Weekly Legislative Update
 Week of January 19, 2016
Congressional Outlook

Week of January 19th 

The Senate is in session this week while the House is in recess until Monday, January 25. On Wednesday afternoon, the Senate will vote on the motion to proceed to the "American Security Against Foreign Enemies (SAFE) Act of 2015" (H.R. 4038), which Senate Democrats will likely filibuster. The House passed H.R. 4038 on Nov. 19 by a vote of 289-137 and the White House has already threatened to veto the bill. Under H.R. 4038, a refugee from Syria or Iraq would not be admitted to the U.S. until the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, FBI and Office of the Director of National Intelligence unanimously agree that the individual doesn't pose a security threat and provide a certification to Congress. The "Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015" (S. 2012) may be next on the Senate's docket, which is bipartisan energy legislation that passed out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in July by a vote of 18-4. The Senate also could act soon on the conference report to accompany the "Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015" (H.R. 644), which the House passed on Dec. 11 by a vote of 256-158. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD) recently told reporters he is confident the bill will make it to the President's desk with a provision permanently banning state and local taxes on Internet access, the "Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act" (PITFA).
When the House returns next week, it will vote on the "Iran Terror Finance Transparency Act" (H.R. 3662), which would impose sanctions against "Iranian terrorism financiers," and which the White House has already threatened to veto. The House will also vote on the "Debt Management and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2015" (H.R. 3442), which would require the Treasury Department to submit a report to Congress on efforts to reduce the national debt.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) stated last week at the Republican legislative retreat in Baltimore, MD that the House aims to pass a budget for FY 2017 earlier this year so that appropriators can get to work quickly in a tight legislative year, with the House Budget Committee aiming to mark up a budget on February 25 and the full House voting on the budget resolution the first week of March. The House budget plan will adhere to discretionary spending levels set by a joint budget-debt deal enacted in early November, which increased funding levels by $30 billion beyond the statutory caps established by the Budget Control Act of 2011. Ryan also said he would allow rank-and-file members to offer and hold votes on amendments to the appropriations bills. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) also said the Senate plans on writing a budget resolution in addition to passing 12 separate appropriations bills under "regular order," a feat Congress has not accomplished since 1994. Speaker Ryan also vowed that House Republicans would release a "complete agenda" once the GOP presidential nominee is chosen in July, focusing on "national security, the economy, health care, fighting poverty, and upholding the principles of the Constitution." A rift between House and Senate Republicans regarding the GOP's legislative agenda this year centers around whether a comprehensive replacement bill for the Affordable Care Act should be introduced in 2016, with House Republicans in favor of doing so and Senate Republican leadership against the plan.     
Week in Review

