The Week Behind in Congress
The House and the Senate both passed compromise spending legislation last week, ending the threat of a government shutdown. The Senate responded to the House’s $1.1 trillion spending bill -- H.R. 83 - the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015 -- with a vote on late Saturday to pass a stop-gap measure for four days, before passing the spending bill later in the day on Saturday by a vote of 56 to 40. The appropriations bill now moves on to President Obama for final approval. The House had left town shortly after passing its version of the bill earlier in the week, essentially giving Senators the option of either agreeing with the provisions or taking responsibility for a second government shutdown. Still, Senate opposition to the spending package came from both sides of the aisle. Republicans, led by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), said the bill not go far enough to oppose the President’s Executive Order on immigration; and a number of Senate Democrats opposed provisions that would increase campaign contribution limits and repeal portions of the Dodd Frank law. President Obama is expected to sign the compromise legislation.
The full report on the week’s activity is provided below.
House Floor Action
The following bills were approved in the House after full debate:
The House passed H.R. 5781 - California Emergency Drought Relief Act of 2014, sponsored by Rep. David Valadao (R-CA). The bill would suspend certain environmental reviews and California state water rights in order to provide additional water supplies to the Central Valley in California. The bill is unlikely to pass the Senate, and the White House has issued a veto threat on the bill, saying it would undermine environmental laws.
The House passed its spending bill - H.R. 83: Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015 - on December 11 by a 219-206 vote. The bill was a product of negotiations between President Obama and House Republicans. The bill consists of eleven regular appropriations bills for fiscal year 2015 and continuing appropriations for the Department of Homeland Security that will run out in February, setting the stage for another immigration debate early next year.
The House also passed H.R. 4681- the FY15 Intelligence Authorization bill by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 325-100.
The following Senate bills were approved in the House by voice vote, and will ow move on to President Obama for final approval:
S. 1691, the Border Patrol Agent Pay Reform Act of 2014
S. 2521, the Federal Information Security Modernization Act of 2014 on Dec. 11.
S. 2519, the National Cybersecurity Protection Act of 2014, and H.R. 2952, the Cybersecurity Workforce Assessment Act
The House also passed the following House bills by voice vote under suspension of the rules:
H.R 5086 – To amend the National Trails System Act to direct the Secretary of the Interior to conduct a study on the feasibility of designating the Chief Standing Bear National Historic Trail, and for other purposes, as amended
H.R 5699 – John Muir National Historic Site Expansion Act, as amended
H.R 5701 – Western Oregon Indian Tribal Lands Act, as amended
S. 1000 – Chesapeake Bay Accountability and Recovery Act of 2014
H.R. 5705 – Propane Education and Research Enhancement Act of 2014
H.R. 5185 – EARLY Act Reauthorization of 2014, as amended
H.R. 5764 – Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Act of 2014
S. 2759 – To release the City of St. Clair, Missouri, from all restrictions, conditions, and limitations on the use, encumbrance, conveyance, and closure of the St. Clair Regional Airport
H.R. 5059 – Clay Hunt SAV Act, as amended
H.R. 5656 – Global Food Security Act of 2014, as amended
H.R. 2901 – Senator Paul Simon Water for the World Act, as amended
S. 1683 – Naval Vessel Transfer Act of 2013
S. 1691 – Border Patrol Agent Pay Reform Act of 2014
Senate Floor Action
The Senate passed the fiscal 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, authorizing money for the Defense Department. It now heads to President Obama for his signature.
The Senate also spent time finalizing a number of federal and judicial nominees and discussing the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report on the CIA’s use of torture. The report. Committee Study on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, was released this week after much debate about the appropriate date for release. Intelligence Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) spoke for over an hour on the Senate floor to introduce the executive summary of the report which is available to all Senators and the general public. In her remarks,Feinstein spoke about the need to not further delay the report’s release and said that Congress and the country must use the findings to “never again” allow similar tactics to be present in the CIA.
The Senate also held a Saturday session on December 13 and approved 24 Obama Administration nominations.
Week Behind - Committee Action
House Committee Action
Armed Services – The Subcommittee on Strategic Forces held a hearing Dec. 10 on Russian arms control cheating and the response from the Obama administration with witnesses from the departments of Defense and State.
On Dec. 11, incoming Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) announced the panel’s subcommittee chairs:
Intelligence, Emerging Threats and Capabilities – Rep. Joe Wilson, S.C.
Seapower and Projection Forces – Rep. J. Randy Forbes, Va.
Military Personnel – Rep. Joe Heck, Nev.
Tactical Air and Land Forces – Rep. Mike Turner, Ohio
Strategic Forces – Rep. Mike Rogers, Ala.
Readiness – Rep. Rob Wittman, Va.
