Sander Lurie

House E&C Cmte. green lights autonomous vehicles

A powerful US House panel on Thursday unanimously approved a first-of-its-kind bill to set federal rules for autonomous vehicles, making it easier for technologists and auto manufacturers to test experimental cars on public roads while preempting conflicting state regulatory frameworks.

By a vote of 54-0, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce advanced to the full chamber a sweeping proposal allowing car makers to skirt existing federal motor vehicle safety standards, deploying up to 25,000 exempt vehicles in the first year and as many as 100,000 annually over the space of three years.

Named the Safely Ensuring Lives Future Deployment and Research in Vehicle Evolution (SAFE DRIVE) Act, the bill, which marks the first significant federal attempt to regulate autonomous vehicles, was heavily amended Wednesday night by a bipartisan quartet of four lawmakers after Democrats worried in an earlier subcommittee markup that the legislation’s safety carve outs were too broad.

Under the proposal, these new vehicles can qualify for exemptions from existing federal safety standards that require conventional controls (steering wheel and acceleration and braking pedals), but manufacturers would be required to demonstrate self-driving cars are “at least as safe” as existing vehicles.

An earlier version of the bill would have allowed for testing of 100,000 exempt vehicles within the first year.

The new framework would not require pre-market approval of experimental vehicles, but would instead spur the Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to develop new safety thresholds within 18 months.

The full House of Representatives will consider the bill when it reconvenes in September. At the same time, the Senate is expected to introduce a suite of parallel proposals.

Washington’s week ahead: July 17

In the latest of a string of setbacks, ObamaCare reconciliation vote delayed in the Senate as Arizona Senator John McCain is treated for a blood clot… Don Jr., and others, met with Russian promising “very high level and sensitive information”… Approps Omnibus package gains steam – pre whip count – in House… POTUS celebrates Bastille Day in Paris with French President Macron… Federal Judge in Hawaii loosens Trump temporary travel ban… CBO says Trump ’18 budget will not balance in a decade, contrary to WH estimates… FBI nominee Wray testifies before Senate Judiciary Committee… House Appropriations Committee releases spending bill with $1.6 bill for border wall… Former FBI Director Comey signs book deal… POTUS approval rating after six months in office is the lowest of any president in the past 70 years, according to a new poll… And K Street scrambles to rebook flights out of town as Leader McConnell takes back 2 weeks of recess…

THE WEEK AHEAD:   The White House dubs this “Make in America Week”… CBO score due for repeal 2.0..House Budget Committee to mark up… House whips Approps Omni package…

POTUS:   POTUS  announced the appointment of Ty Cobb–no not that one: a veteran Washington lawyer with experience as a federal prosecutor and defense attorney–as special counsel at the White House

CONGRESS:  The House Dress Code gets an update. The conservative firebrand credited with pressuring then-Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to resign in 2015 issued a warning Thursday to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his establishment allies.. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) formally introduced an article of impeachment against President Trump on Wednesday.

THE COURT:   Partisan map makers beware, the Supreme Court is set to take a serious look at partisan gerrymandering with a case that could jeopardize voter maps across the country and help Democrats regain control of Congress

APPROPRIATIONS:  House GOP leaders will return to Washington this week with hopes of passing a budget resolution and a 12-bill omnibus before leaving town for the August recess.

CYBER:  Major technology companies and tech advocacy organizations are banding together in a last-ditch effort to save the Federal Communication Commission’s net neutrality rules.

ENERGY:  House appropriators diverged from President Donald Trump’s budget proposal by minimizing cuts to the Interior Department and the EPA’s budget as part of the energy and water appropriations bill.

ENVIRONMENT:  The Environmental Protection Agency asked for a 52-day delay from having to enforce the Obama-era regulation for the venting and flaring of methane, a critical greenhouse gas, after a court ruled against the agency. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit granted a 14-day stay while the EPA considers further legal action.. A bipartisan group on the House side protected the need to study climate change as part of national security as part of the National Defense Authorization Act, striking down an amendment that opposed it.

