Weekly Legislative Update
 Week of March 13, 2017
Congressional Outlook

Week of March 13

The House and Senate are both in session this week. On Tuesday and Wednesday, the House will consider 12 bills under suspension of the rules, including the Securing Our Agriculture and Food Act (H.R. 1238), which requires the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security (DHS) to lead the government's efforts to secure our nation's food, agriculture, and veterinary systems against terrorism and high-risk events. For the remainder of the week, the House will vote on the Veterans 2nd Amendment Protection Act (H.R. 1181), which would prohibit the VA from considering any beneficiary who is assisted by a fiduciary as "mentally defective" without a magistrate or judicial authority ruling that the beneficiary is a danger to themselves or others; the VA Accountability First Act of 2017 (H.R. 1259), which allows the VA to fire, demote or suspend employees for poor performance or misconduct using an expedited process; and a bill (H.R. 1367) to enhance employee recruitment and retainment strategies at VA medical centers.
On Monday, the Senate is scheduled to vote on the nomination of Seema Verma to be the Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. The Senate may also vote on the House-passed FY 2017 Defense Appropriations bill (H.R. 1301) and several House-passed Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolutions which would nullify various Obama Administration regulations finalized between June 2016 and January 2017. On Tuesday, the Senate Finance Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for Robert Lighthizer to serve as the 18th U.S. Trade Representative, a Cabinet-level position.
On Monday, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is expected to release its budget score for the American Health Care Act which was unveiled by House Republicans last week. The score will detail the cost and coverage estimates of the legislation amid a contentious debate that is pitting conservatives against House GOP leaders. Also on Monday, President Trump will  hold a listening session on the health care legislation and is expected to sign an Executive Order related to the executive branch. The White House Office of Management and Budget is also expected to release the Trump Administration's FY 2018 "skinny budget" on Thursday, which will  provide high-level details on the President's budget plans for FY 2018 and will set off Congressional action on another round of 12 spending bills.
Week in Review

