Update from Washington, D.C. 06/07/2013
The House and Senate were back in session this week following the
Memorial Day recess. Senators saw their schedules modified,
however, after learning of the death of Senator Frank Lautenberg
(D-NJ), who passed away on June 3. The upper chamber stood in
recess on June 5, allowing members the opportunity to attend
Senator Lautenberg’s funeral in New York.
Upon returning to Washington, senators voted 75-22 to limit debate on a Farm Bill reauthorization package (S 954). The legislation, which was approved by the Agriculture Committee on May 14, would reauthorize for five years a broad range of agricultural and food-assistance programs. Senate leaders had been working for weeks to limit the number of amendments that would be considered, but with no agreement in sight, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) moved to end debate. Invoking cloture on S 954 helps clear the way for a final vote on the bill, which is expected to occur on Monday, June 10. Notably, an amendment to expand high-speed broadband service to rural areas will be considered before the vote on final passage.
After the Senate completes its work on the Farm Bill, it will shift its focus to a comprehensive immigration reform bill (S 744), which was approved by the Judiciary Committee in May. Senate leaders have scheduled a June 11 vote to limit debate on a motion to proceed to consideration of the landmark legislation. If the motion is adopted, the Senate will need to take another procedural vote before the underlying bill will be open for amendment.
It should be noted that while supporters of the legislation have expressed a willingness to consider amendments, they also want to ensure that any changes to the bill do not upset the core framework. For his part, Majority Leader Reid believes that the Senate will be able to advance the measure before the July 4th recess, which gives lawmakers three weeks to complete their work.
Across Capitol Hill, a bipartisan group of House lawmakers has reportedly come to an agreement on its own comprehensive immigration reform legislation. However, Representative Raul Labrador (R-ID), a key conservative member of the coalition, has refused to sign off on the package. Labrador chose to leave the group after learning that language he had offered to prevent newly legalized immigrants from receiving subsidized health care would not be included. Instead, he plans to write his own proposal.
In other news, the House continued to move forward with the fiscal year 2014 appropriations process despite the lack of a formal budget agreement. On June 4, the GOP-led House agreed to a $967 billion spending cap set by the Budget Control Act (BCA). This is down from $1.043 trillion in fiscal year 2013. Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), on the other hand, is expected to support a higher spending cap of $1.058 trillion.
Following approval of the spending allocations, the House began consideration of its first two spending bills for the upcoming fiscal year. On June 4, lawmakers overwhelmingly approved a Military Construction-Veterans Affairs measure (HR 2216) by a vote of 421-4. On June 6, the House adopted legislation (HR 2217) that will fund the Department of Homeland Security and the programs it oversees. That measure was approved by a vote of 245-182.
For its part, the White House has threatened to veto both measures, and is likely to veto all spending bills that are based on the House GOP budget plan.