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Capitol Hill Update, 18 May, 2015
House & Senate Schedule: Both chambers are in a frantic rush to tie up multiple loose ends this week, because both will be in recess all of next week for Memorial Day. Both House and Senate will return on June 1st for another 4-week stretch.
Legislative Highlight of the Week: This week, the Senate will have to deal with the reauthorization of Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, which is set to expire on June 1st. Last week, the House passed the USA Freedom Act (H.R. 2048), which reauthorizes section 215 for over four years after making some reforms to how the programs operate. FreedomWorks believes that the USA Freedom Act leaves open a number of avenues for the government to continue mass collection of data, and is pushing for a stronger reform. Senators Paul and Wyden are working together to push for amendments to strengthen the bill as well.
Majority Leader McConnell, however, has been pushing for a clean reauthorization of Section 215 with no reform, and with the deadline for the program approaching he and others are likely to push for at least a short-term clean reauthorization. It is unclear at this point whether the Senate will have a chance to vote on either the USA Freedom Act or any other amendments.
Senate/Trade: The Senate will also attempt to wrap up consideration of “fast track” trade authority, which would require that a trade agreement reached by the executive branch receives an up-or-down vote in Congress. This authority would remain in effect through 2018, or through 2021 if Congress grants an extension. FreedomWorks would support this fast-track authority, but the Senate is also insisting upon including Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) in the bill as a concession to Senate Democrats. TAA is a wasteful and duplicative program that subsidizes companies and individuals who purport to have been hurt by free trade. You can read more about FreedomWorks’ position on trade authority and TAA HERE.
House/Transportation: Federal funding for highway and transportation projects is set to expire on May 31st. The House is responding by buying time, passing a short-term reauthorization (H.R. 2353) through July 31st. They have until then to figure out how to deal with the chronically insolvent highway trust fund, amidst cries from Democrats and some Republicans that the federal gas tax should be raised to fund it.
House/Spending: The House will also move forward with another of the annual appropriations bills, this one to fund the Legislative Branch, H.R. 2250. This is the bill to fund the annual budgets of Congressional offices, plus all of the permanent staff that keep the House and Senate running. This bill would spend $3.34 billion, the same as last year, and would continue the long-standing pay freeze for Members of Congress.