Senate Moves on Cures as House Wraps-Up WRDA and FY2017 CR

Senate Legislative Activity

The Senate will convene on Monday, December 5, at 3:00pm. Following any Leader remarks, the Senate will resume consideration of the House Message to accompany H.R.34 (Cures). The filing deadline for first degree amendments is 4:00pm. At 5:30pm, the Senate will vote on the motion to invoke cloture on the motion to concur in the House amendment to the Senate amendment to H.R.34 (Cures). If cloture is invoked, there will then be up to 30 hours of debate followed by a vote on the motion to concur.

House Legislative Activity

On Monday, December 5, the House will meet at 12:00pm for morning hour and at 2:00pm for legislative business, with votes postponed until 6:30pm. The following legislation will be considered under suspense on of the rules:

  1. H.R. 2726 – Apollo 11 50th Anniversary Commemorative Coin Act, as amended;
  2. H.R. 6427 – Creating Financial Prosperity for Businesses and Investors Act;
  3. S. 795 – To enhance whistleblower protection for contractor and grantee employees;
  4. H.R. 5015 – Combat-Injured Veterans Tax Fairness Act of 2016, as amended;
  5. S. 3395 – Prescribed Burn Approval Act of 2016; and
  6. House Amendment to S. 1635 – Department of State Authorities Act, Fiscal Year 2017, as amended

On Tuesday, December 6, the House will meet at 10:00am for morning hour and at 12:00pm for legislative business.

  1. H.R. 756 – Streamlining Energy Efficiency for Schools Act of 2015;
  2. H.R. 6375 – Power And Security Systems (PASS) Act;
  3. H.R. 3381 – Childhood Cancer STAR Act, as amended;
  4. H.Res _____ – Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that all students should have access to the digital tools necessary to further their education and compete in the 21st century economy;
  5. H.R. 6394 – Improving Broadband Access for Veterans Act of 2016;
  6. H.Res. 932 – Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives with respect to third-party charges on consumer telephone bills;
  7. S. 2873 – Expanding Capacity for Health Outcomes Act;
  8. H.R. 4680 – National Park Service Centennial Act, as amended;
  9. H.R. 1219 – Arbuckle Project Maintenance Complex and District Office Conveyance Act of 2016;
  10. H.R. 6401 – Northern Mariana Islands Economic Expansion Act;
  11. S. 817 – To provide for the addition of certain real property to the reservation of the Siletz Tribe in the State of Oregon;
  12. S. 818 – To amend the Grand Ronde Reservation Act to make technical corrections, and for other purposes;
  13. S. 3028 – Daniel J. Evans Olympic National Park Wilderness Act;
  14. H.R. 6416 – Jeff Miller and Richard Blumenthal Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2016;
  15. H.R. 5399 – Ethical Patient Care for Veterans Act of 2016;
  16. H.R. 4150 – Department of Veterans Affairs Emergency Medical Staffing Recruitment and Retention Act, as amended;
  17. H.R. 4352 – Faster Care for Veterans Act of 2016;
  18. H.R. 5428 – Military Residency Choice Act;
  19. S. 3492 – To designate the Department of Veterans Affairs community-based outpatient clinic in Traverse City, Michigan, as the “Colonel Demas T. Craw VA Clinic”;
  20. S. 3076 – Charles Duncan Buried with Honor Act of 2016; and
  21. H.R. 875 – Cross-Border Trade Enhancement Act of 2016, as amended

On Wednesday, December 7, the House will meet at 10:00am for morning hour and at 12:00pm for legislative business. On Thursday, December 8, the House will meet at 9:00am for legislative business. The House will consider:

  1. H.R. 5143 – Transparent Insurance Standards Act of 2016, Rules Committee Print (Subject to a Rule)
  2. Water Resources Development Act of 2016; and
  3. Continuing Resolution for FY 2017 Appropriations

On Friday, December 9, no votes are expected in the House.

