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Senate Continues Consideration of Keystone; House Democrats Ready for Legislative Retreat

Posted in General Legislative

Senate Legislative Activity

On Monday, January 26, the Senate will convene at 4:30pm. Following any Leader remarks, the Senate will resume consideration of S.1, the Keystone bill. The filing deadline for first degree amendments to the bill is 3:00pm on Monday, with the second degree amendment deadline set for 5:00pm. A roll call vote will occur at 5:30pm on the motion to invoke cloture on Amendment #2, which was filed by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).

House Legislative Activity

On Monday, January 26, the House will meet at 12:00pm for morning hour and 2:00pm for legislative business, with votes postponed until 6:30pm.

The following legislation will be considered under suspension of the rules:

  1. H.R. 514 – Human Trafficking Prioritization Act;
  2. H.R. 515 – International Megan’s Law to Prevent Demand for Child Sex Trafficking;
  3. H.R. 357 – Human Trafficking Prevention Act;
  4. H.R. 468 – Enhancing Services for Runaway and Homeless Victims for Youth Trafficking Act of 2015;
  5. H.R. 469 – Strengthening Child Welfare Response to Trafficking Act of 2015; and
  6. H.R. 246 – To improve the response to victims of child sex trafficking.

On Tuesday, January 27, the House will meet at 10:00am for morning hour and 12:00pm for legislative business. The House will consider H.R. 351 – LNG Permitting Certainty and Transparency Act (Subject to a Rule). Additionally, the following legislation will be considered under suspension of the rules:

  1. H.R. 398 – Trafficking Awareness Training for Health Care Act of 2015;
  2. H.R. 460 – Human Trafficking Detection Act of 2015;
  3. H.R. 350 – Human Trafficking Prevention, Intervention, and Recovery Act of 2015;
  4. H.R. 159 – Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act of 2015, as amended;
  5. H.R. 181 – Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015, as amended; and
  6. H.R. 285 – Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation Act of 2015.

On Wednesday, January 28, the House will meet at 9:00am for legislative business, with last votes expected no later than 3:00pm.  The House will consider H.R. 399 – Secure Our Borders First Act of 2015, Rules Committee Print (Subject to a Rule).

The House will meet in pro forma session on Thursday and Friday, January 29 and 30. No votes are expected.

Separately, House Democrats will hold their annual legislative retreat in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania from January 28-30.

Budget Season Approaches; Appropriations Committee Chairman Cochran Previews Appropriations Process; Appropriations Cardinals Selected

Posted in Budget and Appropriations

Legislative Activity

Budget Season Approaches

The White House is expected to release the President’s FY 2016 budget on Monday, February 2, a plan that would meet the mandated deadline for the first time in five years. Following the President’s January 20 State of the Union remarks, White House officials reportedly said that his FY 2016 budget plan will propose ending “sequestration,” budget caps established under law. His plan will also reportedly raise caps on discretionary spending for both defense and domestic programming.

During recent remarks, House Budget Chairman Tom Price (R-GA) announced an accelerated plan to balance the federal budget, stating that he will use the FY 2016 budget resolution to eliminate the deficit within ten years. His Senate counterpart, Chairman Michael Enzi (R-WY), echoed that commitment, adding that his committee will mark-up a budget resolution in the third week of March and leave the full chamber to consider the measure by the end of that month. However, Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-VT), Ranking Member of the Senate Banking Committee, recently sent a letter to his Democratic colleagues criticizing Republican fiscal policy and calling for opposition to any budget resolution.

Appropriations Committee Chairman Cochran Previews Appropriations Process

In a recent press interview, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran (R-MS) described his plans for consideration of the FY 2016 spending bills. His strategy will be to move each of the twelve appropriations bills individually and allow for virtually unlimited amendments both in committee and on the Senate floor. He would resort to a combined omnibus bill, like that passed for FY 2015 appropriations, only as a last resort.

Appropriations Cardinals Selected

The House and Senate Appropriations Committees have confirmed which members will hold subcommittee gavels.

