Martin J. Milita Jr. Esq., senior director at Duane Morris Government Strategies, offers: This Week In Congress: Continuing Resolution Looms
Washington-based Duane Morris Government Strategies (DMGS) supports the growth of organizations, companies, communities and economies through a suite of government and business consulting services. The firm offers a range of government relations and public affairs services, including lobbying, grant writing; development finance consulting, media relations management, grassroots campaigning and community outreach. Milita works at the firm’s New Jersey office.
This Week In Congress: Continuing Resolution Looms
Iran remains a major focus of congressional scrutiny this week. As established by the Iran Nuclear Review Act (P.L. 114-17), the House and Senate have 60 days to review and consider the multilateral nuclear agreement, reached by international negotiators earlier this month, and ultimately vote for approval or disapproval. The 60-day clock started on July 20, when the administration officially presented the agreement to Congress. After testifying before an intense hearing in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week, Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew will appear as witnesses before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday morning. The House Select Intelligence Committee will also have a closed session on Tuesday to discuss Iran issues, while the House Armed Service Committee will hold a Wednesday hearing on the regional implications of the Iran deal. Congressional Republicans have been highly critical of the terms reached by international negotiators and the Islamic Republic. Press reports indicate Speaker Boehner has stated that the House will do “everything possible” to block the Iran nuclear deal. While House Republicans may have enough votes to pass a resolution of disapproval to block the deal should the majority decide not to support it, Senate Republicans would have to peel off a number of Democrats in order to be able to invoke cloture and pass a disapproval resolution. And if a disapproval resolution can be passed by both chambers, President Obama has pledged to “veto any legislation that prevents the successful implementation of this deal.” It is not clear whether enough Democrats in either the Senate or the House would support an effort to override a presidential veto. One core problem for opponents of the deal in Congress is that the president and his international partners secured United Nations Security Council approval for the deal last week. In effect, the international sanctions that wreaked havoc on the Iranian economy and forced Iran to the negotiating table will come to an end. Even if Congress rejects the deal and can somehow override the president’s veto, which as noted is highly unlikely, the impact of U.S. rejection of the deal will be marginal at best, and Iran has effectively prevailed in vindicating its interests. Whether the deal in fact will make the region safer, only time will tell, and proponents of the deal have the hope of success as their basic argument.
Highway funding remains at an impasse in Congress this week, as the House and Senate continue to debate how to extend funding for the program and for how long that extension should last. The House already passed a five-month extension, but the Senate is attempting passage of a long-term bill. Meanwhile, the July 31 expiration date of the current program is approaching.
The Senate formally proceeded to consideration of a three-year, roughly $40 billion highway bill on Thursday by a vote of 51-26 after a 62-36 vote to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to the bill, and remained in session over the weekend to begin consideration of amendments. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., filed cloture on two amendments that were offered to the bill on Friday: his own amendment to repeal the Affordable Care Act and an amendment by Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank. Even though the House has voted more than 50 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act in part or in full, the Senate has not gone on record in the 114th Congress to overturn President Obama’s signature law. It is unlikely that the majority leader’s amendment will garner enough support, given that Republicans control 54 seats in the chamber and the amendment would need 60 votes to pass. Conversely, even though several conservative Republican senators oppose reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, the Kirk amendment is expected to pass because of strong Democratic support for the agency. The charter of the Export-Import Bank expired at the end of last month, and the highway bill has been viewed as the must-pass vehicle to which the Senate could attach reauthorization language. House leaders oppose the Senate effort to add the reauthorization of the bank to the highway bill, while President Obama is demanding it be included in any highway reauthorization bill sent to him for signature.
