This Week In Congress: Trade And Transportation

The House and Senate are expected to send Trade Promotion Authority legislation to the president this week for signature. The trade legislation is a top priority for President Obama and his administration. Both chambers have a busy week scheduled before they adjourn for the Independence Day recess next week.

The Senate returns today with votes expected on the nominations of Peter Neffenger to be administrator of the Transportation Security Administration at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Daniel Elliott III to be a member of the Surface Transportation Board. Following these votes, the Senate will resume consideration of trade-related legislation, as passed by the House of Representatives last week. The Senate had previously voted to approve jointly Trade Promotion Authority, which grants expedited congressional consideration of trade agreements, and Trade Adjustment Assistance, a program to assist domestic workers whose employment is affected by trade, in May. The rule governing consideration of the bill in the House of Representatives allowed for separate votes on each portion of the bill, and the TAA provision was defeated. As a result, the House last week passed the legislation as individual measures, sending the bills back to the Senate for further consideration. Last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., filed cloture on H. R. 2146, a bipartisan public-safety retirement bill with the House-passed TPA legislation attached. A cloture vote on the TPA bill is expected as early as Tuesday morning. If 60 votes are achieved on the cloture motion, up to 30 hours of post-cloture debate time would precede a simple majority vote on the “fast-track” trade legislation. Following that vote, the Senate will proceed to a cloture vote on H. R. 1295, the Trade Preferences Extension Act with an amendment adding TAA and the Leveling the Playing Field Act. A third bill, dealing with customs requirements, is also part of the trade package and will be considered by a Senate-House conference committee in order to resolve differences between the two versions of that bill.

Once the Senate has dispensed with the trade legislation, it is unclear what will be next on the agenda. Democrats and Republicans are still locked in a stalemate over the fiscal year 2016 budget framework. Last week, Senate Democrats successfully filibustered consideration of the FY 2016 defense appropriations bill and have pledged to block any other appropriations bills from floor consideration until the spending limits established by the 2011 sequester are raised. With the support of President Obama, Democrats are hoping that their obstruction of the entire appropriations process and threat of a government shutdown will bring Republican leaders to the negotiating table. So far, Republican leadership has not indicated a willingness to agree to a budget summit.

The House returns on Tuesday and tackles 14 suspensions. The bulk of the bills to be considered under suspension of the rules come from the Homeland Security Committee and touch on a variety of issues at the Department of Homeland Security. In addition, to the Homeland Security bills, the House will tackle a handful of other bills. Most prominent among these is the bipartisan revision to the Toxic Substances Control Act.

Following consideration of the suspension bill, the House will take up H.R. 1190, sponsored by Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., to repeal the controversial provision of the Affordable Care Act establishing the Independent Payment Advisory Board, a panel that makes recommendations on Medicare cuts. The legislation had been scheduled for last week but was displaced by reconsideration of the trade bills. The vote to repeal the IPAB comes as the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling in the next two weeks in the King v. Burwell case, regarding subsidies for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. If the court strikes down the legality of subsidies for health insurance purchased through federal exchanges, Congress will have to deal with another highly contentious health care debate during July, when highway funding and the Export-Import Bank will also have to be addressed.

The House will then tackle H.R. 2042, the Ratepayer Protection Act, introduced by Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky. This bill would allow for judicial review of any final ruling by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on carbon dioxide regulations for existing power plants, a highly contentious issue focused on the administration’s effort to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

The House will complete the week and head into the Independence Day recess by considering the FY 2016 interior and environment appropriations bill, a $30 billion funding measure that would cut funding for the Environmental Protection Agency by 9 percent and include a number of policy riders aimed at preventing many of the agency’s policies from going into effect. Passed in the House Appropriations Committee on June 16 on a party-line vote, the interior and environment bill has become one of the most controversial of the 12 annual appropriations bills because of the policy riders. Among other things, this bill includes provisions that would bar EPA’s efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from new and existing power plants, amend the designation for automatic Clean Water Act protection, prevent the listing of certain animals under the Endangered Species Act, and block funding for rule regulating hydraulic fracturing on federal lands. These riders are all opposed by congressional Democrats and the administration.

The House schedule also allows for consideration of trade-related legislation that it might need to consider accompanying TPA to the president’s desk for signature.

