This week, both chambers will be in session, kicking off three busy weeks of legislative activity before the next scheduled recess. The Senate will resume consideration of its proposal to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration, while the House will be taking up legislation related to the Federal Communications Commission’s net neutrality rules and two bills related to domestic finance reforms.
The Senate is scheduled to return on Monday and resume consideration of H.R. 636, the vehicle for the FAA reauthorization bill authored by Commerce, Science, Transportation Committee Chairman John Thune, R-S.D., and Ranking Member Bill Nelson, D-Fla. Consideration of the bipartisan bill will be interrupted briefly on Monday with a vote expected on the nomination of a federal district judge. The Senate is expected to spend the entire week on the FAA reauthorization bill and consider several amendments.
Final passage of the legislation may be held up over unrelated tax provisions that Senate Democrats are attempting to attach to the bill. Passage of the fiscal year 2015 omnibus spending measure last year included a package of tax credit renewals, including credits for solar and wind power, but the package left out other renewable energy sources, such as biomass, fuel cell and geothermal energy. Clean energy advocates claim the provisions were omitted from the omnibus inadvertently and would like to attach the extension of these tax credits to the must-pass FAA reauthorization bill. While the clean-energy tax credits do have the support of some congressional Republicans, more than two dozen conservative organizations oppose the inclusion of the tax-credit extensions in the FAA bill. In addition, Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who is leading the effort to renew the clean-energy credits, is also reportedly seeking to add his bill to reform the federal taxes on beer and hard cider. The timeline to resolve these issues is constrained because the bill will still need consideration in the House, where many members are likely to oppose the tax provisions. The FAA bill itself must be enacted by July 15, when the current authority for the agency expires.
On the other side of the Capitol, the House of Representatives is scheduled to return following its recent two-week recess. The big news is not what will be on the floor, but what will not. Under the Budget Act, a budget is due by April 15. As we have reported previously, sharp disagreements among Republicans over a proposed budget appear to remain unresolved, and the House, whose leaders had hoped to tackle the budget resolution this week, will be considering other matters.
The House returns on Tuesday, with votes expected on four bills under suspension of the rules. Among these is H.R. 2947, a bill sponsored by Rep. Dave Trott, R-Mich., to undo the orderly liquidation authority for large banks enacted as part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010. In place of that authority — which Republicans have believed, since Dodd-Frank was being debated, makes the process too political — the bill would allow banks to pursue resolution under judicial supervision through a new provision of the Bankruptcy Code.
On Wednesday, members will vote on six additional bills under suspension of the rules, all reported out of the Foreign Affairs and Homeland Security Committees.
On Thursday, the House plans to take up H.R. 3791, legislation that would raise the consolidated assets threshold under the Federal Reserve’s Small Bank Holding Company Policy Statement. The bill would expand the threshold under which banks can fall under the less onerous requirements of the Fed’s policy statement from the current $1 billion to institutions with assets of less than $5 billion. Consideration of H.R. 3791 will be subject to a rule.
Following consideration of H.R. 3791, the House will take up H.R. 3340, the Financial Stability Oversight Council Reform Act, subject to a rule. The FSOC was established under the Dodd-Frank Act to identify and respond to risks to U.S. financial stability. By statute, the FSOC is authorized to designate nonbank financial companies that could pose a risk to U.S. financial stability (known as “systemically important financial institutions,” or SIFIs) for heightened regulation and supervision by the Federal Reserve Board and to recommend new or heightened standards and safeguards for systemically significant financial activities or practices. Republicans have been critical of the powers granted to this new entity and the lack of transparency in its evaluation and designation processes. H.R. 3340 would give Congress the power to approve the budget for FSOC and the Office of Financial Research (OFR), create quarterly reporting requirements for OFR, and require OFR to provide at least a 90-day public notice and comment period before issuing any report, rule or regulation. Consideration of this bill comes on the heels of a ruling issued March 30 overturning the FSOC’s designation of insurance company MetLife as a SIFI. The FSOC has already filed an appeal of this ruling.
On Friday the House will meet to consider H.R. 2666, the No Rate Regulation Broadband Internet Act, subject to a rule. This controversial legislation, reported out of the Energy and Commerce Committee by a 29-19 vote, would prohibit the FCC from regulating the rates charged for broadband Internet access service. Following the FCC’s issuance of newly formulated net neutrality rules last year, Chairman Tom Wheeler promised members of Congress that the agency would not regulate broadband rates in the same manner as other public utilities. Republican sponsors of the bill argue the legislation is necessary to reinforce this promise, but opponents, including Chairman Wheeler and the White House, argue that the bill is too vague and could be interpreted broadly enough to have a negative impact on FCC authority in enforcing the net neutrality rules.
