Five things lawmakers want attached to the $1 trillion funding bill
Congressional lawmakers know the $1 trillion omnibus is the last train leaving the station — the final big piece of legislation Congress must pass before the November election.
So members are frantically lobbying leadership and senior appropriators to attach hundreds of their pet priorities to the massive fiscal 2018 spending package.
In the end, very few of those legislative items are likely to hitch a ride on the omnibus. But that’s not deterring lawmakers from pushing their ideas.
Here are five pitches leadership has heard in recent days.
Retiring Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), a powerful senior appropriator, says he’s tucking his Export-Import Bank legislation into the spending bill for the House Appropriations Committee subcommittee on state and foreign operations.
Whether leadership allows it to stay there is another question.
After a months-long lapse, the Ex-Im Bank was reopened in late 2015. But because the bank’s seven-member board lacks a quorum, it hasn’t been able to provide U.S. corporations with loans larger than $10 million. That means more than $30 billion in pending loans remain in limbo, Dent said.
Dent’s bill would lower the quorum on the board so it could approve large loans once more. He is chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee overseeing military construction and Veterans Affairs, but serves on Rep. Hal Roger’s (R-Ky.) sub-panel on state and foreign ops. Rogers is on board, according to Dent.
“I put it in the State-Foreign Ops bill to allow the Ex-Im Bank to function without a full quorum,” Dent told The Hill. “They don’t have a quorum and without a quorum, they can’t approve loans of over $10 million.”
Part of the reason there are five vacancies on the bank’s board: The full Senate has yet to confirm four of President Trump’s nominees who already have been approved by that chamber’s Banking Committee.
Trump’s pick to lead the bank, former Freedom Caucus Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.), was rejected by the Banking panel in December over his past votes to dissolve the federal agency.
Online sales tax
Rep. Kristi Noem is on a mission. The South Dakota GOP gubernatorial candidate has been aggressively pitching her online sales tax legislation to anyone who will listen.
An ally of leadership who serves on the tax-writing Ways and Means panel, Noem this week tried to convince two powerful conservative groups — the Freedom Caucus and Republican Study Committee — that her bill should be included in the omnibus.
Noem’s legislation, the Remote Transactions Parity Act, is backed by President Trump and would expand the authority of states to collect sales taxes on internet purchases. She’s pushing Congress to take action before the courts do; the Supreme Court next month will hear a case, South Dakota vs. Wayfair Inc., that could decide whether states can compel out-of-state online retailers to collect their sales taxes.
One of Noem’s GOP primary candidates in the governor’s race, state Attorney General Marty Jackley, is representing South Dakota in the court case. As the Rapid City Journal explained: “Whichever candidate succeeds first could receive credit for helping to capture millions of dollars in lost revenue for the state and for city governments.”
Noem is extremely close with Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and his leadership team, and the provision has been discussed in the Speaker’s office in recent days, sources confirmed. But so far, no final decision has been made.
Noem recently told The Hill she believes Ryan would be “willing” to include the online sales tax provision if she can demonstrate it has broad support. But the Speaker has not publicly stated what riders he would accept in the omnibus. “We are not negotiating the omni through the press,” said Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong.
“Rep. Noem is working to build on an already broad coalition of support to resolve this issue before the Supreme Court acts, because without legislative guidelines, the expected court decision could cause chaos for small businesses,” said a Noem aide.
“We have been in active talks with the administration and our congressional colleagues about the potential for chaos if the court acts before Congress,” the aide added, “and we are particularly pleased to have the president’s support of a legislative solution.”
FAA short-term extension
Lawmakers from both parties say a short-term reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has a good chance of catching a ride on the omnibus.
Without congressional action, the FAA will shut down at the end of the month.
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, signaled this week the FAA extension could be included in the spending package.
His House counterpart, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), said leadership has not made a call and things are still uncertain: The extension could be packaged with the bomnibus or come to the floor as a stand-alone measure. But Shuster pointed out that Congress is running out of time.
“We have to do an extension because the FAA will shut down” on March 31, the chairman said.
Rep. Rick Larsen (Wash.), the top Democrat on the Transportation panel’s aviation subcommittee, said there is an opportunity for Congress to tie the FAA extension to the omnibus now that Shuster’s plan to privatize the air traffic control system is “dead.”
The short-term extension “will give us time to sort through a full reauthorization by the end of July,” Larsen told The Hill.
Another House Democrat predicted that both the FAA provision and funding for ObamaCare cost sharing reduction, or CSR, payments would ultimately be included in the final spending package.
Tribal labor sovereignty
Like Dent, Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) is a senior appropriator who leads his own Appropriations subcommittee. And he, too, is asking leadership to consider one of his priorities in the omnibus.
The Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act would make clear that the National Labor Relations Board has no jurisdiction over businesses owned and operated by an Indian tribe and located on tribal land. The legislation — authored by GOP Rep. Todd Rokita, who’s running for the Senate in Indiana — would make it harder for labor unions to organize workers at tribal casinos.
The bill already cleared the House earlier this year, but has not been taken up by the Senate.
“Tribal Labor Sovereignty might be able to make it,” said Cole, a member of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma who chairs the Appropriations subcommittee on labor. “That would be my priority.”
Cole, who remained in Washington over the weekend to continue work on the omnibus, said Ryan and other leaders have instructed bipartisan appropriators to hammer out as many issues as possible but to keep them abreast of the more contentious riders.
“We’re keeping them informed — ‘here are the issues, what do you want us to fight to the death on?’” Cole said. “But with some of these issues, they literally want them to be kicked up to them.”
One lobbyist familiar with the tribal labor issue said, “this one is getting kicked upstairs” to leadership. “It’s been such a contentious issue and tribes have tried really hard to get it through the Senate … Leadership in both parties are engaged in this issue.”
Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said the House would soon pass school safety legislation in response to last month’s deadly high school shooting in Parkland, Fla.
The question is whether Congress will fund that effort in their catchall omnibus bill.
The Students, Teachers and Officers Prevent (STOP) School Violence Act would authorize $50 million a year in new federal grants to help educate students, faculty and law enforcement learn how to spot and report warning signs of potential gun violence. The bill would also develop anonymous telephone and online systems where people could report threats of violence.
But the bill’s author, Rep. John Rutherford (R-Fla.), a former Duval County sheriff, has been pressing leadership and appropriators to include funding for his bipartisan bill in the omnibus.
“It’s a very important issue right now,” Rutherford told The Hill earlier this week. “The sooner that we make these funds available for schools … the better.”
The legislation has more than 75 co-sponsors, including Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), GOP Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), former Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) and Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), whose district includes Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School — the site of the mass shooting.
Melanie Zanona contributed.
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