Week Back Week Ahead In Congress: Monday November 24, 2014

Erin Carson, Lead Analyst Monday November 24th 2014

Both the House and Senate considered a number of bills last week focused on energy development and job creation, including several controversial EPA reform bills in the House. The Senate failed to pass S. 2280 - A bill to approve the Keystone XL pipeline sponsored by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA)  by a vote of 59 to 41 -- just one vote shy of the 60 required to advance. The vote was considered critical to Sen. Landrieu’s runoff race in Louisiana. 

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:

H.R. 1422 - EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act of 2013 by a vote of 229 to 191. The bill would amend the Environmental Research, Development, and Demonstration Authorization Act to revise the process of selecting members of the Science Advisory Board, guidelines for participation in Board advisory activities, and terms of office.

H.R. 4012 - Secret Science Reform Act of 2014 by a vote of 237 to 190. The bill would prohibit the EPA from using certain data for new EPA rules.

H.R. 4795 - Promoting New Manufacturing Act by a vote of 238 to 172. The bill would require the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to make public and publish data on pre-construction permits.

 

Earlier in the week, the House passed the following bills by voice vote under suspension of the rules:

H.R. 5441 - To amend the Federal charter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States to reflect the service of women in the Armed Forces of the United States.

H.R. 3608 - Grand Portage Band Per Capita Adjustment Act

H.R. 5162 - To amend the Act entitled "An Act to allow a certain parcel of land in Rockingham County, Virginia, to be used for a child care center" to remove the use restriction, and for other purposes

H.R. 4049 - Ashland Breakwater Light Transfer Act, as amended

H.R. 5040 - Idaho County Shooting Range Land Conveyance Act

H.R. 5069 - Federal Duck Stamp Act of 2014, as amended

H.R. 5544 - Low-Dose Radiation Research Act of 2014, as amended

H.R. 5681 - a bill that would amend an agreement between the US and two of its allies—the UK and Northern Ireland—to reinforce cooperation especially as it applies to the approved uses of atomic energy for mutual defense purposes. The official purpose of the bill is to provide for the approval of the Amendment to the Agreement Between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland for Cooperation on the Uses of Atomic Energy for Mutual Defense Purposes          

H. Res. 754 - Condemning the Government of Iran for its gross human rights violationsintroduced by Chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Ed Royce (R-CA) and Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY) on November 14.

H.R. 3398 - Girls Count Act of 2014, as amended

H.R. 5448 - John F. Kennedy Center Reauthorization Act of 2014       

The House also considered 8 post-office naming bills last week - (H.R. 5468, H.R. 5331, H.R. 5386, S. 1499, S. 1093, S. 885, S. 1512, H.R. 5124)

Senate Floor Action

The Senate held floor votes on Keystone XL pipeline legislation, child care legislation, and a bill to curb bulk collection of records by the National Security Agency. It spent the remainder of last week confirming nominations to U.S. District Courts.

Bills that failed:

The Senate failed to pass S. 2280 - A bill to approve the Keystone XL pipeline sponsored by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA)  by a vote of 59 to 41.

The Senate also failed a cloture vote on S. 2685 - Uniting and Strengthening America by Fulfilling Rights and Ensuring Effective Discipline Over Monitoring Act of 2014 by 58 to 42. Since cloture is required to move past a Senate filibuster and needs a 3/5ths vote, this bill will not move forward.

Bills that passed:

The Senate passed  S. 1086 - the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 2013.  by a yea-nea vote of 88 to 1. The bill will now go to the President to be signed for final approval.

The Senate also passed the following bills which will now be sent to the President: H.R.4067: Rural Hospitals; H.R.5441: to amend the Federal charter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States to reflect the service of women in the Armed Forces of the United States; and H.R.5728: STELA Reauthorization Act of 2014.

FInally, the Senate amended and passed H.R. 669: Sudden Unexpected Death Data Enhancement and Awareness Act. The bill will now go back to the House for consideration of the Senate amendment.

The Senate also passed the following Simple Resolutions:

S.Res. 579: A resolution relative to the death of Howard O. Greene, Jr., former Sergeant at Arms of the United States Senate.

S.Res. 577: A resolution permitting the collection of clothing, toys, food, and housewares during the holiday season for charitable purposes in Senate buildings.

