After adjourning abruptly on June 23 due to the Democratic protest on the House floor over gun control, the House returns to legislative business on Tuesday, with votes expected on 16 bills under suspension of the rules. Included in this suspension package is H.R. 5210, the Patient Access to Durable Medical Equipment Act, sponsored by Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., bipartisan legislation to preserve patient access to durable medical equipment (DME) after severe cuts to Medicare DME payment rates were scheduled to take effect on July 1, 2016. If allowed to take effect, these cuts are expected to have a negative effect on patients’ access to DME, particularly in rural areas. Other measures to be considered under suspension of the rules include seven bills reported by the Natural Resources Committee, three bills reported out of the Financial Services Committee, and three reported out of the Foreign Affairs Committee.
On Wednesday, the House is expected to turn to consideration of H.R. 2646, the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act. This legislation, proposed by Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., and reported by the Energy and Commerce Committee, would reform the nation’s mental health system by focusing programs and resources on psychiatric care for patients and families most in need of services. The bill when introduced sparked partisan disagreement, but the sponsor and committee leaders worked to bridge those disagreements, and the bill as revised was reported unanimously by the committee last month, demonstrating its broad and bipartisan support. The potential that the bill could provoke further debate over gun rights and gun control during floor consideration (Energy and Commerce Committee Democrats attempted unsuccessfully to attach gun control amendments to the legislation during the committee markup, but H.R. 2646) is likely what led House leaders to bring the bill up under suspension of the rules, which precludes amendments during floor debate. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has been working on its own version of mental health legislation. Press reports indicate that key senators involved in the issue are seeking to attach the Senate version of the bill to the conference report on the opioid-abuse legislation, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, passed in differing versions by both chambers and scheduled for consideration by a conference committee on Wednesday of this week. Either way, the broad recognition that the nation’s mental health system is in deep crisis could produce a legislative success before Congress adjourns this year, although funding issues may prompt Democrats to oppose a final bill if it does not include increased resources.
Also on Wednesday, the House is expected to take up H.R. 5611, the Homeland Security and Safety Act, sponsored by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. The so-called “anti-terrorism” package would establish within the Department of Homeland Security a new “Office for Partnerships to Prevent Terrorism” to assist with the prevention of violent extremism and radicalization associated with terrorists and terror networks. The new legislation also contains a provision related to gun control. In the wake of the Democrats’ demands and the apparent shift in public opinion on the issue following the San Bernardino and Orlando shootings, the bill includes a provision that would allow the attorney general to delay for three days the sale of a gun to either an individual on the terrorist watch list or an individual who has been investigated for terrorism during the past five years, and prohibit the sale of a firearm if there is sufficient evidence that the purchaser poses a credible threat to homeland security. The language is reportedly based on a proposal authored by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, in the Senate, which would also give the Justice Department 72 hours to delay the sale of a gun to any suspected terrorist on the watch list. The proposal failed to achieve the necessary support for passage in the Senate due to Democratic opposition, and House Democrats have already denounced its inclusion in the House anti-terrorism package as not doing enough to keep guns out of the hands of terrorists. Despite the likely Democratic opposition to the bill, the inclusion of the provision, which is not likely to become law, is a marked step forward for gun control advocates and may portend limited success for them in the next Congress. Consideration of H.R. 5611 will be subject to a rule.
It remains to be seen whether House Democrats will again employ protest tactics on the House floor over gun control as they did during the week of June 23, or how they will attempt to amend the Homeland Security and Safety Act during floor consideration this week. House leadership will be working to maintain order on the House floor in order to continue functioning effectively and proceed on legislative business prior to the summer recess.
Additional items that may be considered in the House this week include H.R. 1270, the Restoring Access to Medication Act, reported out of the Ways and Means Committee. This legislation would allow for disbursements from health savings accounts, medical savings accounts, and health flexible spending arrangements for over-the-counter drugs. Current rules under the Affordable Care Act only allow these disbursements for the purchase of prescription drugs and insulin. Also pending a floor vote this week is H.R. 4361, the Federal Information Systems Safeguards Act of 2016, legislation to restrict federal employee access to personal accounts on platforms such as Facebook and Gmail at work in order to provide greater security for government information technology and systems. The legislation clarifies that federal agencies have the sole and exclusive authority to take appropriate and timely actions to secure their information technology and information systems. Among its provisions is one clearly barring access to pornographic or explicit materials from a government IT system. Consideration of both measures will be subject to a rule.
Finally, the House may also consider H.R. 5845, the FY 2017 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act, after postponing its consideration following the Democratic sit-in on the House floor in June. The $21.7 billion funding bill provides appropriations for the Treasury Department, the Judiciary, the Small Business Administration, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and other agencies. As discussed in a previous column, the Financial Services and General Government spending measure is considered one of the more controversial of the 12 annual appropriations bills because of policy riders that are opposed by most Democrats and the administration. Consideration of the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act for FY 2017 will be subject to the same structured rule process that governed consideration of the defense spending bill last month in order to avoid votes on controversial amendments.