State Attorneys General December 5 Update

Squire Patton Boggs’ State Attorneys General Practice Group is comprised of lawyers who have served at senior levels in state AG offices around the country and whose practices focus, to one degree or another, on representing clients before these increasingly assertive and powerful, yet often overlooked, government agencies, as explained in detail here.

In these updates, we will call attention to the most noteworthy state AG news or developments emerging in the previous week.

Litigation

Michigan AG Bill Schuette has intervened in a federal lawsuit to defend the constitutionality of the Michigan Preservation of Personal Privacy Act (Privacy Act), which “places limitations on the disclosure of a consumer’s personal information,” according to the Michigan AG’s brief in the suit. In the suit, the plaintiff claimed that defendant Consumers Union disclosed his personal information to “‘data mining’ companies and other third parties without obtaining his consent or providing him notice” of the disclosure “in violation of the Privacy Act,” and in response Consumers Union argued that the “Privacy Act is an unconstitutional infringement on the freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment,” according to the Michigan AG’s brief. The Michigan AG argued, in part, that the Privacy Act is constitutional because the speech regulated by the Privacy Act is “commercial speech,” which is entitled to “lesser protection [than] other constitutionally guaranteed expression,” and that the state of Michigan has a “substantial interest . . . in protecting the privacy of its citizens.” The court has not yet ruled in the case.

New York AG Eric Schneiderman announced that his office had entered a settlement with a New York furniture company “for engaging in deceptive acts and making false statements in its advertisements. Specifically, York Furniture Centers, Inc. advertised that they were holding a Warehouse Closing sale when in fact it did not intend to close its warehouse and while continuing to receive pieces of furniture, which is a violation of New York State law,” according to a December 1 Press Release. AG Schneiderman stated in the Press Release that under New York law, “businesses must obtain a license to conduct a Going out of business type sale which includes a warehouse closing sale.” As part of the settlement, York Furniture Centers, Inc. will pay $10,000 in civil penalties.

Advocacy

Vermont AG William Sorrell has advised consumers to be careful in this holiday season about charitable donations made through “paid fundraisers – companies hired to solicit charitable donations” – because many such donations “result in a fraction of the gift going to the chosen cause,” according to a November 28 Press Release. AG Sorrell advised that if donations are made through a paid fundraiser, “in most cases the bulk of that gift is going straight to the caller, not the charity.” For example, between July 1, 2015 and June 30, 2016, “paid fundraisers raised over $1.4 Million from Vermonters, but the named charities, both local and national, received only about $400,000,” and the 11 Vermont charities that used paid fundraisers during that time period received “barely more than a quarter out of every dollar given.” AG Sorrell advised Vermonters to check the “breakdown of contributions between fundraisers and charities on the Attorney General’s website” here.

Massachusetts AG Maura Healey said in a November 29 fundraising email that she “won’t hesitate to take Donald Trump to court if he carries out his unconstitutional campaign promises,” according to a Boston Globe report. Per the Globe’s report, AG Healey stated that “Trump plans to roll back much of the progress we’ve made in Massachusetts and as a nation,” and that “[w]hen the federal government overreaches, state attorneys general have an enormously important role to play . . . [and are] the first line of defense against illegal action by the federal government.” AG Healey listed issues that “could be litigated” include “health care, gun laws, climate change, and Wall Street reforms,” according to the Globe’s report.

USDA’s Catfish Inspection Program Revisited

Legislative Activity

Catfish Inspection Program

Although discussions surrounding government regulation of catfish have slowed on Capitol Hill since the enactment of the 2014 Farm Bill, the catfish inspection program at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is likely to once again be the subject of great scrutiny and debate as legislators begin to prepare for the next Farm Bill.