Oversight and Investigations- Rep. Vicky Hartzler, Mo.
Energy and Commerce – On December 9, the Subcommittee on Health held a hearing to discuss fiscal priorities in federal health care spending as it prepares for the 114th Congress. The Committee noted that “spending on Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act are key drivers of our nation’s fiscal challenges,” and stated that members will examine these challenges and discuss opportunities for savings within the federal health care budget.
On December 10, the Subcommittee on Health held hearing to examine the Food and Drug Administration’s role in regulating genetically modified ingredients in the nation’s food supply. Witnesses included representatives from the FDA as well as outside experts and interested stakeholders. The subcommittee also discussed H.R. 4432, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act.
On December 11, the Subcommittee on Energy and Power held a hearing to examine the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975. The committee noted that “America’s energy position is much different today than it was in the 1970s when the Act was first written in response to the Arab oil embargo. America has emerged as one of the world’s greatest energy superpowers, but the right policies are needed in order for us to take full advantage of our resources.” Witnesses included representatives from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the President of the Energy Policy Research Foundation, Inc., a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, and a Director at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Ethics - The House Ethics Committee on Dec. 11 released reports on separate investigations involving four members of Congress: Reps. Tom Petri, R-Wis.; Alcee Hastings, D-Fla.; Phil Gingrey, R-Ga.; and Judy Chu, D-Calif. The panel declined to sanction Petri, who is not running for re-election, who was being investigated for a potential conflict of interest regarding his advocacy of a military contractor in which he has stock. The committee did not find evidence that Hastings had sexually harassed an employee, thus closing the matter, but scolded him for unprofessional behavior. Gingrey and Chu, who were being investigated for separate alleged ethics violations, received “letters of reproval” from the committee, which is the least severe punishment the panel can hand down. Gingrey was being investigated for improperly receiving compensation in the form of stock warrants from two banks whose board of directors he sat on, and allegedly advancing legislation on their behalf. The committee found that while the transaction did not result in any financial benefit to him, his efforts to assist on the banks violated two provisions of the code of ethics for government service. Chu received a letter of reproval, finding that her chief of staff and legislative director improperly directed other staffers to do campaign-related work during regular working hours and using official resources. The committee said it did not believe Chu knew about the impropriety and she expressed regret; nevertheless the panel rebuked her for “interference with the committee’s investigation.”
Foreign Affairs - The Foreign Affairs Committee held four hearings on Dec. 10: the full committee held a hearing entitled Countering ISIS: Are We Making Progress, in which the State Department's deputy special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL testified; a joint subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific and Middle East and North Africa hearing considered Afghanistan and Pakistan policies in A Way forward in Afghanistan and Pakistan - Part III; the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Proliferation, and Trade held a hearing entitled Russian Arms Control Cheating and the Administration's Responses; and the Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats held a hearing entitled The United States as an Arctic Nation: Opportunities in the High North.
Judiciary– The Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security held a December 10 hearing titled: The Impact on Local Communities of the Release of Unaccompanied Alien Minors and the Need for Consultation and Notification. The following witnesses provided testimony at the hearing: Rep. Lou Barletta; Rep. Pete Olson; Rep. Adrian Smith; Rep. Joe Crowley; Leonard Scarcella, Mayor of Stafford, TX; Thomas M. Hodgson, Sheriff of Bristol County, MA; Jessica M. Vaughan, Center for Immigration Studies; Kristyn Peck, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Oversight and Government Reform – On Dec. 9, the committee held a hearing entitled Examining Obamacare Transparency Failures, featuring testimony from Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner and Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor Jonathan Gruber.
On Dec. 12, Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) issued a subpoena to Gruber, whom he called “an architect of Obamacare” for “all documents and communications with federal, state, or local government employees related to aspects of his work on the president’s health care law.”
On Dec. 10, the Subcommittee on Energy Policy, Health Care and Entitlements held a hearing examining EPA’s management of the renewable fuel standard program.
The Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce, Postal Service and the Census also held a hearing Dec. 10 on the backlog in the federal employee retirement claims process.
Science, Space, and Technology Committee – The Subcommittee on Space held a Dec. 10 hearing entitled: An Update on the Space Launch System and Orion: Monitoring the Development of the Nation’s Deep Space Exploration Capabilities. The hearing featured testimony from Bill Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, NASA; and the Director, Acquisition and Sourcing Management, Government Accountability Office. The Energy Subcommittee held a Dec. 11 hearing titled: The Future of Nuclear Energy. The following witnesses spoke at the hearing: Peter Lyons, Assistant Secretary, Office of Nuclear Energy, U.S. Department of Energy; Dr. Ashley Finan, Senior Project Manager, Energy Innovation Project, Clean Air Task Force; Mike McGough, Chief Commercial Officer, NuScale Power; Dr. Leslie Dewan, Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer, Transatomic Power; and Daniel Lipman, Executive Director, Policy Development, Nuclear Energy Institute.