House Appropriations Committee:

  • Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies: Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL)
  • Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies: Rep. John Culberson (R-TX)
  • Defense: Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ)
  • Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies: Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID)
  • Financial Services and General Government: Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-FL)
  • Homeland Security: Rep. John Carter (R-TX)
  • Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies: Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA)
  • Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies: Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK)
  • Legislative Branch: Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA)
  • Military Construction, Veterans’ Affairs, and Related Agencies: Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA)
  • State, Foreign Operations, and Related Agencies: Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX)
  • Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies: Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL)

Senate Appropriations Committee:

  • Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies: Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS)
  • Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies: Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL)
  • Defense: Chairman Thad Cochran (R-MS)
  • Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies: Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
  • Financial Services and General Government: Sen. John Boozman (R-AR)
  • Homeland Security: Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND)
  • Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies: Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)
  • Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies: Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO)
  • Legislative Branch: Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV)
  • Military Construction, Veterans’ Affairs, and Related Agencies: Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL)
  • State, Foreign Operations, and Related Agencies: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
  • Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies: Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME)

This Week’s Hearings

  • Tuesday, January 27: The House Committee on the Budget will host a hearing titled “The Congressional Budget Office’s Budget and Economic Outlook.” The hearing’s only witness will be Douglas Elmendorf, Director of the Congressional Budget Office.

Congress Considers Information Sharing and Data Security Legislation; White House Urges Quick Action on Cybersecurity

Posted in Cybersecurity

Legislative Activity

Congress Considers Information Sharing Legislation

This Wednesday, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC) will host a hearing to discuss information sharing legislation, which is a priority for the HSGAC Chairman Ron Johnson (R-WI). Chairman Johnson is expected to work with the Senate Intelligence Committee to draft and consider information sharing legislation this year but has not indicated a timeline for movement on a bill.

On the House side, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) recently stated that he has started working on information sharing legislation that would “address the legal barriers that companies face to share information.” He is currently meeting with other committees and industry stakeholders to put together a bill that would clarify that the SAFETY Act applies to cyber attacks, provide additional liability protection for companies that share information on cyber threats, and update provisions related to information sharing with the National Cybersecurity and Communications Information Center (NCCIC). Chairman McCaul noted that he is looking to begin hearings on the topic of information sharing as early as February.

In addition, the House Intelligence Committee is also working to draft legislation that would focus on cyber threat information sharing that occurs with the National Security Agency. The new House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) has indicated that this is also one of his priorities and will be working closely with Chairman McCaul to develop the legislation.

Data Security Remains a Priority for the 114th Congress

In addition to information sharing legislation, it is also very likely that the 114th Congress will consider data security legislation in the coming months. As noted below, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade will host a hearing on the topic this week and other committees are likely to join in on the debate surrounding how to address data breaches when they occur. Chairman of the Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade Michael Burgess (R-TX) said that he will be releasing a draft data breach bill in the coming days and plans to mark up the bill in February. These efforts will build on the work that former Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE) started last year before he lost in the November election. Additionally, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Peter Welch (D-VT) have said that they are working on data breach legislation as well. All of these bills are expected to create a federal data breach notification law that would streamline and clarify what companies are required to do in the event of a data breach given that there are currently 47 different state standards that companies are required to follow.

The Senate is also actively engaged on data security legislation. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD) has listed data breach legislation as one of his top priorities in the 114th Congress and the committee’s Ranking Member Bill Nelson (D-FL) introduced his own bill last week (S. 177). Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said that he is also drafting a data breach notification bill and said that it would be one of the first pieces of legislation that he introduces this year.

This Week’s Hearings:

  • Tuesday, January 27: The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade will host a hearing titled “What are the Elements of Sound Data Breach Legislation?”
  • Tuesday, January 27: The House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Technology will host a hearing titled “The Expanding Cyber Threat.” The hearing will feature witnesses from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Symantec Corporation, and the Information Technology Industry Council.
  • Wednesday, January 28: The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will host a hearing titled “Protecting America from Cyber Attacks: The Importance of Information Sharing.”

