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Senate to Vote on Paycheck Fairness; House Focuses on Continuing Resolution

Posted in General Legislative

Senate Legislative Activity

The Senate will convene today, Monday, September 15, at 2:00 pm.  After any remarks by Majority Leader Reid (D-NV), the Senate will proceed with morning business until 5:30 pm, during which senators will be permitted to speak for up to 10 minutes each. At 5:30 pm, the Senate will hold a roll call vote on the motion to invoke cloture on S.2199, the Paycheck Fairness Act, followed by cloture votes on nominations for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Up to three roll call votes are expected:

  1. Motion to invoke cloture on S.2199, the Paycheck Fairness Act;
  2. Motion to invoke cloture on Executive Calendar #1003, Jeffrey Martin Baran, of Virginia, to be a Member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for the remainder of the term expiring June 30, 2015; and
  3. Motion to invoke cloture on Executive Calendar #1004, Stephen G. Burns, of Maryland, to be a Member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for the term of five years expiring June 30, 2019.

House Legislative Activity

Today, Monday, September 15, the House will meet at 12:00 pm for morning hour and at 2:00 pm for legislative business, with votes being postponed until 6:30 pm.  The following legislation is to be considered under suspension of the rules:

  1. H.R. 4771 - Designer Anabolic Steroid Control Act, as amended;
  2. S. 2154 - Emergency Medical Services for Children Reauthorization Act of 2014;
  3. H.R. 83 - To require the Secretary of the Interior to assemble a team of technical, policy, and financial experts to address the energy needs of the insular areas of the United States and the Freely Associated States through the development of action plans aimed at reducing reliance on imported fossil fuels and increasing use of indigenous clean-energy resources, and for other purposes, as amended;
  4. H.R. 3044 - To approve the transfer of Yellow creek Port properties in Iuka, Mississippi;
  5. S. 1086 - The Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 2014, as amended;
  6. H.R. 5108 - To establish the Law School Clinic Certification Program of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, and for other purposes;
  7. H.R. 3006 - To authorize a land exchange involving the acquisition of private land adjacent to the Cibola National Wildlife Refuge in Arizona for inclusion in the refuge in exchange for certain Bureau of Land Management lands in Riverside County, California;
  8. S. 476 - A bill to amend the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Development Act to extend to the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park Commission;
  9. S. 1603 - Gun Lake Trust Land Reaffirmation Act;
  10. H.R. 5205 - Northern Nevada Land Conservation and Economic Development Act;
  11. H.R. 3222 - Flushing Remonstrance Study Act;
  12. H.R. 2569 - Upper Missisquoi and Trout Wild and Scenic Rivers Act;
  13. H.R. 4119 - West Hunter Street Baptist Church Study Act;
  14. H.R. 5405 - Promoting Job Creation and Reducing Small Business Burdens Act, as amended;
  15. H.R. 3374 - American Savings Promotion Act, as amended;
  16. H.R. ____ - Insurance Capital Standards Clarification Act of 2014;
  17. H.R. 2866 - Boys Town Centennial Commemorative Coin Act, as amended; and
  18. H.R. 2996 - Revitalize American Manufacturing and Innovation Act of 2013, as amended.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, September 16 and 17, the House will meet at 10:00 am for morning hour and at 12:00 pm for legislative business.  On Thursday, September 18, the House will convene at 9:00 am and recess immediately before reconvening at approximately 9:45 am in a joint meeting with the Senate to receive the Honorable Petro Poroshenko, President of Ukraine. The House will then meet at 12:00 pm for legislative business.  On Friday, September 19, the House will meet at 9:00 am for legislative business, with final votes expected by 3:00 pm. The following legislation is also on the House calendar for the balance of the week and will be considered under suspension of the rules:

  1. H.R. 3593 - The VA Construction Assistance Act of 2014, as amended;
  2. H.R. 5404 - Department of Veterans Affairs Expiring Authorities Act of 2014;
  3. H.R. 4276 - Veterans Traumatic Brain Injury Improvement Act of 2014;
  4. S. 2258 - Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2014;
  5. H.R. 24 - Federal Reserve Transparency Act of 2013;
  6. H.R. 5169 - Senior Executive Service Accountability Act, as amended;
  7. H.R.5170 - Federal Records Accountability Act of 2014, as amended;
  8. H.R. 5418 - To prohibit officers and employees of the Internal Revenue Service from using personal email accounts to conduct official business;
  9. H.R. 5419 - To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide for a right to an administrative appeal relating to adverse determinations of tax-exempt status of certain organizations;
  10. H.R. 5420 - To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to permit the release of information regarding the status of certain investigations;
  11. H.R. 3043 - Tribal General Welfare Exclusion Act of 2013;
  12. H.R. 495 - Free File Program Act of 2014, as amended;
  13. H.R. 4137 - Preserving Welfare for Needs Not Weed Act;
  14. H.R. 4994 - Improving Medicare Post-Acute Care Transformation (IMPACT) Act of 2014, as amended; and
  15. H.R. ___ - To amend title 49, United States Code, to provide for limitations on the fees charged to passengers of air carriers.

Additionally, the House will also consider the following legislation:

  • H.J. Res. 124 - Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2015 (Subject to a Rule);
  • H.R. ___ - American Energy Solutions for Lower Costs and More American Jobs Act (Subject to a Rule); and
  • H.R. ___ - Jobs for America Act (Subject to a Rule).

Cybersecurity Remains in the Spotlight Despite Lack of Legislative Activity

Posted in Cybersecurity

Legislative Branch Activity

Cybersecurity Legislation

In the continued wake of ongoing cybersecurity attacks against  Home Depot, Healthcare.gov, and Community Health Services, one of the country’s largest hospital chains, the debate continues over the need for Congress to move  cybersecurity and  data breach legislation.  In an op-ed posted in The Hill last week, U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson called on Congress to pass cybersecurity legislation that would codify the roles and responsibilities of the Department, enhance DHS’s ability to hire cybersecurity workers, and improve cybersecurity information sharing. While it is unlikely that there is time to pass legislation before the end of September, prospects remain for action before the end of the year. Last week, Senate Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) confirmed that his Committee’s information sharing legislation, the Cyber Information Sharing Act (CISA/S. 2588), will not be taken up by the Senate in September and also acknowledged that the calendar is a challenge overall.

Executive Branch Activity

NIST Cybersecurity Framework

In August, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) issued a Request for Information (RFI) on the implementation of the Cybersecurity Framework that was released in February. Comments on the RFI are due October 10 and will help set the agenda for the next NIST workshop on October 29-30 in Tampa, Florida. The RFI includes 22 questions about how industry is using the Cybersecurity Framework, how it can be improved, and what NIST’s roadmap should be for future efforts related to cybersecurity.

In addition, NIST will host its second privacy engineering workshop this week in San Jose, California. The workshop will be on Monday and Tuesday and will look at developing privacy requirements and translating policy into system design, according to NIST’s agenda. NIST is also collecting public comments on the privacy engineering concepts that will be discussed at the workshop and plans to issue a draft NIST Interagency Report (NISTIR) on privacy engineering in 2015.

Executive Branch Action

In the meantime, the Obama Administration recently announced that it will be looking at all of the ways that it can help to improve information sharing and reduce burdensome regulations related to cybersecurity in an effort to help the federal government and the private sector protect itself against cyber attacks. White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Michael Daniel used the recent Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice antitrust policy statement on cybersecurity information sharing as a model for the types of actions that the executive branch plans to take in light of the legislative stalemate on legislation. Additionally, the Administration announced it is planning to review the cybersecurity regulations that are “excessively burdensome, conflicting, or ineffective” through collaboration with industry partners. The White House plans to issue a report by February 2016 that would look at various incentives, including streamlined regulations, which could be used to promote industry adoption of the NIST Cybersecurity Framework.

DHS Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee

On September 22, the DHS Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee will host a public meeting to discuss big data and cybersecurity, as well as receive an update from the Department’s Chief Privacy Officer Karen Neuman. The Advisory Committee is made up of privacy experts from the private sector and provides advice on programmatic, policy, operational, administrative, and technological issues within the DHS that relate to personally identifiable information, as well as data integrity and other privacy-related matters. At the meeting, the Committee will receive a briefing on the implementation of the DHS Data Framework and discuss drafting best practices for DHS’s use of big data.