Jurisdiction over the safety and proper regulation of our nation’s food supply is split between the USDA and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – the USDA overseeing meat and poultry products and the FDA overseeing seafood products, as well as dairy, grains, fruits, and vegetables. Originally included as part of the 2008 Farm Bill, a provision creating a catfish inspection program within the USDA has faced harsh criticism from government watchdog organizations, farm groups, and many in the domestic and international food industries. Opponents have labeled the program as duplicative and wasteful, and have outlined concerns surrounding U.S. World Trade Organization obligations. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and Representative Vicki Hartzler (R-MO) were two of the loudest voices of opposition during the two-and-a-half years of negotiations leading up to the passage of the current Farm Bill. As Representative Frank Lucas (R-OK), then-Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, was reportedly skeptical of the new jurisdiction given to the USDA, he faced Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS), then-Ranking Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee and a fierce supporter of the program. Senator Cochran claimed the program would further protect domestic catfish farming – a major industry in his home state – and enhance food safety, despite a USDA study concluding catfish is a “low-risk food” and a Government Accountability Office study’s findings that the elimination of the USDA-administered program would not affect the safety of catfish. Despite efforts made by legislators intimately involved in the bill’s final negotiations, as well as those made by outside groups lobbying for its removal, legislative language that would have repealed the USDA catfish inspection program was not included in the 2014 Farm Bill.

On Wednesday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health will hold a hearing to closely examine the implications of the USDA-administered catfish inspection program. Titled “Waste and Duplication in the USDA Catfish Inspection Program,” it can be expected that testimonies will reinforce arguments to repeal the authority given to the USDA to oversee the inspection of catfish.

This Week’s Hearings:

  • Wednesday, December 7: The House Agriculture Committee will hold a hearing titled “1890 “Land-Grant Institutions: Recruitment Challenges and Scholarship Opportunities.”
  • Wednesday, December 7:  The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health will hold a hearing titled “Waste and Duplication in the USDA Catfish Inspection Program.”

House Majority Leader McCarthy Ensures Passage of a Continuing Resolution Before December 9 Deadline; Basic Fiscal Year 2017 Budget Resolution Expected in 115th

Legislative Activity

Continuing Resolution

Although Congress is set to be in session for another two weeks, it is likely the House will adjourn for the year as soon as this Thursday afternoon. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has promised the House will vote on a Continuing Resolution (CR) before the current CR expires on Friday, December 9.  House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has tentatively concurred with this statement, saying that she believes the text of the CR will be released as soon as Monday.  However, the length and specifics of the funding levels contained in the CR are unclear.

Initially, March 31, 2017 was the target end date for the next CR, but an April 28 date or later has become more likely due to a busy Senate calendar; the Senate will take more time to pass expected budgetary matters such as reconciliation and have a slate of Cabinet nominees to confirm. Ongoing negotiations among appropriators indicate the bill will be a “clean” CR with an extension of current funding levels.  One item that has been under debate- aid for the Flint, Michigan water crisis- may be addressed in the Water Resources and Development Act (WRDA), which is also expected to pass the House this week.  Of note, defense hawks, including Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and current Secretary of Defense Ash Carter have expressed concern about a short-term funding mechanism’s impact on military preparedness.

Budget Reform

Last week, House Budget Chairman Tom Price (R-GA) suggested that the current budget process is broken and made numerous proposals for improvement. For example, he recommended that future Congress’ should write two-year budgets and release their plan before the White House releases theirs.  Senate Budget Chairman Mike Enzi (R-WY) also supports biennial budgeting.  Chairman Price advocated for a budget that is easier to read and that the U.S. Comptroller General to address Congress annually on fiscal challenges.  Such changes would be the first major overhaul of the budget process since 1974.

Additionally, Chairman Price outlined his strategy for a straightforward Fiscal Year 2017 budget resolution which will be used as a vehicle for the budget reconciliation process. Such a proposal would be taken up shortly after the 115th Congress convenes and would clear the way for a separate reconciliation bill to repeal major parts of the Affordable Care Act.  The topline fiscal number is expected to be the same of that passed in the CR.