The Senate resumes legislative business on Wednesday, when a vote is expected on a district court nominee. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., filed cloture on proceeding to four bills at the end of last week. Votes are expected on these cloture motions this week. Among these four measures are two pieces of legislation related to so-called “sanctuary cities,” which are those communities that have policies in place declining to assist or actively defying federal immigration laws and orders. These communities have been a focus of Republicans for many years and a hot-button issue on the presidential campaign trail, particularly since the fatal shooting of a San Francisco woman over the Fourth of July holiday in 2015 by a person in the country illegally after having been deported from the U.S. five times. The first cloture vote will be on a motion to proceed to S. 3100, the Stop Dangerous Sanctuary Cities Act, sponsored by Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa. This bill would limit federal funding to cities that do not comply with federal immigration law. The second vote scheduled in the Senate is cloture on the motion to proceed to S. 2193, a measure sponsored by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. This bill would increase mandatory minimum prison sentences for undocumented immigrants who repeatedly enter the United States illegally. The Senate voted on similar proposals last October when they were coupled together as a single piece of legislation, but the bill failed to pass. Both measures are subject to a 60-vote threshold for consideration on Wednesday, and neither is expected to garner the necessary support due to Democratic opposition.
If these first two motions on sanctuary cities are defeated, Leader McConnell has also lined up a cloture vote on a bipartisan bill sponsored by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., that would establish a national guideline for the labeling of foods with genetically modified organisms. While the proposal under consideration has bipartisan support and is the product of careful and lengthy negotiations, some strong opposition to the bill remains, including that of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., whose home state passed its own strict GMO labeling mandate in 2014 that went into effect on July 1, 2016. Several industry groups, which argue there is no scientific evidence that GMOs are harmful and prefer a single federal labeling standard over a patchwork of state laws, have sued to block the Vermont law and the litigation is currently pending. Should the Roberts-Stabenow measure pass, it would preempt and nullify the Vermont law and create a federal standard for the packaging of GMO foods. The cloture motion must achieve the 60-vote threshold in order to limit debate on the bill. The House has already passed a bill on GMO-labeling, but whether it would accept the Senate bill or insist on its stronger bill is not yet clear. Ultimately, the issue is of such importance to the food industry that if the Senate bill passes, as is likely, the House can be expected to accept it as well, perhaps even before the start of the summer recess.
The final item in the queue is a vote on cloture on the motion to proceed to the FY 2017 Department of Defense appropriations bill, also subject to a 60-vote threshold, which is expected to pass. The funding measure, advanced unanimously by the Senate Appropriations Committee, provides over $515 billion for the Pentagon base budget and $58.6 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) for the upcoming fiscal year. The legislation does not shift OCO funding for base budget increases, a procedure the House Appropriations Committee pursued in its bill for FY 2017, which makes the bill more satisfactory for Senate Democrats to provide their support. The Senate is likely to continue its consideration of the Defense Appropriations bill into next week.
Leader McConnell has indicated there will also be another opportunity for Senators to take up the House-passed FY 2017 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs appropriations conference report, which also serves as the vehicle to provide funding to combat the Zika virus. The Senate attempted a vote prior to the Fourth of July recess, but Senate Democrats blocked its consideration over the Zika funding restrictions and offsets, and called for a new negotiation on the legislation. Senate leadership has rejected the demands for a renegotiated proposal, indicating that the current House-passed proposal is the only means of moving forward before the upcoming recess. Leader McConnell has not yet scheduled the vote on the conference report.
Even with the shortened week due to the Independence Day holiday, there is an active hearing schedule on both sides of Capitol complex.
As mentioned above, the conference committee charged with negotiating opioid abuse legislation is scheduled to meet on Wednesday. One of the major remaining hang-ups to the bill involves funding for programs that are authorized in the legislation. Democrats argue that the authorization bill is ineffective without providing the necessary appropriations and that emergency funding should be allocated; Republicans oppose emergency funding that would likely not be offset and argue that funds should be provided through the annual appropriations process.
The House Appropriations Committee is getting closer to completing its work on the 12 annual appropriations bills for FY 2017. The State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee is scheduled to mark up its bill on Wednesday morning while the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Subcommittee meets on Thursday morning to mark up its bill. The full committee is likely to consider both bills next week.
Two House hearings scheduled this week will be focused on the Affordable Care Act cost-sharing reduction program. The House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Oversight meets on Thursday morning to discuss the program, while the full Energy and Commerce Committee will meet on Friday morning.
The Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations will be meeting on Wednesday afternoon to discuss the threat posed by online recruitment by ISIS and other terror networks. Representatives from the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and Department of State are among the witnesses that will provide testimony before the subcommittee.
Also on Wednesday afternoon, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform will hold a hearing on President Obama’s regulatory impact on the U.S. economy.
The Joint Committee on Taxation will hear from Treasury Department representatives on Wednesday regarding the administration’s proposed regulations under Internal Revenue Code section 385 to combat inversion transactions, those in which U.S. businesses merge with foreign firms and move their headquarters overseas to lower their tax rate. The Treasury Department issued the proposal in April. The proposal has drawn criticism from many domestic and multinational businesses, and members of both parties have joined in the criticism that the proposal sweeps too broadly and will capture many innocent transactions, thereby depressing domestic economic activity and job creation. Treasury Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy Mark Mazur and Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Tax Affairs Robert Stack are scheduled to appear before the joint committee.
A joint subcommittee hearing by the Committee on Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific and the Committee on Armed Services’ Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon regarding maritime disputes in the South China Sea. Representatives from the Departments of Defense and State will provide testimony on the escalating territorial disputes between China and its neighbors in Southeast Asia.