Legislative Activity

House Floor Consideration of Interior-Environment Appropriations

The House Committee on Rules will meet this evening to review the 157 amendments filed to the Interior-Environment FY 2017 appropriations legislation (H.R. 5538), many of which would halt the implementation of climate and environment rules proposed by the Administration, such as those related to fracking and oil and gas operations.  Others address: limiting the display of Confederate flag imagery in national parks and federal cemeteries, which derailed the Appropriations process last year; and preventing the Department of Interior from reducing sales of oil and gas drilling leases on the Arctic.

House Appropriations Committee Considers Labor-HHS-Education and State-Foreign Operations legislation

Last month, the Senate passed their version of the Labor-HHS-Education (LHHS) Appropriations bill (S. 3040) out of full committee with only one dissention vote and no amendments.  The largely bipartisan bill was the first LHHS bill to clear the committee in seven years, and most committee members were pleased with the levels of funding and lack of controversial policy riders.  The House companion legislation released by the subcommittee last week differs greatly by defunding Title X family planning and the omission of funding for year-round Pell grants, as proposed by the Senate.  Additionally, the Senate bill proposed an increase of $2 billion for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) while the House bill provides a bump of $1.25 billion. During subcommittee consideration, Democrats raised objections to both spending and policy provisions within the bill. Similar debate is expected with the full committee takes up the bill this week.

The $52 billion State-Foreign Operations legislation is less controversial.  Potential discussion and/or amendments related to the defunding of the Green Climate Fund, the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) could occur.  The legislation maintains longstanding pro-life riders, such as the “Tiahrt Amendment,” which ensures family planning programs are voluntary, and the “Helms Amendment,” which bans foreign aid from being spent on abortions.  Debates over reproductive rights are also possible during full committee consideration this week.

Senate Action Stalls

Meanwhile, in the Senate, hopes of bipartisan appropriations legislation faded after a party-line cloture vote failure last week prevented the Defense Appropriations bill from coming to the floor for consideration. Democrats explained their opposition to consideration of appropriations legislation in a letter to Republicans, explaining that their approach violates last year’s budget deal (P.L. 114-74).  Criticisms include Republicans’ insistence on offsetting emergency spending; the inclusion of policy riders; and the inequity of defense and non-defense spending.  Democrats also object to the use of Overseas Contingency Operations Fund (OCO) to boost defense spending.  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) filed a motion to reconsider the measure this week, but it is expected to fall short as well.

Zika Negotiations

Following House passage of  a conference report for the Fiscal Year 2017 Military Construction-VA appropriations report including $1.1 billion in counter-Zika measures, a cloture vote in the Senate for the measure failed over Democratic disapproval of provisions in the bill that they deem “poison pills”, such as restricting the funding to health centers that provide contraception and abortion services, relaxing clean water guidelines on pesticides, and lifting restrictions on flying the Confederate battle flag in veterans’ cemeteries.  Progress before the summer break remains unclear.

Continuing Resolution

With only five legislative days left until the summer recess and only a few legislative days scheduled for September, appropriations discussions are turning toward development of what appears to be an inevitable Continuing Resolution (CR) to start out FY 2017. The length of the CR is the point of debate. Conservative members of the House GOP caucus are pushing for a six-month CR, citing the lack of fiscal discipline and omission of policy riders found in recent omnibus bills.  Members of the House Freedom Caucus are pushing GOP leadership for a vote on such a measure as soon as this week. However, House appropriators do not want to see such a lengthy CR because the committee has completed most of its work and is well-positioned to pull together an end-of-year omnibus spending bill with Senate appropriators.   Discussions on the CR have not yet begun in earnest in the Senate.

While unusual, extending a CR through a new Administration is not unheard of.  In both September of 2008 and 2012, Congress passed six-month long CRs, leaving the resolution of the budget to the new Administration and new Congress.

This Week’s Hearings:

  • On Wednesday, July 13, the House Appropriations Committee will hold a markup of the Fiscal Year 17 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Act.
  • On Wednesday, July 13, the House Budget Committee will hold a hearing titled “Restoring the Trust for Americans At or Near Retirement.”  The witnesses will be:
    • Dr. Jason J. Fichtner , Senior Research Fellow, Mercatus Center, George Mason University;
    • Mr. Daniel C. Weber, Founder, Association of Mature American Citizens; and
    • Mr. Scott Gottlieb, M.D., Resident Fellow, American Enterprise Institute
  • On Wednesday, July 13, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development will hold a hearing titled “Review of Budget Requirements & Justification for the Nuclear Cruise Missile.”  The witnesses will be:
    • Dr. William Perry, Former Secretary of Defense;
    • Dr. John Hamre, Former Deputy Secretary of Defense;
    • Admiral Cecil Haney, Commander, U.S. Strategic Command, U.S. Department of Defense; and
    • The Honorable Robert Scher, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy, Plans and Capabilities, U.S. Department of Defense
  • On Wednesday, July 13, the Senate Appropriations Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies will hold a hearing titled “Review of the VA Electronic Health Record Network (VistA).” The witnesses will be:
    • Ms. Valerie C. Melvin, Director, Information Management and Technology Resources Issues, U.S. Government Accountability Office; and
    • Dr. Lauren Thompson, Director, DoD/VA Interagency Program Office, U.S. Department of Defense