House and Senate Appropriations Committees continue their work on reporting out FY 2016 spending bills. This week the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development and Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education will mark up their respective bills. The House Appropriations Committee will markup its FY 2016 Labor, Health and Human Services and Education bill on Wednesday.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing on evaluating the key components of an international nuclear agreement with Iran on Thursday. President Obama signed into law the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, which provides Congress the authority to review of any international agreement on Iran’s nuclear program. The deadline for the international negotiations is the end of the month and Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., last week wrote a letter to President Obama expressing concerns over reports of concessions that the United States and its allies are making in those negotiations.

The recent data breach at the Office of Personnel and Management that exposed the personal information of millions of active and retired federal employees remains the subject of congressional scrutiny this week. The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government will hold a hearing on OPM data security on Tuesday. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hold its second hearing on the data breach on Wednesday.

Also on the hearing agenda this week will be proposals for federal transportation spending. The current short-term surface transportation authorization expires in July, and lawmakers continue to struggle with finding bipartisan agreement on a long-term solution for funding shortfalls for the Highway Trust Fund. Democrats are insisting on a long-term fix (though inclusion of the Export-Import Bank reauthorization may, as noted above, secure Democratic support for another short-term fix). Last week, House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., publicly ruled out any increase in the gas tax as a solution for HTF insolvency. The Senate Finance Committee meets on Thursday to discuss state innovations in funding transportation infrastructure, while the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Select Revenue Measures will hold a Wednesday hearing on the potential use of revenue from the repatriation of earnings as a source of highway funding.

A full schedule of congressional hearings for this week is included below.

By: Martin J. Milita, Jr. Esq., Sr. Director.

Please feel free to contact the author or your other Duane Morris Government Strategies LLC contact to learn more about this article and what it may mean to you.

About Duane Morris Government Strategies, LLC (DMGS):

Comprised of 19 experienced professionals representing U.S. and foreign clients at the federal, state and local levels, DMGS is as an ancillary business of international law firm Duane Morris LLP, one of the 100 largest law firms with more than 700 attorneys in the U.S. as well as in the UK and Asia. The firm operates in eight offices including Newark, NJ; Trenton, NJ; Albany, NY; Harrisburg, PA; Philadelphia, PA; Pittsburgh, PA; Columbus, OH; and Washington, DC.

DMGS offers a full range of government relations and public affairs services, including lobbying, grant identification/writing/administration, development finance consulting, procurement, grassroots campaigning, public relations, and crisis planning/crisis management needs.

CALENDAR

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

House Committees

GSA Leasing in the Northeast

House Transportation and Infrastructure – Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management

Subcommittee Panel Discussion

June 23, 11 a.m., Conference Rooms A/B, Sixth Floor, Jacob K. Javits Federal Office Building, 26 Federal Plaza, New York, N.Y.

VA Small Business Goals Reporting

House Veterans’ Affairs – Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations; House Small Business – Subcommittee on Investigations, Oversight and Regulations

Committee Joint Hearing

4 p.m., 334 Cannon Bldg.

Senate Committees

OPM Data Security Review

Senate Appropriations – Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government

Subcommittee Hearing

10:30 a.m., 124 Dirksen Bldg.

Fiscal 2016 Appropriations: Transportation-HUD

Senate Appropriations – Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies

Subcommittee Markup

10 a.m., 138 Dirksen Bldg.

National Flood Insurance Program

Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs

Full Committee News Conference/Briefing

10 a.m., 538 Dirksen Bldg.

Regulatory Overhaul Costs

Senate Budget; Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs

Committee Joint Hearing

10 a.m., G50 Dirksen Bldg.

Takata Air Bag Recall and Vehicle Safety Update

Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation

Full Committee Hearing

10 a.m., 253 Russell Bldg.

Carbon Regulation Impact on Energy Costs

Senate Environment and Public Works – Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety

Subcommittee Hearing

2 p.m., 406 Dirksen Bldg.

Ambassador Nominations

Senate Foreign Relations

Full Committee Confirmation Hearing

11 a.m., 419 Dirksen Bldg.

Fiscal 2016 Appropriations: Labor-HHS-Education

Senate Appropriations – Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies

Subcommittee Markup

3 p.m., 138 Dirksen Bldg.

