Weekly Legislative Update
 Week of December 17, 2018 
  
Congressional Outlook

The House and Senate are both in session this week. The House is scheduled to have its next vote at 6:30pm on Wednesday on a series of yet-unannounced bills under suspension of the rules. The Senate this week will vote on the First Step Act of 2018 (S. 3649), revised criminal justice reform legislation cosponsored by 19 Republican and 19 Democratic Senators and endorsed by a diverse swath of advocates and stakeholders. The bill would reduce federal mandatory minimum prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders; reauthorize the Second Chance Act through FY 2023, including grant programs for drug treatment, vocational training, mentoring and other reentry and recidivism reduction initiatives; p rohibit solitary confinement in juvenile facilities; require inmates to be imprisoned within 500 miles of their primary residence if possible; and allow additional federal prisoners to reduce their sentence or serve their remaining time in home confinement, among other provisions. Once the Senate passes the bill, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) has indicated that the lower chamber will immediately consider the legislation.
 
The current Continuing Resolution (CR) temporarily funding the Environmental Protection Agency and Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Justice, State, Transportation, and Treasury expires at midnight on Friday, December 21. If Congress does not pass another one or two-week CR and have it signed into law by President Trump by Friday, a partial government shutdown would occur beginning Saturday morning. It's possible that Congressional leaders and Trump agree to a compromise by the Friday deadline that includes some combination of full funding for six of the seven outstanding FY 2019 Appropriations bills and a short-term CR for the Homeland Security bill to temporarily avoid the divisive issue of $5 billion in funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border that President Trump is demanding but which Democratic leaders oppose. The National Flood Insurance Program's (NFIP) current authorization also expires on Friday and will need to receive a tenth short-term extension to avoid a temporary lapse in the program.
 
On Monday, President Trump will have lunch with Vice President Pence. On Tuesday, Trump will host a roundtable on the Federal Commission on School Safety Report. On Wednesday,Trump will have lunch with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. On Friday, Trump is expected to travel to Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida for a 16-day holiday vacation, returning to Washington on January 6.
 
The Ferguson Group wishes you a safe and happy holiday season! We will send our next report on January 2, 2019. 
Week in Review

Congress Passes $867 Billion Farm Bill, Sending Bill to Trump to be Signed Into Law
 
On December 11 and 12, the Senate and House passed the final Conference Report to accompany the $867 billion Farm Bill, the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (H.R. 2), by votes of 87-13 and 369-47, respectively. The Joint Explanatory Statement is available here. Ultimately, the deal that conference negotiators reached largely resembles existing agriculture and nutrition law. Current Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) policy would essentially be left in place, though the bill does make some administrative changes designed to reduce improper payments in the program. However, the Agriculture Department is preparing to release a rule expected to make it harder for states to waive existing work requirements for able-bodied adult SNAP recipients. The bill also largely maintains current limits on farm subsidies (capped at $125,000 per person each year, and double that for couples), though a House plan to expand the definition of a family operation to include first cousins, nieces and nephews is included. Federal crop insurance, which subsidizes about 60 percent of farmers' premiums and shields producers from weather-related disasters or profit losses during any one year, will continue.
 
The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) will continue; the House version had proposed phasing it out over time in order to boost another initiative, known as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Both programs pay farmers to implement practices that benefit the environment, though CSP has a longer-term focus and doesn't put as much emphasis on livestock production. The final deal would slash CSP's budget by $800 million per year, and plow the savings into EQIP and several other conservation programs. Lawmakers left out dozens of controversial environmental provisions proposed by House Republicans, such as language to ease restrictions on pesticides and certain requirements under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The bill also includes energy and forestry titles, the latter of which became a late holdup in negotiations in the aftermath of the California wildfires. The final deal would waive environmental reviews for some activities, like the removal of insect- or disease-ridden trees, but it doesn't go nearly as far as the House had proposed. Lastly, the bill legalizes industrial hemp production for the first time. Read more.
EPA and Army Corps of Engineers Release New WOTUS Definition
 
