December 8, 2014

Legislative Focus: End-of-Year Spending Deal, Tax Extenders, Defense Authorization

Today the Senate convened at 2:00 p.m. with a series of votes beginning at 5:30 p.m. Senators will vote to limit debate on the nominations of Jeffery Martin Baran to be a member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Lauren McGarity McFerran to be a member of the National Labor Relations Board and Ellen Dudley Williams to be director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy at the Energy Department.

The House also reconvened at 2:00 p.m., with no votes expected today. Despite a White House veto threat, House lawmakers will consider a bill (H.R. 5781) that would route more water to California’s drought-stricken Central Valley. The chamber will take up several other measures under suspension of the rules.

As Congress begins its last scheduled work week before the holidays, House and Senate negotiators are nearing a deal on legislation to fund the government through the remainder of fiscal year 2015. Appropriators are hoping to file the measure later today and move it quickly through both chambers before current funding expires on Thursday. Any remaining must-pass items, such as extensions of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act and Internet access tax moratorium, are expected to be enacted as part of the spending bill.

Later in the week the Senate is expected to take up a House-passed extension (H.R. 5771) of expired tax breaks and the 2015 defense authorization bill (H.R. 3739), also approved by the House last week. The House is expected to consider legislation to extend or modify the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act, which expires at the end of December.


Key Hearings and Markups

Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry

  • Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee hearing titled “The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC): Effective Enforcement and the Future of Derivatives Regulation” with Timothy G. Massad, chairman of the CFTC as witness; Wednesday, December 10 at 10 a.m., 328A Russell Building.

Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation

  • Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security Subcommittee of Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing titled “Passenger Rail: Investing in our Nation’s Future.” Wednesday, December 10 at 2:30 p.m., 253 Russell Building.

Senate Judiciary

  • Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the impact of President Obama’s executive action on immigrant families; Wednesday, December 10 at 2:30 p.m., 226 Dirksen Building.

House Energy and Commerce

  • Health Subcommittee of House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing titled “Setting Fiscal Priorities”; Tuesday, December 9 at 10:30 a.m., 2123 Rayburn Building.
  • Energy and Power Subcommittee of House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing titled “The Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975: Are We Positioning America for Success in an Era of Energy Abundance?” Witnesses include Adam Sieminski, administrator for the U.S. Energy Information Administration; Thursday, December 11 at 10 a.m., 2123 Rayburn Building.

House Judiciary

  • Immigration and Border Security Subcommittee of House Judiciary hearing titled “The Impact on Local Communities of the Release of Unaccompanied Minors and the Need for Consultation and Notification”; Wednesday, December 10 at 2 p.m., 2141 Rayburn Building.

House Oversight and Government Reform

  • Federal Workforce, U.S. Postal Service and the Census Subcommittee of House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing titled “Addressing the Backlog in the Federal Employee Retirement Process.” Wednesday, December 10 at 9:30 a.m., 2247 Rayburn Building.
  • Energy Policy, Health Care and Entitlements Subcommittee of House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing titled “Examining EPA’s Management of the Renewable Fuel Standard Program.” Wednesday, December 10 at 9:30 a.m., 2154 Rayburn Building.

House Science, Space and Technology

  • Energy Subcommittee of House Science, Space and Technology Committee hearing titled “The Future of Nuclear Energy.” Thursday, December 11 at 10 a.m., 2318 Rayburn Building.

House Transportation and Infrastructure

  • Aviation Subcommittee of House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing titled “U.S. Unmanned Aircraft Systems: Integration, Oversight and Competitiveness.” Wednesday, December 10 at 10 a.m., 2167 Rayburn Building.

House Veterans’ Affairs

  • House Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing titled “Evaluating Federal and Community Efforts to Eliminate Veteran Homelessness”; Thursday, December 11 at 10 a.m., 334 Cannon Building.


News and Notes

President Signs STELA Reauthorization

President Obama signed H.R. 5728, the STELA Reauthorization Act last week. The President’s signature comes after both the House and Senate passed the legislation in late November. The legislation, which was set to expire on December 31, extends the authority for satellite television carriers to retransmit the signals of distant network broadcasts to rural areas for five years. In addition, the legislation prohibits a television broadcast station from coordinating with other broadcast stations in the same market in order to negotiate retransmission fees with satellite television carriers.

Houses Passes Defense Authorization Bill

On Thursday, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 3739, the FY 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), by a 300-119 vote. The final bill was considered under a closed rule and no amendments were allowed before final passage. Several state priorities were included in the bill, such as limiting cuts to Army National Guard end strength and combat aviation capability in FY 2015, and establishing an Army commission to examine future force structure requirements. The final NDAA package also includes a set of several land conservation and development bills unrelated to national defense, as well as language that would expedite the Bureau of Land Management process for approving oil and gas and grazing permits on federal lands. NDAA text is available here, along with an explanatory statement and a committee summary. NDAA now heads to the Senate for floor consideration this week and is almost certain to pass.

