Category Archives: Washington Update
Lawmakers wrapped up 2015 with a flurry of legislative accomplishments. Legislators successfully passed a measure to fund the federal government through the remainder of Fiscal Year 2016 (FY16). Paired with the spending bill, Congress approved legislation renewing a host of expired tax extenders, and made a handful of those provisions permanent. Lawmakers also passed a multi-year Highway Bill that reauthorizes surface transportation programs for five years. December saw Congress delay several taxes related to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), reform cybersecurity laws, and pass resolutions condemning the Administration’s new carbon rules.
Legislators effectively cleared the decks in December. The passage of several landmark pieces of legislation in 2015 allows Congress to enter 2016 with a relatively light agenda of must-do items.
The top priority for both chambers will be turning to the appropriations process for Fiscal Year 2017. The two-year budget deal that passed in October established the top line spending numbers for FY17, allowing appropriators to immediately begin work on the twelve annual spending bills. Both House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have vowed to return their chambers to regular order, with an orderly and timely appropriations process key to that goal. The ambitious aim of passing each individual appropriations bill across the House and Senate floor combined with the shortened summer session due to the earlier party conventions will lead to an aggressive schedule by the Appropriations Committees on both sides of the Capitol, with spending bills possibly hitting the House floor as early as March.
In the Senate, lawmakers are expected to turn to the customs bill conference report shortly after returning from the holiday break on January 11. The measure, which contains a range of provisions strengthening customs enforcement, passed the House in December. The House is expected to take up a legal reform bill and the Senate’s amended reconciliation bill when the chamber reconvenes on January 5.
January will also include President Obama’s last State of the Union address, which is scheduled for January 12. In his address, the President is expected to lay out his congressional agenda for his final year in office. The parties will also hold their planning retreats in January.
More broadly, 2016 is likely to be defined by election year politics, with the presidential campaign dominating the news cycle and influencing the congressional agenda. Four sitting Senators are seeking their party’s nomination (three Republicans, one Democrat). Additionally, Speaker Ryan has vowed to present an alternative for voters by developing a positive, message-driven GOP agenda, including renewed efforts on international tax reform.
Prior to the holidays, Congress successfully extended funding for the federal government through FY16 and took a step closer to sending the President reconciliation legislation that would repeal large parts of the ACA.
Budget and Government Funding
Congress approved an omnibus spending package in December renewing government funding through the end of September 2016. The legislation came after months of negotiations and the October two-year budget deal that increased spending caps on both domestic and defense spending for FY16 and FY17.
Final passage of the $1.1 trillion omnibus came after two months of intense negotiations. The bipartisan bill also included several policy changes. While Republicans pushed for a slew of policy riders, they walked away with fewer victories that they would have liked but touted the inclusion of provisions lifting the federal prohibition on exporting oil, reforms to the Visa Waiver Program, and pared back funding for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as legislative victories. Democrats managed to prevent GOP attempts to include riders that would have defunded Planned Parenthood and imposed stricter controls on Syrian refugees entering the country, among many others.
The omnibus drew criticism from both Tea Party-aligned Republicans and progressive Democrats. Despite concerns from the left and right flanks, both chambers passed the legislation on a strong bipartisan vote. The bill was signed into law by the President on December 18.
Reconciliation and ACA Repeal
On December 3, the Senate approved a House-passed reconciliation package to repeal key portions of the ACA, including a rollback of the employer and individual mandates and repeal of federal subsidies for health insurance. The bill also defunds Planned Parenthood. Under reconciliation rules, the bill only needed a simple majority to pass the chamber, allowing it to avoid a Democratic filibuster. The final legislation passed on a vote of 52-47. The House will need to approve the Senate changes to the original measure. A vote on the amended legislation is expected to occur during the first week in January.
The bill’s passage will fulfill the GOP pledge to repeal President Obama’s signature legislative achievement. As expected, the White House has indicated that the President will veto the measure, and Republicans will not have the votes needed to override a veto. Read the rest of this entry
Lawmakers had a busy and productive month in October. In addition to electing a new Speaker of the House, legislators passed a two-year budget deal, debt ceiling increase, and temporary extension of the Highway Bill. The Senate also passed a bipartisan cybersecurity bill. Discussions continued over long-term transportation reauthorization legislation, and the House passed a long-awaited reconciliation package repealing key portions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The final two months of the year are expected to yield deals on the highway bill and an omnibus appropriations package to fund the federal government.
CONGRESSIONAL OUTLOOK FOR NOVEMBER
With the Senate and House in session together for only two weeks in November, lawmakers will work together to address issues running up against impending deadlines. This includes finalizing a deal on a multi-year Highway Bill by November 20 and negotiating an omnibus spending bill to fund the government past December 11. Congress will also spend November looking for a path forward on the vetoed National Defense Authorization Act and reconcile the House and Senate versions of cybersecurity legislation.
In the House, newly-minted Speaker Ryan will spend the first month in his new office setting the tone for his tenure and laying out a broad agenda for the coming months, including possible reform measures for House rules to assuage the House Freedom Caucus. In the Senate, lawmakers will first turn their attention to legislation blocking Administration rules affecting waterways in the U.S. The upper chamber is also expected to take up the House reconciliation package that repeals key portions of the ACA. Read the rest of this entry
Congress returned from its August Recess with a list of deadlines fast approaching, including the funding for the federal government. Congress managed to avert a government shutdown at the last minute through a temporary funding measure, and began negotiations with the White House over spending caps, debt ceiling, and a possible year-end appropriations agreement. Republicans were unable to block President Obama’s nuclear agreement with Iran, but were able to agree to finalize the conference report for the National Defense Authorization Act, which will be voted on in the Senate in the coming days.
Washington experienced historic events in September with Pope Francis delivering the first papal address to a Joint Meeting of Congress, just a day before the shock resignation announcement from Speaker John Boehner.
October is expected to be a packed month for the Congressional agenda with Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) set to resign from Congress at the end of the month.
Speaker Boehner and Leader McConnell have opened talks with the White House over a possible budget compromise to ameliorate the effects of Budget Control Act spending caps. The leaders could also broker a larger deal that may address the debt ceiling, a long-term Highway Bill reauthorization, international tax reform, and the expired tax extenders. Speaker Boehner is committed to solving as many issues as possible in his remaining month in Congress, but both he and Leader McConnell will need to thread the needle between Democrats who want to increase domestic spending and conservatives who have concerns over spending levels and controversial issues such as federal dollars flowing to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Planned Parenthood.
Reconciliation is expected to play a big part in the coming month. The House will likely pass a reconciliation package in early October, with action in the Senate to take place soon thereafter. The reconciliation bill will repeal much of the ACA and defund Planned Parenthood but will face strong opposition from Democrats and a certain veto from the White House.
The Senate is expected to address the defense authorization conference report in the first full week of October and send the bill to the President, who has threatened to veto the measure. Leader McConnell is also expected to continue to move for votes on appropriations bills, which Democrats have continued to block due to opposition to spending levels. In the House, lawmakers will likely vote on a new Highway Bill before going to conference with the Senate to hammer out the differences. Read the rest of this entry