Update from Washington, D.C.
Work on FY 2020 Budget Continues; Rep. Garamendi Introduces Bill to Protect Federal Emergency Relief Funding
June 13, 2019
This week, the House continued to work through amendments to the first of its fiscal year 2020 spending bills (HR 2740), a package that combines four (of 12) appropriations measures, including Defense, Labor-Health and Human Services, Energy-Water, and State-Foreign Operations. The legislation initially included a fifth measure that would fund the Legislative Branch, though it was pulled from consideration amid criticism that it would allow members of Congress to receive a pay raise.
All told, HR 2740 would increase funding for nearly all covered programs compared with fiscal year 2019 spending levels. However, the measure assumes that Congress will enact legislation to increase the discretionary spending limits mandated under the Budget Control Act (BCA). In the absence of a budget agreement, the funding levels in the bill would trigger automatic across-the-board reductions, known as sequestration.
According to a Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) issued by the White House, the president’s advisors would recommend that he veto the four-bill package, if it were to reach his desk. While there are a variety of reasons behind the veto threat, the administration is opposed to the legislation’s increases in domestic discretionary spending.
While debate on HR 2740 is likely to extend into next week, House Democratic leaders have already teed up consideration of the next spending package, which will cover an additional five measures, including: Agriculture-Food and Drug Administration; Commerce-Justice-Science; Interior-Environment; Military Construction-VA; and, Transportation-Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Across Capitol Hill, GOP leaders on the Senate Appropriations Committee have been reluctant to take up any fiscal year 2020 spending measures until lawmakers and the Trump administration reach an accord on a new budgetary framework. In an effort to facilitate such an agreement, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) met this week with White House officials to discuss potential pathways forward. While the talks were preliminary in nature, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has indicated that the administration would favor a two-year budget agreement that also includes a debt limit deal.
Committee Votes to Block Proposed HUD Public Housing Rule; Advances National Flood Insurance Program Renewal
The House Financial Services Committee this week voted 32-26 to approve legislation (HR 2763) that would prevent Housing and Urban Development (HUD) from moving forward with a proposed rule that, if finalized, would no longer allow legal-status families with undocumented or other ineligible relatives living with them to live in public housing. It should be noted that ineligible individuals currently living in those arrangements do not receive any federal subsidy toward the assistance.
Pursuant to the proposed rule, all subsidized housing residents (who are not elderly) would be required to have their immigration status verified. If it is determined that an “ineligible” individual resides in the home, the entire family would be evicted from subsidized housing within 18 months. According to HUD estimates, approximately 25,000 households – or about 108,000 people – would lose their housing under the administration’s proposal. Of those individuals, 76,000 are legally eligible for benefits, including 55,000 citizen children.
In addition to HR 2763, the Financial Services Committee approved legislation that would reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). The bill (HR 3167), which is sponsored by committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), includes a number of reforms that are designed to increase flood insurance affordability, improve mapping, and enhance mitigation. The NFIP, which is slated to expire on September 30 of this year, has been repeatedly renewed by Congress via a series of short-term extensions.
Legislation Introduced to Safeguard Federal Funding for Disaster Recovery Transportation Projects
This week, Congressman John Garamendi (D-CA) – along with twenty members of the California congressional delegation – introduced legislation (HR 3193) that would help safeguard federal funding for disaster-recovery transportation projects. Pursuant to current Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) regulations, the federal government has the ability to claw back Emergency Relief (ER) funding for highway and public transportation projects if those projects do not reach the construction phase within two fiscal years of being awarded federal funds.
The impetus for the Garamendi bill is a recent FHWA decision to deny time-extension requests for 66 (out of 73) county ER projects stemming from recent disasters in California. During previous administrations, such one-year (or series of one-year) time extensions were routinely granted, particularly if delays were caused by the need for extensive environmental evaluation, litigation, or complex right-of-way acquisition.
The proposed Transportation Emergency Relief Funds Availability Act would repeal the current two-year regulatory deadline and provide up to six years for transportation projects funded through FHWA’s ER program to advance to construction. In addition, the measure clarifies that the new deadline would start following the date on which a disaster was declared, rather than when the disaster occurred.
For its part, CSAC has worked closely with Congressman Garamendi on the legislation and has helped build congressional support for the proposal. Looking ahead, the association will continue to urge lawmakers to cosponsor and support HR 3193, as well as look for opportunities to advance the measure.
USDA Issues Legal Opinion on Transporting Hemp across State Lines
In response to questions raised concerning the interstate transportation of hemp, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of the General Counsel recently issued a legal opinion to clarify the legal status of hemp. The memorandum, which can be accessed here, determines that hemp and hemp-derived products were immediately removed from the Drug Enforcement Administration’s schedule of Controlled Substances as soon as the 2018 Farm Bill (PL 115-334) became law. In addition, the General Counsel concludes that hemp can legally be transported across state lines, but only after USDA publishes new regulations implementing the law.
It should be noted that hemp produced under the 2014 Farm Bill’s industrial hemp pilot authority can be legally transported across state lines. However, for practical purposes, hemp shipments, even those produced under the 2014 Farm Bill, may still be at risk of seizure by local authorities who may not be able to distinguish between cannabis and hemp. Once the regulations are finalized, likely later this year, it should help provide additional certainty to this growing industry.
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Reviews Waters of the U.S. Regulations
On June 12, the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee held an oversight hearing to discuss the Trump administration’s proposed Waters of the United States (WOTUS) regulation and its impact on states. The revised WOTUS proposal, which represents the latest step in the administration’s effort to replace the controversial Obama-era rule, aims to redefine the scope of waterways that are regulated under the Clean Water Act.
The hearing featured testimony from several witnesses, including the president of the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation, the commissioner of the North Dakota Department of Agriculture, and Pima County (Arizona) Supervisor Richard Elias. For his part, Supervisor Elias urged the committee to oppose implementation of the proposed rule, fearing that its removal of protections for intermittent and ephemeral streams would adversely affect the health and welfare of his local community. Meanwhile, the other two panelists urged lawmakers to support the new rule, although both also offered recommended changes to further improve the final proposal. It should be noted that North Dakota is the lead plaintiff for a coalition of states with a preliminary injunction against the 2015 WOTUS rule.