Practitioner's Corner

Legislative Hopes “Spring” Eternal: A Forecast for the Next Few Weeks


						                        
          

By Paul Brown and Rich Meade

The period between Congress’ return from its’ annual Easter state/district work period and the Memorial Day holiday can be a very productive time legislatively. In an election year, it often is the last opportunity to get things done before November.

With a divided Congress, a contentious Presidential election, and the prospect of a lame-duck legislative “safety net” session, this “last chance” imperative is even greater.  The House has four weeks and the Senate has five weeks to tackle a number of significant legislative priorities. We separate the possible legislative issues this session into the following categories: 

Must Do– One or both Chambers needs to act, either through comprehensive legislation or by legislative extension, to prevent significant negative events such as the expiration of an authorization bill.   

Like to Do– Priority legislative initiatives where both the House and Senate agree on the importance of an issue, but approach it differently.

Messaging– Bills that will be brought to a vote for the purposes of driving a partisan message rather than trying to accomplish bipartisan resolution of an issue.

 

Must Do

Highway Bill Reauthorization – The full House has yet to act on a long-term Highway Bill Reauthorization.  For a detailed discussion of that bill and its prospects, please see our recent analysis. The House needs to act on a long-term bill to set up a conference committee with the Senate, which passed a reauthorization bill earlier this year. If the House fails to pass a reauthorization, Congress faces another high-stakes showdown when the current 90-day extension expires at the end of June.

Export-Import Bank– The Export-Import Bank needs its charter renewed by Congress by the end of May or it faces the prospect of not being able to finance transactions.  Many in the business community, especially U.S. exporters, are pushing for an extension.  Most Democrats and many Republicans support an extension.  But some Republican critics, citing corporate welfare and other concerns, are opposed.  Efforts to move this legislation have bogged down but both parties are talking and there may be a possible agreement as the May deadline approaches.

Postal Reform– The United States Postal System (USPS) is in a precarious financial position with high costs, some mandated by Congress, and declining revenues. There is consensus that Congress needs to act quickly to stabilize the USPS and ensure its prospects for longevity.  The House and Senate are both expected to try and act on competing versions of legislation to address the issues underlying the problems facing the USPS.  This bill may take up most of the Senate’s attention in the last two weeks of April.

 

Like to Do

Cyber Security– The Federal Government has taken steps to implement measures to protect government assets against cyber terrorism attacks.  There is great concern over the possibility of a terrorist attack on the systems that govern our financial, infrastructure, and other privately controlled assets but are part of our national interest to protect.  There is bi-partisan and bi-cameral interest in addressing this issue.  Both the House and Senate are close to moving on bills to address the issue. The issue is not strictly divided on partisan lines. But philosophical differences over the responsibility of the private sector vs. government, the ghosts of the SOPA privacy concerns debacle, not to mention the immense jurisdictional complexity of the issue, are significant obstacles.  Both parties may agree to take up legislation, fearful of standing in the way of legislation with national security implications. With outcomes uncertain, old-fashioned legislative give-and-take may occur as leadership lets the chips fall where they may.

Appropriations– The House-passed budget resolution calls for FY 2013 discretionary spending levels that are $19 billion below the spending caps established in the Budget Control Act.  The Senate Budget Committee has “deemed” the funding levels provided for in the BCA discretionary spending caps, which will allow the Senate Appropriations Committee to move bills at that level.  Even though the two chambers are on different pages in terms of the total amount of discretionary spending, both bodies would like to begin the appropriations process. The House may begin to move appropriations bills during this period, possibly in the form of “mini-buses” containing more than one bill.  Senate floor action is not likely until summer. Given the different House/Senate funding levels and the looming election, most if not all appropriations bills will be unresolved until November, meaning a continuing resolution is in the forecast.

 

Messaging

Violence Against Women Act– The Senate will likely try and move on the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.  It is not likely to move through the House this year.  However, the Senate calling up this bill does help to continue the broader debate started by the recent controversy surrounding the coverage for contraception. 

Tax Bills – The Senate held a cloture vote on the so-called “Buffet Rule” bill, which calls for a minimum 30% tax for individuals earning over $1 million annually.  Cloture was not achieved and the House will not take up the bill. The Senate may also vote on whether to take up a Democratic small business tax package.  Even if it is taken up, House Republicans have their own approach.  Unlike the successful JOBS package in March, neither bill is likely at this point to be taken up in the other body.