HEALTH:  It’s unclear whether Senate Republicans have the votes to win on a key procedural motion that would allow them to debate the new healthcare bill they released on Thursday.  Here is what has changed in the new version and a look at who got what. 

RUSSIA INVESTIGATION: Trumpland lawyers up… Calls for Kushner to loser his security clearance have mounted, as congressional investigators probe whether the Trump campaign’s digital operation — run by the president’s son-in-law — coordinated efforts with Russian bots spreading fake news about Hillary Clinton.  The Federal Election Commission (FEC) is sharply divided over how the election watchdog agency should respond to Russian interference in the U.S. election as more revelations come to light about foreign meddling during 2016.

RUSSIAN SANCTIONS:  Lawmakers are growing increasingly frustrated with a series of procedural spats that are stalling new Russia sanctions in the House amid mounting concerns about Moscow’s election meddling.

TRADE:  Energy Department Secretary Rick Perry visited his counterpart in the Mexican government to discuss trade relations and cross-border electricity transmission as part of a broader discussion on North American energy strategy.

TRAVEL BAN: The Trump administration asked the Supreme Court on Friday to block a federal judge’s ruling that grandparents of U.S. citizens and refugees already being processed for resettlement are exempt from President Trump’s travel ban. 

CONFIRMATION UPDATE: Office for Regulatory Affairs  PREVIOUSLY CONFIRMED- FEMA Administrator  Deputy Secretary of State, Associate Attorney General, Deputy Secretary of Transportation,  Sec. of Air Force, FDA Commissioner, US Trade Representative Chairman of the SEC,  Sec of Agriculture, Sec of Labor   Associate Justice of the Supreme Court , Amb. To Israel  Admin of CMS, Director of National Intelligence, Sec. of HUD, Sec. of Energy, Sec of Interior,  Sec. of Treasury, OMB Director,  Attorney General, Sec. of Education, Sec of Veteran’s Affairs , EPA Administrator, Small Business Admin, Sec. of HHS, Sec. of State, Sec of Transportation, Director of CIA, Sec. of Defense, Amb. to the UN, Sec. of Homeland,  Sec. of Commerce  

PRESIDENTIAL MEMORANDUM & EXECUTIVE ORDER TRACKER:   Presidential Memoranda Cuba  Jerusalem Embassy Act  Stabilization of Iraq  Aluminum Imports    Offshore Drilling, VA Accountability, Local Control of Education, Review of Antiquities Act, Rural American Prosperity : Orderly Liquidation Authority, Financial Stability Oversight Council, Steel Imports and Threats to National Security  Executive Branch Re-Org    Travel Ban 2.0 Memo for USSS, USAG, USSHS     Fiduciary Duty RuleNational Security Council,  Defeat ISIL,   Pipeline Construction, American Pipe,  Domestic Manufacturing,  TPP, Hiring Freeze, Mexico City (Abortion), Memo to Executive Departments and Agencies  Executive Orders: North Korea   Western Balkans Cyber security    Election Integrity   Promoting Free Speech & Religious Liberty Identifying Tax Burdens, Buy American and Hire American  Principles for Reforming the Military selective Service Process  Climate,   Addiction & Opioid Crisis , Report on Trade Deficits,  Trade Enforcement Travel Ban 2.0  Regulatory Reform Task Forces,  Crime Reduction, Drug Cartels, Law Enforcement protection, DOJ Succession,  Dodd Frank,  2 for 1 Reg,    Border and Immigration Enforcement, ObamaCare, Public Safety, Expediting Environmental Review Process, Visa Restrictions

 

Congress seeks elusive consensus before summer recess

Barring cancellation of a portion or all of the scheduled summer recess—an event not currently expected despite the requests of several Republican senators and House members, as well as conservative media personalities—the House, when it returns for legislative business on July 11, will be in session for only 13 days before leaving on July 28, not to return till September 5. The Senate returns a day earlier, on July 10, and is scheduled to be in session for 15 days before also leaving for summer recess on July 28 and returning on September 5.

