Weekly Legislative Update
 Week of October 10, 2017
  
Congressional Outlook

The House is in session this week while the Senate is in recess until October 16. The House will consider 17 bills under suspension of the rules. For the remainder of the week, the House will vote on the Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017 (S. 585), which would expand whistle-blower protections for employees at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and other federal agencies; a bill to provide about $29 billion in disaster aid to address devastation wrought by hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria-the White House has requested $12.77 billion for FEMA's Disaster Relief Fund, $576.5 million to help western states recover from wildfires, and $16 billion for debt relief for the National Flood Insurance Program, which now needs additional funds to cover individuals' insurance claims; and a motion to go to conference with the Senate on the FY 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 2810)-negotiators will need to resolve differences over funding amounts, military pay raises, the creation of a Space Corps, the authorization for the use of military force, and whether to let military service academy graduates play pro sports before carrying out their active-duty commissions.
 
When the Senate returns next week, it will vote on the nomination of Callista Gingrich to serve as the 11th U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, and David Trachtenberg to serve as Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense, Policy. The Senate may also consider the FY 2018 Budget Resolution, an emergency supplemental appropriations measure, and the reauthorization of the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which expired on Sept. 30.
 
President Trump is expected to sign an Executive Order (E.O.) this week to start lifting some insurance rules set by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in the aftermath of the failed Republican bid to repeal the law. The E.O. is aimed at expanding insurance options for Americans who buy coverage on their own or work for a small employer, and would include broad instructions for the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and Treasury to explore ways to loosen regulations and potentially lower premiums, as well as looking at three specific areas of health insurance. Trump is also not expected to certify that Iran is complying with the 2015 international nuclear agreement ahead of a Oct. 15 deadline, a move that would pit the future of the Iran deal in the hands of Congress. Lastly, on Tuesday, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposing to repeal the "Clean Power Plan (CPP)," the Obama Administration's centerpiece regulation to fight climate change, which was designed to lower carbon emissions from existing U.S. power plants by 2030 to 32 percent below 2005 levels, requiring each state to adopt its own plans to achieve individualized targets.
Week in Review

House Passes FY 2018 Budget Resolution
 
On October 5, the House passed, by a vote of 219-206, the FY 2018 Budget Resolution ( H. Con. Res. 71), a critical procedural step that would allow Republicans to overhaul the U.S. tax code without Democratic support, by utilizing reconciliation rules, which only requires 51 votes in the Senate for passage of certain legislation. 18 House Republicans joined 188 House Democrats in voting against the measure. The FY18 Budget Resolution communicates the majority party's key principles, though they may never make it into law, and the House GOP version shows that:  
  • They want to overhaul the tax code: Above all else, House GOP lawmakers say their budget demonstrates a commitment to draft a tax reform plan.
  • A cut in entitlements is a must: The budget would require GOP chairmen to find $203 billion over 10 years in savings from entitlement programs like food stamps, agricultural subsidies and housing assistance.
  • The Pentagon's budget would grow: Republicans struck a rare compromise between fiscal hawks and defense hawks this year to propose a massive Pentagon budget of $620 billion for the current fiscal year.
  • The desire to repeal the Affordable Care Act is aliveThe GOP keeps its seven-year-old promise to root out ex-President Barack Obama's health care law, which includes repealing billions of dollars worth of subsidies, tax increases and the Medicaid expansion. In place of the ACA, the GOP budget would enact the House-passed replacement package that failed in a dramatic Senate vote earlier this year.
  • Fighting deficits remains central: The hallmark of most conservative budget plans is the ability to achieve balance over 10 years. The House GOP budget projects it would lead to a surplus within a decade, with the help of rosy economic growth projections and severe across-the-board domestic cuts that would likely never make it into law. 
The full Senate has not yet passed their own version of the FY 2018 Budget Resolution, however, the Senate Budget Committee passed the FY18 Resolution by a party-line vote of 12-11. Read more...
Trump Administration Releases Hard-line Immigration Principles, Threatening Deal on 'Dreamers'
 
