the Office of Law Enforcement and Director of the Federal Air Marshal Service.

FBI Director James Comey has named Randall Coleman Executive Assistant Director of the Criminal, Cyber, Response, and Services Branch at FBI headquarters. In this position, Coleman will oversee all FBI criminal and cyber investigations worldwide, international operations, critical incident response, and victim assistance.  He most recently served as Assistant Director of the counterintelligence division beginning in April 2014.

Next Week

The House will take up a bill to tighten the visa waiver program (HR 158) as well as HR 2130, the Red River Private Property Protection Act; HR 644, the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015; and a bill to extend certain provisions of the Tax Code. Additionally, it is possible that the House will consider an omnibus appropriations act and budget reconciliation. The White House this week said that it is “pleased” by the House-crafted bipartisan visa waiver program overhaul bill, and that it believes the legislation “would make our country safer.” The Senate will take up the conference report to to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, which the House adopted earlier this week. The Senate may also consider an omnibus appropriations bill.