Armed Services Committees to Examine the President’s Strategy to Combat ISIL

Posted in Defense

The Senate and House Armed Services Committee are scheduled to hold hearings this week to follow-up on President Barack Obama’s September 10 speech; where the President outlined his strategy to combat the Islamic State (ISIL/ISIS).

Last Wednesday, House Armed Services Committee Chair Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-California) presented his strategy (fact sheet available here) to defeat the ISIL terrorist organization at the American Enterprise Institute. While he expressed support for President Obama’s strategy, the Chairman said a more comprehensive strategy is needed, beyond the “minimalist” one outlined by the President. Chairman McKeon added his belief that U.S. troops will likely be deployed to help combat ISIL.

Hearings this week:

  • Tuesday, September 16: The Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “U.S. Policy Towards Iraq and Syria and the Threat Posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).” Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey are scheduled to testify before the panel.
  • Thursday, September 18: The House Armed Services Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “The Administration’s Strategy for the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).” Secretary of Defense Hagel is scheduled to testify.

House and Senate Reach Agreement on Child Care and Development Block Grant Reauthorization

Posted in Education

Legislative Activity

Child Care and Development Block Grant

Last week, leaders of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee and House Education and the Workforce Committee announced that they reached an agreement on the reauthorization of the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG). The compromise bill is based on the CCDBG reauthorization legislation that the Senate passed last spring to reauthorize the federal government’s program to provide funding to states for the child care costs of low-income families.  The proposal would authorize $15 billion over six years for the CCDBG program. The House will take up the bill this week and expected to pass it by a wide bipartisan margin.

Student Loan Reform Legislation

As previously reported, this summer Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) introduced student loan reform legislation – the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act (S. 2432) – to allow students to refinance their interest rates on high-interest and private student loans. The bill came before the Senate in June but did not receive enough votes to allow it to be considered on the floor. Senate Democrats had made this bill a key part of their economic messaging agenda prior to the mid-term elections and also announced that they planned to bring it up again in the Senate this month. At this time, it does not appear that Senator Warren has enough votes in order for it to be considered on the Senate floor in September but it is still possible that the bill may see some action on the floor this week.

Upcoming Hearings

  • Wednesday, September 17: The Senate HELP Committee will hold a mark-up which will include the Strengthening Education through Research Act (H.R. 4366).

House to Consider Energy Omnibus Package

Posted in Energy

Legislative Activity

House to Consider Omnibus Energy Package

This week, the House will consider the “American Energy Solutions for Lower Costs and More American Jobs Act,” an omnibus legislative package that includes thirteen energy policy proposals. The legislative package includes a number of familiar items that House Republicans have promoted throughout the 113th Congress, including, H.R. 3, which would require executive approval of the presidential permit to build the Keystone XL pipeline, and H.R. 6, which would amend the Natural Gas Act to force the Department of Energy to expedite consideration of applications to export liquefied natural gas (LNG). The omnibus legislation also includes less controversial measures, including H.R. 4801, which intends to force the federal government to study the impact and cost-effectiveness of thermal insulation for federal buildings.

This Week’s Hearings

  • Wednesday, September 17: The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a legislative hearing to examine H.R. 4526, the “21st Century Energy Workforce Development Jobs Act of 2004,” introduced on a bipartisan basis by Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL), Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY) and Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH).
  • Wednesday, September 17: The House Science Committee will hold a hearing titled The Administration’s Climate Change Plan” Failure by Design.”
  • Wednesday, September 17: The House Natural Resources Committee will hold a legislative hearing that will include consideration of H.R. 5066, legislation that would authorize the Secretary of the Interior to retire coal preference right lease applications for which the Secretary has made an affirmative commercial quantities determination.

