Federal Update 07/30/2010
Lawmakers scrambled to advance several key pieces of legislation
before departing for their month-long summer recess, which is
slated to begin July 30 for members of the House. The Senate is
scheduled to adjourn the following week. Among the bills Congress
pushed through before the break are the fiscal year 2010
emergency supplemental appropriations bill and the extension of
an unemployment benefits package.
House-Senate negotiators were finally able to break their stalemate over the fiscal year 2010 emergency spending measure (HR 4899), as House Democratic leaders agreed to concede on several contentious provisions in their version of the supplemental funding legislation. The House overwhelmingly approved on July 27 the Senate-passed emergency supplemental bill, though numerous Democrats voted against the package because of concerns relating to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The scrapped House bill, which provided dollars for ongoing military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, also included over $22 billion in domestic spending initiatives. Among the non-war-related items dropped from the supplemental are $10 billion to prevent layoffs of teachers and school employees, $5 billion for education-related Pell grants, and additional funding for border security projects. Subsequently, the modified emergency supplemental mirrors the $58.8 billion Senate version that focuses on funding the two wars and disaster relief.
Also included in the supplemental spending measure is a provision repealing the section of the fiscal year 2010 Interior Appropriations bill (PL 111-88) that eliminate the 25 percent county share of the geothermal revenues.
Although the aforementioned domestic items were dropped from the supplemental measure, they could possibly be attached to another legislative vehicle in the future, such as next year’s spending measures.
In another key development, Majority Leader Reid was able to finally advance a bill (HR 4213) to extend unemployment benefits. With newly appointed Senator Carte Goodwin (D-WV) taking over the late Senator Robert Byrd’s seat, Reid had the 60 votes necessary to invoke cloture on the bill and limit debate. Following suit, the House promptly cleared the bill by a vote of 272-152.
The $33.9 billion measure extends unemployment benefits through November 30. The bill is also retroactive and extends coverage to June 2, when the last round of benefits expired. The package also includes 100 percent federal funding to states to help cover implementation costs.
Another big-ticket item on the congressional agenda is the 12 fiscal year 2011 appropriations bills. To date, in the House, only two of the 12 regular spending bills – Transportation-HUD and Military Construction-VA – have been approved by the full House. In the upper chamber, no funding bills for next year have cleared the Senate.
Looking ahead, it is unclear which individual funding measures, if any, will be approved by Congress this year. Although appropriators have made some progress on advancing specific spending bills, it is unlikely that they will be able to pass all 12 fiscal year 2011 bills separately. A more likely scenario is that they will bundle any remaining individual spending bills and pass a continuing resolution (CR) in order to keep the federal government operating.
FEDERAL JOBS LEGISLATION
In an effort to reduce the unemployment rate, House Democrats packaged anew tax provisions that supporters hope will result in creating more jobs. The key component of the new bill (HR 5893) is a $4 billion extension of the Build America Bonds (BABs) program for two years beyond its current December expiration date. The legislation extending BABs, which helps states and localities with borrowing costs for construction projects, would gradually slice the subsidy level provided by the federal government.
The jobs bill would also extend for a year the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families Emergency Fund, which is scheduled to expire on September 30. The fund, which has created over 20,000 jobs in California, provides dollars for subsidized employment.
While the rule for debating the measure was adopted 231-189, the Democratic leadership ultimately pulled the bill from the floor yesterday due to a Republican effort to strike an unpopular provision in the health reform law that requires small businesses to file a 1099 form to the IRS for payments of more than $600 made to any vendor during a tax year. Small-business groups have objected to it and many Democrats support its repeal. Adopting the amendment would have essentially made the underlying bill’s costs add to the federal deficit.
The Senate is expected to vote on cloture on Monday to consider a scaled-back bill containing the enhanced federal match for Medicaid and IV-E foster care. Under the measure, $16 billion in additional funds would be made available for states’ Medicaid and IV-E programs from January 2011 through June 2011. The original proposal would have provided $24 billion to continue the match at the current levels originally enacted under the Recovery Act.
The Senate has already passed a larger bill containing the funds. The House dropped its provision from its jobs bill earlier this summer and will already be in recess if indeed the Senate is able to adopt its package next week, delaying any possible final action until mid-September.
