Weekly Legislative Update
 Week of May 2, 2016
  
Congressional Outlook

Week of May 2nd
 
The House and Senate are both in recess this week. When the House returns the week of May 9, it will consider a series of bills addressing opioid abuse for what House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) calls "opioid week." The slate of measures would authorize funding for state and local grants treatment programs, review of existing laws, and adjust the number of patients that physicians can treat in a year for opioid abuse, among other things. House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) also stated that a revised version of a debt aid package for Puerto Rico will not be unveiled until May 10at the earliest. Lastly, House Republicans have yet to agree on a budget, but talks are ongoing. Before leaving for recess, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI)  held  a members-only meeting with the House GOP conference to discuss the issue.
 
When the Senate returns, it will reconsider a motion to invoke cloture for the substitute amendment for the Senate's $37.5 billion FY 2017 Energy and Water Development (E&W) Appropriations bill. Senate Democrats already blocked two cloture motions for the measure last week. If the Senate passes the E&W Appropriations bill, it will consider its FY 2017 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations  bill next. With the appropriations process stalled, the Senate could turn to a revised criminal justice reform bill, the "Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015" (S. 2123). The bill has 34 cosponsors and the support of previously skeptical senators, such as Steve Daines (R-MT) and Mark Kirk (R-IL). However, hardliners on the issue, such as Sens. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and David Perdue (R-GA), remain opposed to the bill. Additionally, several House-passed bills now await action in the Senate. Those include the flood insurance reform bill (H.R. 2901), a slate  of tax bills that alter the Internal Revenue Service's practices,  a bill  overhauling the process for considering individual tariff-cutting measures ( H.R. 4923), and the disapproval resolution ( H.J.Res.88) for the Obama Administration's fiduciary rule.  
Week in Review

Senate FY 2017 E&W Appropriations Bill Blocked Over Iran Amendment
   
At the beginning of the week of April 25, the path appeared to be clear for the Senate to pass its $37.5 billion FY 2017 Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill (S. 2804) ahead of schedule, but an amendment filed by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) to ban the Obama administration from buying heavy water from Iran turned bipartisan support sour. The measure would provide $355 million more than the FY 2016 enacted level and $261 million more than President Obama's budget request. It would also include a pilot program to address nuclear waste storage. The Senate blocked a motion to file cloture on Sen. Lamar Alexander's (R-TN) substitute amendment for the energy and water appropriations bill Wednesday, by a 50-46 vote mostly along party lines with four Republicans voting with Democrats against the measure. On Thursday, the Senate blocked a second motion to file cloture on Alexander's amendment, again mostly along party lines by a vote of 52-43. Before Thursday's vote, Senate leaders snapped at each other on the floor. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told Democrats to do their job, while Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said if Republicans continued to insist on the amendment, Democrats will continue to block the bill from moving forward. The Senate is scheduled to consider a third attempt at invoking cloture on the substitute amendment on Monday, May 9.
 
Before the infighting over the bill occurred on April 27, the Senate approved 11 amendments and rejected one amendment on April 25 and 26:
 