Below is an overview of some of the matters that may receive Congressional consideration before the end of July and our assessment of their current prospects.

Health care reform legislation

Senate GOP leadership decided on June 27 to delay consideration of the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA), their proposed legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare. After several GOP senators stated their opposition to the BCRA draft, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was short of the votes he needed to bring the bill to the Senate floor. He has now spent his 4th of July holiday on the very challenging task of threading the needle and making changes to the BCRA that can win the votes of 50 Republican Senators to bring such health care legislation to the Senate floor and pass it.

To do so, Leader McConnell must address the concerns of conservative Republican Senators who say that the current version of the BCRA does not repeal and replace enough of the Affordable Care Act. At the same time, Leader McConnell also must be responsive to those moderate Republican Senators who say, among other things, that the cuts to Medicaid under the bill ($772 billion) are far too severe.   In addition, the CBO score that the bill would result in an estimated 22 million additional uninsured persons by 2026 is an attention-grabbing headline that has stoked public opposition to the bill.

Leader McConnell wants to bring a revised repeal-and-replace bill to the floor as soon as possible after the July 4th recess   The Congressional Budget Office is currently reviewing legislative language sent by Leader McConnell and will score the fiscal impact of these potential changes to the BCRA bill. The Senate parliamentarian will also have to consider whether these proposed changes can properly be raised in a reconciliation bill. These factors are likely to push any roll call on a revised BCRA bill to the last half of July, either during the weeks of July 17 or July 24, rather than immediately after the July 4 recess.

It currently seems as if any overture that Leader McConnell makes to either the conservative or more moderate wings of his Conference in an effort to win votes for the bill threatens the willingness of the other wing to support it. The key open question is whether Leader McConnell, an extremely skilled legislative tactician and veteran horse trader, can craft a compromise that will attract enough votes from both conservative and moderate Republican Senators to get to 50 votes.

The passage, or the abandonment, of Affordable Care Act (ACA) repeal-and-replace legislation, and when these events occur, is likely to have an enormous impact on the timing, the terms, and the likelihood of success for many key elements of the Republican legislative agenda. If the status of ACA repeal-and-replace legislation is not resolved until the final week in July, it surely will delay consideration of many of the subjects that Congressional Republicans hoped to consider before leaving at the end of July for their summer recess.

FY18 budget resolution

Because adoption of a fiscal year 2018 budget resolution will vitiate the reconciliation process of the FY17 budget resolution under which ACA repeal-and-replace legislation currently is being considered, the House will not adopt an FY18 budget resolution until it is definitively determined whether ACA repeal-and-replace legislation can be enacted through use of the reconciliation process.

House Budget Committee Chair Diane Black (R-TN) has been unable to finalize a budget because conservatives are demanding huge cuts to mandatory programs, such as food stamps. No agreement presently exists on how to spread the pain of the $200 billion in mandatory spending cuts (down from $500 billion in Chairman Black’s initial draft) that are necessary to offset the cost of the additional military spending that Black proposes. Republican moderates with concerns about the budget resolution say passage of such a resolution will make it more difficult to pass tax reform. Even if the House Budget Committee manages to push through a budget resolution at some point in July, it’s unclear whether it will be able to attract enough support from Republican moderates to make it through the House.

