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This Week in Congress – May 4, 2015

Consideration of the conference report on the budget resolution and completion of consideration of the Iran Nuclear Review Act will be the focus of Senate activity this week while the House of Representatives has adjourned for a one-week district work period.

Senators return on Monday with a vote scheduled at 5:30 p.m. regarding the veto message to accompany S. J. Res. 8, the Congressional Review Act Resolution of Disapproval regarding the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) “ambush elections” rule.  In March, the House and Senate approved a resolution to overturn the new NLRB rule, which is intended to make it easier for unions to win representation elections. President Obama vetoed the  resolution of disapproval on March 31.  Under the Congressional Review Act, Congress can take action to override the veto; however the Senate passed the resolution by a vote of 53-46 and the House by a vote of 232-186, margins that are short of the two-thirds majority needed for a veto override. The override vote taking place in the Senate this week is largely a symbolic gesture of disapproval for the Administration’s support of the election rule, which took effect on April 14, 2015.  Business groups have filed lawsuits in federal courts to block the NLRB rule change.

Additionally this week, the Senate will resume consideration of the Iran Nuclear Review Act.  When reported by the Foreign Relations Committee, the bill had bipartisan support and the White House had signaled its intent to sign it so long as no major changes were made.  During a week of debate on the Senate floor, co-sponsors and supporters have voiced concern that partisan amendments offered to the bill would sink its chances of being enacted by prompting a veto, thus eliminating the opportunity for congressional involvement in reviewing any eventual agreement with Iran on its nuclear program. Two controversial amendments have already been rejected – one that would have required the nuclear agreement to be considered a treaty, needing the support of 67 senators, and another that would have required certification that Iran has not directly supported or carried out any act of terrorism against the United States.  Still pending to the bill are a handful of other contentious amendments, including one offered by Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) calling for Iran to recognize Israel’s right to exist; a second offered by Senator Rubio requiring any final agreement to include the provisions contained in the President’s own Fact Sheet on the interim deal; and a third offered by Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) requiring Iran to satisfy its obligations under any deal before any relief from U.S. sanctions is effective.   Press reports indicate that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is working to find a path forward on the bill, and may decide as soon as Monday whether to seek to cut off debate on further amendments to the legislation.

The Senate will also consider this week the conference report on the budget resolution.  Before the House adjourned for its scheduled recess, members voted 228-199 to adopt the conference report, negotiated by leaders of the House and Senate Budget Committees, establishing the budget rules and the spending limits for the Appropriations Committees to follow in funding federal agencies for Fiscal Year (FY) 2016, which begins on October 1.  This is the first Republican budget resolution negotiated by both chambers since the George W. Bush presidency.  The compromise provides $493.5 billion  for non-defense spending and $523 billion for defense spending, limits that are established by statutory caps in the 2011 budget agreement and sequester.  The agreement aims to balance the budget in ten years with no tax increases and $5 trillion in cuts to domestic spending, including a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act.  Much of the debate on the spending proposal was centered around defense spending, pitting fiscal conservatives against defense hawks over how much money to allocate the Department of Defense and whether any additional funds over the sequester limits should be offset.  Ultimately, leadership sided with the defense hawks by including $38 billion in  additional resources, bringing the total limit for Overseas Contingency Operations to $96 billion.  House Democrats were united in opposition to the bill.  While the congressional budget resolution is not signed into law by the President, once adopted by both chambers it serves as an agreement between the House and Senate on a budget framework for any spending or revenue legislation moving forward.  Adoption of the budget is also  important for Republicans as it will allow Congress to take advantage of the budget reconciliation process, a tool that provides the Senate majority with procedural benefits to enact significant legislation.

Given the need to tackle the budget resolution and the uncertain path forward on the Iran bill, it is unclear whether the Senate will be able to consider other items this week, but once it does complete consideration of the Iran legislation, the Senate is likely to begin consideration of the Hatch-Wyden trade promotion authority legislation, which allows for trade deals negotiated by the Administration to be submitted to Congress for a straight up-or-down vote within a limited period of time.  Consideration of the TPA measure is likely to be paired with other trade-related measures, such as renewal of the Generalized System of Preferences, the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, and the more controversial Trade Adjustment Assistance program (TAA), which provides assistance to U.S. workers whose jobs are affected by international trade.  Press reports indicate that President Obama has met with and reached out to Democratic members to encourage their support of the “fast-track” legislation because a majority of Democrats have come out in opposition.  Passage of TPA is seen as critical for the Obama Administration to expedite the conclusion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, which would liberalize trade among 12 countries.  Japan and other TPP countries have expressed reluctance to close TPP without TPA’s procedural protections, with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe calling on Congress for joint leadership to conclude TPP negotiations last week in the first-ever address to a joint session of Congress by a Japanese prime minister.