Related to the FCC, on Wednesday the Energy and Commerce Committee will be marking up several pieces of noncontroversial legislation, but one item related to FCC subsidies for phone and Internet services is likely to have heated debate. H.R. 4884 would place an annual cap of $1.5 billion on support provided through the Lifeline program, which offers a discount on phone and Internet service for qualifying low-income consumers. However, the program is fraught with waste, fraud and abuse, and members of Congress have been negotiating with the FCC to make meaningful reforms and provide better oversight. Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee have voiced their opposition to the bill, calling the $1.5 billion cap too low.
Also on the hearing schedule this week are several events related to cybersecurity and technology. The House Judiciary Committee is holding a Wednesday markup of H.R. 699, the E-Mail Privacy Act, legislation that would reform a 1986 statute that was enacted before email became a daily necessity for communication. The legislation, intended to boost privacy and revise the current statute to conform to recent court decisions, would require law enforcement to obtain a warrant based on probable cause before accessing the content of email messages stored for longer than 180 days. Current law only requires a warrant for the content of emails less than six months old; those older than six months are deemed business records under the current statute and may be accessed with a subpoena rather than a judicially issued warrant. The bill has more than 300 bipartisan co-sponsors. Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., circulated a substitute amendment on Friday in an effort to address the concerns of law enforcement responsible for the committee’s delay in moving the bill forward.
On Thursday, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management will hold a hearing regarding the U.S. electric grid’s ability to withstand cyberattacks.
Also on Thursday, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet meets to review patent litigation at the International Trade Commission. There has been a substantial rise in the number of infringement claims brought before the ITC in recent years, many of the cases brought by patent-assertion (or nonpracticing) entities.
With the filing deadline for income tax returns approaching this Friday, several tax-related hearings will be occurring throughout the week on both sides of the Capitol. The Senate Finance Committee and House Science, Space and Technology Committee are hosting hearings regarding cybersecurity and protecting taxpayer information. IRS Commissioner John Koskinen and IRS Chief Technology Officer Terence Milholland will be appearing before the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday morning alongside other officials from the U.S. Treasury and Government Accountability Office to discuss tools and technologies in place to safeguard American taxpayers and their personal information from getting into the wrong hands. Several of these witnesses will also be appearing before the House Science Committee on Thursday morning to discuss the same topic. On Wednesday, the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Tax Policy is hosting the second in a series of hearings on member proposals relating to tax reform proposals. This hearing will focus in particular on income tax reform proposals.
The House Natural Resources Committee will meet on Wednesday to review a discussion draft of the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act, a debt relief package for the island territory. The committee released a draft last week that was subject to sharp criticism from the left and the right; a revised proposal is expected to be circulated by the committee on Monday. The current draft proposes a restructuring of the $72 billion debt and places Puerto Rico’s finances under the oversight of a federally appointed oversight board and authorizes the board to restructure the Commonwealth’s debt, including allowing for bankruptcy-like filings by both municipal corporations (similar to Chapter 9 of the Bankruptcy Code) and by Puerto Rico itself (authority no state enjoys).
The Senate Judiciary Committee continues its review of the Investor Visa, or EB-5 Visa Program, and current abuses during a scheduled Wednesday hearing. The program, designed to allow foreign investors to gain permanent residence in the United States, is currently set to expire on Sept. 30. This hearing is the second the committee has held since an effort to reform the program to eliminate abuses was stopped at the end of last year during closed-door negotiations. The House Judiciary Committee has also held a hearing this year on the subject.
The threat of the Islamic State to homeland security remains the subject of congressional discussion and concern. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee meets Tuesday to discuss the spread of ISIS. The House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific will pursue a similar topic on Wednesday with a hearing on the threat of the Islamic State in Southeast Asia.
With the current stalemate over the FY 2017 budget resolution and spending caps, the House Rules Subcommittee on Rules and Organization of the House is scheduled to hold a Thursday hearing to examine “proposed reforms to Rule XXI and the modern authorization and appropriations process.” House leadership does not seem to have made any headway over the recess in negotiating an agreement over a topline funding number for FY 2017 and it remains highly likely the chamber will miss the April 15 target date for completion of a budget resolution.
As we have previously reported, the Senate Appropriations Committee is not waiting for the House to take action on a budget resolution and is moving forward with drafting appropriations bills using the $1.07 trillion top-line spending number set by last year’s Bipartisan Budget Act. The full committee meets Thursday to publicly release the 302(b) allocations for individual subcommittees and to mark up the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act and Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act.