American Energy Export Opportunities

Senate Foreign Relations – Subcommittee on Multilateral International Development, Multilateral Institutions and International Economic, Energy and Environmental Policy

Subcommittee Hearing

2:45 p.m., 419 Dirksen Bldg.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

House Committees

U.S. International Food Aid

House Agriculture

Full Committee Hearing

10 a.m., 1300 Longworth Bldg.

Fiscal 2016 Appropriations: Labor-HHS-Education

House Appropriations

Full Committee Markup

10:15 a.m., 2359 Rayburn Bldg.

Child Nutrition Assistance Compliance

House Education and the Workforce – Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education

Subcommittee Hearing

10 a.m., 2175 Rayburn Bldg.

Medicaid Demonstration Project Approval

House Energy and Commerce – Subcommittee on Health

Subcommittee Hearing

10 a.m., 2123 Rayburn Bldg.

Syrian Refugee Admission

House Homeland Security – Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence

Subcommittee Hearing

10 a.m., 311 Cannon Bldg.

BLM Wind and Solar Reclamation Bonds

House Natural Resources – Subcommittee on Oversight & Investigations

Subcommittee Oversight Hearing

10:30 a.m., 1324 Longworth Bldg.

OPM Data Breach

House Oversight and Government Reform

Full Committee Hearing

10 a.m., 2154 Rayburn Bldg.

EPA Clean-Power Plan Analysis

House Science, Space and Technology – Subcommittee on Energy; House Science, Space and Technology – Subcommittee on Environment

Committee Joint Hearing

10 a.m., 2318 Rayburn Bldg.

U.S. Train Control Implementation

House Transportation and Infrastructure – Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials

Subcommittee Hearing

10 a.m., 2167 Rayburn Bldg.

Veterans Affairs Legislation

House Veterans’ Affairs – Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs

Subcommittee Hearing

2 p.m., 334 Cannon Bldg.

Health Law and Insurance Premiums

House Ways and Means – Subcommittee on Oversight

Subcommittee Hearing

10 a.m., 1100 Longworth Bldg.

Islamic State Assessment

House Armed Services – Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities

Subcommittee Hearing

2 p.m., 2118 Rayburn Bldg.

U.S. Financial Sector Security

House Financial Services

Full Committee Hearing

2 p.m., 2128 Rayburn Bldg.

Colombia and the FARC

House Foreign Affairs – Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere

Subcommittee Hearing

3 p.m., 2172 Rayburn Bldg.

DHS Federal Cybersecurity Efforts

House Homeland Security – Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies

Subcommittee Hearing

2 p.m., 311 Cannon Bldg.

Puerto Rico Political and Economic Assessment

House Natural Resources – Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs

Subcommittee Oversight Hearing

2 p.m., 1324 Longworth Bldg.

Rural Transportation Issues

House Transportation and Infrastructure – Subcommittee on Highways and Transit

Subcommittee Hearing

2 p.m., 2167 Rayburn Bldg.

Repatriation Tax and Highway Funding

House Ways and Means – Subcommittee on Select Revenue Measures

Subcommittee Hearing

2 p.m., 1100 Longworth Bldg.

Senate Committees

Flood Insurance Management

Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs

Full Committee Hearing

10 a.m., 538 Dirksen Bldg.

Governmental Affairs Measures and Nominations

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs

Full Committee Markup

10 a.m., 342 Dirksen Bldg.

Native American Youth Suicide Prevention

Senate Indian Affairs

Full Committee Oversight Hearing

2:15 p.m., 628 Dirksen Bldg.

Work in Retirement

Senate Special Aging

Full Committee Hearing

2:15 p.m., 562 Dirksen Bldg.

Veterans Health Care and Benefits Legislation

Senate Veterans’ Affairs

Full Committee Markup

2:30 p.m., 418 Russell Bldg.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

House Committees

Welfare and Work Issues

House Agriculture – Subcommittee on Nutrition; House Ways and Means – Subcommittee on Human Resources

Committee Joint Hearing

10 a.m., 1100 Longworth Bldg.

Nuclear Deterrence Policy

House Armed Services

Full Committee Hearing

10 a.m., 2118 Rayburn Bldg.

Vehicle-to-Vehicle Communications

House Energy and Commerce – Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade

Subcommittee Hearing

10 a.m., 2123 Rayburn Bldg.

Public Health Bills

House Energy and Commerce – Subcommittee on Health

Subcommittee Hearing

10:15 a.m., 2322 Rayburn Bldg.

