Weekly Legislative Update
 Week of June 26, 2017
Congressional Outlook

Week of June 26

The House and Senate are both in session this week. On Monday and Tuesday and Thursday, the House will consider  12 bills under suspension of the rules, including the  Disaster Assistance Support for Communities and Homeowners Act of 2017 (H.R. 1684), which would direct FEMA to provide  technical assistance to help community associations qualify for disaster-assistance grants; and Bureau of Reclamation Pumped Storage Hydropower Development Act (H.R. 1967), which would designate the  Bureau of Reclamation as the sole agency for authorizing pumped storage hydropower development using multiple reservoirs under the Bureau's control. For the remainder of the week, the House will vote on three bills: the Protecting Access to Care Act of 2017 (H.R. 1215), which would overhaul the medical liability system, including by limiting damages and lawyers' fees; the No Sanctuary for Criminals Act (H.R. 3003), which would make  state and local governments ineligible for certain federal funds if they have so-called sanctuary policies in effect that hinder cooperation with federal immigration officials; and Kate's Law (H.R. 3004), which would enhance  criminal penalties for illegal reentry into the U.S. by  establishing new maximum sentences for individuals who attempt to reenter after being convicted of certain felonies. 

The Senate this week will vote on the nomination of Kristine L. Svinicki to serve a new 5-year term as Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (her current term expires on June 30, 2017). For the remainder of the week,  Senate Republican leaders are planning to vote on their replacement for the Affordable Care Act (ACA), in what could be an all-night vote-a-rama later this week. Senate Majority Whip  John Cornyn (R-TX)  said procedural votes  could be held  Wednesday, with a potential final vote on Thursday or Friday.  The Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 would repeal the penalties for violating requirements that individuals purchase insurance and employers with at least 50 workers sponsor insurance plans, would start reducing the enhanced federal payment for Medicaid expansion in 2021, and would eliminate it by 2024. As with the House-passed American Health Care Act of 2017, the Senate bill seeks to give states more flexibility to enforce ACA requirements that health insurance cover so-called essential health benefits, such as emergency services, maternity care and treatment for substance abuse and mental illness. Under the rules of reconciliation, at least 50 of the 52 Republican Senators (with Vice President Mike Pence breaking the tie), would need to vote for the bill in order for it to pass, instead of the usual 60 votes to overcome a filibuster.

Congressional markups and hearings of note this week include House Transportation and Infrastructure & Senate Commerce Committee markups of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bills; House and Senate Armed Services Committee markups of the FY 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA); House Appropriations Subcommittee markups of the FY 2018 Defense, Agriculture, Energy-Water Development, Commerce-Justice-Science, and Financial Services-General Government Appropriations bills; and House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittee FY 2018 budget request hearings with the Labor Secretary; the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, Chief of the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Acting Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation;  EPA Administrator; SEC and CFTC Chairmen; U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations; and the Acting NASA Administrator.

President Donald Trump is aiming to make this week Energy Week. On Monday, Trump will  discuss energy with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi; o n Wednesday Trump will host Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Maine Governor Paul LePage, and Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts along with other local and tribal leaders for a discussion regarding local and state energy; and o n Thursday, Trump will give a speech on "Energy Dominance" after meeting with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, and Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who will host the American Energy Dominance Panel at DOE with labor and industry groups.
Week in Review

Senate Republicans Unveil Legislation Repealing Affordable Care Act
On June 22, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)  released the 145-page discussion draft  text of the "Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017." The legislation, which may be voted on as early as June 29 or June 30, would roll back the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) expansion of the Medicaid program, which currently covers millions of low-income Americans, and includes additional cuts to Medicaid. The bill would also create a new system of federal tax credits to help people buy insurance, while offering states the ability to drop many of the benefits required by the ACA, like maternity care, emergency services, and mental health treatment. The bill also imposes a penalty on those who don't maintain continuous insurance coverage: people who let their coverage lapse for at least 63 days in one year would be locked out of the insurance market for six months the following year.

