The House passed a bill to expedite FDA review of Zika treatments. The Senate made progress on FAA reauthorization. The encryption debate enters a new stage with the release of a draft Senate bill. And, just in time for tax day, the House Ways and Means committee advanced four bills related to IRS operations.
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Congress approved bill to fast-track cure for Zika virus
The House approved a bill adding the Zika virus to the FDA priority review voucher program. The bill would offer incentives to companies seeking a cure for the virus, but it does not allocate any federal funds. The same measure was approved by the Senate last month, meaning the legislation now heads to President Obama.
All 358 confirmed cases of Zika in the United States have been travel-related, with Florida having the largest number of confirmed cases. This week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced there is sufficient evidence that the virus could cause birth defects in infants born to infected mothers.
U.S. Map: Confirmed Cases of Zika Virus
Source: The Washington Post
Senate spends week on FAA reauthorization bill
After week-long consideration, Senate looks to pass the FAA reauthorization bill early next week. FAA funding was originally set to expire on March 31, but the House approved a short-term bill to extend funding until July 15 (with some provisions extended until March 2017).
Early this week Sens. Boxer and Sessions placed holds on the bill to try and force votes on their amendments. Sen. Boxer's amendment involved rest requirements for cargo pilots, with "Miracle on Hudson" pilot speaking in support of the amendment. Sen. Sessions's amendment would encourage more airports to install biometric screening systems.
Related: This week the House passed a bipartisan bill that would close security screening loopholes at small airports, requiring TSA to staff screeners at small and rural airports with commercial service. The legislation would affect 29 airports nationwide where commercial service has stalled after losing screening services.
Encryption debate enters new stage
The encryption debate continues between tech companies and the federal government. The Justice Department announced it will seek a court order to force Apple to help unlock an iPhone seized in New York drug investigation, while newly declassified records show the FBI persuaded a judge to aid in decryption efforts in 2003, a precursor to the current Apple dispute.
This week, leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee released draft of long-awaited Burr-Feinstein encryption bill. The bill would require companies to decrypt customers’ data at a court’s request. The bill does not create specific penalties for noncompliance — providing federal judges broad authority to compel tech companies to aid the government. The bill still has a ways to go: receiving feedback, making revisions, being formally introduced, clearing committee, but upon release of draft, Sen. Ron Wyden [D, OR] vowed to filibuster the bill if it reaches the Senate floor.
Meanwhile, House Judiciary Committee advanced the Email Privacy Act (H.R. 699) unanimously — a bill to update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which currently allows for the government to read emails without a warrant if the emails are at least six months old. With 314 cosponsors, the bill is the most popular piece of legislation that has yet to receive a vote in the House.
Late to the game? Here’s a complete timeline of the back and forth between the FBI and Apple. Basically, the Justice Department sought a court order to receive Apple’s help unlocking an iPhone connected to last year’s San Bernardino shootings. Ultimately, the government did not see the case to resolution, instead paying “gray hat” hackers one-time fee to unlock the phone. So far, the FBI has not found anything useful on the phone, but it is not done analyzing the obtained information.
Puerto Rico debt bill stalls in markup
Speaker Paul Ryan convened a special conference meeting today to educate members and bring them on board with the bill. Lawmakers now look to pass legislation by May 1, when Puerto Rico's next debt payment is due.
Meanwhile, Puerto Rico proposed a new plan to restructure its debt: asking its creditors to accept $32.6B to $37.4B up front by exchanging existing bonds for two new classes of bonds, up from previous offer of $26.5B.
House Ways and Means cleared IRS related bills
House Committee on Ways and Means kicked off tax week by approving four bills related to the IRS.
H.R. 4890 IRS BONUSES TIED TO MEASURABLE METRICS ACT
Sponsor: Rep. Patrick Meehan [R, PA-7]
Bill would require the IRS to complete a customer service strategy before paying out bonuses, meaning bonuses would be earned through improvements in responsiveness to taxpayers.
H.R. 3724 ENSURING INTEGRITY IN THE IRS WORKFORCE ACT
Sponsor: Rep. Kristi Noem [R, SD-0]
Bill would prohibit the IRS from rehiring former employers who had been fired for cause.
H.R. 4885 IRS OVERSIGHT WHILE ELIMINATING SPENDING (OWES) ACT OF 2016
Sponsor: Rep. Jason Smith [R, MO-8]
Bill would require the IRS to deposit fees for services in general fund of the Treasury and provide Congress with the authority to determine how to spend user fees.
H.R. 1206 NO HIRES FOR THE DELINQUENT IRS ACT
Sponsor: Rep. David Rouzer [R, NC-7]
Bill would require the Treasury Secretary to certify that no IRS employees have serious delinquencies with respect to their own tax obligations. (similar measure has failed in recent years)
House and Senate Appropriations Committees hold markups
Appropriations season was in full swing this week, with both House and Senate saying no budget, no problems and proceeding with spending bills. Lawmakers discussed several bills to fund the government in 2017, with the House failing to reach today’s deadline to pass a budget. The new talk of the town is the 1070 number, referencing the $1.070T spending level agreed upon in last year’s budget deal.