On July 22, the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee approved its spending bill for fiscal year 2011. During the panel’s consideration of the legislation, the subcommittee adopted an amendment by Representative Tom Cole (R-OK) that would overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Carcieri v. Salazar. Under the Court’s decision, the secretary’s trust land acquisition authority is limited to those tribes that were under federal jurisdiction at the time of the passage of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934.
CSAC strongly opposes the aforementioned congressional action in the absence of comprehensive reforms to the Department of Interior’s trust land process. The Cole amendment, along with several other stand-alone Carcieri “quick fix” bills, fails to address the legitimate and long-standing concerns of States and local governments regarding the systemic flaws in the current fee-to-trust process. Additionally, since the Cole amendment has been added as a policy rider to an appropriations bill, it precludes the opportunity for a full and open debate on the broader policy implications arising from the Carcieri decision.
Across Capitol Hill, Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) is expected to offer his Carcieri “fix” amendment to the Senate’s fiscal year 2011 Interior Appropriations bill. CSAC is working closely with Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), as well as other stakeholders, in an effort to ensure that county government’s interests are fully protected.
STATE CRIMINAL ALIEN ASSISTANCE PROGRAM
On July 21, the Senate Commerce, Justice and Science (CJS) Appropriations Subcommittee approved by voice vote its fiscal year 2011 spending bill. The legislation includes $300 million for the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP), or a $30 million reduction from the fiscal year 2010 funding level.
Across Capitol Hill, and as reported in a previous edition of the Legislative Bulletin, the House CJS Appropriations Subcommittee approved its draft fiscal year 2011 spending bill in late June. The measure includes $330 million for SCAAP, or the same amount appropriated in the current fiscal year.
With regard to the fiscal year 2011 Transportation-HUD Appropriations legislation, the House of Representatives cleared its version of the spending bill on Thursday, July 29. The measure would provide a total of $79.4 billion for the U.S. Department of Transportation, including over $45 billion for highway programs, or a $3 billion increase over the fiscal year 2010 funding level. The bill also includes $11.3 for transit programs and $1.4 billion for high-speed rail grants. The highway funding is $3.9 billion more than the president requested.
Absent from the legislation is President Obama’s proposed multibillion-dollar infrastructure bank, which could be used to supplement declining gas tax receipts that are coming into the Highway Trust Fund. Incidentally, while the president’s fiscal year 2010 and 2011 budgets have included proposals for the creation of an infrastructure bank, the administration has never sent a specific policy proposal to Congress.
Across Capitol Hill, the full Senate has not yet considered the fiscal year 2011 Transportation-HUD Appropriations bill. As approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee, the legislation would provide roughly $3 billion less than the House bill for highway programs.
ENERGY AND CLIMATE CHANGE
On the energy front, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) finally unveiled this past week a scaled-back energy package after weeks of policy discussions regarding the composition of the legislation. Although it had been expected that a renewable energy mandate would serve as the foundation of the bill, Reid opted not to include the requirement in the legislation over the objections of a number of members of the Democratic caucus.
Reid’s bill would overhaul federal management of outer continental shelf offshore drilling, promote home energy efficiency retrofits, encourage the development of natural gas and electric vehicles, and provide for increases in the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which helps pay for state and federal recreation programs.
In addition to inclusion of the Renewable Energy Standard, Reid has been under pressure from a number of members to include a carbon pricing component in the Senate’s bill. At this point, the majority leader appears to be holding firm to his plans to move forward with the more narrowly tailored package, with Reid indicating his intention to bring the bill to the Senate floor the week of August 2. However, given GOP opposition to the package, it is unclear whether Reid will be able to garner the 60 votes necessary to bring the measure to the floor next week.
Key Senate Republicans are pressing for two or three weeks of debate on the bill. With the upper chamber scheduled to begin its month-long summer recess August 6, a lengthy debate would push Senate consideration of the measure well into September. Given that Congress is expected to adjourn in early October to hit the campaign trail, little time would be left in the session to finalize an energy bill. Of course, a lame-duck session is a distinct possibility after the November elections.
For its part, the House is expected to vote Friday on its oil spill measure (HR 3534). Like the Senate bill, it would impose new safety mandates on offshore drilling, while restructuring the Interior Department agency responsible for overseeing drilling on federal property and waters into separate regulatory and leasing components.