CFPB Misconduct Allegations

House Financial Services – Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations

Subcommittee Hearing

10 a.m., 2128 Rayburn Bldg.

State Department and Religious Freedom Bills

House Foreign Affairs

Full Committee Markup

10 a.m., 2172 Rayburn Bldg.

Mineral Production Legislation

House Natural Resources – Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources

Subcommittee Hearing

10:30 a.m., 1334 Longworth Bldg.

Water Use and Infrastructure Bills

House Natural Resources – Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans

Subcommittee Hearing

10 a.m., 1324 Longworth Bldg.

IRS Inspector General Update

House Oversight and Government Reform

Full Committee Hearing

9 a.m., 2154 Rayburn Bldg.

National Science Foundation Employee Ethics Issues

House Science, Space and Technology – Subcommittee on Oversight; House Science, Space and Technology – Subcommittee on Research and Technology

Committee Joint Hearing

10 a.m., 2318 Rayburn Bldg.

GSA Proposed Transactional Data Rule

House Small Business – Subcommittee on Contracting and Workforce

Subcommittee Hearing

10 a.m., 2360 Rayburn Bldg.

VA Fiscal 2015 Budget Assessment

House Veterans’ Affairs

Full Committee Hearing

10:30 a.m., 334 Cannon Bldg.

Food Labeling Bills

House Agriculture – Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture and Research

Subcommittee Hearing

1:30 p.m., 1300 Longworth Bldg.

Defense Department Nuclear Enterprise Review

House Armed Services – Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations

Subcommittee Hearing

2 p.m., 2212 Rayburn Bldg.

China and U.S. Universities

House Foreign Affairs – Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations

Subcommittee Hearing

2 p.m., 2172 Rayburn Bldg.

Criminal Justice Proposals

House Judiciary

Full Committee Panel Discussion

June 25 TBA, TBA

VA Major Lease Procurement

House Oversight and Government Reform – Subcommittee on National Security

Subcommittee Hearing

2 p.m., 2154 Rayburn Bldg.

Veterans Affairs Measures

House Veterans’ Affairs – Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity

Subcommittee Markup

2 p.m., 334 Cannon Bldg.

Senate Committees

COOL and Trade Retaliation

Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry

Full Committee Hearing

10 a.m., G50 Dirksen Bldg.

Transportation Infrastructure Financing

Senate Finance

Full Committee Hearing

10 a.m., 215 Dirksen Bldg.

Iran Nuclear Agreement

Senate Foreign Relations

Full Committee Hearing

10 a.m., 419 Dirksen Bldg.

Cybersecurity and OPM Data Breach

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs

Full Committee Hearing

9:30 a.m., 342 Dirksen Bldg.

Veterans and Economic Opportunity Policy

Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship

Full Committee Hearing

9:30 a.m., 428A Russell Bldg.

Impact of a Greek Default

Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs – Subcommittee on National Security and International Trade and Finance

Subcommittee Hearing

1:30 p.m., 538 Dirksen Bldg.

Friday, June 26, 2015

House Committees

Public Shipyards and Navy Operations

House Armed Services – Subcommittee on Readiness

Subcommittee Hearing

8 a.m., 2212 Rayburn Bldg.

U.S. Space Security

House Armed Services – Subcommittee on Strategic Forces

Subcommittee Hearing

10:30 a.m., 2212 Rayburn Bldg.

Eminent Domain and Property Rights

House Judiciary – Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice

Subcommittee Hearing

9 a.m., 2141 Rayburn Bldg.

Astrobiology Outlook

House Science, Space and Technology

Full Committee Hearing

9 a.m., 2318 Rayburn Bldg.

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NJ Bill Allowing Amusement Games In Bars Moves Ahead

By: Martin J. Milita, Jr. Esq., Sr. Director.

A New Jersey bill that would permit bars and restaurants to operate amusement games, including in entertainment establishments such as Dave & Buster’s Inc., cleared the Regulatory Oversight Committee unanimously with a vote of 5-0.

The bill, A-4143, seeks to repeal  a 1959 law banning the games.

The proposed legislation would allow liquor license holders to obtain a license to operate amusement games, provided the establishment is at least 20,000 square feet and includes at least 100 games. The law would pave the way for businesses such as Dave & Buster’s to open locations in the Garden State, which it has shown an interest in doing, supporters say.