The Tuesday Group (moderate Republicans), because of their concern about the impact of entitlement cuts, particularly to Medicaid, on the public, and their belief that these mandatory spending cuts could “imperil tax reform,” has asked House Speaker Paul Ryan to delay consideration of a budget until health care legislation is passed or abandoned so that the members have a clearer idea of what the fiscal picture looks like. They have threatened to oppose the curbs in entitlement spending unless there is a bipartisan deal to increase spending caps. At the other end of the spectrum within the House Republican Conference, Freedom Caucus members say that they will back an FY18 budget resolution only if it cuts mandatory programs, including Medicaid and food stamps. (The Freedom Caucus and the Tuesday Group each represent enough House Republicans that either group’s opposition to an FY18 budget resolution would be sufficient to bring about its defeat.)

Moderates say that the budget resolution’s proposed $621.5 billion in defense spending (not including war funds) also would violate the law by exceeding the $548 billion cap on defense spending for FY18 under the Deficit Reduction Act.

FY18 appropriations bills

The continuing struggle over ACA repeal-and-replace legislation has delayed consideration of an FY18 budget resolution. The failure to adopt an FY18 budget resolution has left the Appropriations Committees in the dark as to the overall level of resources that will be available for spending in FY18. As a result, the FY18 appropriations bills are being marked up without any section 301 overall spending limit or any section 302(b)s divvying up the overall spending limits among the various appropriations bills.

The foregoing factors have led to a backlog in the appropriations process. With only 25 legislative days remaining in the House before FY17 ends on September 30, the House Appropriations Committee has now marked up about half of the bills and has reported to the House only its version of the FY18 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill. With 27 legislative days remaining in the Senate until the FY17 fiscal year expires on September 30, the Senate Appropriations Committee has yet to mark up and report to the Senate any of the FY18 appropriations bills.

This backlog has led some House Republicans to propose that some or all of the appropriations bills be packaged in a single bill to be taken up by the House before the August recess as a way to accelerate consideration of the FY18 bills. Whether the House Republican leadership elects to move forward with such an omnibus appropriations bill, the delays in the appropriations process and the inactivity to date in the Senate on appropriations bills make it highly likely that a continuing resolution will be required to fund the federal government’s operations after September 30 and avoid a government shutdown.

Debt ceiling increase

Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin wants the debt ceiling raised before the summer recess and a vote on raising the debt limit may be held immediately before the long August recess if health care has been dealt with by the end of the month, though it could slip to September if Treasury offers reassurances to Hill leaders that such a timeline would work. (The Congressional Budget Office says that, currently, extraordinary measures can get Treasury to October before the debt ceiling is reached.)

Health care has to get done first says House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). The unanswered question is whether a coalition of Democratic and Republican members can be mobilized to pass a “clean” debt ceiling increase or whether Congressional Republicans will attempt the far more difficult task of tying an increase in the debt ceiling to the adoption of further spending cuts.

Tax reform

Comprehensive tax reform legislation is not expected to be introduced and considered by Congress before the summer recess. The Big Six—Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, Speaker Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch—have been meeting to discuss tax reform, with the goal of reaching agreement on a framework to be considered by the House and the Senate this fall.

Meanwhile, Ways and Means will hold tax reform hearings in July, with a hearing on how tax reform will help small businesses grow and create jobs already scheduled for July 13. The Senate Finance Committee, for its part, will begin considering comments it has received as a result of Chairman Hatch’s June 16 request for submissions and recommendations for tax reform (Chairman Hatch’s letter gave a deadline of July 17).

Perhaps the most significant event for tax reform in July will be how the Senate deals with health care reform, as passing or failing to pass health care legislation will directly impact both its likelihood of success and potential scope. The reconciliation process can’t be used for tax reform unless and until there is an FY18 budget resolution and an FY18 budget resolution can’t be addressed until ACA repeal-and-replace legislation is disposed of, one way or the other.

Conflict in Iraq and Syria: Debate on the 2001 Authorization of Military Force (AUMF)

On Thursday, June 29, the House Appropriations Committee approved an amendment to the FY18 Defense Appropriations Act from Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA). The amendment would repeal the 2001 Authorization for the Use Of Military Force (AUMF) 240 days after enactment of the Department of Defense Appropriations bill. As of 2013, the AUMF had been invoked more than 30 times to authorize troop deployments and other military measures, including detentions at Guantanamo Bay and military trials for terrorism suspects.

