It’s Crunch Time for Congress
A deadline to fund the federal government approaches, along with dozens of expiring tax provisions. Congress is also expected to vote on several national security bills and continue debate on gun control legislation this week.
And we’re rooting for Congressional staff who are hoping to make it home for the holidays!
Averting a Government Shutdown…
On Friday, Congress averted a shutdown by extending the government’s funding for five days beyond its December 11 deadline. On the House floor, Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers [R, KY-5] spoke in support of the short-term continuing resolution (H.R. 2250) to fund the federal government through Dec. 16:
“I believe we are making good progress on a final, full-year appropriations package. While I had hoped that we would be done by this point, there are still many moving pieces. It is my hope and expectation that the final Omnibus legislation will be completed by this new deadline.”– House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers
The “moving pieces” are the policy riders that lawmakers are eager to attach to this catch-all legislative package. (See: “What’s an Omnibus” from POPVOX.) Hundreds of riders have reportedly been proposed, including:
- Repealing the crude oil export ban in place since the 1970s: “Our nation’s inability to export crude oil threatens our national security as well the safety and security of our allies. Israel and our European allies depend upon unstable and unfriendly sources like Russia and the OPEC Oil Cartel for their energy needs. This dependence allows them to intimidate our allies. This situation would not be occurring if the United States was able to sell crude oil internationally,” according to Rep. Kevin Cramer. [R, ND] (A similar proposal passed the House in October as H.R. 702)
- Defunding Planned Parenthood: “It is clear that Congress can use the appropriations process to stop the flow of federal funding to Planned Parenthood and its affiliates by attaching a simple provision to the Omnibus,” according to Rep. Jim Bridenstine [R, OK-1] (A similar proposal passed both the House and Senate in the recent Reconciliation bill H.R. 3762)
- Suspending resettlement of refugees from Syria and other Middle Eastern countries: “Reps. Lamar Smith [R, TX-2], Marsha Blackburn [R, TN-7], Brian Babin [R, TX-36], and Jim Bridenstine [R, OK-1] are calling for a temporary suspension of Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) resettlement funding for all refugees, as well as individuals not in a legitimate lawful status….The lawmakers are currently crafting language to address the issue for inclusion in an omnibus spending bill.” See full statement here. (A similar proposal passed the House in October as H.R. 4038)
- Blocking the EPA’s water rules: According to Sen. John Hoeven [R-ND] on his efforts to eliminate the Waters of the U.S. regulation: “I’ve included legislation in the appropriations bill to defund the regulation and I really think that we’re going to get that done by the end of the year.” (A measure disapproving the rule passed the Senate as S.J.Res. 22)
Negotiations on Tax Extenders
Negotiations around the spending bill have become intertwined with another issue—extending a series of expiring tax breaks, including those for businesses and low-income workers.
Congressional leaders and White House officials have been working to come up with an agreement before the end of the year, when many of these tax provisions expire. The deal could reach $800 billion. Republican leaders in the House have indicated that the omnibus spending bill and the tax extenders bill may come to the floor together in one large vehicle—making it a very interesting time in Congress. Some are calling it “silly season”!
Many of these tax provisions are typically renewed every year or every other year, but the Republican package would make many of the tax breaks permanent. For a list of expiring tax provisions, see the POPVOX Issue Spotlight on Tax Extenders.
In case Congress and the White House aren’t able to reach a long-term agreement on tax extenders, House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady released a two-year bill as a backup plan:
The proposal would extend, for two years (generally through the end of 2016), a number of tax relief provisions that expired at the end of calendar year 2014, … Several of the provisions are modified… modifications generally become effective in 2016.
The amendment “would restrict companies’ tax-free spinoffs into real estate investment trusts (REITs), while easing taxes on foreign investment in U.S. real property.” – BNA Summary | Text | Revenue Estimate
Earlier this year, the Senate Finance Committee passed its own version of a tax extenders bill:
The House will also vote on several bills related to national security and terrorism:
Sponsor: Rep. Ted Poe [R, TX-2]
“Would require the Administration to fulfill its 2011 commitment to come up with a comprehensive strategy to counter terrorists’ use of social media. The bill also requires the Administration to outline and report to Congress on its own efforts and those in coordination with private companies to combat terrorist use of social media,” according to the bill sponsor.