Dave & Buster’s operates 73 restaurants in 30 states and Canada, but has been shut out of New Jersey by a 56-year-old law that regulates games of chance and skill, and bans vendors that serve alcoholic drinks from obtaining a license to operate games that issue prizes.

A repeal of the law has been targeted by New Jersey’s Red Tape Review Commission, that looks to ease overly onerous regulations to promote economic development. Assemblyman Scott Rumana, R-Passaic, a member of the commission and a sponsor of the bill, called Dave & Buster’s business model a successful one. “It makes sense for New Jersey to allow this popular entertainment format,” Rumana said in a statement. “This model is successful in other states, particularly New York and Pennsylvania. These states are capitalizing on the recipe of combining amusements, food and drink under one roof.”

The New Jersey Amusement Association, an industry group of entertainment operators along the New Jersey shore, opposes the rule change. Members of the group fear the expansion of amusement games throughout the state would harm their businesses, likening the proposal’s impact to the increased competition faced by Atlantic City from neighboring states that have expanded casino gambling in recent years.

But, proponents insist that repealing the law will help the state bring in new jobs.

Please feel free to contact the author or your other Duane Morris Government Strategies LLC contact to learn more about this week’s legislative session  and what it may mean to you.

About Duane Morris Government Strategies, LLC:

Comprised of 19 experienced professionals representing U.S. and foreign clients at the federal, state and local levels, DMGS is as an ancillary business of international law firm Duane Morris LLP, one of the 100 largest law firms with more than 700 attorneys in the U.S. as well as in the UK and Asia. The firm operates in eight offices including Newark, NJ; Trenton, NJ; Albany, NY; Harrisburg, PA; Philadelphia, PA; Pittsburgh, PA; Columbus, OH; and Washington, DC.

DMGS offers a full range of government relations and public affairs services, including lobbying, grant identification/writing/administration, development finance consulting, procurement, grassroots campaigning, public relations, and crisis planning/crisis management needs.

For more information, please visit http://www.dmgs.com

House Passes $51.4B DOJ, Commerce 2016 Funding Bill: threatened presidential veto

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a $51.4 billion bill Wednesday to fund the U.S. departments of Justice and Commerce and a pair of science agencies for 2016, over a presidential veto threat claiming it underfunds key programs.

Lawmakers voted 242-183 to pass H.R. 2578, the fiscal year 2016 Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act. The bill provides just under $51.4 billion in discretionary funding for FY2016, up $1.275 billion, or 2.5 percent, from FY2015 discretionary funding.

The DOJ would get the single biggest chunk, $27.5 billion, up $852 million from the previous year, in line with what Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, chairman of the subcommittee charged with producing the bill, said Tuesday was the committee’s most important priority with limited funding available.

“The money that you’ve got, you want to prioritize, and we have in this subcommittee prioritized the many agencies we have responsibility for,” he said on the House floor. “We’ve approached it with law enforcement number one.” (Credit AP).

Among other boosts in the DOJ budget, the Executive Office for Immigration Review and Office of the Pardon Attorney would get an increase of nearly $75 million, to around $426 million, supporting a request for 55 new immigration judge teams — including a judge and support staff — and new Board of Immigration Appeals attorneys to assist with what the bill’s authors say is a recent “surge in illegal immigration.” (Credit AP).

NASA would receive $18.5 billion, $519 million above the 2015 level, with most of the increase aimed at exploration programs, such as continued development of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Space Launch System.

Commerce has been allocated $8.2 billion, $251 million down from 2015 and about $1.6 billion below the budget request put forward by President Barack Obama. Among the agencies under Commerce’s remit, the National Institute of Standards and Technology would get $855 million, about the same as 2015, while the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would receive $5.2 billion, down $274 million.

Among other trade agencies, the International Trade Administration was budgeted $472 million, or nearly $35 million less than in 2015 — an amount further snipped by $5 million through an amendment passed Tuesday — and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission would get $364.5 million, equal to its 2015 budget.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has been allocated just under $3.3 billion, all from anticipated user fees, with a provision that could allow it to also use any additional fees collected. The National Science Foundation would receive $7.4 billion, up $50 million.

Across two full days of debate, lawmakers considered several dozen proposed amendments, adopting a number seeking to block funding for any efforts by the DOJ or Federal Bureau of Investigation to expand certain electronic surveillance programs, as well as one blocking the use of federal funds to hinder state medical marijuana programs.

