This week, the Senate passed a two-year FAA reauthorization bill, a major bipartisan energy reform bill, and moved onto Energy and Water Appropriations. The House passed six bills related to IRS operations and oversight. President Obama was in Saudi Arabia for a meeting with the heads of Persian Gulf countries as lawmakers consider bill to allow families of 9/11 victims to sue the Saudi government for any role it played in the terrorist attack.
Top Search on POPVOX this week: "HR 25"
Most active bill on POPVOX this week:
H.R. 1206 NO HIRES FOR THE DELINQUENT IRS ACT
Senate passed major energy reform
The last time major energy reform made it across the finish line it was 2007. Gas was $2.81 per gallon, Britney Spears was in the midst of a historic breakdown, and the iPhone had just been introduced.
Since that time, U.S. energy production has changed dramatically. Wind and solar electricity now compose 15% of non-fossil electricity generation. Coal is still the largest share of U.S. electricity generation, but last year coal production declined by 11% — the largest decline ever recorded. U.S. electricity sales continue to decline each year as homes become more energy efficient and solar power becomes more popular.
These significant energy changes have not gone unnoticed by Congress. This week the Senate passed the Energy Policy Modernization Act (S. 2012). The bipartisan energy bill is spearheaded by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Lisa Murkowski [R, AK] and Ranking Member Maria Cantwell [D, WA]. The comprehensive legislation is aimed at updating the nation's power grid and oil and gas transportation systems.
S. 2012 ENERGY POLICY MODERNIZATION ACT OF 2015
Sponsor: Sen. Lisa Murkowski [R, AK]
The bill’s been stalled since February over funding disputes for Flint, Michigan. Initially, Democrats pushed to include $600 million in federal aid and refused to debate a package that did not include funds for Flint. However, last week Democrats chose to drop the Flint provisions, allowing the Senate to finish up work and pass the legislation 85-12.
“Obviously, people in Flint still can’t drink the water and still can’t function as a community. So we’re not stopping. We’re just choosing to take another path,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow [D, MI].
The Senate passed 29 amendments on Tuesday, including a measure to include energy efficiency into federal mortgage valuations.
From Energy policy to Energy funding
The Senate began work this week on the Energy and Water Appropriations bill (H.R. 2028) “almost a month earlier than any appropriations bill has come up in the Senate in modern times,” said Majority Leader McConnell.
On Thursday, two amendments failed: SA #3811 from Senator Hoeven would have blocked funding for implementation of the controversial "Waters of the United States" (WOTUS) rule .SA #3814 from Senator Coats would have ended the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing (ATVM) loan program. An amendment from Senator Al Franken passed: SA #3833 would fund the Department of Energy's (DOE) Tribal Energy Loan Guarantee Program.
The Senate will continue work on the bill next week.
House passed six IRS related bills
In the spirit of Tax Week, the House passed six bills related to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
Two uncontroversial bills passed by voice vote:
Allen bill to ban the IRS from using funds to target citizens using their First Amendment rights
Grothman bill to urge the IRS to make printed copies of tax-filing instruction book available taxpayers for free
Four of the six bills moved quickly from committee to floor, being approved just last week by House Ways and Means.
H.R. 3724 ENSURING INTEGRITY IN THE IRS ACT
Sponsor: Rep. Kristi Noem [R, SD-0]
Bill would prohibit the IRS from rehiring former employers who had been fired for cause. This bill would apply to employees who were removed before, on, or after the enactment of this bill. No additional funds are needed to enact this bill.
How did your Rep vote?
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. The customer service strategy would include telephone and correspondence surveys and proposals on how to improve customer service now and over the next ten years. The Treasury Secretary would submit progress reports twice a year. No additional funds are needed to enact this bill.
How did your Rep vote?
H.R. 4885 IRS OVERSIGHT WHILE ELIMINATING SPENDING (OWES) ACT
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. The IRS would only be allowed to spend these funds through appropriations. This Act only applies to funds received after the date of enactment.
How did your Rep vote?
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. A serious delinquent tax debt refers to an outstanding debt under the 1986 IRS tax code with four exceptions. Two similar measures have failed in the last two years.
How did your Rep vote?
Senate passed FAA reauthorization
After last week's consideration, Senate quickly passed FAA reauthorization bill 95-3, with Sens. Rubio, Lee, and Boxer in opposition. The bill would reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration through September 2017.
S. 2658 FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION REAUTHORIZATION ACT OF 2016
Sponsor: Sen. John Thune [R, SD]
Lawmakers debated what to include in the reauthorization package, ranging from airplane seat sizes and airport security measures to commercial use of drones. Clean energy tax credits were not included, due to time and complications.
The bill now heads to the House, which has its own, more robust FAA reauthorization bill. The House counterpart is a six-year reauthorization that would "de-federalize" air traffic control. The bill would remove 30,000 employees from federal payroll and transfer air traffic control responsibilities to a non-profit corporation.
H.R. 4441 AVIATION INNOVATION, REFORM, AND REAUTHORIZATION ACT OF 2016
Sponsor: Rep. Bill Shuster [R, PA-9]
House Transportation and Infrastructure marked up the legislation in February, advancing it by a vote of 34-25. It has yet to receive a vote on the House floor.
FAA funding was 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), providing a few more months for lawmakers to reach an agreement.
