Federal Issues Update
DC Focused on Comey Testimony
GOP congressional leaders returned to the nation’s capital following the Memorial Day recess intent on outlining a path forward to achieve their key domestic policy goals, including health care reform, an overhaul of the tax code, and a significant investment in infrastructure. Despite the desire to focus on legislating, the week’s agenda was largely overshadowed by the testimony of former FBI Director James Comey, who appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday. Comey, who was fired by President Trump earlier this year, spoke about his interactions with the president regarding an investigation into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.
The House is set to approve legislation (HR 10) that would rollback significant portions of the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory law (PL 111-203). Of interest to California counties, Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-FL) submitted an amendment to HR 10 that would have allowed banks to provide financial services to state-legal marijuana businesses without fear of penalties from the federal government. However, the House Rules Committee, which sets the parameters for floor debate, barred the amendment from consideration.
For the most part, Democrats are united in their opposition to the legislation, arguing that it would diminish consumer protections and weaken oversight of private securities markets. House Republicans, on the other hand, insist that the bill would be tougher on the financial sector by removing the safeguards that encourage risky behavior. Despite its likely passage in the House, the measure is considered dead on arrival in the Senate, as Democrats are certain to filibuster such sweeping changes to one of President Obama’s signature achievements.
President Trump dedicated much of the week of June 5 to promoting his plans for modernizing the nation’s infrastructure. On Monday, the president kicked off the White House’s self-proclaimed “Infrastructure Week” by discussing the administration’s proposal to privatize the air-traffic control (ATC) system. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao subsequently appeared before committees in both the House and Senate to defend the controversial plan to separate ATC operations from the Federal Aviation Administration.
The president held later in the week an event at a marina on the Ohio River in which he pledged to upgrade inland waterways, as well as roads, bridges, and other key elements of the nation’s transportation system. Although the president discussed the administration’s goal of leveraging $1 trillion in investment to revitalize aging infrastructure, no new details on the ambitious spending plan were offered. Rather, a full legislative proposal is expected to be released by the administration sometime in the third quarter of the year.
On Thursday, the White House hosted an infrastructure listening session for a number state and local elected officials. Several key topics were on the agenda, including investments in rural infrastructure, permitting reform, drinking and wastewater infrastructure, and energy policy.
Finally, the president is expected to sign on Friday an executive order designed to make the process of delivering infrastructure projects more efficient. The order will reportedly direct federal agencies to use all available means to reduce the time it takes to permit major infrastructure projects, which the White House has said could generate trillions of dollars in economic benefits.
Earlier today, the House Natural Resources Committee released a draft forestry bill – entitled the Resilient Federal Forests Act – that would reform federal forest management policy and address wildfire funding. Among other things, the legislation would increase timber production by expediting the environmental review process for certain projects, including salvage operations after a wildfire disaster or in situations of critical insect or disease infestation. The bill also would expand the list of eligible expenses under Title III of the Secure Rural Schools program to include law enforcement patrols, training, and equipment purchases. In addition, the draft includes a proposal that would address the wildfire funding crisis.
It should be noted that the House approved a similar bill in the previous Congress; the new draft, however, incorporates a number of changes. CSAC is carefully reviewing the legislation and will be preparing written correspondence to the committee. Finally, the Federal Lands Subcommittee will conduct a legislative hearing next week (June 15) to discuss the bill in more detail, with the expectation of a committee markup in the coming weeks.