Weekly Legislative Update
 Week of November 21, 2016
Congressional Outlook

Week of November 21st

The House and Senate are both in recess this week for the Thanksgiving holiday, with both chambers returning to Washington the week of November 28th. House Republicans, at the Trump team's request, have decided to punt making final decisions on the FY 2017 spending bills into next year and instead pass another temporary funding Continuing Resolution (CR). Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has also acquiesced to that approach, even though he argued that completing the bills now would free the slower-moving Senate to advance Trump's agenda of tax cuts and Obamacare repeal next spring. Congress will have to adopt a 112-day CR to keep federal agencies open through March 31, 2017 and they won't have much longer to do it since the current CR runs only through Friday, December 9, 2016. Lawmakers say this stopgap measure will be more complex than the one enacted before the election and that funding to help Flint, Michigan deal with tainted drinking water also could be included. All the possible additions to the CR could give lawmakers incentive to take up the measure the week of December 5th rather than right after the Thanksgiving recess.
Before departing, lawmakers will also be trying to salvage some key pieces of bipartisan legislation, possibly using the must-pass CR as the vehicle. Legislation likely to advance in the remaining two weeks of the 114th Congress include: (1) the $602 billion FY 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (S. 2943); (2) the 21st Century Cures Act ( H.R. 6 ), which would boost funding for research at the National Institutes of Health while expediting regulatory approval of new drugs and medical devices; and (3) the 2016 Water Resources Development Act ( H.R. 5303 / S. 2848 ) . There is also the potential for some other longer-shot measures to pass prior to the end of the 114th Congress, including: (1) the Energy Policy Modernization Act ( S. 2012 ); (2) the Postal Service Reform Act of 2016 (H.R. 5714); (3) the Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act of 2016 (S. 3136); and (4) the Miners Protection Act of 2016 (S. 3470).     
The House Democratic Caucus will be holding its leadership election on Wednesday, November 30th. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) is formally challenging House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) for the position she has held on and off again since 2003. Additionally, the 32-member House Republican Steering Committee will be meeting the week of November 28th to elect the new Chairmen for the House Appropriations, Education and the Workforce, Energy and Commerce, and Veterans Affairs Committees for the 115th Congress. The House Democratic, Senate GOP, and Senate Democratic Steering Committees will also meet within the next two weeks to formalize Committee leaderships and memberships. In the Senate, Majority Leader McConnell and incoming Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) will be negotiating new ratios for the committees following the narrowing of the Senate GOP majority from 54 members to 51-52 members. The talks could lead to the most junior Republican on many committees losing their slots. 
Week in Review

Senate Elects Leaders for 115th Congress
On November 16, Senate Republicans and Democrats elected their respective leadership teams for the coming 115th Congress. Republicans have re-elected Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), while Democrats replaced outgoing Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) as their new Minority Leader. The following Senators have been elected to leadership:
  • Majority Leader - Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
  • Majority Whip - John Cornyn (R-TX)
  • Conference Chairman - John Thune (R-SD)
  • Chairman of the Republican Policy Committee - John Barrasso (R-WY)
  • Conference Vice Chairman - Roy Blunt (R-MO)
  • Chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee - Cory Gardner (R-CO)
  • Minority Leader - Chuck Schumer (D-NY)
  • Minority Whip - Dick Durbin (D-IL)
  • Assistant Minority Leader - Patty Murray (D-WA)
  • Chair of the Democratic Policy and Communications Center - Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)
  • Vice Chair of the Conference - Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)
  • Vice Chair of the Conference - Mark Warner (D-VA)
  • Chair of the Steering Committee - Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
  • Outreach Chairman - Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
  • Vice Chair of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee - Joe Manchin (D-WV)
  • Senate Democratic Conference Secretary - Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) 
Senate Democrats also selected who their Committee Ranking Members will be for the 115th Congress. Committee leadership changes include: Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT) will be Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Committee; Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) will be Ranking Member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee; Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) will be Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee; Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) will be Ranking Member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee; Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) will be Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee; Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) will be Ranking Member of the Senate Rules Committee; Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) will be Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee; and Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) will be Ranking Member of the Senate Aging Committee. Senate Republicans are expected to officially elect their Committee Chairmen within the next two weeks. Read more...