Despite its overall discretionary funding increase compared to FY2015, the bill comes in more than $660 million short of the administration’s budget request and has been threatened with a veto by the White House.

In a policy statement Monday, the administration argued that the bill “drastically underfunds” a range of important programs, such as research and development investments and programs to increase the use of body cameras by law enforcement.

The ITA, International Trade Commission and U.S. Trade Representative would wrongly feel the pinch, as would NASA, with cuts to its commercial crew program and efforts to proceed towards sending a manned mission to Mars, as well as to its earth science programs meant to help with climate change and respond to extreme weather and natural disasters, the White House said. (Credit AP).

Further, it contains a number of “highly objectionable” nonspending clauses, such as foreign policy restrictions related to Cuba, several of which raise constitutional concerns by “intruding upon the president’s constitutional authority over international diplomacy,” the administration said.The U.S. House of Representatives passed a $51.4 billion bill Wednesday to fund the U.S. departments of Justice and Commerce and a pair of science agencies for 2016, over a presidential veto threat claiming it underfunds key programs.

Lawmakers voted 242-183 to pass H.R. 2578, the fiscal year 2016 Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act. The bill provides just under $51.4 billion in discretionary funding for FY2016, up $1.275 billion, or 2.5 percent, from FY2015 discretionary funding.

The DOJ would get the single biggest chunk, $27.5 billion, up $852 million from the previous year, in line with what Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, chairman of the subcommittee charged with producing the bill, and said Tuesday was the committee’s most important priority with limited funding available.

“The money that you’ve got, you want to prioritize, and we have in this subcommittee prioritized the many agencies we have responsibility for,” he said on the House floor. “We’ve approached it with law enforcement number one.” (Credit AP).

Among other boosts in the DOJ budget, the Executive Office for Immigration Review and Office of the Pardon Attorney would get an increase of nearly $75 million, to around $426 million, supporting a request for 55 new immigration judge teams — including a judge and support staff — and new Board of Immigration Appeals attorneys to assist with what the bill’s authors say is a recent “surge in illegal immigration.” (Credit AP).

NASA would receive $18.5 billion, $519 million above the 2015 level, with most of the increase aimed at exploration programs, such as continued development of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Space Launch System.

Commerce has been allocated $8.2 billion, $251 million down from 2015 and about $1.6 billion below the budget request put forward by President Barack Obama. Among the agencies under Commerce’s remit, the National Institute of Standards and Technology would get $855 million, about the same as 2015, while the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would receive $5.2 billion, down $274 million.

Among other trade agencies, the International Trade Administration was budgeted $472 million, or nearly $35 million less than in 2015 — an amount further snipped by $5 million through an amendment passed Tuesday — and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission would get $364.5 million, equal to its 2015 budget.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has been allocated just under $3.3 billion, all from anticipated user fees, with a provision that could allow it to also use any additional fees collected. The National Science Foundation would receive $7.4 billion, up $50 million.

Across two full days of debate, lawmakers considered several dozen proposed amendments, adopting a number seeking to block funding for any efforts by the DOJ or Federal Bureau of Investigation to expand certain electronic surveillance programs, as well as one blocking the use of federal funds to hinder state medical marijuana programs.

Despite its overall discretionary funding increase compared to FY2015, the bill comes in more than $660 million short of the administration’s budget request and has been threatened with a veto by the White House.

In a policy statement Monday, the administration argued that the bill “drastically underfunds” a range of important programs, such as research and development investments and programs to increase the use of body cameras by law enforcement.

The ITA, International Trade Commission and U.S. Trade Representative would wrongly feel the pinch, as would NASA, with cuts to its commercial crew program and efforts to proceed towards sending a manned mission to Mars, as well as to its earth science programs meant to help with climate change and respond to extreme weather and natural disasters, the White House said. (Credit AP).

Bipartisanship Breaks Out

For a Congress best known for years of rancor, the extent of cooperation surrounding the he 21st Century Cures Act — coming on the heels of the bipartisan “doc fix” — suggests that Capitol Hill may really be focusing on legislating. Last Thursday’s  51-0 vote to advance the Cures Act to the full U.S. House of Representatives was an important milestone for a fast-evolving bill.