Regulatory Activity

DOE Approves Two Applications to Export LNG to Non-FTA Nations

On Wednesday, September 10, the Department of Energy (DOE) provided final authorization for two applicants to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) to countries that are not party to a free-trade-agreement with the United States. First, the Department authorized Cameron LNG LLC to export LNG from Louisiana’s Cameron Parish. That final authorization will permit Cameron to export up to 1.7 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day for up to 20 years. Second, the Department authorized Carib Energy LLC to export LNG in ISO containers by vessel to South American, Caribbean, and Central American nations. Carib Energy may now export up to 40 million cubic feet of natural gas per day for up to 20 years from a facility in Florida’s Martin County. The Department has now provided final authorization to export LNG to non-FTA nations on three occasions.

Environment and Natural Resources

Posted in Environment and Natural Resources

Regulatory Activity

NEPA

The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) is considering making significant changes that would affect the implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). CEQ is publishing draft guidance intending to clarify “different planning scenarios under which an agency may prepare a programmatic, broad-scale, review.” This effort is expected to expedite NEPA reviews that may have backlogged significant projects in the U.S. Comments are due October 9.

Waters of the U.S.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is hosting a meeting to seek local government input on EPA’s “Waters of the U.S.” proposed rule clarifying which waters are subject to the Clean Water Act. The meeting will take place in Worcester, Massachusetts on September 22 from 10:00 am to 1:00pm.  Comments may also be submitted in writing.

Renewable Fuels Standard

The EPA has extended two reporting deadlines for the 2013 compliance period for the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program. According to EPA, affected entities would include those involved with the “production, distribution, and sale of transportation fuels, including gasoline and diesel fuel or renewable fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel.” EPA does not expect to receive comments and has made the rule effective September 29.

Wind

The Department of Energy (DOE) Wind and Water Power Technologies Office, located within the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, is seeking responses to a request for information (RFI) concerning distributed wind systems, which will inform future activities for the office. Specifically, the office is interested in information concerning defining distributed wind by technology application, rather than size, and anticipates that comments will affect DOE’s current research areas including: Wind Resource Characterization and Assessment; Turbine Technology; Distributed Grid Integration; and Soft Cost Reduction. Comments are due September 25.

House Focuses on Systemic Risk Designations; Regulators Move on Dodd-Frank Implementation

Posted in Financial Services

Legislative Activity

House Financial Services Committee to Discuss Oversight of FSOC

Following the Financial Stability Oversight Council’s (FSOC) unanimous decision on September 4 to preliminarily designate MetLife as a “systemically important” nonbank financial institution, the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations will hold a hearing to discuss oversight of the agency. Various lawmakers have set forth proposals that would alter the FSOC’s structure or limit its ability to make designations, but such proposals have yet to be enacted into law. According to Representative Scott Garrett (R-NJ), Chairman of the Financial Services Capital Markets and Government-Sponsored Enterprises Subcommittee, the FSOC’s behavior is “irresponsible and inappropriate…and only strengthens my resolve to reform the out of control” council.

This Week’s Hearings:

  • Tuesday, September 16: The Senate Banking Committee will hold a hearing titled “Examining the State of Small Depository Institutions.”
  • Wednesday, September 17: The House Financial Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations will hold a hearing titled “Oversight of the Financial Stability Oversight Council.”
  • Wednesday, September 17: The Senate Banking Subcommittee on Economic Policy will hold a hearing titled “Who is the Economy Working for? The Impact of Rising Inequality on the American Economy.”
  • Thursday, September 18: The Senate Banking Committee will hold a hearing titled “Assessing and Enhancing Protections in Consumer Financial Services.”

Regulatory Activity

Financial Regulators Continue Work to Finalize Dodd-Frank Rules

On Tuesday, September 9, the Senate Banking Committee held a hearing to discuss the progress of rulemakings required under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank Act) and the implementation of such requirements. Governor Daniel Tarullo noted that the Federal Reserve will focus on the financial sector concentration rule and that regulators are in the “home stretch” with respect to the risk retention rule.  Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) Chairman Martin Gruenberg indicated that the FDIC is also working with the Federal Reserve on the long-term debt rule. Additionally, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Director Richard Cordray stated that the CFPB will continue to work on the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) implementation. At the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Chair White noted that the SEC will focus on finalizing rulemakings related to over-the-counter (OTC) derivatives and executive compensation. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) Chairman Timothy Massad indicated that the CFTC will consider a rule for special entities to address certain end-user concerns, as well as work on a re-proposal of the margin rule, though it is unlikely to be finalized this year. Notably, the CFTC will hold an open meeting this Wednesday, September 17, to consider a proposed rule on margin requirements and a final rule on utility special entities.

