Another budget battle looming?
Some House Republicans—hopeful their party will take over the Senate majority—are now privately hedging on whether they should go along in September with passage of a continuing resolution (CR) that would expire in December, rather than some later date in 2015. If pushed into next year, the GOP then might control both chambers and Democrats would have less leverage in passing a new budget bill.
The House is scheduled to return to session on Sept. 8 for 10 days of legislative work next month and two days in October, when they then break for good until after the election. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has said senators will be in session through Sept. 23, but will also be working on the weekends.
It has become clear that Congress will have to pass some type of stopgap spending bill to keep the government open past Oct. 1, and a CR will most likely extend current funding levels. None of the 12 annual appropriations bills for federal agencies have yet passed in versions agreed upon by both chambers. In fact, the Senate has yet to pass even one of those bills.
Before the current recess, many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were predicting that a CR would likely be passed in September, and most said it would extend funding through Dec. 15. Even House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) told reporters during a news conference in late July that a stopgap bill would probably be written to expire in early December, when Congress is expected to be back for its lame-duck session.
The possibility of another bruising budget battle is a disappointment to many who had hoped for a return to regular order after a two-year deal was crafted by GOP Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) last year. The deal that Congress enacted established spending levels—a usual source of much of the House and Senate fiscal friction—for 2015.
The two-year accord sets the budget at $1.014 trillion for fiscal 2015, up from $1.012 trillion this year. (Those figures do not include mandated spending on entitlement programs.) The assumption was that those agreements would kick-start House and Senate action in passing the 12 annual spending bills. But that has not happened. As a result, a CR is under development, though details of what it contains have not been publicly released.
Add to the mix the possibility that unrelated items, such as Export-Import Bank reauthorization and renewal of terrorism insurance, could be added to any CR and the possibility of a wider budget battle is increasing.
The future of the United States Postal Service has long been a thorny issue for lawmakers on Capitol Hill and it appears members in both chambers and on both sides of the aisle are preparing to tackle the issue again.
The Postal Service, which this summer reported a net loss of $2 billion in the second quarter of 2014, recently announced plans to cut 15,000 jobs and consolidate 82 mail-processing centers in 2015. The Postal Service has already consolidated 141 mail-processing facilities since 2012.
Last week exactly half the Senate wrote to appropriators urging them to block any more Postal Service cutbacks in legislation to fund the government after Oct. 1, which Congress must enact in September to avoid a shutdown.
The letter called for a one-year moratorium on further cuts to "give Congress the time it needs to enact the comprehensive postal reforms that are necessary for the Postal Service to function effectively in the future." The senators said the planned cuts in 2015 will affect services in 37 states and harm local communities and economies.
"While a number of reform proposals have been introduced in both the Senate and the House to tackle these problems over the past several years, we have yet to enact legislation," the letter said. "In the absence of congressional compromise, the Postal Service has proposed more sweeping changes to its operations."
The 50 senators requested that language be added to must-pass legislation to fund the government into the next fiscal year that starts Oct. 1. The language should block for one year any Postal Service plans to consolidate more mail-processing facilities, the letter said, and should impose a moratorium through fiscal 2015 on any more reductions that would result in slower first-class mail service.
Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chair Tom Carper (D-DE) and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, (R-CA) have been promoting legislation to streamline and modernize the Postal Service and deal with its health care, pension, and other costly issues. But those efforts, including a reform bill that Carper cosponsored with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) have stalled.
Meanwhile, the USPS continues to drown in red ink, despite an increase in revenue in the quarter ending June 30. A big part of the losses stem from a congressional requirement to prepay billions of dollars into a future retiree health care fund.
Ferguson unlikely to lead to change in Weapons Transfer Program
In the wake of the Ferguson, Missouri civil unrest a number of law-makers on both sides of the aisle are questioning the use of military equipment by local law enforcement and the federal program that offers such equipment to local police at a discount.
Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) the House Judiciary Committee's top Democrat, and two of his Democratic colleagues are asking committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) to convene hearings on the militarization of police forces. And Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) said he will introduce a bill that would limit the kinds of military equipment local police forces can acquire.