House GOP Re-Elects Speaker Ryan; Democrats Delay Leadership Election
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and the current slate of House Republican leaders got the strong endorsement of their caucus on November 15 to stay in those posts in the next session of Congress. The Speaker will still need to be confirmed by the full House on January 3rd, a near certainty given that the GOP controls the chamber. Other leaders winning unanimous backing were Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) and GOP conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA). Those selections do not need full House confirmation. Neither Ryan nor the other leaders had any challengers.
Other House GOP leaders elected on Nov. 15 include: National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman (NRCC) Steve Stivers (R-OH); Policy Committee Chairman Luke Messer (R-IN); Conference Vice-Chair Doug Collins (R-GA); Conference Secretary Jason Smith (R-MO); Sophomore Representative Mimi Walters (R-CA); and Freshman Representative Paul Mitchell (R-MI). Read more...
House GOP Punts on Reviving Earmarks, Agrees on new Conference Rules and Steering Committee Regional Plan
On November 16, the House Republican Conference met behind closed doors for several hours to agree on new Conference rules and a newly restructured House GOP Steering Committee for the 115th Congress. Additionally, among the amendments the conference debated to its rule package, were two proposals, introduced by Reps. John Culberson (R-TX) and Tom Rooney (R-FL), which would lift the ban on some types of earmarks. Rep. Culberson's amendment would bring back legislative earmarks for some government agencies, including the Department of Defense, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Bureau of Reclamation and would allow lawmakers to provide earmarks for state and local governments, except for recreational facilities, museums, or parks; Rep. Rooney's amendment would be limited to earmarks for water projects funded through the Corps and Bureau of Reclamation. However, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) unilaterally stepped in to urge the conference to hold off on making a decision on the two amendments. Ryan argued that the GOP should not restore the practice behind closed doors after last week's "drain the swamp" election, a source in the room said. In exchange for members agreeing to withdraw the amendments, Ryan pledged to set up a more elaborate process to examine the issue and pledged to hold a vote by the end of the first quarter of 2017.
In total, the conference debated 19 amendments to its rule package but only passed a few noncontroversial proposals via voice vote. Among the amendments that were adopted:
  • Indiana Rep. Luke Messer's proposal that all conference meetings be conducted in accordance with House rules that govern decorum; 
  • Utah Rep. Rob Bishop's proposal to add language ensuring that government-to-government land conveyances would not be considered a violation of the rules; and
  • Nebraska Rep. Jeff Fortenberry's proposal to make available online a list of various boards, commissions and committees whose memberships include appointees by the speaker or majority leader.
Several other amendments were discussed but either rejected or withdrawn, including an amendment from Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV) which would have "provided that the Steering Committee shall nominate members from the Appropriations Committee to sit on one additional committee in such numbers as consistent with the Rules of the House" and an amendment from Rep. Luke Messer which would have "established a mechanism under the Appropriations Committee where any Member of the House could offer an amendment to an appropriations bill in committee before markup with an up or down vote." The only roll call vote taken was on a proposal Alabama Rep. Gary Palmer offered to prohibit bills from being considered under suspension of the rules if the cost exceeds $500 million. It narrowly failed. Read more... 
House Passes Midnight Rules Relief Act of 2016
On November 17, the House passed, by a vote of 240-179, the Midnight Rules Relief Act of 2016 (H.R. 5982), which would amend the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to allow the incoming 115th Congress to disapprove, en masse, every rule and regulation submitted under the CRA during the final sixty legislative days of the 114th Congress, or the end of President Obama's Administration. Under current law, Congress has to disapprove of one regulation at a time. Should H.R. 5982 be enacted, it would allow the GOP-controlled Congress and President-elect Trump to overturn numerous regulations finalized in 2016 by the Obama Administration. Additionally, H.R. 5982 would prevent any invalidated regulation from being issued again by the same agency, absent any Congressional action. In a Statement of Administration Policy, President Obama's senior advisors stated that they would recommend he veto this bill, stating that "H.R. 5982 would create tremendous regulatory uncertainty, potentially impose additional costs on businesses, and represent a step backwards for applying sound regulatory principles to protect public health, safety, the environment, and other critical aspects of society." Read more...