President Obama visits Saudi Arabia,
Lawmakers consider 9/11 bill
President Obama was in Saudi Arabia this week for a two-day summit in Riyadh with the heads of six Persian Gulf countries. “Deep tensions” with the U.S. and changes stirring within Saudi Arabia made for interesting dynamics and a “chilly reception."
In March, a senior Saudi Prince pushed back on comments by President Obama referring to foreign policy “free riders” in the Middle East. (see The Atlantic’s The Obama Doctrine)
More recently, Sens. Chris Murphy and Rand Paul introduced a bill (S.J.Res. 32) setting new conditions on U.S military aid to Saudi Arabia. The legislation requires that the president certify that Saudi Arabia is demonstrating an effort to “minimize harm to civilians” in the conflict in Yemen before Congress considers a selling air-to-ground munitions to Saudi Arabia.
Sens. Chuck Schumer and John Cornyn introduced a bill (S. 2040) that would allow the families of 9/11 victims to sue the Saudi government for any role it played in the terrorist attack.
President Obama has threatened to veto the measure, and Speaker Paul Ryan expressed skepticism, saying the House should take a closer look at the controversial legislation. Reportedly, President Obama did not discuss the bill while in Saudi Arabia. Sen. Lindsey Graham [R, SC] placed a hold on the bill, saying "I want to make sure that anything we do doesn't come to bite us."
The bill prompted Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir to tell a group of American lawmakers that Riyadh would divest as much as $750 billion in U.S. assets if the bill became law (New York Times).
The threat to sell off U.S. assets is rare. It is especially notable given the ambitious “National Transformation Plan,” that 31-year-old, second in line to the Saudi throne, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman described to Bloomberg recently. The plan will:
Place Saudi-owned assets, such as SABIC, real estate holdings, and shares of Aramco (the state-owned oil company) into a Public Investment Fund (PIF)
Make the fund the "largest on earth." “We will surpass $2 trillion,” said bin Salman.
Take Aramco public with a “new strategy [to] transform it from an oil and gas company to an energy/industrial company." The company will build the first solar energy plant in Saudi Arabia and a “huge construction company.”
The Saudi move to diversify comes at a time of plunging oil prices due to falling demand and record production. Oil producing countries gathered in Doha last week to attempt to reach agreement on limiting production. The main sticking point was Iran, which refuses to cut production as it tries to rebuild its oil exports after international sanctions were lifted last year.
But don’t get used to the low gas prices. Experts are predicting they will rise again by the end of the year.
See also: Coverage from CNN, BBC, ABC
New Bills on the Block
Senate Democrats introduced lead water bill, which would approve $70B in federal funds over a decade to update the nation's water infrastructure.
Sen. Johnny Isakson [R, GA] introduced a resolution to block Obama administration's fiduciary rule.
Legislative Lowdown: States Edition
Senate Appropriations will bring supplemental Zika funding bill to the Senate floor "in the near future," meeting some of President Obama's request for additional funding.
House Administration Chairwoman Candice Miller announced that prints of state quarters will replace state flags in the Capitol corridor, in response to controversy over displaying Confederate symbol, which appears on Mississippi flag.
Senate Commerce announced it will markup several bills next week, including FCC reauthorization, Internet of Things, and FCC rulemaking.
Members of Congress are crazy about Spring, with instagrams full of flower pics.
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn and Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley are still working on bipartisan criminal justice reform legislation.
40+ Senate Democrats signed on to a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, calling for a Senate vote on additional Zika funds.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz threatened top White House regulatory official with a contempt of Congress citation over turnover of documents.
Speaker Paul Ryan said he doesn't have the votes to pass a budget.
Senate Republicans formally adopted rule that terms of less than one year do not count towards three-term limit for leadership posts.
First criminal charges issued involving Flint Water Crisis: employee of Flint and two state workers, lead investigator says more charges to come.
House will vote next week on bipartisan bill that would change the process for U.S. manufacturers to request tariff relief.
Puerto Rico debt bill is being reworked — division surrounding whether the package could be considered a bailout.
60 Minutes hacked congressman's phone in report on mobile security.
Every week since December Rep. Scott Peters [D, CA-52] has read names of victims of gun violence to encourage the House to vote on gunshow loophole bill.
Treasury Secretary announced changes to currency. Here's complete rundown of who's coming and going on U.S. bills.
House will vote on Senate-passed trade secrets bill next week.
Treasury Department announced that 12 states and D.C. gained access to $1B of federal funding, part of program to reduce foreclosures and stabilize housing markets. Congress authorized $2B for the program in last year's omnibus spending bill.
FBI paid private hackers more than $1.3M for custom software to unlock the iPhone used in the San Bernardino shooting.
Supreme Court ruled 6-2 that American victims of terrorismcan collect $1.75B from Iran. cf. Majority Opinion (by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg), Dissenting Opinion (by Chief Justice John Roberts, joined by Justice Sotomayor)
Historic first: Chief Justice John Roberts used sign language as a dozen deaf and hard-of-hearing lawyers were sworn in to Supreme Court bar.
"Progress Made but Significant Challenges Must Be Addressed to Ensure Full and Effective Implementation" from U.S. Government Accountability Office
"10 Breakthrough Technologies: 2016" from MIT Technology Review
"Annual Report: FY15" from Congressional Research Service