On December 11, Acting Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler and Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works R.D. James proposed a newly revised "Waters of the United States" (WOTUS) definition, that would limit which wetlands and waterways are protected by the Clean Water Act (CWA), and which would eventually replace the 2015 Obama Administration WOTUS rule. The proposed WOTUS rule covers six types of aquatic resources: traditionally navigable waters; tributaries that contribute perennial or intermittent flow to such waters; impoundments of otherwise jurisdictional waters; wetlands adjacent to other jurisdictional waters; certain ditches; and certain lakes and ponds. The new rule also includes 11 waters and features that are not consider waters of the United States, including: flow only in response to precipitation; groundwater; ephemeral surface features and diffuse stormwater run-off; certain ditches; prior converted cropland; artificially irrigated areas that would revert to upland if artificial irrigation ceases; certain artificial lakes and ponds constructed in upland; water-filled depressions created in upland incidental to mining or construction activity; stormwater control features excavated or constructed in upland to convey, treat, infiltrate, or store stormwater run-off; wastewater recycling structures constructed in upland; and waste treatment systems.
 
The EPA and Corps will take public comments on the proposal for 60 days after publication in the Federal Register (i.e., through late February 2019). The agencies will also hold an informational webcast on Thursday, January 10, 2019, and will host a public listening session on the proposed rule in Kansas City, Kansas, on Wednesday, January 23, 2019. A fact sheet on the rule is available here. Read more.
Trump Signs Executive Order Creating Opportunity and Revitalization Council
 
On December 12, President Trump signed Executive Order 13853 entitled " Establishing the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council ". The E.O. creates a new White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council to be chaired by Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson and comprised of a Vice Chair (Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy Andrew Bremberg) and 16 other federal officials, including 13 Cabinet members. The Council will:
  • Engage with all levels of government on ways to better use taxpayer dollars to revitalize low-income communities;
  • Improve revitalization efforts by streamlining, coordinating, and targeting existing federal programs to economically distressed areas, including Opportunity Zones;
  • Consider legislative proposals and undertake regulatory reform to remove barriers to revitalization efforts; and
  • Present President Trump with a number of reports identifying and recommending ways to encourage investment in economically distressed communities.
Additionally, on Dec. 13, Assistant Treasury Secretary for Tax Policy, David Kautter, stated that the Treasury Department is likely to come out with additional guidance for Opportunity Zones in January 2019. "The second set of rules is more about the operational aspects of the funds themselves," Kautter told reporters. "We're trying to write the rules in an even-handed manner that would apply equally no matter what the geographic area." Read more.
Nancy Pelosi Clinches Deal with Rebels in Speakership Standoff
 
On December 12, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced a deal that she made with a group of rebel House Democrats, all but ensuring she will have the 218 votes needed to become speaker in the next Congress on January 3. The agreement would limit her tenure as top House Democrat to no more than four additional years, regardless of whether her caucus votes to approve a rule change limiting its top three leaders to no more than four two-year terms in an attempt to elevate younger leaders. Read more.
Sen. Schumer Announces Senate Democratic Committee Assignments for 116th Congress; Rep. Pelosi Announces 116th Congress Committee Chair Recommendations
 
On Dec. 13, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced Senate Democratic committee memberships for the 116th Congress. The only new Ranking Member positions for the incoming Congress that are changing from the current Congress are: Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) becoming Ranking Member of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee (vacating the top Democratic post on the Energy & Natural Resources Committee), succeeding Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), who lost his re-election; Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) becoming Ranking Member of the Energy & Natural Resources Committee; and Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) becoming Ranking Member of the Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee, succeeding Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), who lost her re-election.
 
