November 16, 2015

Legislative Focus: Highway Bill Deadline, ESEA Conference

The Senate convened for legislative business today at 3 p.m.

The House convened at 2 p.m. for legislative business to debate 16 measures under suspension, with votes postponed until 6:30 p.m. The House could also take up a short-term extension of the Highway Trust Fund to buy more time for negotiations on the multi-year bill. Current funding expires Friday.

For the remainder of the week, the Senate will continue to work on appropriations and may debate two resolutions (S.J. Res 23 and S.J. Res. 24) to set aside Environmental Protection Agency standards for the emission of greenhouse gasses from existing and new coal-fired power plants. The Senate may also take up S. 2193, which would increase penalties for immigrants who enter the U.S. after being deported or denied admission.

On Tuesday, the House plans to meet at 10 a.m. to consider a series of bills, including a motion to go to conference on legislation to reauthorize Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Both the House and the Senate are expected to name conferees this week to negotiate differing bills reauthorizing ESEA, which passed earlier this year. The conference committees are expected to meet to consider and finalize a conference agreement by the end of the week.

Key Hearings and Markups

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee

Full committee hearing on past wildfire seasons and future federal wildland fire management strategies. Tuesday, November 17 at 10 a.m., 366 Dirksen Building.

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee

Investigations subcommittee hearing on the committee’s human trafficking investigation. Thursday, November 19 at 10 a.m., 342 Dirksen Building.

House Agriculture Committee

Full committee hearing titled “Past, Present and Future of SNAP: The National Commission on Hunger.” Wednesday, November 18 at 10 a.m., 1300 Longworth Building

House Energy and Commerce Committee

Communications and Technology Subcommittee oversight hearing on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Witnesses include all five commissioners (Tom Wheeler, Mignon Clyburn, Jessica Rosenworcel, Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly). Tuesday, November 17 at 10:15 a.m., 2123 Rayburn Building.

Oversight and Investigations subcommittee hearing titled “U.S. Public Health Preparedness for Seasonal Influenza: Had the Response Improved?” Thursday, November 19 at 10 a.m., 2322 Rayburn Building.

House Judiciary Committee

Immigration and Border Security subcommittee hearing titled “The Syrian Refugee Crisis and Its Impact on the Security of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.” Thursday, November 19 at 9 a.m., 2141 Rayburn Building.

House Natural Resources Committee

Full committee legislative hearing to review land and water conservation legislation (Discussion Draft of “Protecting America’s Recreation and Conservation Act”). Wednesday, November 18 at 10 a.m., 1324 Longworth Building.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee

Government Operations subcommittee and Higher Education and Workforce of House Education and Workforce Committee joint hearing titled “Federal Student Aid: Performance-Based Organization Review. Wednesday, November 18 at 9 a.m., 2154 Rayburn Building.

Information Technology Subcommittee hearing titled “The Internet of Cars.” Wednesday, November 18 at 2 p.m., 2154 Rayburn Building.

House Small Business Committee

Contracting and the Workforce Subcommittee hearing titled “Continuing Challenges for Small Contractors.” Wednesday, November 18 at 10 a.m., 2360 Rayburn Building.

House Veterans Affair Committee

Full committee hearing titled “Choice Consolidation: Assessing VA’s Plan to Improve Care in the Community.” Wednesday, November 18 at 10:30 a.m., 334 Cannon Building.

Economic Opportunity subcommittee hearing titled “Examining VA’s On-the-Job Training and Apprenticeship Program.” Wednesday, November 18 at 2 p.m., 334 Cannon Building.

House Ways and Means Committee

Human Resources subcommittee hearing titled “Moving America’s Families Forward: Lessons Learned from Welfare Reforms in Other Countries.” Tuesday, November 17 at 2 p.m., 1100 Longworth Building.

The Week in Review

Senate Will Negotiate Transportation Reauthorization with House, Names Conferees
Last week, the Senate voted, 82-7, on a motion to initiate conference negotiations with the House on a long-term surface transportation reauthorization. Though negotiations already have begun at the staff level, conferees are expected to hold a meeting this week to formally kick off conference negotiations. The current extension for surface transportation programs expires Nov. 20.

Senate Passes Revised Defense Authorization Act
The Senate passed S. 1356, the FY 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, 91-3. The bill authorizes $599 billion for defense-related programs, which is $5 billion less than the original conference agreement vetoed by the President last month. Following the veto, Congress cleared a budget deal to raise defense and nondefense discretionary caps for two years. The budget deal increased the defense discretionary cap by $25 billion and also provided $8 billion in defense Overseas Contingency Operations funding beyond the President’s request. The revised bill reduces funding from the original conference agreement in several National Guard accounts, including the National Guard and Reserve Equipment Account, but most spending levels remain above the President’s budget request. The House passed the bill last week, 370-58, but must hold another vote because of technical changes made by the Senate. The President is expected to sign the bill.

Senate Passes Military Construction, Veterans Appropriations Bills
The Senate unanimously passed H.R. 2029, the FY 2016 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs appropriations bill. The bill would provide $82 billion in discretionary funding for military construction and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The bill provides $8.4 billion for military construction projects, which is $1.5 billion above the FY 2015 level and $355 million below the President’s request. That includes $197 million for Army National Guard and $139 billion for Air National Guard military construction. The Senate also provided $100 million for states to construct extended veterans care facilities. The House approved the bill in April, which is now expected to serve as the legislative vehicle for a FY 2016 omnibus appropriations bill. The current continuing resolution expires Dec.11.

CMS Announces Part B Premiums, Deductibles 
Last week the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced 2016 Medicare Part B premiums and deductibles consistent with changes made in the recently enacted bipartisan budget agreement. With no Social Security cost-of-living adjustment this year, most beneficiaries will not see any increases in their premiums. As stipulated in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, the remaining beneficiaries—most of whom are dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid—will see premiums increase more moderately than originally anticipated, to $121.80. The cost of the deal was offset by a $3 increase in base premiums for beneficiaries not protected by the hold harmless in 2016 and for all beneficiaries in 2017 and beyond. CMS also announced that the annual deductible for all Part B beneficiaries will increase next year to $166.

Federal Appeals Court Rejects Immigration Executive Action
In a 2-1 decision, the 5th Circuit court of appeals upheld a lower court’s injunction against the Administration’s 2014 executive actions seeking protection for undocumented immigrants. The executive actions would make it easier for immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally to live and work here. The appeals court ruling invites a potential appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

ACF Releases Guidance on CCDBG Implementation
Last week, the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) released an information memorandum to states concerning the supply-building provisions of the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) Act of 2014. The CCDBG Act includes a new focus on increasing the number and percentage of low-income children in high-quality child care settings. The law also includes provisions intended to build the supply of high-quality care in underserved areas and for particular populations, including infants, toddlers and children who receive care during nontraditional hours. The memorandum provides states with a menu of policy options to consider when developing their FY 2016-2018 Child Care and Development Fund plans. State plans are due March 1, 2016.