Weekly Legislative Update
Week of January 2, 2018
The Senate is in session this week, while the House is in recess until January 8. The second session of the 115th Congress will officially convene at noon on Wednesday, with a pro forma session in the House. Two new Democratic Senators will also be sworn in on Wednesday: Senator-elect Doug Jones of Alabama, who won a special election on Dec. 12 to fill out the remaining three years of Attorney General Jeff Sessions' unexpired term (Jones is succeeding incumbent Republican Sen. Luther Strange), and Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith of Minnesota, who was appointed by Governor Mark Dayton to fill the seat vacated by Al Franken on Jan. 2. With the addition of Jones to the Senate, Republicans will have a slim 51-49 seat majority for the remaining year of the 115th Congress. The Senate will also consider several nominations this week, including John C. Rood to be Under Secretary of Defense for Policy.
Congressional leaders have a scheduled meeting on Wednesday on Capitol Hill with Office of Management and Budget Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and White House Legislative Director Marc Short to discuss spending caps and other issues. Then, over the weekend, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) will have agenda discussions with President Trump at Camp David. Congress is now working against a new deadline for a spending package to avert a government shutdown. After passing the biggest tax-overhaul legislation since 1986, lawmakers postponed the fiscal drama by passing another short-term spending patch that funds the federal government through Friday, January 19. Negotiations on raising the FY 2018 spending caps continue with an agreement on the top-line numbers needed before leadership can work out the details of an omnibus spending bill to fund the government through September 30, 2018. Democrats are pressing for an equal increase in the spending caps for both defense and domestic programs.
Another piece of unfinished business is disaster aid. There will likely be negotiations over the $81 billion package (H.R. 4667) that the House passed on Dec. 21 to help residents of Florida, Texas, Louisiana, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands recover from a damaging hurricane season and California from its wildfires. Senate Democrats withheld their consent for speedy consideration of the disaster measure, which Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said needs many changes. Democrats said the bill would not provide sufficient help for Puerto Rico-which is delivering power to only 55 percent of customers capable of receiving electricity-or the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Democratic leaders are also pressing for action on legislation to extend legal status to almost 800,000 undocumented immigrants whose parents brought them to the U.S. when they were children. The so-called "Dreamers" were given temporary protection through former President Barack Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative, a program President Trump says he will end on March 5. Trump recently stated that any agreement on protections for undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children must also include a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and an end to the visa lottery and giving immigration preferences to extended family members.
Other short-term agenda items that Congress will need to deal with in January include two bipartisan fixes to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), including funding Cost-Sharing Reduction (CSR) payments for two years and $4.5 billion in funding for a federal reinsurance program to help lower insurance premiums; and long-term reauthorizations of the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) section 702 electronic eavesdropping authority. Additionally, Congress will need to raise the federal debt ceiling by late March/early April to avert a default and will need to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) by March 31.
Tax Cuts and Jobs Act Signed Into Law
On December 22, President Trump signed the $1.5 trillion Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (
Public Law 115-97
) into law. On Dec. 20, the Senate passed the final version of the bill by a vote of
while the House passed it by a vote of
; all House and Senate Democrats voted against the bill, while only 12 House Republicans ultimately voted against it. The new tax law will, temporarily, through 2025, maintain seven tax brackets, while lowering most rates, doubling the estate tax exemption, and shielding more taxpayers from the alternative minimum tax. For businesses, it would impose a permanent, flat 21 percent tax rate, replacing the graduated corporate income tax and top 35 percent rate. The law also imposes a $10,000 limit on the combined sum of state and local property/income tax deductions; reduces the Home Mortgage Interest deduction to $750,000 for new mortgages; maintains the Municipal Bond exemption; preserves the Private Activity Bond (PAB) exemption; preserves the New Markets Tax Credit, Work Opportunity Tax Credit, and Rehabilitation Credit at 10 percent for certified historic buildings; and repeals the exemption for new Advanced Refunding Bonds. The bill also repeals the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) mandate for individuals to purchase health insurance and allows oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska for the first time.
4-Week Continuing Resolution Signed Into Law
On December 22, President Trump signed a 4-week Continuing Resolution (
Public Law 115-96
) into law, which funds the federal government at enacted FY 2017 levels through Friday, January 19. On Dec. 21, the House passed the CR by a vote of
while the Senate passed it by a vote of
. With the previous two-week CR expiring on December 22, Congress needed to pass a funding bill by that date to avert a government shutdown. The new CR also
the following additional provisions:
- An additional $4.7 billion for emergency Defense needs, including ship repair and missile defense;
- A temporary extension of Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) funding ($2.85 billion) to ensure States have the flexibility to administer the program until March 31, 2018;
- An extension of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) section 702 electronic eavesdropping authority for the duration of the CR;
- A temporary extension of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) for the duration of the CR;
- An additional $2.1 billion for the Veterans Choice Act funding to cover the upcoming shortfalls in the program; and
- A delay of automatic (sequestration) PAYGO cuts in both defense and non-defense funding for the duration of the CR and for the recently passed Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (which President Trump will likely sign into law on Dec. 22).
