Legislative / Policy Update
The Power of One Vote. As lawmakers rushed to finish up work before the Memorial Day recess, attempts were made in both the House and Senate to quickly pass legislation by unanimous consent. On Thursday, May 23, Senate leaders polled the membership to see if there were any objections to approving a House-passed bill making it easier to save for retirement and fixing a tax problem related to Gold Star families, recipients of college financial aid, and others. Objections were reportedly heard from several Senators, but the main challenge to moving the bill came from Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex.). Given Cruz’s problems with the bill, discussions will take place after the recess on how the Senate will proceed.
Cruz wants the bill to include provisions that would allow college savings plans, known as 529 plans, to be used for homeschooling expenses and for certain expenses related to K-12 education, including at private and religious schools. Those provisions were in the version approved by the House Ways and Means Committee but were dropped in the Rules Committee, which is controlled by House leadership.
The day after the Senate failed to clear the retirement bill, the House tried to use unanimous consent to pass a disaster relief package, but that effort failed when Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tex.) objected on the floor. Interestingly, Roy served for two years as Cruz’s first chief of staff after Cruz was elected to the Senate in 2012. Roy objected to passing the bill without a roll call vote (which wasn’t possible because the Senate didn’t pass the bill until Thursday and most House Members were not in town on Friday). He also opposed the measure because the $19 billion cost was not offset.
The House convened today at 2 p.m. in a pro forma session and tried again to pass the disaster bill by unanimous consent. Roy was in Texas, but Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) objected. He also objected to approval of a Senate-passed bill extending through June 14 the National Flood Insurance Program. A four-month extension, until Sept. 30, is part of the disaster relief package that the House will eventually pass in June (unless there is unanimous consent on Thursday when the House meets again in a pro forma session).
Budget Caps. Congressional leaders and Administration officials are expected to resume their budget talks after the recess, in the hope of finding agreement on raising the budget caps. After two rounds of discussions on May 21, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer put out a statement reiterating their position “that there be parity in increases between defense and non-defense [spending].”
While an eventual deal on the budget caps could also include an agreement to suspend or increase the debt ceiling, Schumer said that was not discussed in last week’s meetings. Action on the debt limit can be delayed until the fall, but Congressional leaders would like to strike a deal before then on the budget caps so that the Appropriations Committees can work with top-line numbers that have been agreed to by Congress and the President.
FY 2020 Appropriations. Absent a budget deal, the House Appropriations Committee continues to draft and approve FY 2020 bills that reflect spending goals set by the Democratic majority. The Senate Appropriations Committee has not yet acted on any FY 2020 bills, but Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) is hoping a budget cap deal can be finalized as soon as next month, providing the committee with top-line numbers for defense and non-defense spending.
Infrastructure. No one expected last Wednesday’s White House meeting on infrastructure to produce a spending plan all sides would agree to, but there was a general expectation that the meeting would last more than five minutes. After President Trump told Congressional Democrats he would not work with them on infrastructure until they called off their investigations of him, many observers wrote off the chances for a grand infrastructure package and instead opined that the focus would now shift to reauthorization of federal highway programs that are set to expire Sept. 30, 2020.
National Defense Authorization Act. The Senate Armed Services Committee voted 25-2 on May 23 to approve the FY 2020 NDAA bill. Senate floor consideration is expected the week of June 10. The House Armed Services Committee plans to begin work next month on its version.
Democratic Primary Debates. One month out from the first Democratic primary debates on June 26 and 27, and 19 candidates have qualified for one of the 20 slots on the debate stage. Candidates can meet one of two thresholds to qualify – 65,000 unique donors or 1% support in three polls. If more than 20 qualify, priority will be given to candidates who meet both thresholds. The Democratic National Committee adopted a rule last week that will evenly divide top-tier candidates across the two nights of the first primary debates.
POTUS Travel Schedule. The President will make a trip to the United Kingdom June 3-5, where he is expected to meet with Queen Elizabeth II and the royal family, outgoing British Prime Minister Theresa May, and Ireland’s Prime Minister Leo Varadkar. Trump then heads to France where he is expected to meet with President Emmanuel Macron as part of D-Day commemorations.