Sponsor: Rep. Norma Torres [D, CA-25]
“Would improve information sharing and cooperation in addressing cyber security risks at our nation’s ports,” according to the bill sponsor.
“During a recent hearing, the Port of Long Beach brought up significant cyber security vulnerabilities at U.S. ports. This is due in part to port landlords not always coordinating with port tenants and also to federal agencies only beginning to consider the impact of a cyber-attack on our maritime infrastructure in its security assessments and strategies.”
Connecting the No-Fly List to Purchasing Firearms
Last week, Rep. Mike Thompson [D, CA-5] introduced a discharge petition that would force a vote on a bill that would prevent people on the “no fly” list from buying firearms. The petition needs 218 signatures from members of the House to go to the House floor for a vote. So far, Rep. Peter King [R, NY-2], the author of the bill, and Reps. Dan Donovan [R, NY-11] and Robert Dold [R, IL-10] are the only Republicans among the 172 lawmakers who have signed on to the measure:
“Right now federal law prohibits nine categories of dangerous persons from purchasing or possessing firearms. Remarkably, persons on the terrorist watch lists are not among these prohibited purchasers. After 9/11, it makes no sense that the federal government cannot stop gun sales to suspected terrorists. My legislation closes this glaring gap in federal background checks,” according to the bill sponsor.
Customs Enforcement and a Ban on Internet Taxes
Last week the House passed a “conference report” (agreement between the House and Senate) on a Trade and Customs enforcement bill, which the Senate may take up this week.
“The Conference Report for the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015 reconciles the differences between the House and Senate bills, formally authorizes U.S. Customs and Border Protection, facilitates the legitimate trade of goods, and combats violations of U.S. trade laws.” – Conference committee release
The Trade and Customs bill also includes a permanent extension of the Internet Tax Freedom Act, prohibiting taxes on Internet goods and services or internet access. The bill’s original sponsor, Sen. Ron Wyden [D-OR], said:
“I co-wrote the Internet Tax Freedom Act nearly a decade ago to help spur the growth of the digital economy. Today online commerce is responsible for hundreds of thousands of jobs. In my view, when you have something that works, that has stood the test of time, you ought to make it permanent.”
H.R. 644: TRADE FACILITATION AND TRADE ENFORCEMENT ACT OF 2015
Sponsor: Rep. Tom Reed [R, NY-23]
The bipartisan, bicameral trade legislation authorizes U.S. Customs and Border Protection and puts in place effective tools to strengthen trade enforcement at the border and facilitate the efficient movement of legitimate trade and travel. Summary | Bill Text
Also in the House
The House will also vote on:
Res. 536: RESOLUTION SUPPORTING FREEDOM OF THE PRESS IN LATIN AMERICA
Sponsor: Rep. Albio Sires [D, NJ-8]
“Supports a free press in Latin America and the Caribbean by condemning violations of press freedom and violence against journalists, bloggers, and individuals exercising their right to freedom of speech. It also urges countries in the region to implement the recommendations to Member States made by the Organization of American States Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression. Lastly, this resolution urges the United States Agency for International Development and the Department of State to assist the media in closed societies to promote a free press,” according to the bill sponsor.
H.R. 3750: FIRST RESPONDERS PASSPORT ACT
Sponsor: Rep. Darrell Issa [R, CA-49]
“Would waive passport fees for certain first responders who travel to foreign countries to aid in disaster response,” according to the bill sponsor.
H.R. 2241: GLOBAL HEALTH INNOVATION ACT
Sponsor: Rep. Albio Sires [D, NJ-8]
“To encourage the development of health products that are affordable, culturally appropriate, and easy to use in low-resource health systems. This bill will require the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to submit a report on the development and use of global health innovations at the Agency,” according to the bill sponsor.
S 1347: ELECTRONIC HEALTH FAIRNESS ACT
Sponsor: Sen. Johnny Isakson [R-GA]
Amends title XVIII (Medicare) of the Social Security Act to prohibit, for a payment year after 2015, any patient encounter of an eligible professional occurring at an ambulatory surgical center from being treated as such an encounter in determining whether an eligible professional qualifies as a meaningful electronic health record (EHR) user.
— Passed by the Senate on August 5, 2015; now goes to the House for consideration. —
Please keep in mind that highlighting a bill does not imply POPVOX endorsement in any way. As always, our goal is to offer one more way to help you stay informed about the complex U.S. legislative system.