Regulatory Activity

White House Underscores the Importance of Quick Action on Cybersecurity

Leading up to last week’s State of the Union address, President Obama made a number of announcements related to cybersecurity and also released legislative proposals focused on information sharing, data breach notification, and law enforcement authorities and tools for dealing with cyber crime. He also referenced these announcements and the importance of moving forward on cybersecurity issues in his annual State of the Union speech last week. While Members of Congress have expressed their willingness to work with the White House on these issues, it is likely that the President’s legislative proposals will serve as a template for the Administration’s priorities but they are not expected to be introduced in Congress as many Members are working on separate legislation to address these issues.

U.S. and UK Agree to Work Together on Cybersecurity

The President recently met with United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron to discuss cooperation between the two nations on cybersecurity issues. After the meetings between the two leaders, the White House released a fact sheet detailing the work that the U.S. and UK agreed to in the meetings. The two countries plan to host a joint cyber exercise focused on the financial sector in the coming year. Additionally, they plan to work with industry to promote cybersecurity best practices and standards, including the NIST Cybersecurity Framework and the UK’s Cyber Essentials system.

Ashton Carter’s Nomination Hearing Set; Senate Armed Services Committee to Examine National Security Challenges

Posted in Defense

FY 2016 Budget Request

President Obama said he intends to release his FY 2016 Budget Request on February 2nd.

While not yet confirmed by the Senate to be the next Secretary of Defense, former Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter is expected to present the FY 2016 Defense budget.  Meanwhile, last week, the Senate Armed Services Committee scheduled Mr. Carter’s confirmation hearing for February 4th.

In one of his final public appearances last Thursday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said lawmakers need to act on sequestration, warning the Department of Defense’s capabilities would otherwise “evaporate.”

Upcoming Hearings

This week, the Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a a two-part hearing on global challenges and the U.S. National Security Strategy, with Defense Departement officials testifying Tuesday and private sector panelists on Thursday. Former Secretary of State Dr. Henry Kissinger will testify before the Committee on Thursday.

The House Armed Services Committee will convene a hearing on Wednesday to examine improving the Department of Defense’s ability to respond to the pace of technological change.

State of the Union (SOTU) Address

Last Tuesday, President Barack Obama delivered his annual SOTU address before the 114th Congress. As is usual, the speech focused on domestic priorities – such as the U.S. economy, job creation, healthcare coverage and education opportunities – and also addressed international challenges – such as countering extremism and terrorist organizations, the U.S. drawdown in Afghanistan, expanding U.S. exports, and addressing climate change.

 

Work Begins on ESEA Reauthorization; Other Education Priorities to Follow

Posted in Education

Legislative Activity

Work Begins on ESEA Reauthorization

Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) recently released his draft Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization bill – the Every Child Ready for College or Career Act of 2015. Last week, the Senate HELP Committee held its first hearing on ESEA reauthorization focused on testing and accountability issues. As a follow up to the hearing, several Members of Congress have also introduced legislation that would address testing issues in ESEA. Last week, Reps. Chris Gibson (R-NY) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) reintroduced a bipartisan bill this week that would eliminate the mandatory annual assessment system and replace it with grade span testing. The bill would require states to test students in math, reading, and science only three times over their school career. The bill was endorsed by the National Education Association (NEA), Parents Across America, AASA: The School Superintendents Association and several other organizations. Additionally, Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) announced that she will introduce a bill that will explore how students are being over-tested and seek to find solutions to help with the problem of over-testing. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) introduced a similar bill in the House at the end of the 113th Congress.

The Senate HELP Committee will host another ESEA hearing on Tuesday to discuss issues related to teacher and principal development. The hearing will feature a superintendent from Texas, a principal from Maryland, a teacher from Washington, and Kentucky’s Commissioner of Education.