S.Res. 584: A resolution commending Jerald D. Linnell on his service to the United States Senate.

S.Res. 580: A resolution expressing support for the goals of National Adoption Day and National Adoption Month by promoting national awareness of adoption and the children awaiting families, celebrating children and families involved in adoption

S.Res.583: Drive Safer Sunday

H.J.Res.129: Convening Date – 114th Congress

H.Con.Res.119: Adjournment Resolution

S.Res.588: Rural Hospitals

S.Res.589: Honoring the life of Thomas M. Menino

S.Res.590: National Native American Heritage Month

Bills Enacted into Law

President Obama signed into law S. 1086: Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 2014.

Week Behind - Committee Action

House and Senate Committees held a number of legislative and oversight hearings last week prior to the week-long congressional recess for Thanksgiving.

In addition, the Republican Steering Committee named 17 new House Committee Chairs last week who will begin their leadership in January 2015.  The decisions have raised some scrutiny due to a lack of diversity -- all of the new 17 chairs are white males. New chairs are listed in the applicable committees below.

House Committee Action

Administration Committee - Rep. Candice Miller, Mich., was appointed chair again. Chairman Miller reminded lawmakers on Nov. 20 of Congress’ mailing standards which now allow members to use incidental holiday greetings, such as “Merry Christmas” in their constituent correspondence. Before the rule change in Dec. 2013, lawmakers were prohibited from using such language in constituent communications. “While all communications sent with official resources must still be about official business and comply with additional content rules, members may now add an incidental ‘Happy Thanksgiving,’ ‘Merry Christmas,’ ‘Happy Hanukkah,’ etc.,” said the statement.

Agriculture Committee – Rep. Mike Conaway was named by the Republican Steering Committee the next Agriculture Committee chairman.

Armed Services Committee –  Rep. Mac Thornberry, Texas, was named chairman of the panel for the 114th Congress. The panel held a Nov. 19 hearing on religious accommodations in the military.

Budget Committee– Rep. Tom Price was named by the Republican Steering Committee the next  Budget Committee Chairman.

Education and the Workforce Committee– Last week, after President Obama announced his plans to unilaterally change federal immigration laws, the House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) issued the following statement:

The president's brazen disregard for the rule of law and the constitutional limits of his office continues to divide our nation. To quote the president, this is not how our democracy functions. He has once again put his own political interests before the best interests of the country. The American people made it clear that they want us to end the gridlock and work together. However, this decision will make it even harder to address the challenges facing our classrooms and workplaces. Unless the president changes course, we will lose an opportunity to advance reforms that would make a difference in the lives of students and working families. The president is determined to let that opportunity slip away.

Energy and Commerce Committee  – The Energy and Commerce Committee held three hearings last week, including two that examined the U.S. response to the Ebola outbreak.  On November 18, the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing that reviewed Ebola response efforts. Witnesses included Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Dr. Tom Frieden, Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Dr. Nicole Lurie, and Acting Surgeon General Dr. Boris Lushniak. On November 19, the Subcommittee on Health held a hearing to explore the development of vaccines, diagnostics, and treatments in the fight against Ebola. Witnesses included the Director of the Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease, National Institutes of Health, Dr. Anthony Fauci. Also on November 19, the Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy held a hearing to evaluate harmful algae blooms in drinking wateraddressing the elevated levels of bacteria that were found in the water supply of Toledo, Ohio. Witnesses included Director of the Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water at the U.S. EPA Peter Grevatt, Director of the Ohio EPA Craig Butler, and John Donahue testifying on behalf of the American Water Works Association.

Ethics Committee -  Rep. Charlie Dent, Pa., was named the next chairman of the panel.

Foreign Affairs Committee - The Committee held several hearings last week, including:

(1) Fighting Ebola: A Ground Level View

(2) Iran Nuclear Talks: Negotiating a Bad Deal?

(3) Unaccompanied Alien Children: Pressing the Administration for a Strategy

(4) Water Sharing Conflicts and the Threat to International Peace

(5) Next Steps for US Foreign Policy on Syria and Iraq

(6) Examining What a Nuclear Iran Deal Means for Global Security

On November 20 Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), introduced H.R. 5747, to provide arms directly to the Kurdistan Regional Government. The legislation would provide temporary authority for President Obama to provide weapons directly to Kurdish “Peshmerga” forces fighting ISIL on the ground. In addition, the Committee passed the following pieces of legislation last week:

(1) H. Res. 754 condemning the government of Iran for gross human rights abuses.