House Passes Two Health Care-Related Bills
On November 14, the House passed, by voice vote, two health care-related bills that would strengthen the nursing workforce and improve access to maternity care. The Title VIII Nursing Workforce Reauthorization Act (H.R. 2713) reauthorizes, through FY 2021, federal nursing workforce programs that help to train and maintain America's highly skilled nurses. The programs were first authorized 50 years ago to bolster nursing education and the nursing workforce by supporting nursing education at all levels, including both entry-level and graduate study, providing loan repayment and incentives for nurses to work in underserved areas or to serve as nursing faculty, thereby increasing the number of slots for new students, and providing support for nurses who focus on caring for the aging population.
The Improving Access to Maternity Care Act (H.R. 1209) supports improved data collection on maternity care shortages so that maternity care professionals in the National Health Service Corps are better allocated to communities in need. The National Health Service Corps provides loan repayment and scholarships in exchange for health care providers' willingness to work in underserved areas, typically rural or urban locals. Currently, maternity care professionals in the National Health Service Corps, including OBGYNs and Nurse Midwives, are placed based on a shortage of primary care services, without regard to the level of maternity care available in those locations. This bill would better target these professionals based on maternity care need. Both bills now go to the Senate for consideration. Read more...
Senate Democrats Block American Energy and Conservation Act of 2016
On November 17, the Senate fell nine votes short of the 60 votes necessary to advance consideration of the American Energy and Conservation Act of 2016 (S. 3110), voting 51-47 to do so. Democratic Senators Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) voted for the motion to proceed to the bill, while Republican Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Richard Burr (R-NC), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Rand Paul (R-KY) voted against the motion to proceed. S. 3110 would give states 37.5% of the revenue that the federal government collects from oil and gas production and wind power in the outer continental shelf off their shores and would have expanded the limited revenue-sharing that is in place for some areas of the Gulf of Mexico. The bill would not have expanded offshore drilling, which is only happening in federal waters at a large scale in the Gulf of Mexico. But Senate Democrats said it would have incentivized states to seek offshore drilling in areas like the Atlantic and Arctic oceans, while taking billions of dollars out of the federal coffers. In a Statement of Administration Policy, President Obama's senior advisors stated that they would recommend he veto this bill, stating that "the bill would, among other things, change existing revenue sharing laws to increase the amount that certain States and counties would receive from energy production on Federal lands and waters, thereby reducing the fair return on the development of these minerals to taxpayers across the country for their shared resources." Read more...  
Senate Passes National Forest System Trails Stewardship Act, Sending Bill to President Obama For His Signature
On November 16, the Senate passed, by Unanimous Consent, the National Forest System Trails Stewardship Act (H.R. 845), which the House passed on September 26 by voice vote; the bill now heads to President Obama's desk for his signature. H.R. 845 would make better use of existing resources within the U.S. Forest Service to significantly increase the role of volunteers and partners in maintaining the usability and sustainability of the National Forest's trail system. The U.S. Forest Service currently maintains only one-quarter of the 158,000 miles of National Forest trails that offer hiking, horseback riding, hunting, mountain bicycling, motorized vehicles, and other outdoor activities. H.R. 845 would expand the number of trails that could be maintained by requiring a national strategy to maximize the use of volunteers and partners while addressing liability concerns that restrict outside groups and individuals working on the trails. The bill also directs a study on utilizing fire crews for maintenance work during off-seasons and a study on permits for outfitters and guides to offset some fees through work on trail maintenance. Read more...
Senate Passes Prescribed Burn Approval Act of 2016
On November 17, the Senate passed, by Unanimous Consent, the Prescribed Burn Approval Act of 2016 (S. 3395); the bill now heads to the House for consideration. The bill prohibits the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) from authorizing a prescribed burn (i.e., a planned fire intentionally ignited) on Forest Service land if, for the county or contiguous county in which such land is located, the national fire danger rating system is indicating an extreme fire danger level. However, the USDA may authorize a prescribed burn under such a condition if it coordinates with the applicable state government and local fire officials. The bill was introduced in response to the Pautre wildfire in South Dakota in 2013, which began after the Forest Service went ahead with a controlled burn despite vocal concerns from local ranchers about the risk of the fire getting out of hand. The resulting wildfire burned thousands of acres and led to millions of dollars in damage. Read more...
Congressional Schedule

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