GAVEL DOWN: Closing out the Week in Congress

12 min read

A week full of legislating before departing for seven-week recess… 

Two bills head to the White House — GMO labeling and opioid addiction and treatment — after passing Congress this week. Senate voted to tee up two conference committees — one on major energy legislation and one on annual defense bill. House passed interior-EPA appropriations bill during late night vote series. Congress passed compromise FAA reauthorization, providing funding for another 14 months. Senate approved historic nomination for Librarian of Congress. House passed bill to end major principle of administrative law and several bills related to Iran, following one year anniversary of Iran nuclear deal. Senate fails to pass funding to combat Zika virus.

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Congress passed GMO labeling bill,
Now it's off to the White House

House passed legislative vehicle for Senate-passed GMO labeling. Bill passed by a vote of 306-117 and would require labels on foods containing GMO ingredients. Bill passed the Senate last week by vote of 63-30 after some initial confusion over its contents. Now, it heads to President Obama, who has indicated that he will sign the legislation.

Legislative Vehicle for genetically modified organisms (GMO) labeling bill (S. 764

Sponsor: Sen. Roger Wicker [R, MS]

Bill would give the Department of Agriculture two years to create and implement a national, mandatory standard for disclosing foods that contain GMO ingredients. It requires food containing GMO ingredients be labeled using print, pictures, or scannable bar codes. Bill pre-exempts state labeling laws, such as Vermont law that required GMO labeling in grocery stores.


Senate voted to go to conference over energy legislation


To conference we go — Senate voted 84-3 to convene a conference committee with House lawmakers on broad energy legislation. Going to conference is one of the final steps of "regular order" in the legislative process — when House and Senate appoint conferees to meet and work out differences in different versions of similar bills that passed both chambers. This Congress (114th) has approved more conference committee reports than the previous two Congresses. There's still plenty of time left this year, and Congress has approved two more conferences — one on energy legislation and one on annual defense bill.

POPVOX Conference Reports During Last Five U.S. Congresses

See if your lawmaker has been named as a conferee for the energy conference committee!


Congress passed opioid legislation,
Now it's off to the White House

On Wednesday, Senate approved bipartisan opioid legislation, by vote of 92-2 with only Sen. Ben Sasse [R, NE] and Sen. Mike Lee [R, UT] in opposition. House passed conference report last week by vote of 407-5, but there was major concern that Senate Democrats would not vote for the bill without additional funding. The compromise opioid bill is the product of bipartisanship and considered the largest drug reform and prevention bill in nearly a decade.  

Bill now goes to President Obama, who is set to sign the legislation into law. Lawmakers will have to authorize funding after Congress returns from its seven-week recess but before the end of the fiscal year on September 30.

House passed interior-EPA appropriations bill 

Following more late night vote series this week, House passed interior-EPA spending bill, mostly along party lines.

Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2017 (H.R. 5538

Sponsor: Rep. Ken Calvert [R, CA-42]

Bill seeks to rein in regulatory overreach, use the nation’s natural resources responsibly, fight wildfires, and tackle safety drinking water issues. Bill allots $32.1B in funding, $64M below last year’s package and $1B below the President’s budget request. The majority of funding cuts come from the Environmental Protection Agency, with the goal of reducing costly regulation.

White House has threatened to veto the bill if riders that roll back clean air, water, and wildlife protections are included. After recess, the bill heads to the Senate for consideration.

Congress passes compromise FAA reauthorization

Two days before funding for the Federal Aviation Administration was set to expire, the Senate passed bipartisan bill reauthorizing FAA funding for another 14 months. The compromise bill passed the House by voice vote on Monday and passed the Senate 89-4 on Wednesday.


POPVOX FAA reauthorization compromise bill

House and Senate reached an agreement on the bill last week, when lawmakers finished negotiating differences between the Senate (S. 2658) and House (H.R. 4441) versions. The resulting bill is similar to the Senate version. Bill focuses on increasing airport safety, reducing terrorist attacks, and regulating drones. Bill also includes consumer protections, such as generally ensuring kids 13 years old and younger are seated next to parents or older children traveling with them on flights.