The bill needs 51 votes in order to pass (under the special rules of reconciliation) instead of the usual 60 votes to overcome a filibuster, meaning that Senate Republicans can only afford to have two Senate Republicans vote against the bill and still have it pass, assuming all 48 Senate Democrats vote against the bill (Vice President Mike Pence would cast the tie-breaking vote). On June 26, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its estimate of the direct spending and revenue effects of the Senate bill, and stated that "enacting this legislation would reduce the cumulative federal deficit over the 2017-2026 period by $321 billion. [...] The Senate bill would increase the number of people who are uninsured by 22 million in 2026 relative to the number under current law, slightly fewer than the increase in the number of uninsured estimated for the House-passed legislation. By 2026, an estimated 49 million people would be uninsured, compared with 28 million who would lack insurance that year under current law." Read more...
House Passes Electricity Reliability and Forest Protection Act
On June 21, the House passed, by a vote of  300-118, the Electricity Reliability and Forest Protection Act ( H.R. 1873), with 69 House Democrats joining 231 House Republicans in voting for the bill. The legislation  amends the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) of 1976, which governs the management of public lands, by creating a voluntary process by which utility companies can submit utility line vegetation management, facility inspection, and operation and maintenance plans for federal lands, while creating a process for review and approval of such plans.  H.R. 1873 would also allow state and local "electricity reliability standards" to supersede federal land management laws and legislates a categorical exclusion under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for the vegetation management plans the bill envisions. The House adopted two amendments to the bill by voice vote: one to ensure that the personnel of the Department of the Interior and the Forest Service involved in vegetation management decisions on transmission and distribution rights-of-way receive training on how unmanned technologies can be used to identify vegetation management needs, lower energy costs, and reduce the risk of wildfires; and another to prohibit any loss of funds for wild-fire suppression. A third amendment was defeated by a vote of 171-243 which would have ensured that owners and operators of electric transmission and distribution facilities submit management plans to the Agriculture and Interior Secretaries. Read more...
House Passes Water Supply Permitting Coordination Act
On June 22, the House passed, by a vote of  233-180, the Water Supply Permitting Coordination Act ( H.R. 1654).  The bill would alter the Bureau of Reclamation (BoR) permitting process to expedite the construction of new dams and would streamline the federal and state permitting process for new surface water storage projects on public lands, designating the BoR as the lead agency to process permits for those projects. The House adopted one amendment to the bill by voice vote to align H.R. 1654 with the WIIN Act provisions enhancing federal cooperation in planning and construction of State-led water storage projects by ensuring such projects are eligible for permit streamlining under this bill; another amendment failed by a vote of 179-232 which would have exempted any dam projects from being fast-tracked by the bill if it could harm commercial fisheries. Read more...
House Passes Accelerating Individuals into the Workforce Act
On June 23, the House passed, by a vote of  377-34, the Accelerating Individuals into the Workforce Act ( H.R. 2842). The bill authorizes $100 million in existing Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Contingency Funds for FY 2018 to help subsidize a demonstration program for TANF recipients to transition into employment and career programs.  Seven amendments were adopted to the bill.  Read more...
Senate Confirms FEMA Administrator, Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Crimes, and Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing
On June 20, the Senate voted  95-4 to confirm Brock Long to be FEMA Administrator. On June 21, the Senate voted  96-4 to confirm Sigal Mandelker to be Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Crimes. On June 22, the Senate voted  65-35 to confirm Marshall Billingslea to be Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing. Read more  herehere, and  here.
House Financial Services Committee Marks Up and Passes Five NFIP Bills
On June 21, the House Financial Services Committee (HFSC)  marked up the following five National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP)-related bills:  
  • The "Flood Insurance Market Parity and Modernization Act," H.R. 1422, from Reps. Dennis Ross (R-FL) and Kathy Castor (D-FL), which would accelerate the development of the private insurance market, passed the committee unanimously, 58-0;
  • The committee also advanced the "Repeatedly Flooded Communities Preparation Act," H.R. 1558, from Reps. Ed Royce (R-CA) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), in a voice vote. The bill would require communities with repeatedly flooded properties to map them and associated public infrastructure, and come up with plans to mitigate those properties;
  • The "Taxpayer Exposure Mitigation Act of 2017," H.R. 2246, from Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO), which would repeal the mandatory flood insurance coverage requirement for commercial properties located in flood zones, passed the committee 36-24;
  • The committee also passed a second bill from Luetkemeyer, H.R. 2565, in a 34-25 vote. The bill would require the use of replacement cost value in determining the premium rates for flood insurance coverage under the National Flood Insurance Act; and 
  • The committee also voted 58-0 for the "National Flood Insurance Program Administrative Reform Act of 2017," H.R. 2875, from Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-NY), which would prevent fraud and abuse in the program.
Trump Signs Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act Into Law
On June 23, President Trump  signed the "Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and  Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017," (S. 1094) into law, which makes a number of changes to Department of Veterans Affairs authorities related to personnel, accountability, and whistleblower protections.  The bill would give the VA Secretary authority to more quickly remove, demote or suspend employees for poor performance or misconduct by shortening appeal timelines. In addition, the legislation codifies the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection at the VA, provides director hiring authority for medical center directors as well as Directors of the Veterans Integrated Service Networks (VISN's). T he Senate passed the bill on June 6 by voice vote and the House passed it on June 13 by a vote of 368-55 Read more...
House and Senate FAA Reauthorization Bills Introduced 
On June 22,  the leadership of the House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) and Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committees released differing bills to reauthorize the programs of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) before the current authorization expires on September 30th, 2017.  House T&I Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA)   introduced  his bill, the "21st Century Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization Act of 2017" ( H.R. 2997 ), a six-year reauthorization of the FAA; a detailed summary of the bill is available   here . The House T&I Committee markup of the bill will be held on June 27.