(2) H. Res. 758, a resolution strongly condemning Russia’s continuing political, military, and economic aggression against Ukraine, as well as Georgia and Moldova.

(3) H. Res 714, a resolution reaffirming the need for peaceful and collaborative resolution of maritime and jurisdictional disputes in the South China Sea and the East China Sea

(4) H.R. 5681, to extend the 1958 U.S.-U.K. Mutual Defense Agreement to allow continued bilateral nuclear security cooperation.

(5) H.R. 5685, the Rewards for Justice Congressional Notification Act of 2014

(6) H.R. 5710, the Ebola Emergency Response Act

(7) H.R. 5241, the Crimea Annexation Non-recognition Act

(8) H.R. 2901, the Senator Paul Simon Water for the World Act of 2013

(9) H.R. 5656, Global Food Security Act

(10) H.R. 5206, a bill to allow Foreign Service and other executive agency employees designate beneficiaries of their death benefits.

Homeland Security Committee – The Committee held two hearings last week: one titled Interoperable Communications: Assessing Progress Since 9/11 on November 18, and another one titled Emergency Preparedness: Are We Ready for a 21st Century Hugo? on November 21. In addition, the Committee also marked up the following bills last week:

(1) H.R. 5712 DHS Private Sector Engagement

(2) H.R. 3438 National Laboratories Mean National Security Act

(3) H.R. 3410 Critical Infrastructure Protection Act (CIPA)

Intelligence Committee – The Committee held one hearing open the public last week titled: Cybersecurity Threats: The Way Forward. The Committee also held a hearing that was closed covering Ongoing Intelligence Activities.  On November 21, 2014, the Committee issued its final report on Beghazi. In a joint statement issued by Chairman Rogers & Ranking Member Ruppersberger, the lawmakers said:

“Based on the testimony and the documents we reviewed, we concluded that all the CIA officers in Benghazi were heroes. Their actions saved lives. We also concluded that there was no intelligence failure prior to the attacks but the early intelligence assessments and the Administrations’ public narrative on the causes and motivations for the attack were not fully accurate.”

Judiciary Committee –  The full committee held a November 19 hearing to  examine oversight of the Secret Service, this hearing will feature testimony from acting Secret Service Director Joseph P. Clancy. Earlier this week a report detailing recent Presidential security lapses caused universal outrage among Congressional leaders.  The committee will also hold a joint  November 18 hearing with the House Government and Oversight Committee to examine the abuse of federal employee telework programs at the U.S. Patent and Trade Office.  Testimony was given by the following witnesses: Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-VA); Margaret A. Focarino, Commissioner for Patents, United States Patent and Trademark Officer; Todd J. Zinser, Inspector General, United States Department of Commerce; Robert D. Budens, President, Patent Office Professional Association; Esther Kepplinger, Chief Patent Counselor, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati; and William F. Smith, Of Counsel, BakerHostetler.

Natural Resources Committee– Rep. Rob Bishop was named the new Natural Resources chairman. The Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held an  Oversight Hearing on "Volcano Hazards: Exploring the National Preparation and Response Strategy” on November 19, examining the current state of volcanic hazards in the United States and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) Volcano Hazards Program that is designed to address these hazards, alert communities to pending eruptions, and mitigate devastating impacts to communities within the hazard zones. On November 20, the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs held an oversight hearing entitled, "Is the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge Being Properly Managed?"

Oversight and Government Reform Committee –  Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Utah, will head the panel starting in the 114th Congress.

The committee held a Nov. 18 hearing on abuse of telework by federal employees at the U.S. Patent and Trade Office. On Nov. 19, the federal workforce subcommittee held a hearing on examining data security at the U.S. Postal Service.

Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said the committee would examine the 30,000 emails of former IRS senior executive Lois Lerner, which the IRS just recovered. Lerner was the official at the heart of the controversy over improper targeting of political groups seeking tax-exempt status.