Traditionally, the House and Senate have each passed their own separate budget bills, but it is possible that the Senate- who will face more difficulty and a longer time frame due to procedural hurdles and parliamentary rules- will pass budget legislation and then send it to the House. Last year, Senate Budget Chairman Mike Enzi (R-WY) never introduced a budget for that chamber’s consideration.

DOL Overtime Rule Delayed; Betsy De Vos Chosen as Secretary of Education; Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) to Chair House Education Committee

Legislative Activity

Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) Wins House Minority Leader

In a 134-63 vote on November 30, Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) defeated challenger Representative Tim Ryan (D-OH) to keep her position as the House Minority Leader. She has been the Democratic leader in the House since 2002, and this was her toughest challenge since former Representative Heath Shuler (D-NC) challenged her in 2010.

Democrats picked up six House seats in the election on November 8, short of the 30 needed to regain a majority. The current breakdown in the House is 239 Republicans to 194 Democrats, with runoffs pending in two safely Republican districts in Louisiana.

Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC) Selected to Chair House Committee on Education and the Workforce

With approval of the full Republican conference, the House Republican Steering Committee has selected Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) as the chairwoman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce in the 115th Congress, scheduled to begin January 3, 2017.

Representative Foxx spent most of her career as a teacher and administrator in North Carolina’s higher education system. On the Committee on Education and the Workforce, she has served for the last six years as chairwoman of the subcommittee with jurisdiction over higher education and workforce development. She also currently serves as vice chair of the House Committee on Rules.

House Democrats Push for Changes to Federal Student Debt Collection

This week Democrat members of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce sent a letter to Education Secretary John B. King, Jr. requesting a change in the way the Department pays companies hired to collect debt from defaulted student loan borrowers. They are concerned the current payment structure may not incentivize the companies to help struggling borrowers, and asked the Department to provide guidance to its debt collection contractors about how they should help borrowers enroll in income-based repayment programs or other government programs designed to help struggling or defrauded borrowers.

Regulatory Activity

Courts Delay Overtime Rule

On November 22, Judge Amos Mazzant in the Eastern District of Texas granted a preliminary injunction to delay the Department of Labor’s (DOL) overtime rule, set to take effect on December 1.  On May 18 of this year, DOL issued the final version of the overtime exemption rule, which raises the minimum salary threshold required to qualify for the Fair Labor Standards Act’s (FLSA) “white collar” exemption to $47,476 per year. The final rule would also raise the overtime eligibility threshold for highly compensated workers from $100,000 to about $134,000.

In State of  Nevada v. The U.S. Department of Labor, Nevada and 20 other states argue DOL has exceeded its authority by significantly raising the salary threshold and providing automatic adjustments to the threshold every three years. They also allege the cost of complying with the rule will cause irreparable injury because it will cost states millions of dollars and impact government programs and services.

The injunction issued last week will maintain the status quo, effectively delaying implementation of the rule until Judge Mazzant is able to hear the case. While the injunction is temporary, it will likely last until the Trump Administration takes over in January. President-Elect Donald Trump has indicated he would like to reverse the rule, and Republicans in Congress have already introduced legislation to block and delay its implementation.

President-Elect Donald Trump Nominates Betsy DeVos to Lead Department of Education

Signaling he plans to pursue his campaign promise of increasing school choice, President-Elect Donald Trump will nominate Betsy DeVos to be Secretary of Education. DeVos is most well- known for advocating for and funding efforts to promote school choice, charter schools, and school voucher programs. While DeVos is very experienced on these issues, her record on other education issues has not been well-documented, including most higher education policy areas.

According to tax records for the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation, they have made donations to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education that has brought legal challenges against the Obama Administration’s Title IX guidance on campus sexual assault. Outside of this, no other public information has been made available on her positions on higher education. Most recent presidents have selected secretaries of education with more K-12 education experience, and staffing senior posts at the Department and within the White House Domestic Policy Council to focus on higher education.