CFTC Announces Sponsors of Advisory Committees

The CFTC recently announced the sponsors of the agency’s Advisory Committees, which were created to seek input and make recommendations to the Commission on a variety of regulatory and market issues the affect the integrity and competitiveness of U.S. markets.  The sponsors are: (1) Chairman Timothy Massad, Agricultural Advisory Committee; (2) Commissioner Chris Giancarlo, Energy and Environmental Markets Advisory Committee; (3) Commissioner Mark Wetjen, Global Markets Advisory Committee; and (4) Commissioner Sharon Bowen, Market Risk Advisory Committee. The Technology Advisory Committee, previously led by recently-departed Commissioner Scott O’Malia, will be sponsored by other Commissioners on a six-month rotating basis until the Senate confirms a fifth Commissioner.  Commissioner Wetjen will be the first sponsor of the Committee. 

Lawmakers Continue Hearings on Obamacare, Ebola, VA, and Telehealth

Posted in Health Care

Legislative Activity

With midterm elections only a few months away, lawmakers are grabbing every possible chance to move forward on legislative priorities and speak up on important issues. Hearings this week focus on Obamacare implementation, Ebola, scheduling at the Department of Veterans Affairs, and telehealth. Additionally, the House is expected to consider several pieces of health care legislation, including: S. 2154, the Emergency Medical Services for Children Reauthorization Act of 2014, as amended; H.R. 4276, the Veterans Traumatic Brain Injury Care Improvement Act of 2014; and H.R. 4994, the Improving Medicare Post-Acute Care Transformation (IMPACT) Act of 2014, as amended.

On Wednesday, September 17, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) will meet in executive session to consider several actions, including S. 2141, the Sunscreen Innovation Act. The House passed a similar bill, H.R.4250, the Sunscreen Innovation Act, in July.

This Week’s Hearings:

  • Tuesday, September 16: The Senate Special Committee on Aging will hold a roundtable meeting titled “Harnessing the Power of Telehealth: Promises and Challenges?” The Senate Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies, and the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) will hold a joint hearing titled “Ebola in West Africa: A Global Challenge and Public Health Threat.” The Senate Committee on Finance, Subcommittee on Health Care will hold a hearing titled “The Children’s Health Insurance Program: Protecting America’s Children and Families.”
  • Wednesday, September 17: The House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations will hold a hearing titled “Global Efforts to Fight Ebola.” The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs will hold a hearing titled “Scheduling Manipulation and Veteran Deaths in Phoenix: Examination of the OIG’s Final Report.”
  • Thursday, September 18: The House Committee on Small Business, Subcommittee on Health and Technology will hold a hearing titled “An Update on the Small Business Health Options Program: Is It Working for Small Businesses?” The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will hold a hearing titled “Examining Obamacare’s Failures in Security, Accountability, and Transparency.” The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology will hold a hearing titled “The Science of Dyslexia.” The House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations will hold a hearing titled “Suicide Prevention and Treatment: Helping Loved Ones in Mental Health Crisis.” The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) will hold a hearing titled “Fulfilling the Promise: Overcoming Persistent Barriers to Economic Self-Sufficiency for People with Disabilities.”
  • Friday, September 19: The House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on Health will hold a hearing titled “21st Century Cures: Examining Ways to Combat Antibiotic Resistance and Foster New Drug Development.”

Regulatory Activity

ONC Issues Final Rule On Electronic Health Records Certification Criteria

On Wednesday, September 10, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) of the Department of Health and Human Services issued a final rule titled “2014 Edition Release 2 Electronic Health Record (EHR) Certification Criteria and the ONC HIT Certification Program; Regulatory Flexibilities, Improvements, and Enhanced Health Information Exchange.” The rule introduces regulatory flexibilities and improvements for certification to the 2014 Edition EHR certification criteria. It codifies several revisions and updates to the ONC HIT Certification Program and makes administrative updates to the Code of Federal Regulations.