On October 8, President Trump sent a Presidential Memorandum to House and Senate leaders outlining the Trump Administration's " principles for reforming our Nation's immigration system." Trump stated that he "tasked the relevant executive departments and agencies to conduct a bottom-up review of all immigration policies to determine what legislative reforms are essential for America's economic and national security. Rather than asking what policies are supported by special interests, we asked America's law enforcement professionals to identify reforms that are vital to protect the national interest. In response, they identified dangerous loopholes, outdated laws, and easily exploited vulnerabilities in our immigration system - current policies that are harming our country and our communities. I have enclosed the detailed findings of this effort. These findings outline reforms that must be included as part of any legislation addressing the status of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients. Without these reforms, illegal immigration and chain migration, which severely and unfairly burden American workers and taxpayers, will continue without end."
 
The Trump Administration's wish list includes the funding of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, a crackdown on the influx of Central American minors and curbs on federal grants to so-called "sanctuary cities." The demands were quickly denounced by Democratic leaders in Congress who had hoped to forge a deal with President Trump to protect younger immigrants, known as "dreamers," who were brought to the United States illegally as children. Trump announced plans on September 5 to phase out, by March 5, 2018, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, an Obama-era program that had provided two-year work permits to the dreamers that Trump called "unconstitutional." The White House's list of immigration principles will move the debate over the fate of the dreamers toward the prospect of broader comprehensive reform. Read more...
House Passes Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act
 
On October 3, the House passed, by a vote of 237-189, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act  ( H.R. 36 ), which would ban abortions nationwide in cases where the probable age of the fetus is 20 weeks or later, and imposes criminal penalties (fines and/or imprisonment of up to 5 years) on medical professionals who violate the ban. The measure provides an exception for cases where the life of the woman is in danger due to a physical illness or physical condition; limited exceptions for cases of incest and rape against a minor, providing the rape or incest has been reported to law enforcement or a social services agency; and a limited rape exception for adult women if they obtain counseling or medical treatment for the rape at least 48 hours before obtaining an abortion. The White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy for H.R. 36, stating that " If H.R. 36 were presented to the President in its current form, his advisors would recommend that he sign the bill into law." Read more...
 
House Passes Municipal Finance Support Act of 2017
 
On October 3, the House passed, by voice vote, the Municipal Finance Support Act of 2017 ( H.R. 1624), which reclassifies municipal bonds as high quality liquid assets to encourage banks to hold those assets, which will help ensure low-cost infrastructure financing remains available for state and local governments. The  original liquidity coverage ratio rules by the Federal Reserve and other agencies did not allow banks to include municipal securities in their measures of high-quality liquid assets (HQLA) over concerns that those securities would not be as easily sold as corporate debt, Treasury securities or other assets that were included. H.R. 1624 would require the regulating agencies to treat all municipal securities that would otherwise meet the rule's HQLA qualifications the same as other financial instruments. The bill would also require that the Federal Reserve, the FDIC and the comptroller of the currency all issue new regulations to handle the change. Under the new rule, qualifying municipal securities would have to be treated as at least Level 2B liquid assets, which corresponds to as much of a 50 percent "haircut" on the asset's face value in the calculation.  Read more...
Senate Votes to Confirm Trump Administration Nominees
 