“This really kind of blows your mind considering all the angst and animosity and other kinds of … engagements that we have,” said Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., who labeled Thursday’s hearing a “lovefest.” (Creddit AP).

Moreover, a 49-page amendment approved as part of Thursday’s vote at the Energy & Commerce Committee addressed a key concern by earmarking $550 million over five years to help the U.S. Food and Drug Administration fulfill new duties created by the bill. Those include development of new “biomarkers” to gauge drug effectiveness, enhanced incorporation of patient perspective into approval decisions, and grants to study so-called continuous drug manufacturing that could reduce production costs.

In addition, the amendment would exempt from budget sequestration the user fees paid by drug and device makers to support FDA reviews and inspections. Sequestration only kicks in if spending caps are exceeded, but the Cures bill now provides peace of mind for companies that complained about private money being locked away in 2013 because of political spending fights.

“FDA user fees were never intended, I think, to be part of the sequester,” Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., said on Thursday. (Credit AP).

Other substantive provisions were notable for their omission, including possible changes to dial back use of the 340B drug discount program by hospitals and clinics. Any such change could have alienated Democrats and jeopardized bipartisan support, and the provision’s absence won praise.

One provision would delay so-called reinsurance subsidies that go to health insurance plans in Medicare Part D in order to partly offset the costs of unusually expensive policyholders. The proposal stems from a 2013 inspector general’s report that found delays of certain advance payments would allow Medicare to generate more interest income — roughly $110 million in 2009 alone.

The current financial impact of that step is not yet public, but trade group America’s Health Insurance Plans reacted angrily on Thursday, saying that it “strongly opposes” the idea. Elsewhere, a new section starting in 2020 would cap Medicaid reimbursement for durable medical equipment at the amount paid under Medicare’s new competitive bidding program. The section is based on a provision in next year’s budget blueprint for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which predicted $4.3 billion in savings over 10 years.

Nevertheless, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, suggested that the vote was historic against any backdrop, and perhaps unprecedented in his nearly three decades on the Energy & Commerce Committee.

“I don’t think we’ve ever had a major bill — major bill — that didn’t have somebody … that voted no,” Barton said. “This is a real achievement.” (Credit AP).

The House returns this week: What to Expect

The House returns this week from a district work period, set to focus on legislation related to law enforcement, defense and national security matters, while the Senate will begin debate on trade promotion authority.

The House will begin the week on Tuesday by completing consideration of H.R. 1732, the Regulatory Integrity Protection Act of 2015, a bill to prevent implementation of the so-called “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) regulation that would bring within the jurisdiction of the Army Corps of Engineers a much wider array of property deemed to be wetlands under federal authority than under current regulation. The bill will be sent to the president for signature after House passage.

Members are also scheduled to consider several suspensions related to fallen law enforcement and public safety officials. S. 665, the Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu National Blue Alert Act of 2015, will assist with the establishment of a nationwide Blue Alert system to apprehend violent criminals who have injured or killed police officers. This bill is named in honor of two New York City police detectives who were assassinated while sitting in their police patrol car in December 2014. H.R. 606, Don’t Tax Our Fallen Public Safety Heroes Act, would amend the Internal Revenue Code to exempt death benefits paid to surviving dependents of public servants who died in the line of duty from being considered taxable gross income. H.R. 723, the Fallen Heroes Flag Act of 2015, would provide Capitol-flown flags to the immediate family of fire fighters, law enforcement officers, and other public safety officers who are killed in the line of duty. Also related to law enforcement and public safety officials is H.R. 2146, which would allow federal law enforcement officers and firefighters to access money in their Thrift Savings Plan accounts without the 10 percent tax penalty when they are eligible to retire.

From Wednesday through the remainder of the week, a bulk of legislative activity is expected to be focused on H.R. 1735, the Fiscal Year 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which is the annual congressional budget authorization for defense activities. Reported out of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) on April 30, by a vote of 60-2, the bill contains $612 billion in funding levels and major policy changes and renewals. While the bill does not actually spend any money, it provides authorization for funding levels for later appropriations bills. The President has not gone so far as to issue a veto threat but has stated that it does not support the bill in its current form. Controversy has already erupted over an amendment adopted during HASC markup regarding illegal immigrants and may threaten Republican support necessary for final passage. Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., secured enough committee votes to approve his amendment that would encourage the secretary of defense to consider allowing illegal immigrants granted executive amnesty to serve in the military. While the provision would have no force of law, 25 House conservatives have threatened to withdraw support for the entire bill because they view the provision as support for an amnesty for illegal immigrants.