House Gives DHS Flexibility in CR

Posted in Homeland Security

Legislative Activity

Congress Set to Extend FY 2014 DHS Budget in Continuing Resolution

On September 9, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) introduced a draft continuing resolution (CR, H.J. Res. 124) to fund the federal government at the FY 2014 spending levels through December 11, 2014. Chairman Rogers announced, “Virtually all existing policy and funding provisions included in currently enacted fiscal year 2014 Appropriations legislation will carry forward in this CR . . . However, the CR does include some changes to existing law that are needed to prevent catastrophic, irreversible, or detrimental changes to government programs, to address current national or global crises, or to ensure good government.” With respect to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), he stated that the CR will include “A provision allowing funding flexibility for Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement to maintain staffing levels, border security operations, detention space, and immigration enforcement activities.”

Last week, the House adjourned early without considering the new CR due to disagreements over funding anti-terror operations in Iraq and Syria, extending the authorization of the Export-Import Bank, and the length of the CR. It is expected to vote on the stopgap spending measure by mid-week. The Senate has not yet released its version of the CR.

Upcoming Hearings

  • Tuesday, September 16: The House Homeland Security Committee will hold a nomination hearing on executive branch appointees, including Russell Deyo to be DHS Undersecretary for Management.
  • Wednesday, September 17: The House Homeland Security Committee will hold a hearing titled “Worldwide Threats to the Homeland.”
  • Thursday, September 18: The House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation Security will hold a hearing titled “Safeguarding Privacy and Civil Liberties While Keeping Our Skies Safe.”

Executive Branch Activity

President Obama Delays Action on Immigration Reform until After Midterm Elections

Last week, President Obama announced that he would postpone executive action on immigration reform – including addressing the crisis of unaccompanied minors crossing the U.S. southwest border – until after the November 4 midterm elections.  While he argued that such a delay would give the executive branch more time to prepare a “more sustainable” strategy and get buy-in from the American public, most observers believe that the White House bowed to congressional Democrats’ fears of needing to defend an unpopular immigration action in a tough election year. Nevertheless, President Obama reiterated his commitment to take executive action on immigration reform by the end of 2014 if Congress did not act on its own. Potential steps include creating a pathway to legal status for millions of undocumented workers, extending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals deportation deferral program, and implementing an increased border security strategy to address the flood of unaccompanied minors.

Washington Focuses on Foreign Crises

Posted in International

Iraq/Syria Crises

On the eve of the 9/11 anniversary, President Barack Obama addressed the nation and outlined his Administration’s four-part strategy (fact sheet available here) to combat the Islamic State (ISIL/ISIS). First, the President said U.S. airstrikes have shifted from protecting U.S. nationals and humanitarian missions to attacking ISIL targets “as Iraqi forces go on the offense.” He added the United States “will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq.” Second, the United States will increase support for forces on the ground in Iraq (Iraqi and Kurdish militaries) and in Syria (vetted, moderate Syrian opposition forces). Third, counterterrorism efforts will continue.  Fourth, U.S. humanitarian assistance will continue. The President’s strategy includes forming a broad coalition, including Arab countries, to help “degrade” and “ultimately destroy” ISIL.

President Obama also called His Majesty King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia last Wednesday. Both agreed on the need for increased training and equipping of the moderate Syrian opposition, consistent with the proposal that President Obama has made to the U.S. Congress. President Obama welcomed Saudi Arabia’s support for this program. The President also made a late counterterrorism-funding request Tuesday, after the House had already introduced a clean short-term Continuing Resolution (CR) to sustain funding for the U.S. Government beyond the fiscal year.

On Saturday, President Obama strongly condemned “the barbaric murder of UK citizen David Haines by the terrorist group ISIL.” The Senate and House Armed Services Committees will hold separate hearings to examine the President’s strategy on ISIL on Tuesday and Thursday, respectively. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is scheduled to testify before both committees and will be joined by Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey at the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. The Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs Committees will also hold similar hearings on Wednesday and Thursday, resepectively.  Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to speak before both panels.  On Friday, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats will hold a hearing to examine Islamist foreign fighters returning home and the threat to Europe.