“Though it is unclear whether TIGTA [inspector general] has found all of the missing Lois Lerner e-mails, there may be significant information in this discovery,” Issa told the Washington Examiner. “The Oversight Committee will be looking for information about her mindset and who she was communicating with outside the IRS during a critical period of time when the IRS was targeting conservative groups. This discovery also underscores the lack of cooperation Congress has received from the IRS. The agency first failed to disclose the loss to Congress and then tried to declare Lerner’s e-mails gone and lost forever. Once again it appears the IRS hasn’t been straight with Congress and the American people.”

Science, Space, and Technology Committee – The committee held a November 19 hearing to examine the role of the White House Chief Technology Officer in the HealthCare.gov website failures.  The hearing featured testimony from Todd Park, former Chief Technology Officer of the United States from the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).  

Transportation and Infrastructure Committee – The full committee held a hearing entitled FAA Reauthorization: Issues in Modernizing and Operating the Nation’s Airspace.The hearing featured testimony from the following witnesses:  Calvin Scovel, III, Inspector General, Department of Transportation; Nicholas Calio, President and CEO, Airlines for America; Mark Baker, President and CEO, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association; Captain Lee Moak, President, Air Line Pilots Association; John Engler, President, Business Roundtable; and Paul Rinaldi, President, National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

Veterans’ Affairs Committee –  The committee held four hearings last week.   The full committee will hold a November 18 hearing to examine VA’s Longstanding Information Security Weaknesses Continue to Allow Extensive Data Manipulation. The Subcommittee on Health held a  markup, considering the following bills:

H.R. 4720 - Medal of Honor Care Priority Act.

HR.4887 - Expanding Care For Veterans Act   

H.R. 4977 - COVER Act

H.R. 5059, Clay Hunt SAV Act

HR.5475 - To Amend Title 38, United States Code, To Improve The Care Provided By The Secretary Of Veterans Affairs To Newborn Children.

HR.5484 - Toxic Exposure Research Act Of 2014   

The Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity held  a November 19 hearing to examine the Role of the State Approving Agencies in Ensuring Quality Education Programs for Veterans.  The Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs also held a November 20 hearing to discuss the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Fund: Inquiry into the Adequacy of Process in Verifying Eligibility.

Ways and Means Committee –  House Republican Leadership confirmed this week that former Vice Presidential Candidate Paul Ryan (R-WI) will take over the Ways and Means Committee in the 114th Congress, as current leader Rep. David Camp (R-MI) is retiring at the end of the session.  Ryan is expected to propose large changes to current the current tax code in the new Congress and Republican strategists do not believe his taking over as chief House tax writer diminishes his chances at a future in national politics including the 2016 Presidential Election.  The Ways and Means committee will likely be in the news a lot during the upcoming Congressional session.

Senate Committee Action

Appropriations – On November 21, Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski (D-MD), issued a statement on the upcoming appropriations cycle, stating: “Chairman Rogers and I want to do our job. We have important national security concerns, we have legislation that meets compelling human needs and deals with everything from jobs to public health and safety including Ebola response and preparedness funding. We’re negotiating across the aisle and across the dome. We’re meeting our constitutionally mandated responsibility by keeping the government open and working on behalf of the American people. We continue to make steady progress.”

Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs – On November 19, the full committee conducted an oversight hearing on the “The Federal Housing Finance Agency: Balancing Stability, Growth, and Affordability in the Mortgage Market,” with testimony from Melvin L. Watt, Director, Federal Housing Finance Agency.

On November 21, the Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Protection conducted a hearing entitled “Improving Financial Institution Supervision: Examining and Addressing Regulatory Capture.” The witnesses were William C. Dudley, President and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York; Prof. David Beim, Professor of Professional Practice at Columbia Business School; Prof. Robert C. Hockett, Professor of Law at Cornell Law School; and Dr. Norbert J. Michel, Research Fellow in Financial Regulations at the Heritage Foundation.

Energy and Natural Resources – On November 19, the full committee held a legislative hearing and passed S. 2917, Adding Ebola to the FDA Priority Review Voucher Program Act to the Senate floor. It also considered and passed HR. 669, the Sudden Unexpected Death Data Enhancement and Awareness Act. On November 20, the full committee considered the nomination of Lauren McFerran to serve as a Member of the National Labor Relations Board. The same day, the Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging held a hearing entitled, “Why Are Some Generic Drugs Skyrocketing In Price?”