On Dec. 11 and 12, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced the Democratic Steering & Policy Committee's recommendations (see here and here) for House Committee Chairmanships in the 116th Congress; the recommendations will need to be approved by the 239-member Caucus in early January. All current House Ranking Members in the 115th Congress will become the Chairs of their Committee with the exception of Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA) who will be the new top Democrat on the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, succeeding Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN) who was elected Governor of Minnesota in November. Committee membership assignments for the incoming 64-member House Democratic freshmen class should be released within the next several weeks.
Trump Announces Mick Mulvaney will be Acting White House Chief of Staff, Ryan Zinke will Resign as Interior Secretary
 
On December 14, President Trump announced that White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mick Mulvaney will become the acting White House Chief of Staff beginning in early January 2019, replacing John Kelly, who has served in the position since July 31, 2017. Mulvaney will not resign as OMB Director while he is acting White House CoS-Deputy OMB Director Russ Vought will handle day-to-day operations for OMB instead. A senior Trump Administration official said there is "no time limit" for Mulvaney to remain in the top White House post. Read more.
 
On Dec. 15, President Trump announced that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will be resigning from his position by the end of December, amid ethics investigations into his business dealings, travel, and policy decisions. Names that have emerged as potential nominees for Interior Secretary include outgoing Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV), outgoing Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, Wisconsin's outgoing Governor Scott Walker, Idaho's outgoing Governor Butch Otter, and Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes. Read more.
Trump Signs 20 Bills Into Law
 
During the week of December 10, President Trump signed 20 bills into law, including:
  • PL 115-302, the "Action for Dental Health Act of 2018," which establishes a new "Action for Dental Health Program" within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to provide grants to state, county, or local public officials to improve oral health, including by preventing dental disease and reducing barriers to dental services, and to reauthorize existing programs for the dental workforce through FY 2023;
  • PL 115-303, the "Women in Aerospace Education Act," which amends authorities of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Science Foundation to provide support for training in the aerospace sector; and
  • PL 115-307, the "National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program Reauthorization Act of 2018," which reauthorizes the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program through FY 2023; and expands the requirements on the Departments of Commerce, Homeland Security, and the Interior, and the National Science Foundation related to earthquake research, preparedness, and mitigation.
Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) Announces Resignation, Effective December 31
 
On December 12, Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) sent a letter to Arizona GOP Governor Doug Ducey informing him that he will be resigning from the Senate effective 11:59pm EST on December 31, 2018. Kyl was sworn-in as an appointed Senator on September 5 to fill the seat held by the late Senator John McCain (R-AZ), who died on August 25. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has reportedly pushed Gov. Ducey to appoint outgoing Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ) to the seat following her unsuccessful Senate campaign this year against Senator-elect Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ). Gov. Ducey's newly appointed Senator will serve in the position until a special Senate election takes place on November 3, 2020 for the remaining two years of McCain's term through January 3, 2023. Read more.  
Congress Passes Sexual Harassment Legislation, Sending Bill to Trump
 
On December 13, the House and Senate passed, by unanimous consent, the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 Reform Act (S. 3749). The bill overhauls the process for handling sexual harassment claims on Capitol Hill, including ending the practice of settling harassment claims against lawmakers with taxpayer dollars, reforming the dispute resolution process, increasing transparency, and holding members of Congress liable for their own bad behavior, but not for that of their staff. Read more.
Senate Passes 47 Bills By Unanimous Consent and Voice Vote
 