As noted, the House is in recess this week, with no legislative activity on the calendar.  When it returns the week of May 11, the House will focus on national security legislation and plans to consider the annual National Defense Authorization Act, its version of the Iran sanctions legislation, and  the USA Freedom Act, a bill to reform and extend intelligence surveillance authorities that are currently due to expire on June 1.  Senate consideration of the issue will also have to occur prior to the Memorial Day recess.

The looming surface transportation reauthorization deadline continues to be a priority this week, as well.  There is a hearing in the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security on Tuesday, the third in a series of hearings on the reauthorization of highway safety programs.  Witnesses will testify to the local and state impacts of national surface transportation policy and the need for a long-term reauthorization bill. The current authorization expires in May 31, which means Congress will have to pass another short-term extension if it cannot work out a long-term reauthorization before the scheduled congressional break over the Memorial Day holiday.

After a successful bipartisan markup of authorization for elementary and secondary education programs last month, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday on higher education reauthorization.

The full hearing schedule for Senate Committees this week, including two Senate field hearings, is listed below:

Monday, May 4, 2015

Senate Committees

Passenger Rail Reauthorization
Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation
Full Committee Field Hearing
May 4, 9:30 a.m., North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority, 1075 Raymond Blvd., Newark, New Jersey

Small Business Taxes
Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship
Full Committee Field Hearing
May 4, 9:30 a.m., Livingston Parish Council Chambers, 20355 Government Blvd., Livingston, La

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Senate Committees

Wildfire Management
Senate Energy and Natural Resources
Full Committee Hearing
10 a.m., 366 Dirksen Bldg.

Grain Standards Review
Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry
Full Committee Hearing
2:30 p.m., 328A Russell Bldg.

Surface Transportation Reauthorization
Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation – Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security
Subcommittee Hearing
2:30 p.m., 253 Russell Bldg.

Precision Medicine
Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
Full Committee Hearing
2:30 p.m., 430 Dirksen Bldg.

State Department Fiscal 2016 Budget
Senate Foreign Relations – Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights and Global Women’s Issues
Subcommittee Hearing
3:30 p.m., 419 Dirksen Bldg.

Department of Veteran Affairs Nominations
Senate Veterans’ Affairs
Full Committee Markup
2:30 p.m., 418 Russell Bldg.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Senate Committees

Fiscal 2016 Appropriations: Defense
Senate Appropriations – Subcommittee on Defense
Subcommittee Hearing
10:30 a.m., 192 Dirksen Bldg.

Surface Transportation and Maritime Nominations
Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation
Full Committee Confirmation Hearing
10 a.m., 253 Russell Bldg.

Higher Education Act Reauthorization
Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
Full Committee Hearing
10 a.m., 430 Dirksen Bldg.

Post Service Nominations and Homeland Security Legislation
Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
Full Committee Markup
10 a.m., 342 Dirksen Bldg.

Open Government
Senate Judiciary
Full Committee Hearing
9:30 a.m., 226 Dirksen Bldg.

Judiciary Nominations
Senate Judiciary
Full Committee Hearing
2:15 p.m., 226 Dirksen Bldg.

Seafood Industry Regulation
Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship
Full Committee Hearing
2:30 p.m., 428A Russell Bldg.

Seniors Living Independently
Senate Special Aging
Full Committee Hearing
2 p.m., 216 Hart Bldg.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Senate Committees

Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization
Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry
Full Committee Hearing
10 a.m., 216 Hart Bldg.

U.S. and East and South China Seas
Senate Foreign Relations
Full Committee Hearing
10 a.m., 419 Dirksen Bldg.

Social Media and Terrorism
Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
Full Committee Hearing
10 a.m., 342 Dirksen Bldg.

© 2022 Covington & Burling LLPNational Law Review, Volume V, Number 124
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About this Author

Richard Hertling, Covington, public policy lawyer
Of Counsel

Richard Hertling provides regulatory and legislative advice and guidance and lobbying to a diverse set of clients in a range of industries. He joined the firm after more than 27 years of federal government service that included senior positions in both Houses of Congress and the Justice Department, during which he was respected for developing strategic and tactical approaches to advance legislation. He brings those same skills to bear for clients with complex policy challenges.

While holding senior positions on Capitol Hill and at the Department of Justice, Mr....

202-662-5669
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