Update from Washington, D.C.
House and Senate leaders were unable to advance their respective
fiscal year 2014 Transportation-Housing and Urban Development
(T-HUD) spending bills before adjourning on August 2 for a
five-week recess. The House legislation (HR 2610), which
would provide $44.1 billion in overall discretionary funding for
transportation and housing programs, was pulled from floor
consideration for lack of support, while the Senate’s $54 billion
measure (S 1243) stalled on a procedural motion.
With the fiscal year 2014 appropriations process stalled on a number of fronts, Congress is certain to shift its attention following the August break to development of a stopgap funding measure. Lawmakers will be working with a greater sense of urgency, as the current continuing resolution (PL 113-6) will expire on September 30. It should be noted that the House is only scheduled to be in session for nine days in September, with the upper chamber slated to meet for 16 days.
To complicate matters further, there are still a number of uncertainties regarding the length and scope of such an extension. For his part, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has indicated his preference for a short-term measure, while Senate Democrats favor a longer-term deal. With respect to the overall spending limit, conservatives will likely insist that programs be extended at the post-sequester cap of $967 billion. Moderate Republicans, on the other hand, will ask that spending be extended at current levels (roughly $988 billion), while Democrats are expected to endorse the higher pre-sequestration cap of $1.058 trillion.
As congressional leaders try to find common ground on a stopgap funding solution, top White House officials have been in discussions with a small group of moderate GOP senators on a broader budget deal. The administration is hopeful that the negotiations will yield a plan to replace the broad sequester cuts with a balanced mix of spending reductions and additional revenue. Republicans negotiators, however, have balked at anything that resembles a tax increase and will want the talks to focus primarily on cuts to entitlement programs, such as Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security.
In other news, the House Committee on Natural Resources on July 31 approved forest management legislation (HR 1526) that would, among other things, address the expiration of the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) program. Specifically, the bill would require the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to establish a “Forest Reserve Revenue Area” within each unit of the National Forest System. Under the legislation, USDA would have a fiduciary obligation to produce a minimum amount of commercial timber in these Revenue Areas for the financial benefit of local counties. Additionally, the legislation would provide a one-year extension of SRS funding to give counties adequate time to adjust to the new payment structure.
CSACremains concerned that a new payment system solely based on timber receipts could result in significantly less funding to California’s counties. Accordingly, the association, along with RCRC, has encouraged the committee to ensure that counties would be appropriately compensated should USDA fail, for whatever reason, to reach its intended revenue target. In addition, CSAC and RCRC have urged committee leaders to seek a broad, bipartisan consensus on the environmental streamlining provisions included in the legislation.
In other developments, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee on July 31 overwhelmingly approved its version of a Workforce Investment Act (WIA) reauthorization (S 1356). Across Capitol Hill, the House approved along party lines a dramatically different bill (HR 803) in March that would consolidate 35 employment and training programs into a single block grant to states.
Unlike the lower chamber’s bill, the Senate legislation – which is supported by NACo, the National League of Cities, and many other business and labor groups – largely keeps the current structure of federal job training programs intact but would streamline some of the administrative reporting procedures at the state and local level.
Finally, Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and John Thune (R-SD) introduced legislation (S 1431) on August 1 that would permanently extend the moratorium on Internet access taxes. The current ban is slated to expire on November 1, 2014. Wyden and Thune also have introduced a separate proposal (S 1364) that would ban state and local governments from imposing any new, discriminatory taxes on digital goods and services, including music downloads, movies, and newspaper subscriptions.