Internet Access Moratorium Likely to Ride on Omnibus

Reports indicate that the Internet access tax moratorium may be extended into next year as part of the final omnibus appropriations bill. The moratorium, which prevents state and local governments from taxing Internet access service, is set to expire December 11. Several groups, including the National Governors Association, have called for the moratorium to be combined with legislation to allow states to collect sales taxes on Internet sales. Industry was hoping to move the moratorium by itself and make it permanent. A short term extension until the end of fiscal year 2015 is considered the likely compromise between these competing interests.

Congress Closing in on TRIA Deal

House and Senate negotiators are closing in on a deal to extend the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA), before it expires on December 31. House Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) are negotiating a package that is reported to extend TRIA for six years and increase the loss threshold for when the government would step in from $100 million to somewhere in the $200 million range. Members, however, must still negotiate whether the bill should be offset in this fiscal year in order to comply with House budget rules, even though the government has never paid out for losses under the program. Any final negotiated deal would likely be attached to the omnibus spending bill that Congress must pass before December 11.

House Passes One Year Tax Extenders Package

On Wednesday the House passed a one year extension of expired tax breaks by a vote of 378-46. The package would retroactively renew more than 50 expired corporate and individual tax breaks at the cost of $41.6 billion over ten years. Extended tax breaks in the package include both the state and local sales tax deduction and the research and development tax credit. The bill also included an extension of the Production Tax Credit for wind energy producers, a measure that many are opposed to due to the continued cost to taxpayers. In the Senate, Finance Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) has dropped his bid to pass a two year tax break extension, leaving the House bill all by certain to be passed by the Senate this week before the end of the year.

House Approves Disability Legislation

The House passed legislation that would create a new tax-exempt savings account to help individuals with disabilities and their families save for certain medical, education, housing and other qualified expenses. The Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act, H.R. 647, aims to prevent individuals who are able to work from losing access to Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income when they establish a minimum level of savings. Accounts would be set up through a state’s voluntary ABLE program, and a certain level of account balances and qualified distributions would not be considered in determining the account holder’s eligibility for means-tested federal programs. Upon passage, the ABLE Act was added to the tax extenders package, H.R. 5771, which now heads to the Senate for consideration. The Senate version of the Able Act, S. 313, has 74 co-sponsors.

Senate Committee Examines Cost of Hepatitis C Treatment

A Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing last Wednesday focused on the cost of treating veterans with new Hepatitis C treatments, such as Sovaldi. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has requested $1.3 billion to purchase Sovaldi for approximately 30,000 veterans with Hepatitis C, although as many as 174,000 may be infected, according to David Ross, director of HIV, Hepatitis C and Public Health Pathogens Programs at the VA. The prevalence of Hepatitis C is higher among veterans compared to the general population, especially among those who served in the Vietnam War. During the hearing, senators voiced concern that the cost of Sovaldi would force the VA to divert funding from other priorities. Senators also highlighted the financial implications for other public programs, such as Medicaid, and suggested policy solutions to help address the high cost of Sovaldi and other new Hepatitis C breakthroughs. For more information, click here.

House Subcommittee Considers the Future of CHIP

Members voiced bipartisan support for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) during an Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee hearing last week and suggested changes that could be made if federal funding is extended beyond fiscal year (FY) 2015. Several members focused on the 23 percent increase in the federal matching rate for CHIP that states are scheduled to begin receiving in FY 2016, questioning witnesses about the implications for federal spending and whether the enhanced match would result in more children receiving coverage. There was also discussion of extending states’ ability to use Express Lane Eligibility to streamline enrollment and the use of waiting lists in some states. Members noted that CHIP is widely supported by governors and emphasized the importance of extending federal funding for CHIP as soon as possible to give states certainty as they begin budgeting for 2016 and beyond. A summary of the input governors provided and each of the letters sent in response to the committees’ request for information have been made available here.

Department of Interior Disperses FY14 Energy Revenues to 36 States

The U.S. Department of Energy announced that 36 eligible states would receive a share of $2.2 billion dollars collected during FY2014 from oil, gas and mineral production on federal lands within their borders and from U.S. offshore oil and gas tracts adjacent to their shores.  Nevada received $8,344,815.78.  A complete list of states that will receive funds can be found here.  The U.S. Treasury will receive $7.2 billion from this total to fund additional federal programs, including $895 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund.