December 12, 2011

THE WEEK AHEAD

Legislative Focus: Appropriations Negotiations, Payroll Tax Extension, Pipeline Safety

Both chambers of Congress face a heavy agenda of major legislation and must-do initiatives during the December 12 week, with plans to possibly adjourn by this weekend.

Congress is expected to focus this week on appropriations, with nine of the regular appropriations bills not yet passed and the current stopgap measure set to expire December 16. Appropriators from both the House and Senate met last week regarding a compromise funding bill (H.R. 2055) that would include the nine spending bills. Lawmakers reportedly plan to use the military construction and veterans affairs appropriations as the vehicle for the omnibus spending compromise. Several issues remain unresolved, but appropriators remain optimistic that an agreement will be reached early this week.

House and Senate leadership are expected to continue negotiations on legislation to extend the payroll tax holiday, which expires at the end of this year. The Senate last week attempted to move a payroll tax extension bill, however both the Democratic (S. 1944) and Republican (S. 1931) proposals failed. House leadership introduced their version of the legislation (H.R. 3630) late last week, which would extend the payroll tax cut for another year. The measure would also extend the current year’s 100 percent bonus depreciation incentive aimed at encouraging businesses to make new investments, includes language to give the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission authority over the Keystone XL pipeline project, and includes a two-year Medicare “doc fix”. The House Rules Committee is set to meet today to consider a rule for floor debate for H.R. 3630.

The House convened at 2:00 p.m. today for legislative business and to take up 8 measures under suspension of the rules. Tuesday, and for the remainder of the week, the House will take up 10 measures under suspension of the rules and three measures subject to a rule.

The House is also set to consider several measures under suspension of the rules this week, including a bill on pipeline safety (H.R. 2845) and three measures subject to a rule: the payroll tax bill (H.R. 3630), the conference report on the omnibus appropriations bill (H.R. 2055), and the conference report on the DOD authorization bill (H.R. 1540).

The Senate convened at 2:00 p.m. today and is expected to spend the week on ambassadorial nominations and appropriations. The Senate plans to take up three ambassadorial nominations, the payroll tax extension and the DOD conference report. The Senate may also consider a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution.


KEY HEARINGS & MARKUPS

Environment & Public Works:  The Water and Wildlife Subcommittee of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a hearing on the nation’s water infrastructure, focusing on challenges and opportunities.
Tuesday, December 13 at 10:00 a.m., 406 Dirksen Building.

Finance:  The Energy, Natural Resources and Infrastructure Subcommittee of the Senate finance Committee will hold a hearing titled “Alternative Energy Tax Incentives: The Effect of Short-Term Extensions on Alternative Technology Investment, Domestic Manufacturing, and Jobs”.
Wednesday, December 14 at 9:45 a.m.

Foreign Affairs
• The Western Hemisphere Subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee will mark up pending legislation related to border security and the Keystone XL Pipeline.
Thursday, December 15 at 11:00 a.m., 2172 Rayburn Building.

Health, Education, Labor & Pensions:   The Children and Families Subcommittee of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will hold a hearing titled “Breaking the Silence on Child Abuse: Protection, Prevention, Intervention and Deterrence.”
Tuesday, December 13 at 10:15 a.m., 106 Dirksen Building.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will hold a hearing on the growing problem of prescription drug shortages, focusing on public health concerns and potential solutions.
Thursday, December 15 at 10:00 a.m., 106 Dirksen Building.

Oversight & Government Reform:  The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hold a hearing titled “HHS and the Catholic Church: Examining the Politicization of Grants.”
Wednesday, December 14 at 1:30 p.m., 2154 Rayburn Building.

Transportation & Infrastructure:  The Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management Subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will hold a hearing titled “The Effectiveness of Our Nation’s Public Alert System.”
Tuesday, December 13 at 9:30 a.m., 2167 Rayburn Building.

The Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will hold a hearing titled “Integrated Planning and Permitting: An Opportunity for EPA to Provide Communities with Flexibility to Make Smart Investments in Water Quality.”
Wednesday, December 14 at 10:00 a.m., 2167 Rayburn Building.


TWO WIA BILLS INTRODUCED IN HOUSE

Two additional bills were introduced yesterday in the House to reauthorize the nation’s workforce investment system. First, Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC), chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training, introduced the Streamlining Workforce Development Programs Act (H.R. 3610), a bill to consolidate 33 of the 47 federal job training programs. The bill would also utilize common performance measures across all employment and training programs; allow governors to determine workforce areas; and allow states to submit one statewide workforce development plan.

Second, Congressman Joe Heck (R-NV), introduced the Local Job Opportunities and Business Success Act (or Local JOBS Act, H.R. 3611) aimed at strengthening the role of businesses in the workforce system and reduce red tape on local workforce boards. Specifically, the bill would require a two-thirds majority of board members represent business and eliminate several mandates regarding local board composition.

