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.

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