Gavel Down: Closing out the Week in Congress (Sept. 19-23, 2016)

6 min read

Fall arrived, as did a CR to keep the government open…

After several delays, Senate cleared its first procedural hurdle for short-term spending bill. CR made its debut on Thursday, giving Senators four days before next vote. President Obama vetoed legislation allowing families of 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia, setting up possible congressional override. House passed bill banning cash payments to Iran, and Senate failed to take up resolution to override Saudi Arabia arms deal.

Government Funding |  JASTA  |  Iran  |  Saudi Arabia Arms Deal  |  ICYMI

CR debuted, Congress must pass by next Friday

Bill includes funds for Louisiana flood relief, zika virus, and opioid treatment programs

Senate began the week with delayed procedural votes because a deal on short-term funding had not been reached.  Lawmakers debated and negotiated several sticking points from Planned Parenthood to SEC disclosures to refugees to internet domain transfers.

On Tuesday, the Senate cleared its first procedural hurdle (by vote of 89-7) on underlying vehicle for the must-pass spending bill. There still wasn't a final deal at the time, so the unusual procedural vote kicked off consideration of a "shell bill." And no, the Senate didn't pass a blank bill like you might have heard, rather the procedural motion allowed the body to begin considering the bill. Learn more about how cloture works in the Senate.

On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell introduced continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government from Oct. 1 to Dec. 9. Read section-by-section analysis and full legislative text (FYI: CR portion is pages 130-155).

“There have been broad requests for a clean continuing resolution. So that’s what I’ve just offered. It’s the result of many, many hours of bipartisan work across the aisle.”
–Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell


Legislative Vehicle for Continuing Funding Resolution (CR through Dec. 8, 2016
Sponsor: Rep. Tom Graves [R, GA-14]

What made it into the CR?

The proposed CR continues government spending at current levels. It includes $1.1 billion to combat the Zika virus, falling short of President Obama’s requested $1.9 billion. The measure includes $500 million in block grant funding to be made available to states recovering from natural disasters, including Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, and Maryland. Another big ticket item is $37 million to speed up the implementation of CARA , the comprehensive opioid addiction and treatment bill signed into law in July. The opioid funds are to be provided between when the law is implemented and the expiration of the CR.

The Fine Print

  • Military Construction and Veterans Affairs appropriations bill, $82.3 billion in discretionary funding for FY17 (up $2.5 billion from 2016)
  • Department of Veterans Affairs total funding, $176.9 billion (up $14.2 billion from 2016)
  • Disaster aid, $500 million
  • Zika virus, $1.1billion

    • $993 million to the Department of Health and Human Services
    • $394 million to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for mosquito control and surveillance
    • $397 million to the National Institutes of Health for vaccine and diagnostic development
  • Opioid addiction and treatment programs, $37 million (to be provided between when the law is implemented and the expiration of the CR)

    • $17 million for Department of Health and Human Services
    • $20 million for Department of Justice
  • State and foreign operations and programs, $175.1 million

What didn't make the cut?

Export-Import Bank
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle pushed for language to allow the Export-Import Bank to approve more deals. Last year, Congress reauthorized the bank (through a rarely used legislative procedure), but only two of the Ex-Im board’s seats are filled, meaning the bank cannot operate at full capacity. Without quorum, the bank cannot approve deals over $10 million. According to the bank, more than 30 deals worth a collective $20 billion are on hold until the Senate approves a third board member. Lawmakers and the White House sought language to eliminate the quorum requirement.

The Obama administration will cede domain name authority to an international body on Oct. 1, the same day overall government spending authority would expire in the absence of a CR signed into law. Sen. Ted Cruz [R, TX] pushed for ICANN rider in short-term funding bill, looking to prevent the transfer. Last week, Government Accountability Office said scheduled transition of the internet domain naming authority from the U.S. government to an international nonprofit is not a property transfer and thus does not require congressional approval.

Flint water crisis
Some lawmakers felt the CR was the best way to get funding for the Flint water systems, but others argued that funding is already included in the water projects bill the Senate passed last week. The House will take up its own water bill next week which does not contain any Flint water provisions (due to jurisdictional differences). Senate water bill sponsor Sen. James Inhofe [R, OK] urged the House to pass their version and then Flint funding could be added to final version in conference.

So what now?
Well, there’s one week left until the the federal fiscal year ends, meaning Congress must pass a spending measure to keep the government open. Senate will hold a procedural vote on Tuesday. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell “filled the amendment tree,” meaning no other senators can offer amendments. Since there’s seven days remaining before a shutdown, the Office of Management and Budget is required to prepare shutdown plans. However, OMB spokesperson said Congress has enough time to pass the CR and they do not anticipate a shutdown.

JASTA vetoed, congressional override expected


On Friday, President Obama vetoed “JASTA” (Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act), a bill that unanimously passed both houses of Congress to allow 9/11 families to sue the government of Saudi Arabia in U.S. federal courts over possible involvement in the terrorist attack. 

Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (S. 2040)
Sponsor: Sen. John Cornyn [R, TX]

Opponents say the bill challenges longstanding international laws of national sovereignty — that a state cannot be sued by the citizens of another state. In vetoing the bill, President Obama expressed concern that its precedent could threaten U.S. sovereignty in the future and allow foreign nationals to bring suit against the U.S. in foreign courts. For its part, Saudi Arabia has fought the measure, employing a team of lobbyists in D.C. and calling upon CEOs of American companies with interests in Saudi Arabia to write letters on their behalf.

Congress is expected to override the President’s veto. A veto override requires at least two-thirds vote in each chamber. Less than 10% of vetoed bills have been overridden and this would be the first of President Obama’s tenure.


House passed bill blocking payments to Iran

The House passed a bill to prohibit the United States from making payments to Iran through promissory notes, including currency.  

Prohibiting Future Ransom Payments Iran Act (H.R. 5931)
Sponsor: Rep. Ed Royce [R, CA-39] 

The effort was prompted by the $400 million payment made on the day the Iran deal went into effect, the same day that several American prisoners were released. The money was technically refunding money Iran paid to the U.S. in the 1970s for weapons that were never delivered (due to the breakout of the Revolution). However, some critics say the timing amounted to a “ransom” for the prisoners and would embolden enemies to hold Americans to negotiate for money.

The bill bans any future cash payments to Iran and requires the White House to provide 30 days to Congress for any payments that might be required by a pending international tribunal.

Senate voted on Saudi Arabia arms deal


This week the Senate took a rare vote regarding a pending $1.15 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia. The 1976 Arms Export Control Act “allows any senator to force a debate and a vote on an arms sale if the Senate Foreign Relations Committee doesn't move on a disapproval resolution over a 10-day period.” (The Hill).

Senators Rand Paul [R-KY], Christopher Murphy [D-CT], Mike Lee [R-UT] and Al Franken [D-MN] used this provision to attempt to bring a vote on S.J.Res.39 (disapproving the arms sale). The Senate voted on a “motion to table” (aka not to consider) the resolution, so the only vote that occurred was a vote to not consider the motion to consider the resolution. Confusing, we know. So how did your senator vote? (Keep in mind, yea votes mean to not consider the motion to disapprove the arms sale.)


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.