American Health Care Act Unveiled by House Republicans
On March 6, after years of opposing the Affordable Care Act (ACA), House Republicans presented their plan to repeal and replace the 2010 law. The 123-page "American Health Care Act" would fundamentally change how health care is financed for people who do not have insurance through work, and it would eliminate the mandate requiring most Americans to have health insurance, a centerpiece of the ACA. On March 9, the House Ways & Means and Energy & Commerce Committees marked up and passed the bill by party-line votes of 23-16 and 31-23, respectively. The legislation will now be considered by the House Budget Committee and could face conservative opposition when it reaches the House floor for a final vote, likely by early April. Outside groups, members of the House Freedom Caucus and lawmakers like Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) have  expressed concerns  with advanced refundable tax credits and Medicaid spending. The White House has also gotten involved in Congressional efforts to advance the bill. President Donald Trump met at the White House with House GOP leaders, as well as the  bill's opponents, while  Vice President Mike Pence  spent time on Capitol Hill. Read more...
Trump Signs New Travel Ban Executive Order
On March 6, President Trump signed a new Executive Order that Administration officials said they hope will end legal challenges over the matter by imposing a 90-day ban on the issuance of new visas for citizens of six majority-Muslim nations. In addition, the nation's refuĀ­gee program will be suspended for 120 days, and the United States will not accept more than 50,000 refugees in a year, down from the 110,000 cap set by the Obama Administration. The new guidelines mark a dramatic departure from Trump's original ban, issued on January 27 and immediately met by massive protests and then ordered frozen by the courts. The new ban lays out a far more specific national security basis for the order, blocks the issuance only of new visas, and names just six of the seven countries included in the first executive order, omitting Iraq. The Executive Order will take effect at 12:01am on Thursday, March 16. The New York, Oregon, Massachusetts, Washington, and Maryland Attorneys General have filed a legal challenge seeking to temporarily block the new Executive Order in court. Read more...
Trump Administration Budget May Make Significant Cuts to Coast Guard, FEMA, TSA and HUD
Last week, it was reported that the Trump Administration is seeking a 14 percent cut to the Coast Guard ($1.3 billion), an 11 percent cut to FEMA ($370 million), and an 11 percent cut to the TSA ($500 million), according to draft budget documents from the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The budget cuts would be used to pay for the Administration's crackdown on illegal immigration. It was also reported that the Administration is seeking a $6 billion cut (14 percent) to the budget of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), including the total elimination of the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program, the HOME Investment Partnerships Program, and the Choice Neighborhoods Program.  A HUD spokesman said that the budget document "is still a work in progress" and it is unclear whether the proposed cuts will be included in President Trump's final budget proposal. However, Congress is ultimately responsible for writing the federal budget, and many Members will fight to protect many programs within these agencies. Read more...
Trump Holds Meeting to Map Out $1 Trillion Infrastructure Plan
On March 8, President Trump reportedly pushed his White House team to craft a plan for $1 trillion in infrastructure spending that would pressure states to streamline local permitting, favor renovation of existing roads and highways over new construction and prioritize projects that can quickly begin construction. Trump said that he was inclined to give states 90 days to start projects, and asked EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to provide a recommendation. He also expressed interest in building new high-speed railroads, inquired about the possibility of auctioning the broadcast spectrum to wireless carriers, and asked for more details about the Hyperloop, a project envisioned by Tesla founder Elon Musk that would rapidly transport passengers in pods through low-pressure tubes. In the meeting, the President said he aimed to win approval for an infrastructure plan once Congress finishes deliberations on health care and a reform of tax laws and suggested that an infrastructure plan may be part of the tax-reform debate. Read more...
156 Members of Congress Sign Letter Urging Protection of Municipal Bonds
On March 8, Reps Randy Hultgren (R-IL) and C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD), co-chairs of the House Municipal Finance Caucus, joined with 154 members of the House ( 95 Democrats, 61 Republicans total) in sending a letter to House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) and Ranking Member Richard Neal (D-MA) to reject any proposal to cap or eliminate the deduction on tax-exempt municipal bonds used to finance the vast majority of infrastructure projects in America's communities. The letter states that "we [...] write to express our strong support for an already potent tool already in hand - the tax-exempt municipal bond. For more than a century, states and local governments have depended on this reliable and efficient means of financing." Once the House has completed consideration of the American Health Care Act, the House Ways and Means Committee plans to turn its attention to tax reform. The Republican-controlled Congress and the White House plan to reduce corporate and individual tax rates and simplify the code and municipal bonds may be on the table to help pay for tax reform. Read more...
House Passes FY 2017 Defense Appropriations Bill
On March 8, the House passed, by a vote of 371-48, the $577.9 billion FY 2017 Defense Appropriations bill ( H.R. 1301), which would fund the Department of Defense for the remainder of the current fiscal year (i.e., through Sept. 30, 2017).  Currently the Pentagon, along with most of the rest of the federal government, is operating on a stopgap "Continuing Resolution" Congress passed in December , which expires on April 28. But Republican lawmakers have said that fiscal 2017 defense spending should be passed earlier to give the Pentagon budget certainty and allow Congress to turn its attention to upcoming issues. The White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy for H.R. 1301, stating that the " Administration supports House passage of H.R. 1301 [...] The bill funds critical national security needs."  Read more...
House Passes Three Judiciary-Related Bills
On March 9 and 10, the House passed three bills which would make changes to the civil justice system:
  • The House passed the Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act and Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act of 2017 (H.R. 985), by a vote of 220-201-1, which would make courts find that all potential members in a class action have suffered similar injuries before allowing the lawsuit to move forward. The House adopted one amendment to H.R. 985. Read more;
  • The House passed the Innocent Party Protection Act (H.R. 725), by a vote of 224-194, which would make plaintiffs who have included unrelated in-state defendants in a lawsuit to demonstrate a plausible case against them to keep the suit in state court. Read more; and
  • The House passed the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act (H.R. 720), by a vote of 230-188, which would require federal courts to impose monetary sanctions on parties that file frivolous lawsuits. Read more...
Senate Passes Four CRA Resolutions
Last week, the Senate passed four House-passed Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolutions to nullify Obama Administration rules finalized from June 2016 to January 2017, which will now be sent to President Donald Trump for his signature. These rules include:
  • A DoD/GSA/NASA rule finalized in August 2016 requiring prospective federal contractors to disclose previous labor law violations when bidding for large federal contracts-passed by a vote of 49-48; the House passed the resolution on Feb. 2 by a vote of 236-187Read more;
  • A Bureau of Land Management "Planning 2.0" rule finalized in December 2016 which would change how the BLM develops resource management plans-passed by a vote of 51-48; the House passed the resolution on Feb. 7 by a vote of 234-186Read more;
  • A Department of Education rule finalized in October 2016 which was aimed at improving the quality of teacher preparation programs by requiring states to report specific information on these programs, such as student learning outcomes, and rating their effectiveness-passed by a vote of 59-40; the House passed the resolution on Feb. 7 by a vote of 240-181Read more; and
  • A Department of Education rule finalized in November 2016 regarding school accountability standards-passed by a vote of 50-49; the House passed the resolution on Feb. 7 by a vote of 234-190Read more.
Senate Passes Legislation to Repeal Obama Administration MPO Consolidation Rule
On March 8, the Senate passed, by unanimous consent, legislation (S. 496) to repeal the December 2016 final rule from the Federal Highway Administration and Federal Transit Administration that would force many local metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) in the same region to merge. The bill that the Senate passed is different than a resolution under the Congressional Review Act (CRA), in that once the rule is repealed, the Trump Administration or a future Administration will be free to try again with a rule that approaches the subject a bit differently (rules nullified under the CRA cannot be reissued "in substantially the same form"). The rule was broadly unpopular with MPOs and other stakeholders and S. 496 has been endorsed by the National Association of Regional Councils (NARC) and the Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations (AMPO). Read more...