House Education Committee Chairman Announces 114th Congress Priorities

Last week, House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) outlined his priorities for the 114th Congress in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute. Like the Senate, the House is expected to also move quickly on ESEA reauthorization and is planning to have a bill on the House floor by March. Chairman Kline is planning to hold an open mark-up on the ESEA reauthorization bill that he will introduce but is unlikely to have hearings on the topic like the Senate HELP Committee. After completing work on ESEA, Chairman Kline is also looking at reauthorizing the Higher Education Act (HEA) and the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education (CTE) Act. The House Education and the Workforce Committee will also take up the Strengthening Education Through Research Act at some point this year. The Senate has a mark-up scheduled for the bill next week.

Senate Will Start on HEA Reauthorization

The Senate HELP Committee has scheduled its first HEA reauthorization hearing for Tuesday, February 24. The hearing will focus on the deregulation of higher education and will likely take time to discuss the deregulation task force that Chairman Alexander formed last year with Senators Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Richard Burr (R-NC) and Michael Bennet (D-CO).

Head Start Reauthorization

Last week, the House Education and the Workforce Committee released a white paper outlining its goals for reforming the Head Start Act, which seeks to build on the progress of the bipartisan 2014 renewal of the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act. Specifically, the goals include:

  • Reduce unnecessary burdensome regulations;
  • Encourage local innovation;
  • Strengthen coordination between Head Start and state and local programs;
  • Improve the quality of eligible providers; and
  • Enhance parental engagement.

The Committee is calling for public input on how to strengthen the law with these goals in mind, particularly seeking information related to model early learning programs at the state level and ideas for enhancing coordination of existing programs across the federal government. Feedback should be sent to headstart.reform@mail.house.gov by June 1, 2015.

This Week’s Hearings:

  • Tuesday, January 27: The Senate HELP Committee will host a hearing titled “Fixing No Child Left Behind: Supporting Teachers and School Leaders.”
  • Wednesday, January 28: The Senate HELP Committee will host a mark-up to consider its committee rules and funding resolution for the 114th Congress. Additionally, it plans to mark-up the Strengthening Education Through Research Act.

Regulatory Activity

White House Tax Proposal Includes Education Priorities

On January 17, the White House released a tax overhaul proposal that includes many direct implications for education and the proposals set forth in the President’s State of the Union address. Overall, the plan would consolidate and simplify a series of higher education tax breaks into a single program, the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC), and would make the tax credit permanent. Specifics include:

  • Expanded eligibility to students enrolled less than half time;
  • Exempting Pell Grants from the calculations of eligibility, while adding a year of eligibility;
  • Fully exempting Pell Grants from taxation;
  • Requirement for colleges and universities to provide students with the tuition and fee information needed to claim the AOTC;
  • Exempting student loan forgiveness from taxation under Pay-As-You-Earn (PAYE) and other income-based repayment plans;
  • Repeal student loan interest deduction for new borrowers but would retain it for current borrowers.

Additionally, the plan includes proposals to increase taxes on wealthy individuals and certain financial institutions, which would be used to pay for his Tuition Free Community College plan.

White House Will Announce Next Generation High Schools Launch

As previewed in the State of the Union, the White House is expected to announce in the next few days the launch of “Next-Generation High Schools,” which will serve as laboratories for “cutting-edge” teaching and learning in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).  Emphasis will be placed on preparing students of color and female students.  Later in the year, the White House will host a Summit on Next-Generation High Schools.

Department of Education Seeks Comments on Credit Risk for Student Borrowers

The Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) is seeking guidance as it looks to develop statistical models to gauge portfolio risk, predict borrower outcomes and determine borrower behavior. Interested parties should send information and qualifications to darrick.hardiman@ed.gov by February 10.