H.R. 636 does not include House bill’s provision to privatize air traffic control. However, as the bill is a relatively short term extension, legislators will have the opportunity to continue debating the merits of privatization for the 2017 reauthorization.

Carla Hayden Librarian of Congress

Photo Source: Dave Munch/Getty Images

Senate approves historic nomination,
Carla Hayden next to serve
as Librarian of Congress

On Wednesday, Senate confirmed Carla Hayden as the next Librarian of Congress, making her the first woman and first African-American to hold the job. She previously served as president of the American Library Association (ALA) and head of Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore.

Hayden was approved by a vote of 74-18, with few expecting her confirmation vote to see the floor.  An anonymous Republican senator blocked the vote for more than five weeks after the Senate Rules Committee unanimously voted to recommend Hayden.

Resistance to Hayden largely focused on her opposition to the Patriot Act and the Children’s Internet Protection Act. As the head of the ALA, Hayden protested CIPA’s stipulation that publicly-funded libraries install internet content filters to block pornography. Hayden and others argued that the filters would restrict legitimate searches on subjects like breast cancer.

Since 1800, the Library of Congress has served as the research arm of Congress, provided members with legal advice, and operated the Copyright Office.  Critics argue that the Library has recently failed to modernize, partly because the previous Librarian of Congress James Billington served for nearly three decades. In November, President Obama signed the Librarian of Congress Succession Modernization Act of 2015 into law and established a ten-year term limit.

House passed bill to end major principle of administrative law

On Tuesday, House passed the Separation of Powers Restoration Act by a vote of 240-171 (largely along party lines). Bill would end one of the major principles of administrative law. Bill was introduced in March, marked up last month by House Judiciary, and now moves to the Senate for consideration.

Separation of Powers Restoration Act of 2016 (H.R. 4768

Sponsor: Rep. John Ratcliffe [R, TX-4]

Bill would end the “Chevron Doctrine,” a staple in administrative law that requires courts to defer to interpretations of “ambiguous” statutes made by government agencies charged with enforcing them. To overrule an interpretation, a court would have to find an agency’s interpretation to be “unreasonable.” Supreme Court established this precedent in a 1984 ruling on a dispute over the Environmental Protection Agency’s interpretation of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1977. (See: Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc.)

Under the bill, which amends the Administrative Procedure Act, courts would be authorized to review agency actions to decide de novo all relevant questions of laws. In other words, courts would be allowed to consider agency interpretations of statutes without deferring to other lower court or agency interpretations.


Senate failed to take up Zika funding package


Senate failed to invoke cloture on larger military and veterans spending bill (which includes Zika funding) by 52-44 vote. 60 votes were needed to advance the House version of compromise bill, with Senate blocking the deal for the second time.

Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2017 Health and Safe Communities Act of 2015 (H.R. 2577

Sponsor: Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart [R, FL-25]

Lawmakers continue to debate language in the conference report related to Puerto Rico, Planned Parenthood, ObamaCare, and confederate flags.

POPVOX Senate zika vote


House passed Iran-related bills



House passed three bills relating to Iran, following one year anniversary of Iran nuclear deal.

No 2H20 From Iran Act (H.R. 5119

Sponsor: Rep. Mike Pompeo [R, KS-4]

Bill bars the use of federal funds in the purchase of heavy water from Iran. Legislation followed announcement that the Department of Energy would spend $8.6M to buy 32 tons of Iranian heavy water. Proponents of the bill do not support using federal funds to finance trade with Iran. However, critics point out that the deal would ensure Iran no longer has the resources to store potential nuclear weapons production. The bill passed the House along party lines, 249-176.

United States Financial System Protection Act of 2016 (H.R. 4992

Sponsor: Rep. Ed Royce [R, CA-39]

Bill seeks to codify regulations relating to transfer of funds involving Iran, with the goal of blocking Iran from the U.S. financial system. The bill also passed along party lines, by vote of 246-181.