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD), on behalf of himself, committee Ranking Member Bill Nelson (D-FL), introduced their bill, the "Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2017" (S. 1405); highlights of the bill are available here and a detailed summary of the bill is available here. The legislation does not do anything to take air traffic control away from the FAA, which is by several orders of magnitude the biggest difference between the Senate bill and the House bill. Like the Shuster bill, the Thune-Nelson bill adheres closely to their chamber's version of the 2016 version of the bill. The Senate Commerce Committee will mark up the bill on June 29. Read more...
Trump Announces Nominations to Administrative Posts
Last week, the White House announced that the following 14 nominations had been sent to the Senate for consideration:  
  • Spencer Bachus to be a Member of the Board of Directors of the Export-Import Bank of the United States for a term expiring January 20, 2021;
  • Stephanos Bibas to be U.S. Circuit Judge for the Third Circuit;
  • James Clinger to be a Member of the Board of Directors of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation for a term of six years and Chairperson for five years;
  • Gregory Doud to be Chief Agricultural Negotiator, Office of the United States Trade Representative, with the rank of Ambassador;
  • Scott Garrett to be President of the Export-Import Bank of the United States for a term expiring January 20, 2021;
  • John H. Gibson to be Deputy Chief Management Officer of the Department of Defense;
  • George E. Glass to be U.S. Ambassador to Portugal;
  • Isabel Patelunas to be Assistant Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis, Department of the Treasury;
  • Michael Platt Jr.  to be an Assistant Secretary of Commerce;
  • Robert P. Storch to be Inspector General of the National Security Agency;
  • Anna M. Farias to be an Assistant Secretary of Housing and Urban Development;
  • Marvin Kaplan to be a Member of the National Labor Relations Board for the term of five years expiring August 27, 2020;
  • Patrick Pizzella to be Deputy Secretary of Labor; and
  • Lance A. Robertson to be Assistant Secretary for Aging, Department of Health and Human Services
Trump also announced his intent to nominate the following 13 individuals to various positions last week:
  • Kyle Fortson to be a member of the National Mediation Board for the remainder of a three-year term expiring July 1, 2019;
  • James McDonnell to be Director for Domestic Nuclear Detection, Department of Homeland Security;
  • Thomas G. Bowman to be Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs;
  • Mark H. Buzby to be Administrator of the Maritime Administration, Department of Transportation;
  • Kelley Eckels to be the U.S. Representative on the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, with the rank of Ambassador, and U.S. Alternate Representative to the Sessions of the General Assembly of the United Nations;
  • Carl C. Risch to be an Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs;
  • John P. Desrocher to be U.S. Ambassador to Algeria;
  • Maria E. Brewer to be U.S. Ambassador to Sierra Leone;
  • James Byrne to be General Counsel of the Department of Veterans Affairs;
  • Gerald W. Fauth to be a Member of the National Mediation Board for the remainder of a three-year term expiring July 1, 2017, and an additional three-year term expiring July 1, 2020;
  • Jamie McCourt to be U.S. Ambassador to Belgium;
  • Robert Wood Johnson IV to be U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; and
  • Michael Rigas to be Deputy Director of the Office of Personnel Management