Update from Washington, D.C. 07/12/2013
Following the Fourth of July recess, lawmakers returned to the
nation’s capital to tackle a number of issues, including the
fiscal year 2014 budget and a revised Farm Bill. On July 11, the
House passed its fiscal year 2014 Energy-Water (E&W) spending
measure, which would provide $30.4 billion for programs under the
purview of the Department of Energy, the Army Corps of Engineers,
and the Bureau of Reclamation. The proposed funding level is $2.9
billion less than the fiscal year 2013 enacted level and $4.3
billion less than competing legislation (S 1245) in the
It should be noted that the House and Senate bills include report language relative to the Corps’ levee vegetation policy. Specifically, the House language highlights the policy’s potential conflicts with requirements under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). It also encourages the Corps to maximize collaboration with non-federal interests, including project sponsors and the agricultural community, and to give serious consideration to their concerns and proposals regarding flexibility, regional considerations, financial impacts, and decision criteria.
The Senate measure states that the Corps’ initial research indicates that minimal data exists on the scientific relationship between woody vegetation and levees. The language also urges the Corps to continue to conduct additional research on the topic and encourages the agency to clarify how it will apply ESA considerations in its final vegetation policy. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who chairs the Senate E&W Appropriations Subcommittee, championed the aforementioned language.
The House and Senate Appropriations Committees also approved the week of June 24 their respective fiscal year 2014 Transportation-Housing and Urban Development (T-HUD) Appropriations bill. The House legislation (HR 2610), in total, would provide $44.1 billion in discretionary spending, or a reduction of $7.7 billion below the fiscal year 2013 enacted level. The Senate bill (S 1243), on the other hand, would provide $54 billion for T-HUD programs, or $2.3 billion more than the fiscal year 2013 enacted level.
The federal-aid highway program obligation level provided one area of agreement for the two chambers, as both bills would fund the program at $41 billion, or the same level of funding authorized under MAP-21. This represents an increase of $557 million over the fiscal year 2013 level.
The Senate bill also would provide $550 million for the TIGER grant program, which is designed to support significant transportation projects in a wide variety of modes, including highways and bridges, public transportation, passenger and freight railroads, and port infrastructure. The House version of the legislation, on the other hand, does not include funding for TIGER grants and would rescind $237 million in fiscal year 2013 funds.
In addition, the Senate bill includes $500 million for bridge projects across the country. The funding would be distributed through a competitive process, with the Department of Transportation required to ensure an equitable geographic distribution of funds and an appropriate balance in addressing the needs of urban and rural areas.
In the area of housing and community development, the bill would cut a number of programs, including the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) formula program. The House measure would fund the program at $1.64 billion, or a $1.31 billion cut. The proposed funding level represents a roughly 45 percent reduction in CDBG spending. In contrast, the Senate bill would boost funding for CDBG by nearly seven percent to $3.15 billion.
The House has now approved four of its 12 fiscal year 2014 spending measures, and the Appropriations Committee has advanced six of the bills. Across Capitol Hill, the full Senate has yet to consider any of the 12 measures, but the Appropriations Committee has approved six of the spending bills for the next fiscal year.
In other news, House Republicans met this week to discuss next steps on immigration reform now that the Senate has passed comprehensive legislation (S 744). GOP leaders have essentially declared the Senate bill dead on arrival, and Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has made it clear on a number of occasions that the House will not consider the upper chamber’s bill.. Furthermore, the speaker has indicated that the House will abide by the so-called “Hastert Rule,” meaning that any potential legislation will not be considered unless it has the support of more than half the GOP conference.
For its part, the House Judiciary Committee has approved a series of individual bills that tackle different issues in the immigration debate including legislation (HR 1773) that would create a new temporary agricultural guest-worker program, a bill (HR 1772) that would expand E-Verify nationwide, and another measure (HR 2131) that would increase the number of visas available for high-skilled workers. Additionally, and as previously reported, the committee on June 18 approved along party lines legislation (HR 2278) that would give local governments more authority over immigration enforcement.
On the Farm Bill reauthorization front, the House on July 11 narrowly passed a revised package (HR 2642) that mirrors the legislation that the full House amended in late June, but excludes all of the nutrition programs that many Republicans oppose. GOP leaders have pledged to put the nutrition title, including provisions relative to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, in a separate bill; however, it is unclear when the House would take action on it. It should be noted that the revised agriculture title does not include an expiration date, so these provisions would become the new permanent law.
Finally, 138 bipartisan lawmakers – including 23 members of the California delegation – sent a letter this week to House leadership expressing opposition to any proposal that would cap or eliminate the deduction for municipal bond interest. It should be noted that there is currently no legislation pending in Congress that would change the tax treatment of municipal bonds. However, as lawmakers continue to search for ways to reduce the deficit, the correspondence requests that municipal bonds be taken off the table.