During the week of Oct. 2, the Senate took recorded votes on four Trump Administration nominees:
  • Ajit Pai, by a vote of 52-41, to be a Member of the Federal Communications Commission for a term of five years from July 1, 2016;
  • Eric Hargan, by a vote of 57-38, to be Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services;
  • Randal Quarles, by a vote of 65-32, to be a Member of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System for the remainder of a 14-year term expiring January 31, 2018, and for an additional 14-year term expiring January 31, 2032, and to be Vice Chairman for Supervision of the Federal Reserve System for a term of 4 years;
  • Lee Cissna, by a vote of 54-43, to be Director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Department of Homeland Security. 
The Senate also approved, by Unanimous Consent, the 13 following Trump Administration nominees:
  • Halsey Frank to be U.S. Attorney for the District of Maine for the term of four years;
  • D. Michael Hurst, Jr. to be U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi for the term of four years;
  • Jeffrey Jensen to be U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri for the term of four years;
  • Thomas Kirsch II to be U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Indiana for the term of four years;
  • William Powell to be U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of West Virginia for the term of four years;
  • Stephen Censky to be Deputy Secretary of Agriculture;
  • Ted McKinney to be Under Secretary of Agriculture for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs;
  • Bruce Walker to be an Assistant Secretary of Energy (Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability);
  • Stephen King to be U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic;
  • J. Steven Dowd to be U.S. Director of the African Development Bank for a term of five years;
  • Timothy Gallaudet to be Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere;
  • Howard Elliott to be Administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, Department of Transportation; and
  • Walter Copan to be Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology.
Senate Passes Six Bills
 
During the week of Oct. 2, the Senate passed six bills by voice vote or Unanimous Consent, including:  
  • Water Infrastructure Flexibility Act (S. 692): provides local communities with increased flexibility when complying with Clean Water Act requirements for updates to water infrastructure projects and also gives communities more autonomy as they prioritize and plan for wastewater and storm water investments. Specifically, the bill would:
    • Provide communities with flexibility to prioritize investments in wastewater and storm water projects needed for CWA compliance;
    • Establish an Office of Municipal Ombudsman at EPA to assist cities in complying with federal environmental laws;
    • Compel the EPA to promote "green infrastructure," which uses or mimics natural processes to infiltrate or reuse storm water runoff beneficially on-site where it is generated;
    • Require the EPA to update this guidance and expand the criteria for determining affordability and revise its guidance for affordability measures;
  • Strengthening State and Local Cyber Crime Fighting Act of 2017 (H.R. 1616): authorizes for the first time the National Computer Forensics Institute (NCFI), which provides law enforcement with techniques and best practices for handling digital forensics evidence;
  • Department of Homeland Security Blue Campaign Authorization Act of 2017 (S. 1103): amends the Homeland Security Act of 2002 to establish within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) the Blue Campaign to unify and coordinate DHS efforts to address human trafficking; and
  • A bill (H.R. 1117) which requires FEMA to improve accountability by devising a plan to provide consistent guidance during disaster responses. Specifically, the legislation requires FEMA to create an action plan to improve field transition by:
    • Providing consistent guidance to applicants on FEMA disaster funding procedures during the response to an emergency or disaster;
    • Conducting appropriate record maintenance and transfer of documents to new teams during staff transitions;
    • Providing accurate assistance to applicants and grantees to ease the administrative burden throughout the process of obtaining and monitoring assistance;
    • Implementing operating procedures and documenting retention requirements to ensure the maintenance of appropriate records throughout the lifecycle of the disaster; and
    • Identifying new technologies that further aid the disaster workforce in partnering with state, local, and tribal governments and private nonprofits in the wake of a disaster to educate, assist, and inform applicants on the status of their disaster assistance applications.
DOJ Announces Initiatives to Reduce Violent Crime andGuidance on Federal Law Protections for Religious Liberty
 
