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Capitol Hill Update, 30 November, 2015
House & Senate/Schedule: This is the home stretch – both chambers are back in town this week and are scheduled to recess for the year on December 18th.
Legislative Highlight of the Week: Reports from the Senate are that a reconciliation bill that would only require 51 votes to pass may come up for a vote this week, and would contain a repeal of most of the troubled Affordable Care Act. Unlike the useless House reconciliation bill, this bill will draw down the Medicaid expansion and repeal the insurance subsidies, as well as zeroing out the mandate penalties and repealing several of ObamaCare's new taxes. Conservatives in the Senate, including Senators Lee, Rubio, and Cruz, took a hard stand on demanding a repeal of the majority of ObamaCare and it appears that effort will bear fruit.
If the reconciliation bill passes the procedural test that allows it to be privileged (only requiring 51 votes to pass), it will also be accompanied by a frenzied open amendment called a "vote-a-rama". Senators will be able to offer up tons of amendments during a vote series that will last for hours, and we'll likely see senators forced to take votes on a number of important issues. Stay tuned for updates on amendments.
House & Senate/Spending: Negotiations continue to determine how money will be allocated in a likely omnibus government funding bill, with current funds set to run out December 11th. The omnibus will fund the government at levels set by the budget agreement reached in October, meaning that it will increase funding for both defense and domestic programs. There will be a struggle over what policy riders are attached to the bill – stay tuned for more information on those.
House & Senate/Education: This week, the House and Senate are likely to vote on the reconciled final bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, better known as No Child Left Behind). This bill is a mixed bag. On one hand, it keeps federal top-down control of the education system through mandatory testing and standards. On the other hand, it greatly weakens the Secretary of Education’s ability to dictate to states what those standards and accountability measures should be, and makes it much more difficult for the federal government to bribe states into accepting policies like the Common Core standards. Conservatives will likely split on whether this slight improvement on the status quo is worth supporting.
House & Senate/Transportation: The House and Senate have until Friday to pass a bill to fund federal highway programs, although they may extend that deadline slightly to buy a few more days of negotiations. The final product will likely fund these projects for six years, but will neither reform the chronically bankrupt Highway Trust Fund nor eliminate flow of highway dollars to unrelated projects. In addition, the final bill will likely include a reauthorization of the U.S. Export-Import Bank, which FreedomWorks adamantly opposes.
House/Energy: This week, the House will vote on the Senate-passed resolutions to disapprove of the EPA’s new regulations on new and existing coal-fired power plants. These resolutions invoke the Congressional Review Act, and while they require a presidential signature to block the regulations in question, they reveal the supporters of these regulations, which would massively increase energy costs and destroy thousands of jobs across the country. These resolutions, which FreedomWorks supports, are S.J.Res 23 and S.J.Res 24.
House & Senate/Environment: Last week, another resolution of disapproval was introduced in both the House and Senate, this time relating to the massive EPA regulation regarding ground-level ozone pollution. This new ozone restriction would potentially be the EPA’s most burdensome regulation yet, and in many cases would hold states responsible for emissions from outside their borders, making the standard economically impossible to achieve. The resolutions (which FreedomWorks supports) to disapprove of this rule are sponsored in the House (H.J.Res. 74) by Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ), and in the Senate (S.J.Res. 25) by Senator Jeff Flake.
House/Energy: This week, the House will also consider H.R. 8, the North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act. Sponsored by House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), this broad bill contains some good policies, such as expediting natural gas exports and pipeline corridors. It also contains some more bureaucratic measures such as mandating a different set of clean energy standards for federal buildings, and granting money for energy and water conservation efforts.
House/Email Privacy: On Tuesday, 1 December, the House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the Email Privacy Act, H.R. 699. This bill would revise the outdated Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) to require that federal agencies must obtain a warrant in order to access the content of electronic records stored in the cloud. Current law allows agencies to access any of these communications (including emails, texts, documents, etc.) that are over 180 days old. FreedomWorks strongly supports the Email Privacy Act and encourages the House to bring the bill to a vote.