President Obama Delivers Final State of the Union Address
On January 12, President Obama delivered his seventh and last State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress. To the extent that President Obama did talk about policy, he focused more on ambitious, longer-term endeavors that will confront the next president, or presidents, rather than legislation Congress can tackle in 2016. He talked at length about climate change, and also championed Vice President Biden's "moonshot": finding a cure for cancer. Some other policy specifics that President Obama mentioned in his speech included: tackling poverty; asking Congress for a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force against ISIS; criminal justice reform; and finalizing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Read more...
House Votes to Overturn WOTUS Rule
On January 13, the House passed, by a vote of 253-166, a "resolution of disapproval" ( S.J. Res. 22) that would invalidate the new Clean Water Act "Waters of the United States" (WOTUS) rule and would also prevent the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from revising the rule or developing a "substantially similar" rule in the future. The Senate passed S.J. Res. 22 on November 4, with some Democratic support, by a vote of 53-44, and it now heads to President Obama, who has said he will veto the measure. Because the House and Senate lack the votes to override President Obama's veto, the resolution won't have any practical effect. But it may bolster further attempts to legislatively undercut the WOTUS rule, probably during the FY 2017 appropriations process later this year. Veto or not, passage of the resolution by the House and Senate demonstrates that a majority of Congress opposes the rule, which is already under attack in the courts by more than half the states. Read more...
House Passes Bill Delaying Coal Mining Rule
On January 12, the House passed, by a vote of 235-188, the "Supporting Transparent Regulatory and Environmental Actions in Mining (STREAM) Act" ( H.R. 1644). The bill would prevent the Interior Department's Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) from issuing any rules related to the disposal of surface mining waste near streams, delaying the implementation of the Obama Administration's Stream Protection Rule which was released in proposed form in July 2015. The bill would amend the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) to require the Secretary of the Interior to make public all "scientific products" including raw data for studies conducted with federal funding - that went into the development of proposed or final rules, at least ninety days in advance. H.R. 1644 would also require the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to submit a study on the effectiveness of existing rules since 1983. Additionally, the bill would block the Interior Department from issuing any rules related to stream protection until a year after the NAS report has been issued. The White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy threatening to veto H.R. 1644 because the bill "would prevent the restoration of hundreds of streams, result in deterioration of water quality for thousands of stream miles, and create sustained regulatory uncertainty, as well as public health impacts for downstream communities." Read more...
House Passes Grants Oversight and New Efficiency Act
On January 11, the House passed, by voice vote, the "Grants Oversight and New Efficiency (GONE) Act" ( S. 1115), which the Senate passed by Unanimous Consent on Dec. 18. The bill would require all federal agencies to close out expired grant accounts with zero dollar balances and undisbursed funding remaining. The GONE Act would require the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to direct federal agencies to coordinate with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to submit a report to Congress that identifies remaining expired grants. HHS was charged with leading a previous effort that closed out thousands of expired grants. Following the submission of this report to Congress, federal agencies would then have one year to confirm that they have closed out all expired grants. Additionally, the inspector general of any federal agency receiving over $500 million in annual grant funding would be required to conduct a risk assessment to determine if an audit or review of the agency's grant closeout process is necessary. S. 1115 is now headed to President Obama's desk where he is expected to sign the bill into law soon. Read more...
House Passes FOIA Reform Bill
On January 11, the House passed, by voice vote, the "FOIA Oversight and Implementation Act of 2016" (H.R. 653), which would create the most sweeping reforms to federal open records laws since 2007. The bill would limit exemptions under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) that now allow federal agencies to hold back information. The bill would also create a single online portal for people to make FOIA requests and require federal agencies to publicly post frequently requested records online. Additionally, the bill would reform how federal agencies can redact some information using Exemption 5, which is often derisively referred to as the "withhold because you can" statute. In practice, it is supposed to apply to "interagency or intra-agency communication," such as draft documents. The legislation, however, requires federal agencies to disclose any "records that embody the working law, effective policy, or the final decision of the agency." It also requires that Exemption 5 cannot be used on any information older than 25 years. H.R. 653 would codify nonbinding directions from the Obama Administration and the Justice Department on how to fulfill document requests with a "presumption of openness," in addition to improving public digital access to records released through FOIA and making oversight of the process more independent. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has not yet said whether the Senate's version of the legislation would be placed on the calendar. Read more...
House Passes Taxpayers Right-To-Know Act
On January 11, the House passed, by a vote of 413-0, the "Taxpayers Right-To-Know Act" ( H.R. 598). The bill makes it easier to evaluate federal government spending by requiring federal agencies to identify their programs and provide basic information on what the program does and how much they cost. The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) would need to include a program inventory on its website that identifies each program of the federal government for which there is more than $1 million in annual budget authority. Such inventory would include: (1) any activity that is commonly referred to as a program, and (2) any activity that is referenced in law as a program after June 30, 2018. OMB would also have to archive and preserve the information included in the program inventory; and, not later than February 1 of each fiscal year, publish on a public website the total amount of undisbursed grant funding remaining in grant accounts for which the period of availability to the grantee has expired. Read more...
Senate Rejects Moving Forward on Bill to Audit the Federal Reserve
On January 12, the Senate voted   53-44 on the motion to proceed to the "Federal Reserve Transparency Act of 2015" ( S. 2232), seven votes shy of the 60 necessary to move forward on a final vote on the bill. S. 2232 would increase congressional oversight of the Federal Reserve, as well as subject the central bank to an audit by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) within 12 months of enactment of the bill. The bill would also require the GAO to report its findings and conclusions to Congress within 90 days of completing the audit. The only members of the Senate Democratic Caucus to vote in favor of moving forward on the bill were Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) while the only Senate Republican to vote against moving forward was Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN). Read more... 
Congressional Schedule

Tuesday, January 19  
  • Full Senate Special Aging Committee field hearing in Jefferson City, Missouri entitled "Fighting Against a Growing Epidemic: Reducing the Misuse and Abuse of Opioids in America."
  • Full Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing "to examine the near-term outlook for energy and commodity markets." 
Wednesday, January 20
  • Full Senate Agriculture Committee markup of the "Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act of 2016."
  • Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies hearing "to review the Department of Justice's role in implementing new executive actions related to gun control."
  • Full Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee nomination hearing for T.F. Scott Darling, III, to be the Administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).
  • Full Senate Environment and Public Works Committee markup of 32 General Services Administration (GSA) resolutions and the following six bills: the "Bipartisan Sportsmen's Act of 2015" (S. 659) - substitute amendment; the "Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Act of 2015" (S. 1024) - substitute amendment; the "Long Island Sound Restoration and Stewardship Act" (S. 1674); the "Lake Tahoe Restoration Act of 2015" (S. 1724); a bill "to provide for the authority for the successors and assigns of the Starr-Camargo Bridge Company to maintain and operate a toll bridge across the Rio Grande near Rio Grande City, Texas, and for other purposes" (S. 2143); and a bill "to designate the Federal building and United States courthouse located at 121 Spring Street SE in Gainesville, Georgia, as the 'Sidney Olsin Smith, Jr. Federal Building and United States Courthouse'" (S. 2396).
  • Full Senate Finance Committee hearing entitled "Healthcare Co-Ops: A Review of the Financial and Oversight Controls."
  • Full Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing entitled "Improving the Federal Response to Challenges in Mental Health Care in America."
  • Full Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing entitled "Inside the Mind of ISIS: Understanding Its Goals and Ideology to Better Protect the Homeland."
  • Full Senate Judiciary Committee hearing entitled "The Adequacy of Criminal Intent Standards in Federal Prosecutions."
  • Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest hearing entitled "Why is the Biometric Exit Tracking System Still Not in Place?" 
Thursday, January 21
  • Full Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing "to examine the status of innovative technologies within the automotive industry."
  • Full Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing entitled "Laying Out the Reality of the United States Postal Service."
  • Full Senate Judiciary Committee markup of the "Expatriate Terrorist Act" (S. 247); the "Judicial Redress Act of 2015" (H.R. 1428); the "Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act of 2015" (S. 483); the "Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2015" (S. 1890); and the "Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act" (S. 2040).
  • Full Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing entitled "VA's Transformation Strategy: Examining the Plan to Modernize the VA."