Iran Accountability Act of 2016 (H.R. 5631

Sponsor: Rep. Kevin McCarthy [R, CA-23]

Bill imposes new sanctions on Iran in an effort to hold Iran accountable for its state sponsorship of terrorism. The legislation targets Iran’s continued ballistic missile program and violation of human rights. It passed the House larly along party lines, by vote of 246-179.

Response from The White House
All three bills threaten the pact made with Iran last year, and Iran President Hassan Rouhani has said that if the U.S. breaks the pact then Iran will resume its nuclear weapon program. Accordingly, the White House has threatened to veto all bills that undermine the nuclear deal.

Senate voted to go to conference with House over annual defense bill


Congress is teeing up for conference on annual defense authorization bill. Senate voted 90-7 to go to conference with the House to reconcile differences between both chambers’ passed bills. President Obama has threatened to veto both versions.

National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 (S. 2943

Sponsor: Sen. John McCain [R, AZ]

Senate passed annual defense bill last month by vote of 85-13. $602 billion Senate NDAA contains controversial amendment that would require women turning 18 on or after January 1, 2018 to register for Selective Service.

Other policy provisions include: 

  • Large-scale procurement and contracting overhaul.
  • 25% reduction in general and flag officers and DOD Senior Executive Service civilian employees
  • Reforms to the military health system
  • Implementing the recommendations of the Department of Defense Military Justice Review Group

Read summary of the Senate version.

National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017  (H.R. 4909

Sponsor: Rep. Mac Thornberry [R, TX-13]

House passed annual defense bill in May by vote of 277-147. $610 billion House NDAA would use $18 billion meant for war funding to cover the Pentagon’s base budget, a measure not included in the Senate version and likely difficult to reconcile during conference negotiations.

Other policy provisions include:

  • Upholding the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force
  • Requiring women to register for the Selective Service
  • Removing protections for LGBT employees of military contractors
  • Delivering, modernizing, and maintaining new equipment
  • Reforms to the Military Health System
  • Making the Joint Staff and operations more accountable and transparent

Read summary of the House version.

Read Congressional Research Service summary of both the House and Senate versions.

How did your Representative and Senators vote on defense bills?

New Bills on the Block


Legislative Lowdown: States Edition

  • California State Board of Education unanimously approved new social studies curriculum that would include the evolution of gay rights and the contributions of LGBT historical figures. The decision officially implements provisions of the FAIR Act, signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown [D] in 2011.
  • Bill has been introduced in the Ohio House that would exempt some some police body camera videos from public records law.
  • Maryland Court of Appeals—the state’s highest court—ruled that non-biological parents who live with and help raise children have parental rights. LGBT advocates lauded the decision, which overturned a precedent set in 2008 that prevented “third party parents” from obtaining parental rights.
  • Vermont has become the first state to provide publicly funded pre-kindergarten programs for 3- and 4-year olds as of this month. Under the law, Vermont communities will be required to offer at least 10 hours of free, high-quality preschool a week for 35 weeks a year.
  • Ten states sued the federal government last Friday over the Obama administration’s directive requiring public schools to allow transgender students to use restrooms that match their gender identity.
  • Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards [D] stripped $44 million from the state’s multi-year construction budget, remarking that that state could not afford them as it continues to struggle financially. 
  • Alaska Gov. Bill Walker [I] signed reforms of the state’s criminal justice system into law Monday. The reforms would lighten sentences for those charged with nonviolent offenses and simple possession of drugs with the intention of allowing them to become re-integrated into society and reduce the chances of them breaking the law again.
  • Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf [D] allowed the state 2016-17 budget bill to become law without his signature Monday night, even though the Republican-majority legislature had not agreed how to pay for it. The revenue gap of over $1 billion may affect schools and non-profits the most and downgrade the state’s credit by forcing it to increase its borrowing.