During the week of December 10, the Senate passed 47 bills by unanimous consent or voice vote, including:
  • Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2018 (H.R. 6964): the bill improves treatment for juvenile offenders with mental illness and substance abuse issues; encourages states to make efforts to identify, report and reduce racial and ethnic disparities for youth who enter the juvenile justice system; supports alternatives to incarceration, such as problem-solving courts; and strengthens oversight of the federal grant program and holding states accountable for failing to meet core grant requirements to protect the safety of minors in the justice system;
  • Victims of Child Abuse Act Reauthorization Act of 2018 (S. 2961): the bill reauthorizes the Victims of Child Abuse Act (VOCAA), which provides funding for Children's Advocacy Centers that serve child victims and help law enforcement hold perpetrators accountable;
  • Emergency Medical Services for Children Reauthorization Act of 2018 (S. 3482): the bill ensures that, from the ambulance to the emergency department, emergency health care providers are prepared to treat children, who typically require smaller equipment and different doses of medicine;
  • Building Our Largest Dementia (BOLD) Infrastructure for Alzheimer's Act (S. 2076): the bill creates Centers of Excellence to advance public health knowledge and ensure public health professionals, doctors and nurses, and patients and their families have the support and updated information on Alzheimer's and related dementia diseases they need. The bill also establishes cooperative agreements to support state public health departments in taking what is learned from these centers of excellence and implementing that knowledge to help the individuals and families in their states.
  • Preventing Maternal Deaths Act of 2018 (H.R. 1318): the bill establishes and supports state Maternal Mortality Review Committees to review every pregnancy-related or pregnancy-associated death, and based on those findings, develop recommendations for how to prevent future mothers' deaths; and
  • Measuring the Economic Impact of Broadband Act of 2018 (S. 645): the bill requires the Bureau of Economic Analysis to conduct a study of the effects of broadband deployment and adoption on the U.S. economy. In conducting this analysis, the Commerce Secretary will consider job creation, business headcount, online commerce, income, education and distance learning, telehealth, telework, agriculture, population growth, population density, broadband speed, and geography. The Secretary may consult representatives of business, including rural and urban internet service providers and telecommunications infrastructure providers; state, local, and Tribal government agencies; and consumer and community organizations.
Senate Confirms Deputy Secretary of the Treasury and Federal Appeals Court Judge
 
On December 11, the Senate confirmed, by a vote of 55-44, Justin Muzinich to be Deputy Secretary of the Treasury, the No. 2 position below Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Chris Coons (D-DE), Doug Jones (D-AL), Angus King (I-ME), and Bill Nelson (D-FL) joined the entire Senate GOP Conference in voting to confirm Muzinich, who currently serves as Counselor to Secretary Mnuchin. Read more.
 
The Senate also confirmed on Dec. 11, by a vote of 51-50, 44-year-old Jonathan Kobes to be a U.S. Circuit Judge for the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals (covering Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota). With Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) voting with the entire 49-member Senate Democratic Caucus against Kobes, Vice President Mike Pence voted in favor of Kobes' nomination to break the 50-50 tie. Before becoming a federal appeals court judge, Kobes served as General Counsel to Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) for the past four years. Read more.  
Senate Passes Joint Resolutions Nullifying Treasury Department Guidance on Political Donors and Directing the Removal of U.S. Armed Forces from Yemen
 
On December 12, the Senate voted 50-49 to approve a Congressional Review Act (CRA) disapproval resolution (S.J. Res. 64) that would nullify a July 26, 2018 rule submitted by the Treasury Department entitled "Returns by Exempt Organizations and Returns by Certain Non-Exempt Organizations." The rule allows politically active nonprofits to withhold from the federal government the identities of their donors. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) was the sole Senate Republican to vote with the entire 49-member Senate Democratic Caucus in support of the CRA disapproval resolution. S.J. Res. 64 now heads to the GOP-controlled House where it will likely not receive a vote by the end of the 115th Congress on January 3. Read more.
 
On Dec. 13, the Senate voted 56-41 to approve a joint resolution (S.J. Res. 54), under the War Powers Act of 1973, to direct President Trump to remove U.S. Armed Forces from hostilities in or affecting the Republic of Yemen that have not been authorized by Congress. Moments later, senators unanimously approved a separate resolution (S.J. Res. 69) to hold Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia personally responsible for the death of the journalist, Jamal Khashoggi. While the House will not take up S.J. Res. 54 by the end of the year, the vote signals that Congress will take on President Trump's support of Saudi Arabia when Democrats take control of the House next month. Read more.