President Obama Requests Increase for Student Loan Servicing in Continuing Resolution

In a request to Congress this week, President Obama has asked for an increase in funding to the Department of Education in the upcoming continuing resolution which keeps the government funded beyond December 9. The request asks for an increase of the Department of Education’s student aid administration budget from $1.55 billion to $1.6 billion. The White House says the money is needed for better customer service and support for the increased number of federal student loan borrowers to stay current on their payments.

Secretary King Announces Juvenile Justice Resources

Education Secretary John B. King, Jr. announced new resources for young people who have been involved in the juvenile justice system. The resources include a Dear Colleague letter to state and local leaders, a “You Got This” guide to help young people transition out of juvenile justice facilities and a document compiling some of the biggest challenges faced by youth in juvenile justice facilities.

Possible WRDA and Energy Bills This Week

Legislative Activity

Potential Energy Legislation

After the House proposed a narrow version of the energy bill to the Senate, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) proposed a broader bill once again. After a meeting last week with House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT), Chairman Murkowski appeared confident she will get a bill during the Lame Duck session. However, the House is reportedly less inclined to move and there are still several hurdles to resolve, including but not limited to: LNG export, permanent authorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), California drought and wildfire spending, and the Sportsman’s Act, which would allow guns on all federal lands including National Parks. Beyond substantive sticking points, time is tightening with Congress aiming to adjourn by December 9. If Congress agrees to legislation to fund the government beyond December 9 and adjourns, agreement on a conference report on the energy bill will need to be reached early this week in order to clear the legislation by the end of the week.

WRDA

The House and Senate are closer to reaching an agreement on the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). A main point of contention surrounds the “Buy America” requirements for projects assisted by the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund. Overall, WRDA legislation, if passed, would authorize the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to carry out specified navigation, flood protection, and ecosystem improvement projects throughout the country. Chairman Inhofe reported that the bill would also appropriate $170 million to support Flint, MI following the community’s lead-contaminated drinking water crisis. The funding would be offset by funds from a Department of Energy loan program for advanced vehicle manufacturing. The conference report could be released as early as Monday. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) expressed hopes that WRDA will be brought to the floor this week.

This Week’s Hearings:

  • On Tuesday, December 6, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, will hold a hearing titled “Volkswagen’s Emissions Cheating Settlement: Questions Concerning ZEV Program Implementation.” In a legal settlement from earlier this year, Volkswagen agreed to invest $2 billion in zero emission vehicle (ZEV) infrastructure following their use of computer software that was designed to cheat federal emissions tests.

Regulatory Activity

Climate Change

The Department of State, in conjunction with the U.S. Global Change Research Program, is seeking nominations for U.S. scientists to serve as authors or editors on the first Special Report that will be written by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The report aims to address the impacts of global warming of 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels and related greenhouse gas emissions issues to potentially strengthen “global response to climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty.” The call for nominations will close on Tuesday, December 6. Nominations may be submitted here.

As Year Winds Down, Hensarling Prepares for 2017; OCC Announces Limited Purpose Banking Charters for FinTech Companies

Legislative Activity

Hensarling to Remain Chairman as Monetary Policy and Short-Term Financing Issues Taken Up by the Committee

Last week, House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) was elected to his third term as Chairman. After being considered for Treasury Secretary in the Trump Administration, Chairman Hensarling will remain a crucial part of Republican efforts to reform the financial services regulatory landscape. Subcommittee chairmanships are expected to be announced in the coming weeks.

Looking ahead, on Wednesday, December 7, the Subcommittee on Monetary Policy and Trade will hold a hearing to examine how the Federal Reserve departed from conventional monetary policy and how it can facilitate an orderly return to a conventional balance sheet, as well as how monetary policies can reliably support economic growth going forward. Separately, the Subcommittee on Capital Markets and Government Sponsored Enterprises will hold a hearing to discuss how regulations are impacting short-term financing.