Keystone Votes Continue in Senate, House to Take Up LNG Exports

Posted in Energy

Legislative Activity

Senate Keystone Debate Continues

Last week, the Senate continued to consider amendments to S. 1, the “Keystone XL Pipeline Approval Act.” Senators adjourned late Thursday night after Leader McConnell (R-KY) moved to invoke cloture on the substitute amendment for S.1. He did so after calling up a number of Democratic-sponsored amendments for votes that the Senate quickly dispensed with, and after a week-long debate on a range of amendments that touched upon energy efficiency, energy exports, and climate change, among other issues. While most amendments ultimately failed or did not receive a vote, several amendments passed, including one amendment proposed by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) “to express the sense of the Senate that climate change is real and not a hoax.” That amendment and several others sought to force Republicans to acknowledge the reality of climate change and draw a political distinction between the two parties on the issue. However, the Whitehouse amendment lost considerable political force after Senate Republicans changed their strategy, acknowledged that climate change has long — even “biblical” roots, and joined their Democratic colleagues in a 98-1 vote. Moreover, Republicans altered a separate climate change amendment proposed by Senator Schatz (D-HI) that originally called for a sense of Congress that “human activity significantly contributes to climate change.” Republicans ultimately removed the word “significantly” from that amendment, which ultimately failed on a 50-49 vote. The Senate should wrap-up debate on S. 1 early this week and ultimately vote to end debate, pass the bill, and send it back to the House.

House to Consider LNG Export Reform Proposal

This week, the House will consider H.R. 351 (the “LNG Permitting Certainty and Transparency Act”), introduced by Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH). That legislation would require the Department of Energy (DOE) to make a final decision on a pending LNG export application to countries that are not a party to a free-trade-agreement with the U.S. within 30 days after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) completes its environmental review. Additionally, the legislation would require successful applicants to disclose destinations to which the exported LNG is likely to be delivered to DOE. H.R. 351 is very similar to Senator John Barrasso’s (R-WY) version of the “LNG Permitting Certainty and Transparency Act,” which would force DOE to make an export decision within 45 days after FERC’s completes its environmental review. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on that legislation this week, on Thursday, January 29.

House Passes Pipeline Permitting Reform Bill

Last week, the House passed H.R. 161, the “Natural Gas Pipeline Permitting Reform Act,” by a vote of 253-169 (with 14 Democratic members voting to support the bill). H.R. 161 would require FERC to complete its environmental review for an application to site and construct a natural gas pipeline project within 12 months after filing. The bill would also require other agencies with reviewing authority to complete their process within 90 days after FERC completes its environmental review.

Congress to Take Up Waters Of The U.S.; Senate Hearings on Permitting for LNG; New Financing Options For Water Infrastructure; International Environmental Goods Agreement; Offshore Wind Leases in NC

Posted in Environment and Natural Resources

Legislative Activity

Waters of the U.S.

On Wednesday, February 4, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, in conjunction with the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, will hold a hearing to examine the impacts of the proposed Waters of the U.S. rule on state and local governments.

Liquid Natural Gas

On Thursday, January 29, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is scheduled to hold a full committee hearing on the Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) Permitting Certainty and Transparency Act (S.33). The hearing is expected to explore Department of Energy decisions concerning the time it takes to approve or deny applications to export natural gas. The Department of Energy’s Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy, Christopher Smith, will testify.

Regulatory Activity

New Financing For Water Infrastructure

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has launched a Water Infrastructure and Resiliency Finance Center with the goal of improving community wastewater, drinking water and stormwater systems by using P3 financing. EPA has committed the center to helping explore public-private partnerships solutions for communities, municipal utilities and private entities seeking to address water infrastructure needs with limited budgets.

Environmental Goods Agreement: Removal of Tariffs on Environmentally Sound Goods

Next week, the Obama Administration will participate in the fourth round of negotiations to establish a new Environmental Goods Agreement (EGA) under the World Trade Organization (WTO). The EGA aims to eliminate tariffs on environmentally beneficial goods. This round of negotiations will focus on clean/renewable energy and energy efficient products. Negotiators are continuing to compile lists of products for consideration, providing U.S. manufacturers, purchasers and traders of environmental goods an opportunity to advocate for goods to be included in the EGA. For advice on participating in the shaping of the EGA and related trade negotiations, contact Frank Samolis (frank.samolis@squirepb.com) or Joshua Greene (joshua.greene@squirepb.com).

Off Shore Wind Leases

The Department of Interior, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), has announced the opening of the public comment period on the Environmental Assessment (EA) for a commercial wind lease on the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf offshore North Carolina. Comments are due by February 23.

Housing Finance Reform in Focus; FSOC Considering Changes to Designation Process

Posted in Financial Services

Legislative Activity

Housing Finance Reform “Huge Priority” for Hensarling

Last week, House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) announced that reforming the government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) will be a “huge priority” for him this Congress. Chairman Hensarling’s pronouncement coincides with his recent announcement that his committee’s first hearing this Congress will feature Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) Director Mel Watt, who will likely discuss the agency’s recent decision to finance loans with as little as three-percent down.

Moreover, Chairman Hensarling stated that he is confident that he will be able to partner with Senate Banking Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) on the issue and is “willing to sit down with [his] colleagues in the Senate and find a way forward again to a sustainable housing finance system.”  Chairman Hensarling also indicated that he hopes to speak with Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Julián Castro to gauge their willingness to work on the matter.

On the Senate side, Chairman Shelby has also indicated that he plans to scrutinize the Obama Administration’s housing policies, with a particular focus on the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and its recent decision to lower its annual mortgage insurance premiums by .5 percentage points. According to Chairman Shelby, FHA should be focused on rebuilding its capital reserves, which are presently below the required level.

Financial Services, Agriculture Committees Release Oversight Plans for the 114th Congress

Last week, both the House Financial Services Committee and House Agriculture Committee adopted their oversight plans for the 114th Congress.  The House Financial Services Committee’s main focus will remain on reforming the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank Act), as well as oversight of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC), among other priorities.  Similarly, the House Agriculture Committee will continue its oversight of Dodd-Frank Act implementation, as well as of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC).

This Week’s Hearings:

  • Tuesday, January 27: The House Financial Services Committee will hold a hearing titled “Sustainable Housing Finance: An Update from the Director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency.”
  • Tuesday, January 27: The Senate Banking Committee will hold a hearing titled “Perspectives on the Strategic Necessity of Iran Sanctions.”
  • Wednesday, January 28: The Senate Agriculture Committee will hold an organizational meeting to approve the Committee Funding Resolution, Committee Rules, and Subcommittee Assignments.
  • Thursday, January 29: The Senate Banking Committee will hold a markup of the “Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015.”

Regulatory Activity

FSOC to Consider Changes to Designation Process

Last week, the FSOC held an opening meeting during which the Council discussed its process for considering nonbank financial companies for potential designation and received an update on benchmark reform efforts. With regard to the designation process, Secretary Lew emphasized that, while FSOC’s existing designation process is rigorous, the agency is “young” and should remain flexible to changes that will allow it to grow and mature. Generally, the FSOC received three main suggestions regarding its designation process: (1) companies would like to know earlier in the process about their designation status; (2) the public would benefit from more information and the reasoning for designations; and  (3) the  Council  could  better  explain  the  process  for  the  annual  review  of  designated companies and provide additional opportunities for engagement in the process. Secretary Lew expressed support for the recommendations and urged the staff to continue working to formalize such recommendations for the Council’s consideration in the near future.

SEC Adopts Derivatives Rulemakings, Final Text Not Yet Available

On Wednesday, January 14, Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) voted to adopt it first significant set of final derivatives rulemakings.  Specifically, the SEC adopted final rules on security-based swap reporting (Regulation SBSR) and security-based swap data repository registration.  The SEC also issued a proposal for notice and comment related to security-based swap “reporting duties for cleared and platform-executed security-based swap transactions.” However, as of today, the final text of these rules has not yet been publicly released.