After taking action on the NDAA, the House will then move to consider H.R. 36, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. The bill would prohibit most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. This bill was scheduled for consideration by the House in January but pulled from the floor before a vote could take place due to a revolt from members of the Republican caucus, many of them women. The opposition stemmed from language that would permit an exception for victims of rape and incest to have a late-term abortion if they reported the assault to law enforcement authorities. The reporting requirement was removed from the bill and replaced with a provision that allows the victims to have a late-term abortion if the doctor has ensured the individual has received counseling or medical treatment at least 48 hours before the procedure.

Another item on the House agenda is H.R. 2048, the USA Freedom Act, which would make reforms to surveillance programs. The legislation would end the NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ communications records, which was largely thought to have been authorized under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act. The bill also aims to increase transparency and accountability in government surveillance programs. The bill was reported out of the House Judiciary Committee 25-2, and a companion bill has been introduced in the Senate. While there is bipartisan support for reform, some lawmakers, including Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., support the program and have called for clean extension of the current authorization. Complicating that notion is a decision last Thursday by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which ruled that the NSA bulk collection of phone records is illegal. The panel unanimously ruled that Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act does not authorize the bulk collection of phone records. In the majority ruling, the judges noted the current legislative debate surrounding the program as well as the looming June 1 expiration date of the program, unless extended by congressional action.

Should the House work through this agenda, there is potential for the consideration of H.R. 1191, the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, which passed the Senate last Thursday 98-1. The bill ensures a congressional role in the review of any international agreement on Iran’s nuclear program. The bill would require the president to submit any such agreement to Congress within five days of its conclusion and would prohibit the administration from lifting any sanctions on Iran for a set amount of time while Congress reviews the agreement. During this period, Congress could approve, disapprove or take no action on the agreement. Enactment of a joint resolution of disapproval (which would be subject to a presidential veto) within the review period would block the president from implementing relief from U.S. sanctions. The language of H.R. 1191 remains unchanged from the version unanimously reported out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on April 14, because no amendments were agreed to during Senate debate.

On the Senate side this week, senators will begin consideration of the Hatch-Wyden trade promotion authority (TPA) legislation, which allows for trade deals negotiated by the administration to be submitted to Congress for a straight up-or-down vote within a limited period of time. Last Wednesday, Majority Leader McConnell filed a motion to proceed to the legislative vehicle for the “fast-track” legislation, H.R. 1314, and then filed a cloture motion on the motion to proceed. Press reports indicate that President Obama has been lobbying Democratic members over the last two weeks to encourage their support of the “fast-track” legislation because a majority of Democrats have come out in opposition. Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., a vociferous opponent of TPA, has been trying to derail Senate consideration of the bill by lobbying his colleagues to block the measure until the Senate considers two other pressing items: an extension of the surface transportation authorization (which expires May 31) and the USA Freedom Act, the bill to reform and extend intelligence surveillance authorities. Passage of TPA is seen as critical for the Obama administration to expedite the conclusion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, which would liberalize trade among 12 countries. Japan and other TPP countries have expressed reluctance to close TPP without TPA’s procedural protections and expedited process. The TPA measure includes other trade-related provisions, which include the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act and the more controversial Trade Adjustment Assistance program (TAA), which provides assistance to U.S. workers whose jobs are affected by international trade. While an amendment is likely from Republicans to strike the extension of TAA, if such an amendment were to succeed, Democratic support for the TPA bill would likely evaporate, so expect most opponents of TAA to oppose an amendment to remove it from the bill.

Before adjourning for the Memorial Day recess, scheduled for the week of May 25, in addition to renewing the expiring surveillance authorities, both chambers will need to act on the impending expiration of the authorities under the Highway Trust Fund, most likely through the passage of a short-term extension. As noted, the current authorization for surface transportation and infrastructure funding expires May 31.

This week the Senate Armed Services Subcommittees will continue to mark up their version of the FY 2016 NDAA. The House Financial Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations will hold a hearing on the Dodd-Frank Act. The House Appropriations Committee will take up its fourth appropriations bill of the year when it holds a markup of the FY 2016 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development spending measure on Wednesday.