December 14, 2015

Legislative Focus: FY 2016 Omnibus Appropriations Bill, Tax Extenders

The Senate reconvened at 3 p.m. today and will consider various Department of Defense nominations.

The House will reconvene tomorrow at 2 p.m. to consider two measures under suspension of the rules, including H.R. 3654, a bill to require the president to create a comprehensive strategy to combat terrorists’ use of social media.

For the duration of the week, Congress will work on an omnibus measure to fund the government through FY 2016. Last week, Congress passed a short-term continuing resolution to keep the government funded through Wednesday. That extension allows for the negotiation of a final $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill for FY 2016. Congress was unable to reach an agreement over the weekend, but could still release a negotiated package late tonight. Some items being discussed:

  • A compromise on improvements to wildfire suppression budgeting, of key importance to the west, is rumored to be in the omnibus package. More information should be available in the next day.
  • We may see a clean one-year extension of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
  • The tax package, if one is agreed to, is rumored to contain an extension and possibly ramp-down of the wind and solar energy tax credits, in exchange for a lifting of the oil export ban.

Key Hearings and Markups

Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee

·         Full committee hearing titled “Is Transition Assistance on Track?” Tuesday, December 15 at 2:30 p.m., 418 Russell Building.

House Natural Resources Committee

·         Full committee field hearing on mining legislation (HR 3734). Monday, December 14 at 10 a.m., Idaho Springs, CO.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee

·         Full committee hearing titled “Terrorist Travel: Vetting for National Security Concerns.” Thursday, December 17 9 a.m., 2154 Rayburn Building.

The Week in Review

House Passes Customs Enforcement Bill
On Friday, the House voted, 256-158, on the customs enforcement conference report. The legislation includes language to reauthorize the State Trade and Export Promotion program for five years at $30 million annually. However, it also contains a policy rider to permanently extend the Internet Tax Freedom Act (ITFA). ITFA bans states from taxing Internet access services and gives previously grandfathered states until June 2020 to phase out any existing taxes. The Senate could vote on the conference report as early as this week, and the Senate champions of MFA/RTPA are pursuing floor strategies to remove the ITFA rider.

Administration Releases 1332 Waiver Guidance
On Friday, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Department of Treasury (Treasury) released new guidance on Section 1332 Innovation Waivers. Established under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the waivers allow states to opt out of portions of the law in 2017 and beyond, so long as they meet certain requirements. Waivers also must cover the same number of people and cannot add to the federal deficit. HHS and Treasury released a fact sheet on the notice, which takes effect immediately.

White House Announces Forum on Opioid Epidemic
Last week, the White House announced that National Drug Control Policy Director Michael Botticelli will host community forums around the country to promote best practices and evidence-based initiatives for preventing and treating opioid addiction. The first forum will be held in Oklahoma on Dec. 16, followed by Connecticut and other states early next year. The forums are intended to continue the conversation that President Obama began during his visit to West Virginia in October, where he announced new public and private sector efforts to address the opioid epidemic.

President Signs ESSA Into Law
Last week, the President signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) into law, completing the first reauthorization of federal education law in nearly 14 years. That follows congressional passage with strong bipartisan support in the Senate (85-12) and House (359-64). Many of the law’s provisions are effective immediately, but states will not be required to fully implement major new systems until the 2017-2018 school year with current waivers expiring in August of 2016.

House Passes State, Local Cybersecurity Bill
Last week, the House passed a bill under suspension of the rules that would enhance how the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) works with state and local governments related to cybersecurity. The State and Local Cyber Protection Act of 2015 (H.R. 3869) directs DHS’s National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center (NCCIC) to voluntarily coordinate with state and local governments on securing their information systems. It also directs the NCCIC to assist state and local governments with assessing information system vulnerabilities and provide access to federal resources such as cybersecurity training and web-based tools. In addition, the bill requires the NCCIC to seek state and local feedback to ensure the effectiveness of its efforts.

House Financial Services Committee Set to Vote on Data Breach Bill
The House Financial Services Committee approved H.R. 2205, the Data Security Act, 46-9. The bill would preempt state data breach notification laws by creating a national standard while also preempting statutes in 12 states that require businesses operating there to adopt specific IT security measures. During the markup, the legislation gained conditional support, but several members called into question the need for sweeping state preemption. Additionally, an amendment offered by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) to allow states to provide more stringent security requirements above the proposed national standard failed by voice vote. The bill likely now will be referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which passed a similar bill in April.

House Passes Visa Waiver Bill
Last week, the House passed H.R. 158, the Visa Waiver Improvement Act, 407-19. The bill would require increased information-sharing from visa waiver countries about terrorism watch lists and would mandate that individuals with a history of travel to Iraq, Iran, Syria and Sudan obtain a traditional visa before arriving in the United States. The bill also expands criteria for the removal of a country from the Visa Waiver Program. Additionally, it requires the Secretary of Homeland Security to submit a report on strengthening the Electronic System for Travel Authorization to better secure international borders.