Weekly Legislative Update
 Week of April 4, 2016
  
Congressional Outlook

Week of April 4th
 
The Senate is in session this week, while the House is in recess until April 12. The Senate is set to vote Monday on bipartisan legislation, the "Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016" ( S. 1890), which would enable companies to seek civil penalties for misappropriation of trade secrets, including court orders of property seizures to prevent dissemination of such proprietary information. After that vote, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) may try to bring up the bipartisan reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration, the "Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2016" (S. 2658), which would fund the FAA through September 30, 2017. Congress has until July 15 to either pass a long-term FAA reauthorization bill, or another short-term extension, likely through the lame duck period after the November election. The Senate will also likely begin the appropriations process after the top-line spending limits set by last fall's budget deal are filed on April 15.
 
The Senate's return intensifies the political tussle over President Obama's attempt to fill the Supreme Court vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. McConnell has vowed not to allow confirmation hearings or a floor vote this year, arguing that voters in November's presidential election should be given a voice in who gets to nominate a replacement justice, whose confirmation could tip the ideological balance that tilted 5-4 toward conservatives before Scalia's death. D.C. Circuit Judge Merrick Garland, Obama's nominee, will be a visible presence on Capitol Hill as he resumes visits to Democratic senators and to those Republicans who have agreed to meet with him. Among his scheduled stops, Garland is set to meet this week with two Republican senators: Maine's Susan Collins, who favors a confirmation vote on the nomination this year, and John Boozman of Arkansas; Judge Garland will also meet with Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) on April 13. Democrats are trying to pressure swing-state Republicans to break with their party on the Supreme Court nomination. Garland will also meet this week with Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Chris Coons (D-DE), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH). 
 
When the House returns, the House Natural Resources Committee is expected to take up an aid package for Puerto Rico's debt crisis on April 13 and 14. Separately, House Republicans will continue to deliberate on the budget and will likely take a vote on the FY 2017 budget resolution which the House Budget Committee passed on March 16.
Week in Review

White House Announces Additional Actions to Address Opioid and Heroin Epidemic
 
On March 29, the Obama Administration announced new steps to fight opioid and heroin abuse, all using funding that has already been appropriated by Congress.  Among the most important list of action items, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service (HHS) will finalize a rule requiring Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program to cover mental health and substance abuse services at the same level they cover medical and surgical services, which would extend behavioral health benefits to more than 23 million people enrolled in the programs. Additionally, the President signed a Memorandum establishing a Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Parity Task Force, chaired by the Domestic Policy Council. The Task Force will examine every federal agency dealing with insurance.  HHS also issued a proposed rule to increase the patient limit for physicians qualified to prescribe buprenorphine, a form of medication-assisted treatment for opioid abuse. Doctors' patient load is currently capped at 100, but if finalized, the rule would raise the limit to 200 patients.
 
Several grants were also announced. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) announced an $11 million grant for up to 11 states to expand their medication-assisted treatment services. A second SAMSHA grant will give another $11 million to states to purchase and distribute naloxone, which reverses opioid overdoses, and to train first responders on its use. The Department of Justice's (DOJ) COPS program announced a $7 million grant for law enforcement agencies in states with high rates of primary treatment admissions for heroin and other opioids. The private sector will also participate. More than 60 medical schools also announced that, beginning in the fall, they will require their students to take prescriber education that aligns with the newly released Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for prescribing opioids. On a call previewing the announcement, Dr. Richard Frank (HHS Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation) and Michael Botticelli (Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy) pushed for the Obama Administration's ask of an additional $1.1 billion from Congress for the opioid epidemic. It's unclear how Congress will respond. Senate Democrats called for an additional $600 million to be authorized on an opioid bill that passed the Senate on March 10 by a 94-1 vote, but Republicans said the funding should be given to the Administration through the regular appropriations process. Read more...
President Obama Signs 3.5 Month FAA Authorization Extension Into Law
 
On March 30, President Obama signed the "Airport and Airway Extension Act of 2016" ( H.R. 4721) into law. The legislation extends authorization and tax authority for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) through Friday, July 15, 2016; FAA funding was set to expire on March 31. The Senate previously passed H.R. 4721 by Unanimous Consent on March 17 and the House passed it by voice vote on March 21.  House and Senate lawmakers overseeing transportation programs are still trying to find consensus on a long-term FAA reauthorization. But the authorization for aviation programs would lapse if Congress didn't pass a legislative patch in the meantime.   
 
The Senate Commerce Committee approved legislation, the "Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2016" ( S. 2658 ), on March 16 to renew FAA programs through September 30, 2017, while the version that advanced out of the House T&I Committee on February 11, the "Aviation Innovation, Reform and Reauthorization (AIRR) Act of 2016" ( H.R. 4441 ), would extend programs through 2022. However, GOP leaders ultimately opted against bringing the House measure up for a floor vote because of controversy over a proposal that would create a new non-governmental organization to run air traffic control instead of the FAA. Under the latest short-term extension, lawmakers will have until the scheduled last day in session before Congress breaks for the GOP and Democratic presidential conventions and annual August recess to put forward a new FAA bill. After recessing in mid-July, neither the House nor Senate will be back in session until after Labor Day. During the full Senate's consideration of S. 2658, Senate Democrats will seek several changes to S. 2658, focusing on three areas: counterterrorism training for Transport Security Administration officers, oversight of aviation workers and funding for airports. Read more...
Federal Reserve Finalizes Rule Providing Relief for Municipal Bonds
 
On April 1, the Federal Reserve Board announced that it finalized a rule, effective July 1, 2016, to treat more municipal securities as high-quality liquid assets (HQLA) under liquidity requirements for large financial institutions. The final rule treats as level 2B liquid assets municipal general obligation bonds that are backed by the full faith and credit of a U.S. state or municipality, are investment grade, and have been issued by an entity whose obligations have a proven track record as a reliable source of liquidity during periods of significant stress. While the Fed and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) have made progress to ensure fair treatment of municipal bonds, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), an independent bureau within the U.S. Treasury Department, has thus far refused to act, necessitating a bill ( H.R. 2209) passed by the House on February 1, 2016, which would level the playing field for states and cities by requiring all of the banking regulators to treat municipal bonds that meet the liquidity criteria in the Liquid Coverage Ratio (LCR) rule as Level 2A assets.  The Senate hasn't yet taken action on H.R. 2209 nor has a Senator introduced a companion bill, although that may happen soon. Read more here and here .
FCC Modernizes Lifeline Program to Help Low-Income Consumer Afford Internet Access
 
On March 31, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted on party lines, 3-2, to expand a 30-year-old phone subsidy program, the Lifeline program, to include broadband Internet .
 
FCC's Lifeline program delivers subsidies to low-income Americans to help them pay for phone service. Under the change finalized on Thursday, eligible participants will also receive subsidies of $9.25 a month for broadband internet service. The expansion is a major win for advocates who increasingly see Internet access as a necessity for education, finding a job or simply communicating. Families will only be able to receive one subsidy per household, which they can put toward paying for home Internet, phone or smartphone service - or a combination of the three under the program. Many current participants receive free basic cell service because the $9.25 subsidy covers the entire cost, but they would have to cover the remaining cost of a broadband connection. The rules will set up a single national database to allow phone and Internet providers to verify whether individuals are eligible by sharing information from other lower-income programs like Social Security, Medicaid and food subsidies. The vote Thursday imposes a budget of $2.25 billion per year, with the funds coming from fees imposed by the phone companies. Read more...   
President Obama Signs Bill Into Law to Protect Servicemembers and Veterans from Foreclosure
 
On March 31, President Obama signed the "Foreclosure Relief and Extension for Servicemembers Act of 2015" ( S. 2393) into law. The Senate passed the bill by Unanimous Consent on December 10, 2015, while the House passed it by voice vote on March 21. Under S. 2393, veterans will be protected from foreclosure and eviction for the first year after they leave military service. After December 31, 2017, the protections would cover only the first nine months. The protections, part of the  Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, are meant to provide veterans and their families sufficient time to transition from active duty to civilian life. Under the law, courts can stay proceedings, and foreclosures and seizures of property can only occur if approved by court order. An initial 90-day protection period was extended to nine months in 2008, and then to one year in 2012. The "Foreclosure Relief and Extension for Servicemembers Act of 2014" extended the one-year protection through Dec. 31, 2015. Since then, it has applied only to the first 90 days. Read more...
President Obama Signs Evidence-Based Policymaking Commission Act Into Law
 
