Update from Washington, D.C. 07/02/2012
The nation’s capital was buzzing with activity last week as
lawmakers broke through the gridlock to reach agreement on a
major surface transportation bill and the Supreme Court handed
down a much-anticipated ruling on President Obama’s signature
health care reform law. While these issues garnered the majority
of the headlines, Congress also was under pressure to reauthorize
the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), extend user fees for
the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and approve a student
loan interest-rate reduction measure.
After weeks of negotiations, the Senate on June 26th approved a bipartisan five-year reauthorization (S 3187) of FDA user-fee programs, which fund the agency’s approval process for prescription drugs and medical devices. The legislation also would create new user fees for generic drugs and generic biological medicines, which is intended to speed up the review process for those products. The current authorization (PL 110-85) was set to expire at the end of September.
Also this past week, the House Natural Resources Committee’s Indian and Alaska Native Affairs Subcommittee held an oversight hearing on June 27th to examine the standards and procedures for whether, how, and when Indian tribes should be newly recognized by the federal government. The subcommittee heard testimony from several tribal leaders, as well as from Napa County Supervisor Diane Dillon.
In her testimony, Supervisor Dillon offered the perspective of both Napa and Sonoma Counties regarding the tribal recognition process. According to Supervisor Dillon, the counties believe that lawsuits by congressionally-terminated California Indian tribes – in which alleged plaintiff-tribes ask federal district courts to restore their government-to-government relationship with the United States and the Department of the Interior acquiesces – represent a constitutionally impermissible usurpation of congressional authority.
It should be noted that the counties’ views have been largely derived from their experience in litigation now pending in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. In the case of The Mishewal Wappo Tribe of Alexander Valley v. Ken Salazar, the tribe contends that it was unlawfully terminated by the federal government in the 1950s. The Wappo tribe was one of 41 California tribes to have recognition stripped through a law Congress passed called the California Rancheria Act. For their part, Napa and Sonoma Counties joined as intervenor defendants in the case in 2010 and continue to oppose the Wappo’s bid to gain recognition on various grounds, including concerns regarding land use and the potential impacts on local communities.
The full text of Supervisor Dillon’s written testimony can be accessed by clicking on the following link: Dillon Testimony 6/27/2012. To view the hearing in its entirety, including Supervisor Dillon’s oral presentation to the Indian and Alaska Native Affairs Subcommittee, please click on the following link: House NRC Hearing – Recognition 6/27/2012.
In other developments, Congress is continuing efforts aimed at renewing expiring federal agriculture and nutrition programs via a new Farm Bill reauthorization. On June 18th, the Senate passed its reauthorization package (S 3240) by a vote of 64-35, with the support of Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA).
According to the Congressional Budget Office, the Senate Farm Bill is projected to cost roughly $969 billion over the next ten years. When compared to current funding levels, this equates to a savings of $23.6 billion.
In terms of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – formerly known as the Food Stamp program – the Senate rejected a proposal by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) that would have restored a $4.5 billion cut to the program. While both California senators voted in favor of the amendment, it was defeated 66-33. The Senate also voted down an amendment by Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) that would have further weakened SNAP.
Across Capitol Hill, the House Agriculture Committee is working on a draft bill that is expected to differ significantly from the Senate legislation on the structure of farm support programs and the level of cuts to the SNAP program. The House bill will likely have a savings target of $33 billion over 10 years, with most of the extra savings coming from deeper cuts to SNAP. The committee is expected to consider its bill on July 11th.
Late last week, House and Senate negotiators struck a
long-awaited agreement on a multi-year highway and transit
reauthorization bill (HR 4348). The deal comes 33 months after
the current surface transportation law (SAFETEA-LU) first expired
in September of 2009. Since that time, Congress has had to
approve nine separate short-term extensions of SAFETEA-LU in
order to avoid a lapse in federal transportation funding to
states and localities.
All told, the new transportation bill – which will be known as the “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act,” or MAP-21 – is expected to cost roughly $120 billion. Unlike the Senate-passed measure (S 1813), which would have renewed surface transportation programs through fiscal year 2013, the final legislation will keep programs operational through the end of fiscal year 2014.
Under the bill, the number of highway programs will be consolidated by two-thirds. The legislation retains certain core highway programs, including the Surface Transportation Program – which provides funding to states and localities for a variety of highway, bridge, and safety projects – as well as the Highway Safety Improvement Program.
Just prior to adjourning for their week-long Independence Day recess, both the House and Senate approved on Friday, June 30th the Conference Report to HR 4348 (found at: MAP-21 Conference Report). It should be noted that President Obama signed into law a one-week extension of SAFETEA-LU in order to give time for the final reauthorization package to reach his desk. The president is expected to sign the new bill in the coming days. To follow are several key provisions of MAP-21:
In a major victory for California’s counties, the final transportation measure retains language from the Senate bill that maintains a dedicated federal funding stream for off-system bridges. The provision ensures that local bridge maintenance, repair, and capital projects do not have to compete against other capacity enhancement projects. CSAC worked diligently throughout the reauthorization process with key members of the California congressional delegation and other stakeholders to ensure that local off-system bridges would continue to receive direct federal funding.