Libertarian-leaning Republicans are joining the chorus as well. Republican Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) penned a piece for Time protesting the "cartoonish imbalance between the equipment some police departments possess and the constituents they serve," and Republican Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) spoke out against police militarization via Twitter as well.
The response from congressional Republican leadership, however, has been measured or nonexistent, suggesting the issue is unlikely to make the agenda when Congress returns from recess in September. And even if it does, the program that connects police forces to military equipment has well-placed defenders in Congess.
At issue is the "1033 program," a Defense Department program that transfers excess military equipment to law-enforcement agencies through the Pentagon's Defense Logistics Agency Law Enforcement Support Office, or LESO.
Johnson's measure would limit the types of equipment the program could transfer to police forces, as well as require states to certify they could account for all equipment.
A change to the program would come via a tweak to the National Defense Authorization Act, which includes a provision allowing the Defense Department to transfer the equipment to local police forces. In 2013, the agency transferred about $450 million worth of equipment to law-enforcement agencies, according to LESO's website.
Transportation in focus
Administration to mandate collision safety equipment
This week, the Obama administration took the first steps in requiring that automobiles be equipped with collision safety equipment.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said it will begin drafting rules to require technology be installed in cars and light trucks that will enable them to warn each other of potential danger in order to avoid collisions.
NHTSA released a report that estimates this technology could eventually prevent as many as 592,000 left-turn and intersection crashes a year and save more than 1,000 lives per year.
According to the report, adding the technology will cost roughly $350 per vehicle in 2020, but they expect that cost to drop over time.
Cars equipped with this technology would use a radio signal to continually transmit its position and speed, other cars with the same technology would receive that information and be able to warn drivers of an impending collision.
New Hampshire 1st Congressional District: According to a new WMUR-TV Granite State Poll of LVs conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center from Aug. 7-17, Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH) trails former Rep. Frank Guinta (R-NH), 45 to 41 percent, but leads University of New Hampshire professor Dan Innis (R-NH), 44 to 37 percent.
New Hampshire 2nd Congressional District: That same Granite State Poll also finds Rep. Ann Kuster (D-NH) leading state Rep. Marilinda Garcia (R-NH), 39 to 36 percent, former state Sen. Gary Lambert (R-NH), 41 to 35 percent, and former state Rep. Jim Lawrence (R-NH), 40 to 32 percent.
Alaska: Former Attorney General Dan Sullivan (R-AK) defeated 2010 nominee Joe Miller (R-AK) and Lt. Gov Mead Treadwell (R-AK) in the GOP primary to face Senator Mark Begich (D-AK). Sullivan finished with 40 percent, to 32 percent for Miller and 25 percent for Treadwell.
Hawaii: Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) officially defeated Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI) after the Hawaii Elections Office released results of Friday's late voting in storm-damaged Puna, plus 800 previously uncounted Maui ballots.
North Carolina: A new Suffolk University/USA Today poll of LVs conducted Aug. 16-19 shows Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) leading state House Speaker Thom Tillis (R-NC), 45 to 43 percent, with Libertarian Party nominee Sean Haugh (L-NC) taking 5 percent.
Rhode Island: A new WPRI-TV/Providence Journal poll of LVs conducted Aug. 11-14 shows Gina Raimondo (D-RI) leading the Democratic primary with 32 percent, followed by Angel Taveras (D-RI) with 27 percent, and Clay Pell (D-RI) with 26 percent.
A look ahead
The House and Senate are not in session next week.
Washington by the numbers
$245,340 – The amount a middle-class family can expect to spend rearing a child born in 2013—$304,480 when adjusted for projected inflation.
They said what?
“We’re going to pass spending bills, and they’re going to have a lot of restrictions on the activities of the bureaucracy. That’s something he won’t like, but that will be done. I guarantee it.” -- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, on threatening President Obama with a possible government shutdown if Republicans take control of the Senate (Politico)
"Hillary Clinton has been calling President Obama's foreign policy a failure. She either wants to be a president or a Fox News anchor. We're not sure." – Conan O'Brien
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