On March 30, President Obama signed the "Evidence-Based Policymaking Commission Act of 2016" (H.R. 1831) into law. The Senate and House passed the bill unanimously on March 16 and 17, respectively. The bipartisan bill will establish a 15-member commission to study how best to strengthen and expand the use of data to evaluate the effectiveness of federal programs and tax expenditures. The bill:
  • Establishes a "Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking." The Commission is charged with reviewing the inventory, infrastructure, security, and protocols related to data from federal programs and tax expenditures while developing recommendations for increasing the availability and use of this data in support of rigorous program evaluation.
  • In the course of its review, the Commission is specifically required to evaluate the merits of and provide guidance for creating a "clearinghouse" for program and survey data. The clearinghouse would make available and facilitate the merging of datasets that are valuable in evaluating program effectiveness and informing policymaking.
  • The Commission's findings and recommendations are due to Congress 15 months after the Commission reaches 8 members-a simple majority. The Commission ends not later than 18 months after the date of enactment.
  • The bill requires several agencies to provide assistance to the Commission including OMB, Census, and the Departments of Health and Human Services, Education and Justice.
  • The Commission is comprised of 15 members representing an array of disciplines relevant to program evaluation, program administration, and data management, including expertise in economics, statistics, and data security. The Majority and Minority leaders in the Senate, and Speaker and Minority Leader in the House are authorized to appoint 3 members each, as is the President. 
  • The Commission would also study how best to protect the privacy rights of people who interact with federal agencies and ensure confidentiality.
  • The Commission is authorized to hire a Director (appointed by the Commission chair with the concurrence of the co-chair) and staff. The bill authorizes several federal agencies to provide up to a total of $3 million in funds to carry out the activities of the Commission.  
Congressional Schedule

Tuesday, April 5  
  • Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government hearing "to review the Fiscal Year 2017 budget request and funding justification for the Federal Communications Commission."
  • Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies hearing "to review opportunities and benefits for military veterans in agriculture."
  • Full Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee hearing entitled "Assessing the Effects of Consumer Finance Regulations."
  • Full Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing "to conduct oversight on issues facing U.S.-affiliated islands and to consider two measures related to U.S.-affiliated islands."
  • Full Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing entitled "Terror in Europe: Safeguarding U.S. Citizens At Home and Abroad."
  • Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights hearing entitled "Section 5 and 'Unfair Methods of Competition': Protecting Competition or Increasing Uncertainty?" 
Wednesday, April 6
  • Full Senate Special Committee on Aging hearing entitled "Finding a Cure: Assessing Progress Toward the Goal of Ending Alzheimer's by 2025."
  • Full Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee hearing entitled "USDA Rural Development Programs and their Economic Impact Across America."
  • Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies hearing "to review the Fiscal Year 2017 budget request and funding justification for the U.S. Forest Service."
  • Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security hearing "to examine research and development efforts at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security."
  • Full Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing entitled "Transportation Security: Protecting Passengers and Freight."
  • Full Senate Environment and Public Works Committee oversight hearing entitled "The President's FY 2017 Budget Request for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission."
  • Full Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee markup of: the "FDA and NIH Workforce Authorities Modernization Act" (S. 2700); the "Promise for Antibiotics and Therapeutics for Health (PATH) Act" (S. 185); the "Advancing Precision Medicine Act of 2016" (S. 2713); the "NIH Strategic Plan and Inclusion in Clinical Research Act" (S. _____); and the "Promoting Biomedical Research and Public Health for Patients Act" (S. _____).
  • Full Senate Indian Affairs Committee legislative hearing on the following bills: the "Tribal Early Childhood, Education, and Related Services Integration Act of 2015" (S. 2304); the "Safe Academic Facilities and Environments for Tribal Youth (SAFETY) Act" (S. 2468); the "Reforming American Indian Standards of Education (RAISE) Act of 2016" (S. 2580); and the "Native American Education Opportunity Act" (S. 2711).
  • Full Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee hearing entitled "Federal Disaster Response and SBA Implementation of the RISE Act." 
Thursday, April 7  
  • Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies hearing "to review the Fiscal Year 2017 budget request and funding justification for the National Institutes of Health."
  • Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies hearing "to review the Fiscal Year 2017 Department of Defense budget request and funding justification for Military Construction and Family Housing."
  • Full Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee hearing entitled "The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's Semi-Annual Report to Congress" and executive session to consider the following nominations: Mr. Jay Neal Lerner to be Inspector General of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and Mr. Amias Moore Gerety to be an Assistant Secretary of the Treasury.
  • Full Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing "to conduct oversight of the U.S. Geological Survey."
  • Full Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing entitled "The Federal Role in Keeping Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Affordable."