When Congress returns on November 14 they are scheduled for 16 legislative days in the lame duck session with a planned adjournment on December 16. There remain multiple, big-ticket issues to resolve upon their return and with each passing day, it becomes more uncertain if they will have enough time to pass all the measures. Some of the measures include:
Annual Appropriations: Prior to adjourning for the general elections on September 28, Congress adopted a continuing resolution that funds federal government agencies until December 9. To date, Congress has only adopted one of the 12 annual spending bills. Lawmakers had planned to address these spending bills after the election in small packages containing three or four of the bills, known as “minibuses.” It was assumed minibuses would be more affable to lawmakers as opposed to one omnibus spending bill containing all 11 of the remaining appropriations bills.
But the minibus plan may now be scrapped as the Obama Administration has proposed a total $11.6 billion supplemental spending bill that might be passed before any of the annual appropriations bills are adopted. In the last week of October, Pentagon officials said there is a need for an additional $5.8 billion in supplemental spending for Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition, the Administration is proposing $5.8 billion for the State Department and humanitarian assistance from U.S. Agency for International Development for individuals liberated from Islamic State control.
Some members of Congress want to adopt a Continuing Resolution into March 2017 allowing the incoming Trump administration to influence decisions on FY 2017 (current year) discretionary spending. Of note, March 2017 is likely the same time that Congress and the Administration will have to make decisions on increasing the U.S. borrowing authority, aka “debt ceiling.”
National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA): Each year Congress must adopt the NDAA that provides the budget authorization and specific policies for the Department of Defense. Both the House (H.R. 4909) and Senate (S. 2943) have passed their respective chamber’s NDAA and negotiators have been meeting in a conference committee. The Obama Administration has issued a veto threat due to objectionable spending in the House bill and numerous other controversial measures.
Child Nutrition Reauthorization: Every five years Congress adopts child nutrition legislation that provides low-income children access to programs providing school meals including School Breakfast and National School Lunch that adhere to nutrition quality standards. The law also reauthorizes programs including Child and Adult Care Food, Summer Food Service, the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Programs and Women, Infant & Children (WIC) program. The Senate Agriculture Committee adopted S.3136, The Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act of 2016 in January 2016. The legislation would:
- Improves integrity in school meal programs while ensuring that access to the programs for eligible participants is not compromised.
- Provides flexibility to school food operators while preserving the intent to provide our nation’s schoolchildren with healthful meals, leading to improved academic performance and healthy eating habits.
- Strengthens the summer meals program through reduced administrative burden and relief of regulations that prevented local innovations.
- Increases efficiency for participants, stakeholders, and related industry, thereby increasing the effectiveness with which these programs use taxpayer resources to serve eligible populations.
- Uses modern technology to reduce paperwork and improve accuracy.
Companion legislation in the U.S. House, H.R.5003 – Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016, was adopted by the Committee on Education and the Workforce in mid-May.
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, expired on September 30, 2015. Congress does not necessarily have to act on Child Nutrition legislation since the 1946 National School Lunch Act gave the program permanent status. However, reauthorization of the legislation every 5 years does give Congress the opportunity to make changes to the programs.
Tax Extenders: Multiple tax deductions, credits, and incentives are set to expire at the end of 2016. These tax extenders impact businesses, the energy sector, infrastructure, economic and community development, and individuals. Both House and Senate Republican and Democratic leadership have expressed their desires to pass tax extenders. If congressional leaders decide to adopt an omnibus spending bill, it could provide the legislative vehicle to pass tax extenders.
Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP): The Obama Administration and many in the agriculture industry are supporting congressional ratification of the TPP before President Obama leaves office. However, anti-trade rhetoric dominated the presidential election with both major party candidates backing away from supporting the current deal. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said on several occasions that there was only a slim chance of a vote on TPP this year in the U.S. Senate as “It seems like the politics of trade have become rather toxic.” U.S. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman, Kevin Brady (R-TX) echoed McConnell’s sentiments the day after the general elections saying the trade agreement among 12 nations will be put off until President-elect Trump decides the way forward.
Water Resources Development Act (WRDA): Congress is attempting to return to a schedule of adopting WRDA every two years. The law authorizes funding for things like flood control, navigation and aquatic restoration. This year WRDA contains $100 million for a low interest loan program in states with emergency drinking water situations like Flint, Michigan. There is also $70 million available for loans to improve water infrastructure and $50 million for health programs for victims of lead poisoning. Both the House and Senate have adopted their respective versions of the legislation, H.R. 5303 and S. 2848.
21st Century Cures Act:
In July 2015, the U.S. House adopted, 344-77, H.R. 6 – The 21st Century Cures Act. The legislation would speed the approval process of new drugs by the Food and Drug Administration and provide $9 billion in additional funds for medical research at the National Institute for Health. In the U.S. Senate, Chairman of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, Lamar Alexander (R-TN) has attempted to adopt the legislation in Committee by separating it into 19 smaller bills. The most difficult challenge, however, has proven to be reaching an agreement with Committee Democrats on the funding level for research and the programs to cut to pay for the additional research spending.
The U.S. Senate adopted (S. 2012) the North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act of 2016 in April. Generally, the legislation creates new energy efficiency standards for buildings, updates liquefied natural gas permitting and reauthorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The following month, the U.S. House adopted 241-178, its package (H.R. 8), that modernizes U.S. energy infrastructure by focusing on the transmission, distribution, and storage of energy, ensures the electric grid is secure, resilient, and reliable, strengthens U.S. energy security through partnerships with our allies and improving approval processes for energy exports and promotes new technologies and improves energy efficiency and government accountability. The Obama Administration is opposed to language in the legislation that reduces endangered species protections and allows certain actions that address the drought in California and accelerates environmental reviews of logging on federal lands.