Veterans’ Affairs Committee – The Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs (DAMA) held a Dec. 9 hearing entitled: Timeless Honor: Reviewing Current Operations of our National Cemeteries. The full committee held two hearings on Dec. 11. The first was a hearing entitled Evaluating Federal and Community Efforts to Eliminate Veteran Homelessness and the second was a hearing to approve the Second Annual Activities Report for the 113th Congress.
Senate Committee Action
Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry – The full committee held a hearing on December 10 entitled The Commodity Futures Trading Commission: Effective Enforcement and the Future of Derivatives Regulation, which examined the Commission’s recent activities, what resources it needs to continue to regulate derivatives, and the Commission's plans to adhere to its requirements under Dodd-Frank. Timothy Massad, the Chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, testified.
Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs – On December 9, the full committee held a hearing entitled Inequality, Opportunity, and the Housing Market. Witnesses included the President of New Jersey Community Capital, a Director at the Center for American Progress, the Chair of the Conventional Financing and Policy Committee at the National Association of Realtors, and a Special Project Director at the National Fair Housing Alliance.
On December 10, the full committee held a hearing entitled Cybersecurity: Enhancing Coordination to Protect the Financial Sector. The panel heard from the Director for the Office of Critical Infrastructure Protection and Compliance Policy at the Department of the Treasury; a Deputy Under Secretary for Cybersecurity and Communications at the Department of Homeland Security; a Senior Critical Infrastructure Officer at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency; a Deputy Special Agent in Charge of Cyber Operations at the U.S. Secret Service; and the Assistant Director of the Cyber Division at the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Energy and Natural Resources – On December 10, the full committee considered the nomination of Colette D. Honorable to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
Finance – On December 9, the full committee held a hearing entitled Social Security: Is a Key Foundation on Economic Security Working for Women? Witnesses were Ms. Barbara Perrin, a Social Security beneficiary; Dr. Catherine J. Dodd, a Chair at the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare; Dr. Sita Nataraj Slavov, a Professor of Public Policy at George Mason University; and Janet Barr, an Actuary testifying on behalf of the American Academy of Actuaries.
Foreign Relations – The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held three hearings last week: First, The Ebola Epidemic: The Keys To Success For The International Response with testimony from: President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf , Republic of Liberia; Dr. Paul Farmer, Partners in Health; Dr. Anne Peterson, Ponce Health Sciences University, World Vision; Pape Gaye, IntraHealth International; Javier Alvarez, Mercy Corps; second, ISIL's Reign of Terror: Confronting the Growing Humanitarian Crisis in Iraq and Syria; and third, Authorization For The Use of Military Force Against ISIL which featured testimony from Secretary of State John Kerry.
Health, Education, Labor and Pensions – On December 11, the full committee held a joint committee hearing with the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on the Oversight of the Implications of the President’s Executive Order on Improving Chemical Facility and Security with testimony from officials at the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Intelligence – The committee held no hearings this week but many members of the Committee released statements reacting to the release of the committee’sreport: Committee Study on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program. Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) spoke for over an hour on the Senate floor to introduce the executive summary of the report which is available to all Senators and the general public. In her remarks, Feinstein spoke about the need to not further delay the report’s release and that Congress and the country must use the findings to “never again” allow similar tactics to be present in the CIA.
Judiciary Committee -The committee held five hearings last week starting with a rescheduled hearing on Dec. 9 to address college campus sexual assault. The hearing, Campus Sexual Assault: the Roles and Responsibilities of Law Enforcement featured testimony from Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY); Angela Fleischer, assistant director of student support and intervention for confidential advising, Oregon State University; Kathy Zoner, chief of Cornell University Police; and Peg Langhammer, executive director of Day One in Providence, R.I. The Subcommittee on Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights held a hearing entitled The State of Civil and Human Rights in the United States on Dec. 9. The full committee also held a hearing to address President Obama's recent immigration action on Dec. 10: Keeping Families Together: The President’s Executive Action On Immigration And The Need To Pass Comprehensive Reform . The committee also held two executive meetings: on Dec. 10 the committee held an executive nominations hearings to consider pending executive nominations; and on Dec. 11, the committee held an executive business meeting to consider pending judicial nominations.
Week Ahead in Congress
Bills on the House Floor
The House adjourned after the end of last week.
Bills on the Senate Floor
The Senate is scheduled to finish its remaining work before the end of the 113th session next week, which includes a number of pending federal nominations.