Latest News Out of Washington, D.C.
Dec. 6, 2018
Following the passing of former President George H.W. Bush on November 30, congressional leaders postponed much of this week’s legislative agenda to instead focus on memorial services that would be occurring throughout the week. While both chambers were in session, neither planned to hold any recorded votes. In addition, President Trump declared December 5 a federal holiday to pay tribute to the late president.
This week’s truncated legislative session also prompted lawmakers to delay a prolonged fight over the remaining fiscal year 2019 spending bills. House and Senate leaders agreed to push back this Friday’s funding deadline by two weeks, thus avoiding a partial government shutdown at the end of the week. The new continuing resolution (HJ Res 143) – which was approved by unanimous consent in both chambers – will fund most government agencies through December 21. In addition, HJ Res 143 includes a short-term extension of the National Flood Insurance Program, the Violence Against Women Act, and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.
It should be noted that Congress has already approved full-year funding for agencies covered by the following appropriations measures: Defense, Labor-Health and Human Services, Energy and Water Development, Military Construction-Veterans Affairs, and the Legislative Branch. The departments covered by these bills would therefore not be subject to any sort of shutdown in fiscal year 2019.
The remaining seven appropriations measures – Homeland Security, Agriculture, Commerce-Justice-Science, Financial Services, Interior-Environment, State and Foreign Operations, and Transportation-Housing and Urban Development – have been held up largely over disagreements on funding for a border wall. While talks are continuing, neither side appears willing to compromise.
For his part, President Trump has continued to press lawmakers to appropriate $5 billion for a wall along the southwest border. Republicans are mostly willing to acquiesce to the president’s demands, while Senate Democrats would support $1.6 billion for pedestrian fencing and security upgrades along the border. Meanwhile, a number of House Democrats remain diametrically opposed to any sort of border wall funding. Therefore, a potential year-end budget deal could hinge upon not only a compromise on the amount that would be spent, but also on how the funds can be used.
In addition, and as part of the year-end spending discussions, congressional leaders are considering including supplemental disaster relief funding for the victims of the recent wildfires in California. For their part, Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris recently wrote to Senate leaders to ask for the inclusion of over $9 billion to help communities with ongoing response and recovery efforts. The request echoes the California Office of Emergency Services’ appeal for over $9 billion in federal disaster aid.
Farm Bill Deal Reached
After months of negotiations, House and Senate leaders announced that they had reached a tentative agreement on a new long-term Farm Bill. While details of the agreement have not yet been released, it appears as though House Republicans have agreed to drop the controversial work requirements and administrative mandates for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP/CalFresh) that were included in the lower chamber’s version of the legislation. While the requirements were something that conservatives have insisted on throughout the reauthorization process, House GOP leaders are eager to strike a final deal on the legislation before losing their majority.
Looking ahead, the measure could get a vote as a standalone bill. However, the limited floor time remaining will likely force congressional leaders to include the legislation as part of a year-end budget package. Despite some conservative opposition, the compromise is likely to attract bipartisan support in both chambers. However, it is unclear whether President Trump, who has specifically called on Congress to tighten SNAP work requirements, will support the final bill.
Lawmakers Seeking Agreement on Automated Vehicles Legislation
House and Senate sponsors of autonomous vehicles legislation (S 1885; HR 3388) are making an aggressive bid to get a compromise bill over the finish line before the end of the year. While the two pending legislative proposals are different in several key areas, they both aim to support the use of self-driving cars and seek to streamline the regulatory process for deploying such vehicles. Of particular concern for counties, both measures would preempt state and local authorities from regulating the design, construction, and performance of driverless cars.
Several Democratic and GOP senators have expressed concerns with the bill, so it remains to be seen whether the measure will ultimately have enough support to advance. For her part, Senator Feinstein has expressed opposition to provisions that would permanently preempt state and local authority on safety. In an attempt to address Senator Feinstein’s concerns, updated language was released earlier this week to clarify that local governments would maintain their traditional authority over motor vehicle operation, including enforcement of traffic laws, as well as the sale, distribution, repair, or service of automated vehicles.