This Week’s Hearings:

  • Wednesday, December 7: The House Financial Services Subcommittee on Monetary Policy and Trade will hold a hearing titled “Unconventional Monetary Policy”
  • Thursday, December 8: The House Financial Services Subcommittee on Capital Markets and Government Sponsored Enterprises will hold a hearing titled “The Impact of Regulations on Short-Term Financing”

Regulatory Activity

OCC Makes Landmark FinTech Announcement; Mutual Savings Association Advisory Committee to Meet

Last week, Comptroller of the Currency Thomas Curry announced that the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) will extend limited purpose banking charters to financial technology (FinTech) companies. FinTech firms will now be eligible to become national banks, although will not be required to do so. The OCC also released a white paper detailing guidelines for FinTech firms applying for the limited purpose charters. The agency will accept comments on the principles laid out in the white paper until January 15, 2017.

Separately, on Thursday December 8, the OCC’s Mutual Savings Association Advisory Committee will meet to advise the OCC on regulatory changes or other steps the agency may be able to take to ensure the continued health and viability of mutual savings associations, as well as to discuss other issues of concern to existing mutual savings associations.

SEC’s Dodd-Frank Investor Advisory Committee to Meet

On Thursday December 8, the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) Dodd-Frank Investor Advisory Committee will meet to discuss investor protection priorities for 2017. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 (Dodd-Frank) established the new Investor Advisory Committee to advise the SEC on regulatory priorities, the regulation of securities products, trading strategies, fee structures, the effectiveness of disclosure, and initiatives to protect investor interests and to promote investor confidence and integrity of the securities marketplace. Dodd-Frank authorizes the Committee to submit findings and recommendations for review and consideration by the SEC.

21st Century Cures Advances to Senate; Health Bills Scheduled for House Floor; MedPAC Meetings This Week

Legislative Activity

21st Century Cures Advances to Senate

Last week the Senate amendment to H.R. 34, the Tsunami Warning, Education, and Research Act of 2015 (21st Century Cures Act) overwhelmingly passed the House by a vote of 392 yeas to 26 nays. The bipartisan innovation package is the result of over two years of work spearheaded by Rep. Fred Upton(R-MI) and Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) to accelerate the discovery, development, and delivery of cures to patients. The Senate will convene to resume consideration the 21st Century Cures Act on Monday, December 5, and they are expected to vote on the bill on Tuesday, December 6. President Obama voiced his support for the bipartisan legislation and encouraged the Senate to promptly pass the bill. He is expected to sign the bill into law before the end of the year.

Health Bills Scheduled for House Floor

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) announced the chamber may consider two health bills in the coming week. On Tuesday, December 6, the House is expected to consider H.R. 3381, the Childhood Cancer Survivorship, Treatment, Access, and Research (STAR) Act of 2015, and S. 2873, Expanding Capacity for Health Outcomes (ECHO) Act under suspension of the rules. H.R. 3381 was introduced by Reps. Michael McCaul (R-TX), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Jackie Speier (D-CA). The legislation expands opportunities for childhood cancer research; betters childhood cancer surveillance; improves quality of life for childhood cancer survivors; ensures access to compassionate use policies; and guarantees pediatric expertise at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). S. 2873 was introduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT). The bill requires the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), in collaboration with the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), to study technology-enabled collaborative learning and capacity building models and the ability of those models to improve patient care and provider collaboration. S. 2873 was favorably reported by the Senate last week with a roll call vote of 97 yeas to 0 nays.