House Appropriations marked up its first measure of the year: a package for veterans’ programs and military construction. All three released House appropriations bills adhere to spending level of $1.070T agreed upon in last year’s budget deal.
Senate Appropriations cleared an energy spending bill this week. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell filed cloture on the motion to proceed to energy and water appropriations bill, steering the Senate toward taking up its first appropriations bill of the year.
New Bills on the Block
- House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer introduced bill aimed at modernizing government technology and strengthening cybersecurity. The $3B IT fund proposal originated in the White House.
- Sen. Elizabeth Warren [D, MA] introduced bill to require the IRS to create a free online tax preparation and filing service, comparable to TurboTax and other commercial programs.
- The latest in amusing resolutions: Rep. Mike Honda [D, CA-17] introduced a resolution on "the importance of reason."
- Senate Intelligence leaders released draft of long-awaited encryption bill.
- Reps. Farenthold and Kilmer are working on a bill to make government data machine-readable, available in open formats, and with a public domain license by default.
- New bipartisan legislation: American Manufacturing Competitiveness Act of 2016 (S. 2794 / H.R. 4923), would create open and transparent process to consider manufacturing tax cuts through the Miscellaneous Tariff Bill (MTB)
- Senators reached a deal on comprehensive energy bill, breaking three-month standoff over funding for Flint. Sens. Nelson and Stabenow dropped their holds, and Senate will proceed with the legislation, minus money for Flint.
- Sen. Chuck Schumer [D, NY] posted a picture of a salad, saying his daughter's getting married this weekend and he's #sheddingforthewedding.
- The Hill was a buzz as Bono testified before Senate subcommittee.
- Rep. Scott Garrett [R, NJ-5] sent letter to Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew asking how U.S. will apply regulatory standards to "systematically important" insurers, highlighting the international consequences of a federal judge's decision to rescind federal oversight of MetLife.
- Sen. Jeff Flake [R, AZ] joked about his vote against airplane legroom standards.
- Bipartisan agreement at House Energy & Commerce subcommittee hearing to fast-track new federal regulations to require replacing lead pipes that deliver drinking water.
- Sen. Ron Wyden [D, OR] wished Oregon's Beverly Clearly a happy 100th birthday from the Senate floor.
- 24 city and county officials gathered to address the local impacts of the opioid epidemic.
- Roundtable to examine Office of Personnel Management's ongoing efforts to improve USAJobs.gov emerged with several suggestions, including allowing hiring managers to post jobs on LinkedIn and other social media platforms.
- Check out what music Members of Congress listen to with Capital Tunes playlists.
- Microsoft sued the Justice Department, challenging the use of secrecy orders, which prevent Microsoft from telling people when the government obtains a warrant to read their emails.
- U.S. dropped 20,000 guided bombs and missiles into Iraq and Syria las year — Secretary of Defense Ash Carter has asked Congress to include funding for 45,000 smart bombs in the Defense Department's 2017 budget.
- White House issued new regulations governing offshore oil rigs.
- Supreme Court agreed to give House time during oral arguments regarding President Obama's executive actions on immigration.
- In an unprecedented case, a federal court is allowing 21 children to sue the government over climate change.
- A Connecticut judge ruled that a lawsuit against the manufacturers of a gun used in 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary can proceed.
- New study finds 40% of retired NFL players show signs of traumatic brain injury.
- Latest internet security threat report found more than 430M new unique pieces of malware in 2015, up 36% from the previous year.
- New study finds smokers are less likely to be hired and once they do find a job, they earn less.
- According to NOAA, for the first time on record during a calendar month, every climate division in the Lower 48 and Alaska was warmer than normal.
- Deep dive on different demographics and death in America — study clear divide on health of urban and rural Americans, with gap widening most dramatically among whites.
- Uber released its first-ever transparency report, detailing the user and driver data it provided to local and state regulatory agencies.
- Racism has contributed to a long pattern of institutional failures by the Chicago Police Dept., according to new report released by task force appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
- See how your state stacks up when it comes to providing online access to government spending data.
Legislative Lowdown: States Edition
- Maryland General Assembly passed bill to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, increase penalties for some violent crimes, and allow some nonviolent offenders to be released from prison earlier. Bill has already passed the Senate and now heads to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan [R], who intends to sign the bill into law.
- Hawaii legislature passed bill to allow women to obtain up to a year of birth control at a time, as opposed to current policy that allows for up to three months at a time.
- See how your state compares — where women have the most and least political representation in the U.S.
- New York State Senate unanimously passed bill to exempt feminine hygiene products from the 4 percent state sales tax. Assembly passed the bill last month, and now it's off to Gov. Andrew Cuomo [D] to be signed into law.
- North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory [R] signed an order to clarify legislation that would restrict restroom use to the sex listed on birth certificates, rather than that of gender identity.
- Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe [D] signed into law new regulations with regards to the collection, storage and analysis of the critical evidence of rape kits.
- Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam [R] vetoed a bill that would have made the Bible the state's official book, citing constitutional and personal reasons.
"Gender Pay Inequality: Consequences for Women, Families, and the Economy" from U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee
"Additional Consideration of Prior Conduct and Performance Issues Is Needed When Hiring Former Employees" from Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration
"The Legislative Process on the Senate Floor: An Introduction" from Congressional Research Service
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