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.

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