Russia/Ukraine Crisis

The tenuous ceasefire continues to hold despite ongoing reports of sporadic shooting from both sides. While Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko indicated last Wednesday that approximately 70 percent of Russian troops in eastern Ukraine had withdrawn, NATO said the next day that its intelligence still shows about 1,000 Russian troops with sophisticated weaponry like heavy artillery on Ukrainian soil. An estimated 20,000 other Russian troops are massed just east of the border, the Alliance added.

Following the EU’s imposition of restrictive measures against Russia last Friday, the United States similarly acted and imposed sanctions against Russia’s defense, energy and financial sectors. Like the EU, President Obama said last Thursday that the sanctions could be “rolled back,” if Russia fully implements its commitments within the context of the 5 September Minsk ceasefire agreement. This Thursday (18 September), President Obama will welcome President Poroshenko to the White House. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) confirmed last week that President Poroshenko will address a joint session of Congress that same day.

Representatives of the United States and Russia met last Thursday in Moscow to discuss compliance issues with the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, as raised by the United States. Although the State Department reports U.S. concerns were not assuaged in this meeting, both sides have agreed to continue a dialogue. Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced sweeping Russian military exercises last Thursday that will last through this Thursday in the country’s east, a day after announcing a push to develop new offensive weapons.

Estonia/Russia

On the last day (5 September) of the NATO Summit in Wales, Estonia accused Russia of kidnapping one of its officers and taking him to Russian territory. Last Tuesday, the State Department called on Russia to release the detained Estonian officer, Eston Kohver, saying he should be “safely” and “immediately” returned to Estonia.

Africa

After deploying U.S. forces to West Africa to help contain the Ebola outbreak, President Obama said in an interview that the virus could mutate, making it more difficult to contain. In response to the Ebola crisis in West and Central Africa, the House CR contains a provision that would provide some anomaly funding to accelerate the Department of Health and Human Services’ research on Ebola therapies and for the Centers for Disease Control’s response to the growing outbreak.  This Wednesday, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health will hold a hearing on the global response to the Ebola crisis.

After nearly two years of being shuttered, the United States is reopening its Embassy in the Central African Republic (CAR). Last Wednesday, President Obama deployed 20 military service members to assist the State Department’s Diplomatic Security division with securing the U.S. Embassy in Bangui. The decision comes as the United Nations begins a new peacekeeping mission in the country, with approximately 1,500 international peacekeepers joining 4,800 African troops already on the ground to restore law and order in the country torn apart by civil war.

Iran

Amid the U.S. foreign policy shift toward addressing the threat of ISIL, the next round of P5+1 Talks with Iran, led by the EU, will resume this Thursday (18 September) in New York City. One likely topic to be addressed are Iran’s missed deadlines with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Meanwhile, the IAEA Board of Governors will convene this week in Vienna, Austria.

Trade

After meeting with U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Ambassador Michael Froman last Monday, outgoing EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht said negotiations for a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) are likely to enter a process of making tradeoffs across all sectors sometime next year.

Ten days of informal Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations concluded last week in Vietnam. USTR issued a press release at the conclusion of the informal Hanoi round, saying negotiators had made progress in a number of areas including state owned enterprises and intellectual property rights, without providing further details. The media reports TPP countries are now planning to hold another chief negotiators’ meeting in mid- or late October. It remains unclear whether the next round of discussions will involve only chief negotiators or also include technical working groups.

House lawmakers included a provision to extend the operating authority for the U.S. Export-Import (Ex-Im) Bank through 30 June 2015 in the House CR introduced last week. Advancing the short-term CR will be a focus of Congress this week.

Nominations

Last week, President Obama announced his intention to nominate Michele Thoren Bond to be Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs. The President also nominated Senators Benjamin Cardin (D-Maryland) and Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin) – both senior Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – to serve as U.S. representatives at the upcoming U.N. General Assembly.