House Focuses on Public Health, 21st Century Cures, and VA; Senate HELP Committee Organizes and Considers Employer Wellness Programs

Posted in Health Care

Legislative Activity

House Energy And Commerce Committee To Consider Public Health Bills; 21st Century Cures Draft Legislation Expected Soon

On Tuesday, January 27, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on Health will take its first look at public health legislation for the 114th Congress. Subcommittee Chairman Joe Pitts (R-PA) has announced that the Subcommittee will examine the following pieces of legislation: the Ensuring Patient Access to Effective Drug Enforcement Act; the Improving Regulatory Transparency for New Medical Therapies Act; the Veteran Emergency Medical Technician Support Act; the Trauma Systems and Regionalization of Emergency Care Reauthorization Act; a bill to reauthorize language from the Public Health Service Act to fund trauma care centers; and the National All Schedules Prescription Electronic Reporting (NASPER) Reauthorization Act.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) has stated that 21st Century Cures draft legislation, an initiative spearheaded by Chairman Upton and Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO), will be released in “the coming days.” The initiative was formed “to take a comprehensive look at what steps we can take to accelerate the pace of cures in America” and has received support from members on both sides of the aisle, as well as from industry stakeholders. Some speculate that President Barack Obama’s State of the Union comments on precision medicine may also indicate the Administration’s support for the initiative. Many observers expect the legislation will largely focus on drug product approval and medical research. A bipartisan group of House lawmakers previously released a discussion draft on telemedicine issues, which may be incorporated into the larger Cures package under consideration.

Senate HELP Committee To Hold Organizational Meeting

On Wednesday, January 28, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) will meet in executive session to consider authorization of committee expenditures for this Congress; committee rules of procedure; subcommittee assignments; the reauthorization of S. 192, the Older Americans Act of 1965; S. ____, the Strengthening Education Through Research Act; and any pending nominations.

This Week’s Hearings:

  • Tuesday, January 27: The House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on Health will hold a hearing titled “Examining Public Health Legislation to Help Patients and Local Communities.”
  • Wednesday, January 28: The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Subcommittee on Health will hold a hearing titled “Examining the Quality and Cost of VA Health Care.”
  • Thursday, January 29: The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) will hold a hearing titled “Employer Wellness Programs: Better Health Outcomes and Lower Costs.”

President Obama Travels to India; Congress Scrutinizes the Negotiations with Iran; the Situation in Ukraine Deteriorates; and TPP Negotiators Meet for an Informal Round

Posted in International

Presidential Trip

Over the weekend, President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama departed Washington for India, where the President will be the chief guest in the country’s Republic Day parade. In advance of the trip, U.S. and Indian negotiators met in London to reach an accord over a 2010 Indian nuclear liability law that prohibits U.S. investments. President Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced on Sunday that an agreement, in principle, has been reached. Over the course of the three-day trip, President Obama will give a speech on the future of the bilateral relationship.

State of the Union (SOTU) Address

Last Tuesday, President Obama delivered his annual SOTU address before the 114th Congress. As is usual, the speech focused on domestic priorities – such as the U.S. economy, job creation, healthcare coverage and education opportunities – and also addressed international challenges – such as countering extremism and terrorist organizations, the U.S. drawdown in Afghanistan, expanding U.S. exports, and addressing climate change. The White House released an accompanying fact sheet, detailing the President’s priorities for 2015.

Iran

In the SOTU, President Obama threatened to veto any new congressional sanctions bills against Iran, citing it could derail the ongoing P5+1 Talks with Iran over its nuclear program. There is bipartisan support in Congress to mandate that any deal negotiated with Iran would need congressional approval; with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee holding a hearing last Wednesday on such a legislative proposal. This Tuesday, the Senate Banking Committee is expected to hold a hearing on a bill entitled, “Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015,” with a markup of the bill scheduled for Thursday (29 January). The House Foreign Affairs Committee will also hold a hearing on Tuesday to examine the ongoing negotiations with Iran. Meanwhile, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced last Wednesday that he has invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress.