House Passes $81 Billion Emergency Appropriations Bill
On Dec. 21, the House passed, by a vote of
emergency appropriations package (
) for disasters caused by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, as well as California's wildfires. The Senate delayed action on the hurricane/wildfire supplemental appropriations bill until January, in part, over concerns from Democrats regarding funding for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The package
the following funding amounts:
- $27.6 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for disaster response and recovery efforts;
- $26.1 billion for Community Development Block Grants-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) for housing, business, infrastructure, and mitigation needs for communities devastated by disasters in 2017 and prior years;
- $12.11 billion for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for repairs needed due to natural disasters, and to expedite studies and projects to reduce damages in future disasters in areas affected by recent hurricanes;
- $3.8 billion for the Department of Agriculture for disaster recovery from hurricanes, wildfires, and crop loss.
- $2.9 billion for hurricane education recovery;
- $1.66 billion for the Small Business Administration's (SBA) disaster loan program, which will allow the SBA to make up to $12.2 billion in disaster loans to small businesses and homeowners in all affected areas for recovery and rebuilding;
- $1.5 billion to repair Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Reserve, National Guard, Coast Guard, and medical military facilities, and to repair or replace equipment damaged by the hurricanes in all affected areas;
- $1.4 billion to address all current damages to federal highways caused by designated disasters and $269 million to help communities restore hurricane-damaged mass transit systems; and
- $600 million to states and localities for economic development grants.
Senate Confirms 40 Nominees; Kicks Back 100 Nominees for Renomination by Trump Administration
During the week of December 18, the Senate confirmed the following three Trump Administration nominees by recorded vote:
- J. Paul Compton, Jr. to be General Counsel of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, by a vote of 62-34;
- Owen West to be an Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict, by a vote of 74-23; and
- Jennifer Newstead to be Legal Adviser of the Department of State, by a vote of 88-11.
The Senate also confirmed 37 additional nominees by Unanimous Consent (see here and here), including:
- Dr. Timothy Petty to be Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Water and Science;
- Linda Capuano to be Administrator of the Energy Information Administration, Department of Energy;
- Bruce Jette to be Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics;
- Randall Shriver to be Assistant Secretary of the Army for Asian and Pacific Affairs;
- James McPherson to be General Counsel of the Department of the Army;
- Hester Peirce to be a Member of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission;
- Robert Jackson, Jr. to be a Member of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission;
- Katherine McGuire to be Assistant Secretary of Labor for Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs;
- Preston Rutledge to be Assistant Secretary of Labor, Employee Benefits Security Administration;
- Johnny Collett to be Assistant Secretary of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services;
- Suzanne Tufts to be Assistant Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Administration;
- Leonard Wolfson to be Assistant Secretary of Housing and Urban Development for Congressional and Intergovernmental Relations;
- Robert Charrow to be General Counsel of the Department of Health and Human Services;
- Brock Bierman to be Assistant Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development;
- Christopher Ford to be Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Non-Proliferation.
About 100 of President Trump's nominees were kicked back to the White House at the closing of the first session of the 115th Congress in December, prolonging an unusually high number of vacancies across his Administration and escalating the Senate's long-running nomination wars. While the Senate agreed to keep roughly 150 of Trump's picks for consideration in 2018, it refused to do so on roughly 100 others, according to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) office. That means the White House will have to renominate them if Trump wants them installed. These nominees include:
- Andrew Wheeler to be Deputy Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency;
- Kathleen Hartnett White to be Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality;
- Susan Combs to be Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Policy, Management and Budget;
- Ryan Nelson to be Solicitor of the Department of the Interior;
- Steven Gardner to be Director of the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement;
- Barry Lee Myers to be Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere;
- Alex Azar to be Secretary of Health and Human Services;
- Jerome Powell to be Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System; and
- Rep. James Bridenstine (R-OK) to be Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Trump Signs Three Bills Into Law
On December 18 and 20, President Trump signed the following three bills into law:
- The "Indian Employment, Training and Related Services Consolidation Act of 2017," (Public Law 115-93), which strengthens, reforms, and makes permanent a comprehensive Native employment and training program commonly known as the "477 Program," which allows federally-recognized tribes and Alaska Native entities to combine formula-funded federal grant funds into a single plan with a single budget and a single reporting system;
- The "Department of State Authorities Act, Fiscal Year 2017, Improvements Act," (Public Law 115-94), which amends a number of provisions in the "Department of State Authorities Act, Fiscal Year 2017" (Public Law 114-323), including technical corrections to several existing congressional reporting requirements; and
- The "Enhancing Veteran Care Act," (Public Law 115-95) which authorizes changes to the Department of Veterans Affairs authorities related to assessing and reporting on VA medical centers.