Other Activity

MedPAC Meeting This Week

On Thursday, December 8, and Friday, December 9, the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) will hold a meeting to discuss Medicare policy issues and questions, as well as develop recommendations for Congress. The agenda includes the following topics:

  • The Medicare Advantage program: status report;
  • Assessing payment adequacy and updating payments for:
    • hospital inpatient and outpatient services;
    • physician and other health professional services and ambulatory surgical center services;
    • skilled nursing facility services;
    • inpatient rehabilitation facility services;
    • home health services;
    • outpatient dialysis services;
    • hospice services; and
    • long-term care hospital services.

House Approves DHS Provisions in Defense Authorizing Bill; Chairman McCaul Introduces DHS Reform Measure

Legislative Activity

House Approves DHS Provisions in Defense Authorizing Bill

On Friday, December 2, the House of Representatives approved the FY 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (S. 2943) conference report by a vote of 375 to 34. The bill’s homeland security provisions:

  • Direct the Secretary of Defense to coordinate unmanned aerial systems training missions along the southern border to support the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) counter-narcotic trafficking efforts;
  • Grant preference to DHS for the transfer of excess Department of Defense (DOD) equipment to strengthen security along the southern border;
  • Direct the DHS Secretary to work with the Secretaries of Defense, Health and Human Services, and Agriculture to develop a national biodefense strategy and implementation plan for U.S. biodefense;
  • Direct DHS to provide cyber assistance to small businesses by sharing cybersecurity risk information and developing a Small Business Development Center Cyber Strategy to address concerns among small businesses relating to the development or enhancement of cybersecurity protections;
  • Enhance DHS efforts to assist members of the Armed Forces separating from active duty service in receiving transportation security cards; and
  • Strengthening DHS international security efforts by requiring the development of a Department-wide, risk-based strategy for overseas screening and vetting programs.

Representative Michael McCaul (R-TX), who was selected this week to continue serving as Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee in the 115th Congress, released the following statement after the NDAA’s passage:

America is currently in the highest threat level environment since 9/11. It is imperative that our nation’s military and security agencies have the funding they need to carry out the critical task of protecting our homeland and the American people. This bill, which includes numerous provisions that were authored by the Committee, provides the Department of Homeland Security with the necessary capabilities and direction to better secure our borders, prevent foreign fighter and terrorist travel, and enhance our cybersecurity capabilities to defend against future threats. I would especially like to commend Chairman Thornberry for his strong leadership on this authorization bill.

Chairman McCaul Introduces DHS Reform Measure

Chairman McCaul recently introduced a comprehensive DHS reform bill, the DHS Reform and Improvement Act (H.R. 6381). The bill was referred to nine Committees of jurisdiction in the House and includes provisions improving border and maritime security coordination, cybersecurity protections, aviation security, surface transportation and critical infrastructure security, and homeland security drone programs.

Notably, the bill:

  • Requires a study on how small and medium-sized unmanned aircraft could be used to perpetrate an attack on the United States and the development of protocols and guidelines to prevent such an attack;
  • Increases border and maritime coordination between foreign governments and U.S. government agencies to increase cooperation and efficiency in the identification of threats to U.S. security;
  • Provides grants, training, and enhanced coordination to promote resilience and efficiency in preparing for attacks and responding to U.S. security emergencies;
  • Creates a Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Protection Agency to lead national efforts to protect and enhance security as it relates to U.S. critical infrastructure;
  • Directs the DHS Secretary to develop a Border Patrol Strategic Plan that mitigates threats along the southwest border and details efforts to increase surveillance capabilities and intelligence collection to increase public safety and disrupt transnational criminal organizations; and
  • Reforms the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to enhance TSA PreCheck, screening capabilities, passenger biometric identification, the exchange of security screening equipment, and vetting processes for aviation workers.

The reform bill was introduced amid speculation that Rep. McCaul remains under consideration to serve as President-Elect Trump’s DHS Secretary.

This Week’s Hearings:

  • On Wednesday, December 7, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hold a hearing titled “Examining the Costs of Over Classification on Transparency and Security.”
  • On Wednesday, December 7, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security will hold a hearing titled “Assessing the Security of our Critical Transportation Infrastructure.”

