Federal Legislative Update - March 6, 2023
Both chambers are in session this week. Many expect this to be the busiest week of the 118th Congress.
On Thursday, President Joe Biden will unveil his Fiscal Year (FY) 2024 budget priorities in Philadelphia. A White House statement indicated that, “the President will deliver remarks on his plans to invest in America, continue to lower costs for families, protect and strengthen Social Security and Medicare, reduce the deficit, and more.” President Biden has pledged to cut $2 trillion from the government’s deficit over 10 years. The full budget release will not occur until March 13, with main summaries arriving on the originally announced date of March 9. Following the budget release, many expect Congress to begin spending negotiations for FY24 and reignite conversations around the debt limit, which likely needs to be raised by July at the latest to avoid a default. In the House, Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and House Budget Committee Chair Jodey Arrington (R-Texas) hope to return FY24 spending to enacted FY 2022 levels.
Last Tuesday, the House Appropriations Committee released its FY24 appropriations guidance and deadlines for Members to submit Community Project Funding (i.e., earmark) requests. Those deadlines range from March 24 to March 31, 2023. In response to the updated guidance, many House members began to release their internal office deadlines over the past week. The House guidance provides significant and more restrictive changes from the FY 23 process, including:
- Federal Nexus Requirement: The Committee will only fund projects that are tied to a federal authorization law. Members must include a written statement describing the federal nexus for each Community Project Funding request.
- No Memorials, Museums, or Commemoratives: Memorials, museums, and commemoratives (i.e., projects named for an individual or entity) are not eligible for Community Project Funding. The Committee notes that many such projects are eligible for competitive grants, and Members can request higher program funding levels.
- The elimination of all earmark accounts previously made available in FY 2023 for the Department of Labor; Department of Health and Human Services; Department of Education; Department of Energy; Department of the Interior [not including the Bureau of Reclamation]; U.S. Forest Service; Small Business Administration; General Services Administration; and the National Archives and Records Administration.
- The addition of several new accounts for FY 2024 that were not previously earmarked in FY 2022 and FY 2023, including: USDA’s Rural Water and Waste Disposal Grants; NOAA’s Coastal Zone Management; USDOT’s Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) Grants; and USDOT’s Port Infrastructure Development Program.
The House will consider 5 bills under suspension of the rules, including the Understanding Cybersecurity of Mobile Networks Act (HR 1123), which directs the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information to submit to Congress a report examining the cybersecurity of mobile service networks. The House will also vote on H.J. Res. 27, a disapproval resolution under the Congressional Review Act, which overturns a January 2023 Biden Administration rule on the revised definition of “Waters of the United States (WOTUS).” The resolution would block the 2023 WOTUS rule reinstating a standard to determine jurisdictional water bodies using a “significant nexus” test. The WOTUS ruling is currently facing a Supreme Court challenge. The House will also vote on the Senate-passed COVID-19 Origin Act of 2023 (S. 619), which would require the Director of National Intelligence to declassify information relating to the origin of COVID–19, and the Protecting Speech from Government Interference Act (H.R. 140), which prohibits federal employees from using their official authority or resources to influence or coerce a private sector platform to censor—including to remove, suppress, restrict, or add disclaimers or alerts to—any lawful speech posted on its platform by a person or entity.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen urging her to work with local communities to “build capacity” around the usage of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds program. The capacity, the letter says, would “allow more communities, especially in rural and distressed areas, to make best use of the significant federal investment becoming available from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, CHIPS and Science Act, Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, and Inflation Reduction Act, among other bills passed in recent years.” Senate Democrats face a voting challenge while two members are out due to health issues. Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and John Fetterman (D-Pa.) are both expected to be out for multiple weeks as the Senate prepares for several votes this week. The Senate will vote on the nomination of Robert Ballou to be a U.S. District Judge for the Western District of Virginia. The Senate will then vote on a House-passed bill (H.R. 1108), which would amend the Communications Act of 1934 to extend the authority of the Federal Communications Commission to grant a license or construction permit through a competitive bidding system. The Senate will also vote on a House-passed joint resolution Disapproving the District of Columbia Council’s Revised Criminal Code Act of 2022 (H. J. Res. 26). Many were surprised to hear President Biden’s announcement that he would sign the joint resolution blocking changes to the District of Columbia’s criminal code that would lower maximum penalties for some violent crimes in the District. The vote will likely garner nearly 70 total votes, meaning the Republican-sponsored legislation would receive more than 20 votes from Senate Democrats.
For the remainder of this week, the House will hold several committee hearings, including an Agriculture Committee hearing on “Farm Bill: A Review of Title VIII: Forestry Stakeholder Perspectives;” a Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing on “FAA Reauthorization: Securing the Future of General Aviation;” and a Financial Services Committee hearing on “How Do We Encourage Greater Flood Insurance Coverage in America?” The Senate will hold several committee hearings, including a Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee hearing on the “The Federal Debt Limit and its Economic and Financial Consequences;” and a Budget Committee hearing on “A Burning Issue: The Economic Costs of Wildfires.” Additionally, Representative-elect Jennifer McClellan (D-Va.) of Virginia’s 4th congressional district, who won the February 21 special election to fill the seat of the late Rep. Donald McEachin, will be sworn in when the House returns Tuesday. Once McClellan is seated, Democrats will have 213 seats in the House and Republicans will continue to have 222.