Russia/Ukraine Crisis

On Saturday, Vice President Joe Biden spoke with Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko about the deteriorating situation in Ukraine. Both leaders expressed “grave concern over Russia’s blatant disregard for its commitments under the September Minsk agreement and unilateral escalation of the conflict.” White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said last week the United States continues to act with its allies to ensure Russia pays “a pretty dramatic price” for its behavior in Ukraine. Last Wednesday, President Obama spoke with Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev on bilateral matters. President Obama also encouraged Kazakhstan to continue playing an active role in finding a peaceful outcome to the situation in Ukraine. President Obama also spoke Tuesday with French President François Hollande about the situation in Ukraine and the need to maintain sanctions against Russia. After attending the World Economic Forum  in Davos, Switzerland, Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew travels this week to Ukraine to discuss a U.S. plan to provide up to $2 billion in loan guarantees to Kyiv.

Iraq/Syria Crises

The Senate Armed Services Committee received a closed briefing last week on the Defense Department program to train and equip vetted Syrian rebels to fight ISIL. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) said he expects the White House to soon send Congress a draft for a new Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF).

Cybersecurity & National Interests

President Obama again warned about cybersecurity challenges in last week’s SOTU address: “No foreign nation, no hacker, should be able to shut down our networks, steal our trade secrets, or invade the privacy of American families, especially our kids.” He called on Congress to pass legislation to address “the evolving threat of cyber attacks, combat identity theft, and protect our children’s information.”

This week, former Secretary of State Dr. Henry Kissinger will testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (Wednesday) and the Senate Armed Services Committee (Thursday) about global challenges, American leadership and national security interests.

North Korea

U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Policy Ambassador Sung Kim is in Japan and China this week for meetings with senior officials on North Korea policy.

Cuba

President Obama mentioned Cuba in the SOTU, urging Congress to “begin the work of ending the embargo.” He cited the shift in U.S. policy could potentially “end a legacy of mistrust in [the Western] hemisphere.”

Africa

President Obama said in the SOTU that U.S. troops, scientists and health care professionals are “rolling back Ebola” in West Africa.  He cautioned the “world needs to use this lesson to build a more effective global effort to prevent the spread of future pandemics, invest in smart development, and eradicate extreme poverty.”

In his Tuesday conversation with President Hollande, President Obama spoke about countering the terrorist group Boko Haram in West and Central Africa and the upcoming Nigerian elections.

Trade

President Obama requested Congress provide him with Trade Promotion Authority (“TPA” or “fast-track authority”) in the SOTU address. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said last Thursday that he is working with Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) to introduce a TPA bill by the end of the month and possibly hold a Committee markup on the bill by the end of February. Many Democratic Members of both chambers have expressed uneasiness over granting fast-track authority, expressing concerns that range from labor and environmental matters to market access for U.S. agriculture exports to currency manipulation.

Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiators are scheduled to meet informally in New York this week. There appears to be consensus among a majority of TPP member states to conclude the TPP negotiations at a ministerial meeting slated to take place in mid-March; which aligns with the Obama Administration’s expectation for congressional movement on TPA.  Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) warned that while a TPA bill could come to the Senate floor in March, this is an ambitious timeline, noting the Senate will be focused on budget issues during that month. President Obama is expected to release his FY 2016 Budget Request on 2 February.

This Tuesday, the Senate Finance Committee and House Ways and Means Committee will hold separate hearings to examine the Administration’s 2015 Trade Agenda. U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman is scheduled to testify.

Looking Ahead

Washington will likely focus on the following upcoming matters:

  • 25-27 January: President Obama is in India
  • 26 January – 1 February: Informal round of TPP negotiations to be held in New York City
  • 29-30 January: House Democratic Retreat in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • 1 February: NFL Super Bowl game
  • 2 February: President Obama expected to release his FY 2016 Budget Request
  • 2-6 February: 8th Round of TTIP discussions in Brussels
  • 18 February: White House to host Summit on Countering Violent Extremism