On October 5, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced several Department of Justice (DOJ) "actions to reduce the rising tide of violent crime in America. Foremost of those actions is the reinvigoration of Project Safe Neighborhoods, a program that has been historically successful in bringing together all levels of law enforcement to reduce violent crime and make our neighborhoods safer for everyone. " The additional measures include:  
  • Additional Assistant United States Attorney Positions to Focus on Violent Crime: DOJ is allocating 40 prosecutors to approximately 20 United States Attorney's Offices to focus on violent crime reduction;
  • More Cops on the Streets (COPS Hiring Grants): DOJ will be awarding approximately $98 million in FY 2017 COPS Hiring Grants to state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies;
  • Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force's (OCDETF) National Gang Strategic Initiative: The National Gang Strategic Initiative promotes creative enforcement strategies and best practices that will assist in developing investigations of violent criminal groups and gangs into enterprise-level OCDETF prosecutions. Under this initiative, OCDETF provides "seed money" to locally-focused gang investigations, giving state, local, and tribal investigators and prosecutors the resources and tools needed to identify connections between lower-level gangs and national-level drug trafficking organizations;
  • Critical Training and Technical Assistance to State and Local Partners: DOJ has a vast array of training and technical assistance resources available to state, local and tribal law enforcement, victims groups, and others. To ensure that agencies in need of assistance are able to find the training and materials they need, OJP will make available a Violence Reduction Response Center to serve as a "hot line" to connect people to these resources; and
  • Expand ATF's NIBIN Urgent Trace Program: DOJ will expand ATF's NIBIN Urgent Trace Program nationwide by the end of the year. Through this program, any firearm submitted for tracing that is associated with a NIBIN "hit" (which means it can be linked to a shooting incident) will be designated an "urgent" trace and the requestor will get information back about the firearm's first retail purchaser within 24 hours, instead of five to six business days. 
On October 6, Attorney General Sessions announced that he had issued guidance to all administrative agencies and executive departments regarding religious liberty protections in federal law. The guidance "interprets existing protections for religious liberty in Federal law, identifying 20 high-level principles that administrative agencies and executive departments can put to practical use to ensure the religious freedoms of Americans are lawfully protected. Attorney General Sessions also issued a second memorandum to the Department of Justice, directing implementation of the religious liberty guidance within the Department."
Trump Administration Announces Birth Control Mandate Rollback
 
On October 6, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Treasury, and Labor announced two companion interim final rules that "provide conscience protections to Americans who have a religious or moral objection to paying for health insurance that covers contraceptive/abortifacient services." Affordable Care Act (ACA)-compliant health insurance plans are required to cover "preventive services," a term defined through regulation. Under the existing regulatory requirements created by the previous administration, employers, unless they qualify for an exemption, must offer health insurance that covers all FDA-approved contraception. Under the first of two companion rules released on Oct. 6, entities that have sincerely held religious beliefs against providing such services would no longer be required to do so. The second rule applies the same protections to organizations and small businesses that have objections on the basis of moral conviction which is not based in any particular religious belief. Both rules took effect on Oct. 6. Read more...
Trump Signs Four Bills Into Law
 
On October 6, President Trump signed four bills into law:  
  • H.R. 2519, "The American Legion 100th Anniversary Commemorative Coin Act," which requires the Department of the Treasury to mint and issue coins in recognition of the 100th anniversary of The American Legion;
  • S. 327, the "Fair Access to Investment Research Act of 2017," which provides a safe harbor for certain investment fund research reports published by brokers and dealers from Securities and Exchange Commission registration requirements;
  • S. 810, which authorizes the construction and operation of a bridge (known as the Riverside Bridge Project) on certain property in Christian County, Missouri, notwithstanding specified Federal flood mitigation requirements; and
  • S. 1141, the "Women, Peace, and Security Act of 2017," which promotes women's participation in conflict prevention.
Trump Formally Sends Nominations to Senate
 
Last week, the White House announced that 35 nominations had been sent to the Senate for formal consideration, including:
  • R. D. James to be an Assistant Secretary of the Army, Civil Works;
  • Andrew Wheeler to be Deputy Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency;
  • Diana Furchtgott-Roth to be an Assistant Secretary of Transportation, Research and Technology;
  • Nazakhtar Nikakhtar to be an Assistant Secretary of Commerce, Industry and Analysis;
  • Neil Jacobs to be an Assistant Secretary of Commerce, Environmental Observation and Prediction;
  • Bruce Jette to be an Assistant Secretary of the Army, Acquisition, Technology and Logistics;
  • Shon Manasco to be an Assistant Secretary of the Air Force, Manpower and Reserve Affairs; and
  • Mitchell Zais to be Deputy Secretary of Education.