Earlier this year, the Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-CA) introduced the Workforce Investment Improvement Act (H.R. 2295) to increase training flexibility. H.R. 3610 and H.R. 3611 supplement the former Chairman’s legislation. All three bills were praised by Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) and form a package of reforms.

For more information and to view the bills, visit:
http://edworkforce.house.gov/News/DocumentSingle.aspx?DocumentID=271815.


HOUSE APPROVES FARM DUST BILL

The House yesterday passed H.R. 1633, which would limit the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority to include agricultural dust in its regulation of Particulate Matter (PM) through the Clean Air Act, on a vote of 268-150.

The bill defines agricultural dust as nuisance dust, or particulate matter generated from natural sources, unpaved roads, agricultural activities, earth moving and activities typically conducted in rural areas; or consisting primarily of soil, other natural or biological materials, windblown dust. Particulate Matter is one of the criteria pollutants for which EPA must develop National Ambient Air Quality Standards which are updated every five years and currently include agricultural dust. The bill would maintain the current standard for one year but thereafter, prohibits federal regulation if a state or locality has already regulated nuisance dust and requires the Administrator to find that nuisance dust causes substantial adverse public health concerns and the benefits of regulating outweigh the costs of doing so.

The House rejected an amendment by Representative Waxman (D-CA) to exclude mining dust from the bill. The House accepted three amendments by voice vote: to create an exemption for an ‘exceptional event,” such as a dust storm; require EPA to consult with USDA before updating the coarse particulate standard; and to require EPA to take into account how stricter standards would affect agricultural jobs. The Agency considered exempting agricultural dust from the PM10 standard in 2006 but ultimately opted to include it. There are two companion bills in the Senate, S. 1528 and S. 1803. The Administration has indicated it would veto the bill.


HOUSE SUBCOMMITTEE MARKS UP HOMELAND SECURITY GRANT LEGISLATION

The House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Communications yesterday approved H.R. 1129, the Homeland Security Grant Management Improvement Act, by voice vote.

The legislation would prohibit the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) from requiring recipients of Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) and State Homeland Security Grant Program (SHSGP) funds to use a percentage of those funds for specific purposes. However, the bill does not repeal the current requirement that 25% of UASI and SHSGP funds be dedicated towards law enforcement terrorism prevention activities.

An amendment to the bill offered by Rep. Hansen Clarke (D-MI) would direct the FEMA Administrator to submit a report to Congress on the effects of reductions to the Homeland Security Grant Program. The amendment was approved by voice vote.

The Subcommittee also approved H.R. 1141, the Metropolitan Medical Response System Program Act of 2011, which would authorize $42 million annually through fiscal year 2016 to the Metropolitan Medical Response System (MMRS), a grant program for state and local emergency medical systems. The MMRS program was not included in the House Homeland Security Appropriations legislation that was passed in June. A full committee mark-up has not yet been scheduled.


FEMA ANNOUNCES SUPPORT FOR TRIBAL ASSISTANCE AMENDMENT TO STAFFORD ACT

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Craig Fugate yesterday announced the Administration’s support for an amendment to the Stafford Act that would permit federally-recognized tribal governments to make disaster declaration requests directly to the President. Under current law, only governors are permitted to request major disaster or emergency assistance through presidential declaration, with federally-recognized tribes receiving assistance from the state in which they are geographically located.

Administrator Fugate acknowledged that such a change could only be accomplished legislatively. In May, Representative Nick J. Rahall (D-WV) introduced H.R. 1953, which would amend the Stafford Act by authorizing the chief executive of an affected tribal government to submit a request directly to the president in the event of a disaster or other emergency. Under the proposed legislation, tribal governments would be permitted to choose whether to directly request a separate declaration or to receive assistance under a declaration for a state. In addition, the bill would preserve a tribe’s ability to receive assistance through a presidential declaration at the request of a state even if no declaration is made for a tribal government for the same incident. No companion bill has been introduced in the Senate at this time.


FEMA UNVEILS NATIONAL PREPAREDNESS SYSTEM

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) yesterday released its National Preparedness System, the second deliverable required under Presidential Policy Directive-8 (PPD-8).

The System identifies six components to improve national preparedness and enhance resilience, including identifying and assessing risks; building and sustaining capabilities; and implementing plans to deliver those capabilities. PPD-8 required the development of the National Preparedness System to explain the resources and tools needed to achieve the National Preparedness Goal, which was released in October and incorporates input from state, local, tribal and territorial representatives.

Implementation of the National Preparedness System is a multi-year effort that is being coordinated by FEMA and is intended to be aided by the maturation and use of the National Incident Management System (NIMS).

More information on the National Preparedness System and each of its components can be found at: http://www.fema.gov/pdf/prepared/nps_description.pdf.