Senate Expected to Act on the NDAA Conference Report; Iran Sanctions Extension Act Sent to President Obama’s Desk

The U.S. Congress will be in session again this week, primarily focusing on advancing a Continuing Resolution to fund the U.S. Government beyond 9 December.

Last week, the Senate passed the Iran Sanctions Extension Act (H.R. 6269) by a vote of 99-0 on 1 December, sending the measure to President Obama’s desk.

This week, the Senate is expected to act on the Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) conference report, after the House passed it last week.

Iran – Sanctions Measure Advances

Members of Congress and Administration officials have said they did not believe the renewal of the Iran Sanctions Act (ISA) would violate terms of the international nuclear agreement with Iran that went into effect early this year.  A senior Administration official said, “While we do not think that an extension of ISA is necessary, we do not believe that a clean extension would be a violation of the JCPOA [Iran deal].”  While the White House had not pushed for an extension of ISA, it had not raised serious objections.  Some congressional aides said they expected President Obama to sign the extension.

  • On Tuesday, 6 December, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Defeating the Iranian Threat Network: Options for Countering Iranian Proxies.”

Syria – U.S. Engagement with Partners

The Department of State reported on 1 December that the United States remains engaged with the Turks, the Russians, the Saudis, the Qataris, European allies, and the opposition in Syria.   The Department Spokesperson also said that Secretary of State John Kerry met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Rome on 2 December.  The Secretary also reportedly met with Special Envoy de Mistura on Saturday in Rome and with other multilateral partners in Europe, continuing such meetings this week.

Israel – Kerry Warns Against Settlements

At the Saban Forum on 4 December, Secretary of State John Kerry said Israel is “heading to a place of danger” because expanded settlements in the West Bank are eroding chances for a two-state solution with the Palestinians. He noted, “If you have a whole bunch of people who are strategically locating outposts and settlements in an area so that there will not be a contiguous Palestinian state, they are doing it to be an obstacle to peace.”

Cybersecurity – New Report

On 2 December, the White House released a report on the growing digital economy that was drafted by a nonpartisan Commission on Enhancing National Cybersecurity tasked with assessing the current state of cybersecurity in the United States and recommending steps that the Government, private sector, and the nation can take to bolster cybersecurity.

Trump Transition News

Last week, President-Elect Donald Trump announced his intention to nominate Wilbur Ross as the Secretary of Commerce and Steven Mnuchin as the next Secretary of the Treasury.  The President-Elect is expected to announce Gen. James Mattis as his choice to serve as Secretary of Defense on Monday.

Taiwan – Trump’s Call

On Friday, President-Elect Trump spoke with the leader of Taiwan, a move viewed as a breach of the nearly 40 year-old “one-China” diplomatic protocol. Vice President-Elect Mike Pence said Sunday that the phone call was a “courtesy call” and should not necessarily be interpreted as a shift in U.S. policy.

Congressional Hearings This week

  • On Tuesday, 6 December, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Step or Stumble: The Obama Administration’s Pivot to Asia.”
  • On Tuesday, 6 December, the House Foreign Affairs Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “American Compassion in India: Government Obstacles.”
  • On Tuesday, 6 December, the Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Emerging U.S. Defense Challenges and Worldwide Threats.”
  • On Wednesday, 7 December, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Corruption: A Danger to Democracy in Europe and Eurasia.”
  • On Wednesday, 7 December, the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Monetary Policy and Trade is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Unconventional Monetary Policy.”
  • On Thursday, 8 December, the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on State Department and USAID Management, International Operations, and Bilateral International Development is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “State Department and USAID Management Challenges and Opportunities for the Next Administration.”

Looking Ahead

Washington is expected to focus on the following upcoming events:

  • 9 December: U.S. Federal Government funding expires
  • 3 January: 115th Congress convenes
  • 20 January: Inauguration of the 45th President of the United States
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