Monday, April 25th:
  • Sen. Patty Murray's (D-WA) amendment #3813, agreed to by a vote of 55-38: clarifies that none of the funds for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can conflict with restrictions on foreign acquisition;
  • Sen. Jack Reed's (D-RI) amendment #3841, cosponsored by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), and agreed to by voice vote: transfers $6 million in funding to the Weatherization Assistance Program account from the Building Technologies account;
  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein's (D-CA) amendment #3842, agreed to by voice vote: modifies the deadline, to November 30, 2017, for the completion of a feasibility study relating to the Sites Reservoir in Colusa County, California;
  • Sen. Mark Warner's (D-VA) amendment #3851, agreed to by voice vote: ensures that not less than $543,000 is used to implement the requirements of the Digital Accountability and Transparency (DATA) Act of 2014;
  • Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) amendment #3843, cosponsored by Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), and agreed to by voice vote: requires the Administrator of the Western Area Power Administration (WAPA) to prepare a report on the use of certain provisions in power contracts;
  • Sen. Mike Rounds' (R-SD) amendment #3844, cosponsored by Sen. John Thune (R-SD), and agreed to by voice vote: makes $2 million of the Corps' operation and maintenance budget available for Upper Missouri River Basin flood and drought monitoring;
  • Sen. Lisa Murkowski's (R-AK) amendment #3808, cosponsored by Sens. Brian Schatz (D-HI), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), and Mazie Hirono (D-HI), and agreed to by voice vote: amends Section 2006 of the 2007 WRDA ("Remote and Subsistence Harbors" section) by expanding eligibility criteria and justification standards for conducting studies of harbor and navigation improvements to include the phrases "community that is located in the region that is served by the project and that will rely on the project"; "regional population to be served by the project and that will rely on the project"; and "'local community or to a community that is located in the region to be served by the project and that will rely on the project";
  • Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) amendment #3869, cosponsored by Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), and agreed to by voice vote: directs the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, in coordination with the Secretary of the Army and the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, to conduct a study "on the effectiveness and environmental impact of salt cedar control efforts (including biological control) in increasing water supplies, restoring riparian habitat, and improving flood management" and develop a plan for the removal of invasive salt cedar from all federal land in the Lower Colorado River basin based on the findings; and
  • Sen. Tom Carper's (D-DE) amendment #3870, cosponsored by Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), and agreed to by voice vote: allows certain funds for shore protection (under the Corps' construction budget) to be prioritized for certain projects "in areas that have suffered severe beach erosion requiring additional sand placement outside of the normal beach renourishment cycle or in which the normal beach renourishment cycle has been delayed."
Tuesday, April 26th:
  • Sen. Jeff Merkley's (D-OR) amendment #3812, cosponsored by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and agreed to by a vote of 54-42: provides a $95,400,000 set-aside for wind energy for DOE Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy programs;
  • Sen. Harry Reid's (D-NV) amendment #3805, cosponsored by Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV), and agreed to by a vote of 73-23: adds an additional $50 million to the WaterSMART grant program (from $400 million to $450 million), under the condition that of the $450 million, $50 million is used to carry out Interior Department pilot projects (through FY2018) to increase Colorado River System water in Lake Mead and the initial units of Colorado River Storage Project reservoirs (as outlined in section 206 of the "Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2015"); and
  • Sen. Jeff Flake's (R-AZ) amendment #3820, not agreed to by a vote of 12-84: lowers, by $68,950,000, the Corps of Engineers' construction budget (from $1,813,649,000 down to $1,744,699,000).
Senate EPW Committee Passes 2016 WRDA
 
On April 28, the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee passed the $9.4 billion "Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2016" ( S. 2848) by a vote of 19-1 (Sen. Deb Fischer [R-NE] was the lone no vote). The bill authorizes 27 Army Corps projects in 17 states.According to the EPW Committee, "these projects, which have undergone Congressional scrutiny and have completed reports of the Chief of Engineers, will strengthen our nation's infrastructure to protect lives and property, restore vital ecosystems to preserve our natural heritage, and maintain navigation routes for commerce and the movement of goods to keep us competitive in the global marketplace. The bill provides critical investment in the country's aging drinking water and wastewater infrastructure, assists poor and disadvantaged communities in meeting public health standards under the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act, and promotes innovative technologies to address drought and other critical water resource needs.  The bill also responds to the drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan, by providing emergency assistance to Flint and other similar communities across the country facing drinking water contamination." When the 2016 WRDA is brought up to the full Senate for a vote, amendments from all 100 Senators will be considered at that time. A 3-page summary, 20-page section-by-section summary, and the bill text are all available here. Read more...
House Passes Private Flood Insurance Reform Bill
 
On April 28, the House passed, by a vote of 419-0, the "Flood Insurance Market Parity and Modernization Act" ( H.R. 2901), which is intended to encourage more private sector engagement in flood insurance. H.R. 2901 amends the Flood Disaster Protection Act to clarify that flood insurance offered by a private carrier outside of the federal National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) can satisfy the Act's mandatory purchase requirement. H.R. 2901 defines acceptable private flood insurance as a policy providing flood insurance coverage that is issued by an insurance company that is licensed, admitted, or otherwise approved to engage in the business of insurance in the state or jurisdiction in which the insured property is located. Under the bill, an acceptable private flood insurance policy may also be issued by an insurance company that is eligible as a non-admitted insurer to provide insurance in the state or jurisdiction where the property to be insured is located. Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV), who has introduced a companion measure in the Senate ( S. 1679), said in a statement that senators need to "build off this momentum and support this legislation in order to pass this bill into law this Congress."  Read more...
President Obama Signs DHS Consolidation Bill Into Law
 
On April 29, President Obama signed the "Department of Homeland Security Headquarters Consolidation Accountability Act of 2015," (S. 1638) which requires the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to submit a report to Congress on its project to consolidate offices in the National Capital Region into a single headquarters, including:  
  • An occupancy plan detailing the components and offices to be included in the consolidation project; 
  • An assessment of current and future real property and facilities required by DHS; 
  • Updated cost and schedule estimates; 
  • A current plan for DHS's portfolio of leased space in the national capital region; and
  • The costs and benefits of leasing and construction alternatives for the remainder of the consolidation project. 
The report would be due within 120 days of enactment and would be drafted in coordination with the General Services Administration (GSA). The bill also would require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to evaluate the department's cost and schedule estimates for quality and reliability and report its findings to Congress.
Congressional Schedule

There are no scheduled hearings this week as the House and Senate are in recess.