House Republican leadership is strongly opposed to the Senate highway bill. The House passed its own bill two weeks ago that would provide for a five-month extension of the current highway program, using $8 billion in offsets, largely from enhanced tax-compliance measures, that will supplement Highway Trust Fund receipts derived from the gas tax. Republican leadership supported the short-term measure, hoping the extension will allow Congress more time to negotiate a longer-term reauthorization before the December deadline contained in the House bill. Should the Senate pass its long-term reauthorization this week, chances for passage in the House are slim. House Republicans and Democrats alike have voiced concerns about the funding offsets currently included in the Senate bill. House conservatives are also opposed to resurrecting the charter for the Export-Import Bank, should it be included in the Senate bill. The Senate may be forced to take up the short-term House extension if a strategy for the long-term bill is not reached, especially given the congressional calendar — the current program has a July 31 deadline and congressional recess is scheduled to begin for the House of Representatives at the end of this week. How House leaders will respond to a two-month extension of the highway program, if that is all the Senate can pass, is unclear at this point. Given that a two-month extension would end concurrent with the end of the fiscal year, given how few days Congress will be in session in September and how much needs to be done to keep the government open past the end of the month, House leaders may continue to insist on their five-month extension of the program. And how the Export-Import Bank fits into the highway dynamic further complicates the discussion. As a result, it should be a very interesting week as House members look to their August recess (the Senate is scheduled to be in session for the first week of August).
The House is scheduled to return on Monday and take up 17 bills under suspension of the rules. More than half these bills are from the Homeland Security Committee, while two each are from the Resources, Judiciary, and Veterans Affairs Committees, with the remaining three bills from other committees. On Tuesday the House is expected to take up H.R. 427, the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act of 2015, a bill that aims to increase transparency in the federal regulatory process. The REINS Act would require federal agencies to submit any major rule with an annual economic impact of $100 million or more to Congress for approval before the rule could take effect. This legislation passed the House previously in 2011 and 2013 but it stands no chance of passage in the Senate and is opposed by the president. When debate on the REINS Act is completed, the House will consider H.R. 1994, the VA Accountability Act, an oversight and reform proposal for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Among other provisions, this bill would further curtail employee-appeal rights for VA employees faced with termination. Another veteran’s bill that the House may consider this week prior to the August recess is the VA Budget and Choice Improvement Act, legislation to direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to develop a plan to consolidate VA programs that furnish hospital and medical care to veterans at non-VA facilities into a single, new program. Finally, the House floor schedule leaves room for the chamber to consider the conference report on the National Defense Authorization Act if the House-Senate conference is able to complete its work on the legislation.
Congressional leaders acknowledged this week what has been clear all along, that efforts to pass appropriations bills to fund the government past the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30 have failed. Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, conceded to reporters last week that Congress will have to pass a continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government when the current fiscal year ends. Speaker Boehner acknowledged that there are limited legislative days on the calendar in September when Congress returns from the August recess, and there is not nearly enough time to wrap up the annual appropriations process in both chambers. Even though the House Appropriations Committee has cleared all 12 of the annual appropriations bills, only half of those bills have been approved by the full House and a seventh bill was pulled from the floor due to a dispute over the Confederate battle flag. The Senate Appropriations Committee has also been successful in marking up the 12 annual bills, but Senate Republicans have been unable to bring a single funding measure to the floor due to a Democratic filibuster focused on the funding levels in the bills. Republican majorities in both chambers worked under the spending limits established in the 2011 sequester, but Senate Democrats have blocked the entire appropriations process due to objections of those spending limits and so-called “budget gimmicks” that increased only defense funding for FY 2016. Further, President Obama has pledged to veto any appropriations measure at current funding levels. Congressional Democrats have been pushing for a bipartisan summit to negotiate a new budget framework, but Republicans have not indicated a willingness to work out a deal to increase the spending caps. Even though a CR will be necessary to avoid a government shutdown this fall, it remains unclear how long the extension will last and how leadership and appropriators in both chambers will come to agreement.
Lastly, cybersecurity legislation is also of interest on Capitol Hill this week. There are two hearings scheduled in the House: the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies meets on Tuesday to discuss best practices and the House Select Intelligence Committee meets Thursday for a hearing on global cybersecurity threats. On the other side of the Capitol, Senate Republican leadership has indicated they would like to bring to the floor the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA), a bill that would encourage greater exchange of public and private data on hackers, before the recess, once consideration of the highway bill is completed. The House has passed its version of CISA earlier this year.
Martin J. Milita, Jr., Esq. Senior Director
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