Secure Rural Schools
In a victory for California’s forest counties, the highway bill includes a one-year continuation of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act (SRS), as well as an additional year of funding for the Payments-in-Lieu-of-Taxes (PILT) program. California’s rural counties rely on both programs to maintain local roads and other critical public infrastructure. CSAC, along with the Regional Council of Rural Counties and other key organizations, aggressively pushed for inclusion of the SRS/PILT provisions.
MAP-21 includes various provisions aimed at shortening the length of the transportation project delivery process. The bill, for example, includes provisions that would expand Categorical Exclusions and allow for early acquisition of rights-of-way. The measure also would make permanent the Surface Transportation Project Delivery Pilot Program, which has allowed California to significantly streamline the process for the delivery of highway projects. Additionally, under the bill, the program is expanded to include rail, public transit, and multimodal projects.
Although the final package does not include provisions similar to CSAC-endorsed legislation (HR 2389) that would establish a program to eliminate duplicative state and federal environmental reviews and approvals, it would require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to undertake a related study. Pursuant to the bill, GAO will be required to review state laws and procedures for conducting environmental reviews. The study will also identify the states that have environmental laws that provide protections and opportunities for public involvement that are equivalent to those provided by federal environmental laws. GAO must submit its findings to Congress no later than two years after the date of the legislation’s enactment.
With regard to transportation planning, the legislation would ensure that existing Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) retain their designation as an MPO. The conference report also maintains the existing population threshold for the designation of new MPOs (urbanized areas with a population of more than 50,000 individuals).
HR 4348 increases annual funding for federal credit assistance under the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) from $122 million to $750 million in fiscal year 2013 and $1 billion in fiscal year 2014. The package also increases the maximum share of project costs that can be funded under the TIFIA program from 33 percent to 49 percent and sets aside funding for projects in rural areas at more favorable terms.
In order to arrive at a final deal, concessions needed to be made on both sides. For example, House Republicans yielded to congressional Democrats and the Obama administration in agreeing to drop their insistence that the final bill include language mandating approval of the cross-country Keystone XL oil pipeline. For their part, Senate Democrats accepted many of the environmental streamlining initiatives that were included in the original House transportation bill.
Notably, congressional leaders made an eleventh hour decision to include in the transportation measure a long-delayed reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Under the bill, financing and programmatic authority for the NFIP is extended through September 2017.
While the original Conference Report that was posted by the House Rules Committee included language that would have mandated flood insurance for property owners in areas protected by levees and other flood control structures – known as so-called “residual risk” areas – the highly controversial provision was removed from the final bill after several key senators raised objections. CSAC opposed the inclusion of the Senate NFIP bill’s insurance mandate for residual risk areas, expressing its opposition in correspondence to Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA). To see a copy CSAC’s letter to Senator Feinstein, please click on the following link: CSAC NFIP Letter to Sen. Feinstein.
Health Care Reform
In a historic decision, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld on a 5 to 4
decision the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA),
which was enacted into law in 2010. Most significantly, the high
court ruled June 26 that the controversial individual mandate,
which is the centerpiece of the health care law, is allowable
under the Congress’ taxing authority in the
Aside from the individual mandate, the Supreme Court also ruled on the law’s forthcoming Medicaid expansion. The ACA provides extra funding as an incentive for states to expand their Medicaid coverage, but also includes potential penalties for states that fail to do so. The court determined that the federal government could supply extra Medicaid funding to the states, but that it could not penalize noncompliant states by withholding funds from components of the Medicaid program that existed before the ACA was signed into law.
Medicaid currently covers about seven million individuals in California, and the ACA’s Medicaid expansion is likely to cover an additional 1.7 million to more than three million new individuals in the state. It should be noted that the federal government will pay 100 percent of the benefits for newly-covered Medicaid patients during the first three years of implementation (2014-2016), eventually phasing down to 90 percent by 2020. In addition, it has been estimated that 94 percent of California’s population will be covered by a health plan under the ACA. This would more than halve the number of the state’s uninsured, from 6.53 million to 3.10 million.
All of the other provisions of the ACA were upheld by the Supreme Court, including the mandatory funding for the Prevention and Public Health Fund, which funds state and local public health departments and other entities for disease prevention, health promotion and other public health initiatives. The Elder Justice Act, which was attached to the ACA, also withstood the Court’s scrutiny. The Act funds competitive grants to state and local adult protective services through the annual appropriations process.
The reaction to the court’s ruling from national leaders has followed the tone of this year’s presidential campaign, signaling that the political battle over the health care overhaul is not over just yet. President Obama and Democratic leaders have claimed victory, while congressional Republicans have vowed to continue their efforts aimed at repealing the ACA. For their part, House GOP leaders have already vowed to repeal the entire law when they return from the upcoming Independence Day recess. Any effort to scrap the Act, however, is likely to die in the Democrat-led Senate.
Indeed, the ACA and the Supreme Court’s decision are sure to feature prominently in the run-up to the November elections, with the law’s fate likely to hinge on the outcome. If Democrats retain the presidency and control of the Senate, implementation will likely move forward. On the other hand, should Republicans win the presidency and gain control of the Senate, efforts to repeal or defund the law are sure to gain steam.