House and Senate Pass U.S. Fire Administration, AFG, and SAFER Program Reauthorization Bill
On December 18, the House passed, by voice vote, the United States Fire Administration, AFG, and SAFER Program Reauthorization Act of 2017 ( H.R. 4661); the Senate later passed the bill by Unanimous Consent on Dec. 21. H.R. 4661 authorizes the U.S. Fire Administration through FY 2023, and authorizes $750 million for both FEMA's AFG (Assistance to Firefighters Grant) awards and SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response) grants through FY 2023 to help provide necessary firefighting gear and training to firefighters and emergency responders, among other critical functions. President Trump will sign the bill into the law soon. Read more...
House Passes Two Financial-Services Related Bills
On December 19, the House passed, by a vote of
, the Systemic Risk Designation Improvement Act of 2017 (
), which would scale back certain provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act that give federal financial regulators authority in regulating Systemically Important Financial Institutions (SIFIs). H.R. 3312 would completely repeal Dodd-Frank's $50 billion asset threshold above which banks are automatically labeled SIFIs, and strictly limit automatic SIFI-designation to only the largest U.S. banks that have already been designated as Globally Systemically Important Financial Banks (G-SIBs) subject to enhanced prudential standards. All other bank holding companies would have to go through an extensive review process before being designated a SIFI subject to increased oversight by the FSOC.
On Dec. 20, the House passed, by a vote of 238-182, the Corporate Governance Reform and Transparency Act of 2017 (H.R. 4015), which would require proxy advisory firms to register with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and would subject them to certain rules and reporting requirements. Currently, proxy advisory firms are regulated under the 1940 Investment Advisers Act, which mandates that these firms act as fiduciaries on behalf of their clients - typically institutional shareholders such as pension funds, asset managers, and mutual funds. These firms provide institutional investors company data, analysis, and independent voting recommendations to help these clients monitor and engage with the public companies they own. H.R. 4015 would require proxy advisory firms to share their research reports with the subject public companies prior to distributing those reports to their investor clients, giving such companies an unprecedented right of prior review. Read more here and here.
White House Drug Policy Officer Releases Commission Report Reaction Documents
On December 29, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy
the Trump Administration's
of the President's Commission on Combating Drug Additional and the Opioid Crisis and a
of major actions taken by the Administration in 2017. A press release from the White House states that "We commend the Commission on their diligent work on this report. The Trump Administration will continue to focus its resources to prevent new addictions from developing, and help those already suffering to recover from addiction. Much work needs to be done to combat the opioid crisis, and President Trump will continue to work with local communities afflicted by this crisis and make this national public health emergency a top priority."
Trump Signs Three Executive Orders
During the week of Dec. 18, President Trump signed the following three Executive Orders:
- E.O. 13817, "A Federal Strategy To Ensure Secure and Reliable Supplies of Critical Minerals";
- E.O. 13818, "Blocking the Property of Persons Involved in Serious Human Rights Abuse or Corruption"; and
- E.O. 13819, "Adjustments of Certain Rates of Pay."
Trump Sends 16 Nominees to Senate for Consideration
During the week of December 18, President Trump formally sent 16 nominations to the Senate for consideration:
- Frank Brogan to be Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education, Department of Education;
- Lisa Gordon-Hagerty to be Under Secretary for Nuclear Security, Department of Energy;
- Andrea Thompson to be Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security'
- Susan Thornton to be an Assistant Secretary of State (East Asian and Pacific Affairs);
- Susan Baxter to be U.S. District Judge for the Western District of Pennsylvania;
- Joel Carson to be U.S. Circuit Judge for the Tenth Circuit;
- Colm Connolly to be U.S. District Judge for the District of Delaware;
- Kari Dooley to be U.S. District Judge for the District of Connecticut;
- Gordon Giampietro to be U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Wisconsin;
- Marilyn Horan to be U.S. District Judge for the Western District of Pennsylvania;
- Chad Kenney to be U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania;
- Maryellen Noreika to be U.S. District Judge for the District of Delaware;
- William Jung to be U.S. District Judge for the Middle District of Florida;
- William McSwain to be U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania for the term of four years;
- Jill Otake to be U.S. District Judge for the District of Hawaii; and
- Billy Williams to be U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon for the term of four years.
Trump also announced his intent to nominate and appoint the following individuals to positions in his Administration:
- Caren Harp to be Administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Department of Justice;
- Ronald Sanders and Katja Bullock to be Members of the Federal Salary Council; and
- Gregory Fairchild and Raymond Moncrief to be Members of the Community Development Advisory Board for a term of four years.