According to the Congressional Research Service, the AUMF has been used more than 37 times in 14 countries to justify military action. Under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, the AUMF was used to justify the deployment of US forces to Afghanistan, the Philippines, Georgia, Yemen, Djibouti, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Iraq and Somalia. President Obama also used it to justify military action against ISIS, a group that did not even exist when the AUMF was adopted in 2001.

While Rep. Lee’s AUMF language is expected to be stripped from the FY18 Defense Appropriations bill at some point before it becomes law, the inclusion of this language in the text of the Defense Appropriations Act, as adopted by the House Appropriations Committee, makes it likely that the House, and possibly the Senate as well, will have a debate on the relevance and propriety of the AUMF language at some point before the Defense Appropriations Act becomes law. GOP military veterans have voiced strong support for a debate on the AUMF.

Flood insurance

Authorization for the National Flood Insurance Program expires at the end of September. A dispute in the Senate Banking Committee over a privatization proposal offered by Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) is keeping the version of an NFIP reauthorization from moving forward to date in the Banking Committee.

The House version of an NFIP reauthorization is further along. On June 15 and June 21, the House Financial Services Committee approved a package of seven flood insurance bills. While the House has yet to take up these bills, the chamber is expected to vote at some point in July on a five-year reauthorization of the NFIP. That said, several members of the Louisiana delegation say that because of reductions in funding levels and several controversial privatization proposals, this package of bills currently lacks the votes to pass the House. (The National Association of Homebuilders, the National Association of Realtors and many members of Congress are said to oppose the House bill.).

Infrastructure

While many observers hoped and believed that a proposal to upgrade America’s roads, bridges and airports would be an early priority for the Trump administration—as well as one with the potential to attract bipartisan support—it now seems clear that infrastructure sits behind health care, tax reform, a debt ceiling, government funding and even an FAA reauthorization on the administration’s legislative wish list.

On June 29, with the White House still yet to unveil formal legislative text for its massive infrastructure proposal and not expected to do so until the fall, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD) observed that congressional work on the president’s $1 trillion infrastructure package would likely slip to next year.

FAA reauthorization

The House and Senate committees of jurisdiction have marked up two separate versions of FAA reauthorization bills, the major difference being air traffic control reform. The Senate bill lacks the ATC reform language and is very similar to the comprehensive bill passed (with a bipartisan majority) in the Senate in the 114th Congress. Congressman Bill Shuster (R-PA), chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, wants to bring his bill to the floor in mid-July. However with the expectation of a highly contentious dispute over the ATC privatization proposal, the bill’s prospects in the House are uncertain. Meanwhile, consideration of the Senate FAA reauthorization bill may be delayed by the pendency of health care legislation in the Senate.

How Republicans will fast-track tax and spending tweaks in new Congress

Lawmakers, administration officials, journalists and much of official Washington will begin using the term “budget reconciliation” over and over during the first few days of the 115th Congress—and will probably continue doing so until the last days of 2017.

Congress established the “budget reconciliation” process, often shortened to simply “reconciliation,” in the 1974 Congressional Budget and Impoundment Act. The new law set up a fast-track budget process designed to come at the end of the calendar year to allow Congress to better meet its budget targets. The law envisioned the following:

  • The House and Senate would pass a budget resolution, not a law, that would set top-line spending and deficit targets for the fiscal year beginning on October 1. After Congress completed its appropriations process and any mandatory and tax legislation, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) would provide updated spending and deficit data for the second time in the year, typically in September, with the first being at the beginning of the calendar year.
  • If the CBO stated that the budget deficit targets were below what Congress set as a goal in the budget resolution, Congressional leaders could use a fast-track legislative process (i.e., reconciliation), to cut spending and raise taxes in order to meet the deficit targets set earlier in the year.
  • The bill would (typically) include provisions from several different Congressional committees with jurisdiction over mandatory spending, fee collection and taxes. (In the House, much of the deficit reduction has taken place in the Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce Committees; in the Senate, the Finance Committee has been the lead deficit reduction committee in this process.)