Foreign Relations – The Committee postponed a public hearing titled: Countering ISIL in Iraq and Syria, which was originally scheduled for November 18. A future date  for the hearing is not yet specified.

Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs – The panel had several events scheduled for the week of Nov. 17.

Nov. 18: The committee held a hearing on the nomination of Earl Gay to be deputy director of the Office of Personnel Management.

Nov. 19: The panel held a hearing entitled “Preparedness and Response to Public Health Threats: How Ready Are We?” Panelists include Dr. Thomas Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nov. 20 and 21: The Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations held a two-day hearing, “Wall Street Bank Involvement With Physical Commodities.”

From the committee: “After a two-year bipartisan investigation, the subcommittee will hold a hearing examining the extent to which banks and their holding companies own physical commodities like oil, natural gas, aluminum and other industrial metals, as well as own or control businesses like power plants, oil and gas pipelines, and commodity warehouses.”

On Nov. 20, Chairman Tom Carper, D-Del., issued a lengthy statement on President Obama’s executive action on immigration reform. In part, he said:

“While I support the president’s goals in the executive action, my first, second, and third choice is to have a permanent, bipartisan solution to our broken immigration system. It is crucial that congressional leadership, members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, and the administration put politics aside and work together to pass a sensible, comprehensive, and permanent solution that addresses the underlying root causes of unauthorized immigration, and modernizes our immigration laws to enhance our national and economic security as soon as possible.”

Intelligence – The Committee held a hearing on the Nomination of Nicholas J. Rasmussen to be the Director of the National Counterterrorism Center.

Judiciary Committee-  The Judiciary Committee held a  November 19 hearing to examine the FANS Act and specifically  sports broadcast blackouts and antitrust aspects of these blackouts. The Committee approved by voice vote both S.2520, The FOIA Improvement Act of 2014 and H.R.1447, The Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2013.  S.2520 is a bill to offer improvements to Freedom of Information Act or FOIA procedures, this legislation is the result of a bipartisan effort among Judiciary Committee leaders Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and members Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI).

The following judicial nominations were approved during the meeting: Jorge Luis Alonso, Northern District of Illinois; John Robert Blakey, Northern District of Illinois; Allison Dale Burroughs, District of Massachusetts; Jeanne E. Davidson, United States Court of International Trade; Haywood Stirling Gilliam, Jr., Northern District of California; Amos L. Mazzant III, Eastern District of Texas; Amit Priyavadan Mehta, District of Columbia; Robert Lee Pitman, Western District of Texas; and Robert William Schroeder III, Eastern District of Texas.

Veterans’ Affairs Committee - The committee held  a November 19 hearing to examine mental health and suicide among veterans.  This hearing featured  two panels and 9 witnesses: Harold Kudler, MD, Chief Consultant for Mental Health Services, Veterans Health Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs; Caitlin Thompson, PhD, Deputy Director, Suicide Prevention; and Dean D. Krahn, MD, Deputy Director, Office of Mental Health Operations; Susan Selke, mother of Clay Hunt, a deceased Marine Corps combat veteran; Valerie Pallotta, mother of Joshua Pallotta, a deceased Vermont National Guard combat veteran; Vincent Vanata, MSgt, USMC (Ret.), Combat Stress Recovery Program, Wounded Warrior Project; Elspeth Cameron Ritchie, MD, COL, USA (Ret.), Chief Clinical Officer, District of Columbia’s Department of Mental Health; and Blayne Smith, Executive Director, Team Red, White and Blue.

Indian Affairs Committee - The Committee on Indian Affairs will held  a November 19 oversight hearing entitled "Protecting our Children's Mental Health: Preventing and Addressing Childhood Trauma in Indian Country.

Week Ahead in Congress

Congress is out from November 24 to November 28 for the Thanksgiving Recess.

Homeland Security – Looking ahead, the Committee plans to hold a hearing on December 3 titled: Open Borders: The Impact of Presidential Amnesty on Border Security. Secretary of the US Department of Homeland Security, the Honorable Jeh Johnson, is scheduled to testify.