President Carter signed the first reconciliation bill in 1980. Since then, Congress has tweaked the law, legislating changes designed to force Congress to make tough decisions on meeting the deficit targets, although such changes have been largely unsuccessful.

Application of the baroque parliamentary rules governing the reconciliation process has changed since the 1980s, and new parliamentary rules have been adopted, most notably the so-called “Byrd Rule,” designed to ensure that the reconciliation process remains focused on budgetary by providing a point of order against material defined to be “extraneous” to budgeting, i.e., a provision that is not about spending (outlays) or taxing (revenues) or is “merely incidental” to budgeting. If a provision violates the Byrd rule, it can be removed on Senate floor unless 60 Senators vote to keep it.

Then there is the Senate parliamentary rule that reconciliation bills do not have to reduce the deficit at all. The so-called Bush tax cuts in 2001 increased the deficit but were considered under the fast-track reconciliation process. Congress, however, provided a sunset for these tax cuts after 10 years.

Basically, the reconciliation process is now used to implement a budget, spending and tax deal supported by the Congressional majority leadership.

President-elect Trump and the Republican majority in Congress will now be able to use this process to repeal or change the Affordable Care Act, cut taxes, increase infrastructure spending and, potentially, increase tariffs outside the normal legislative rules of Congress. In practical terms, this process only alters the way the Senate considers reconciliation legislation; the House can pass any legislation with a majority vote, regardless of whether it is in reconciliation form or not.

The 2017 reconciliation process allows the Senate majority to do the following:

  • Pass legislation changing mandatory spending, fees and taxes with only 50 votes in the Senate, not the 60 typically required for all other legislation. This means that the Senate leadership does not need the votes of any Democrats to pass this legislation and they can even lose two GOP votes and still be successful.
  • Divide up spending and tax legislation into more than one reconciliation bill, allowing Congress to consider unrelated measures separately, to avoid loading up disparate legislation (e.g., health care, taxes, infrastructure spending, etc.) into one massive omnibus package, something that many House Republicans have protested in the past.
  • Limit Democratic amendments to strictly “germane” amendments. If amendments do not meet this standard, 60 votes will be needed to pass them. In other words, if the first reconciliation bill does not contain provisions changing Medicare, any amendment offered by a Democrat on Medicare would need 60 votes to pass.
  • Prevent a filibuster of any part of the reconciliation process, including procedural votes like motion to proceed, appointing conferees, going to conference, etc.

House Democrats have no power to stop the reconciliation process—and can’t even do much legislatively to protest it.

Senate Democrats have limited powers to delay the Senate and offer politically difficult amendments for the majority to be forced to vote against, but in the end, without three Republican defections during part of this process, the congressional GOP leadership should be able to enact its agenda on spending and taxes.

The Senate Democrats have the following limited power:

  • They can offer dozens of amendments to the budget resolution, which creates the reconciliation process, and to the actual reconciliation bills themselves. Some of these could be substantive and bipartisan but most will likely be designed to force Republicans to vote against something popular in the ACA or in the tax code.
  • They can try to knock out extraneous provisions in the reconciliation bills that do not “score” and thus are Byrd Rule violations. If they find Byrd Rule violations, and the Parliamentarian agrees, they can strike them from the bill unless the GOP can muster 60 votes to overcome the violation.
  • They can also obstruct and delay other legislation, nominations, committee meetings and committee hearings. This can cause the Senate GOP leadership headaches and scheduling problems, but cannot stop the inevitable, a reconciliation bill that 50 GOP senators support.

So when it comes to budget and taxes, the majority will rule without the threat of a filibuster.