From our Hill Sources: The House and Senate left for Easter recess on Friday, after approving Republican FY 2016 budget proposals. Congress will return on April 13, but in the meantime, here’s a quick recap and a closer look at some hot issues from our Hill Sources.
The House and Senate Pass Budgets
Last week, the House and Senate passed resolutions calling for spending up to $3.8 trillion in the fiscal year that starts October 1 and balancing the federal budget within 10 years. The two chambers will negotiate a compromise budget in mid-April, after they return. It’s important to point out that Congress’s budget resolution doesn't have the force of law, so it cannot alter the entitlements and other mandatory programs. The Congressional budget, however, provides a roadmap for their priorities in the fiscal year ahead, and we can expect future bills will propose more specific policy changes.
Take comprehensive tax reform as an example: The House budget proposal calls for comprehensive tax reform that “simplifies the tax code to make it fairer to American families and businesses and reduces the amount of time and resources necessary to comply with tax laws”; and “substantially lowers tax rates for individuals and consolidates the current seven individual income tax brackets into fewer brackets.” The Senate budget plan creates a reserve fund to be used to pay for a tax overhaul or to “extend certain expiring tax relief provisions.” But neither the House nor Senate offer specific plans for tax reform.
Both the House and Senate budgets contain reconciliation instructions, which will help set parameters for legislation later in the year—which will need to be signed by the President and have the force of law. Reconciliation instructions give directions to a committee to pass legislation that changes existing law to bring spending or revenues to meet the budget resolution. A reconciliation bill that comes to the Senate floor does not need 60 votes—so it cannot be filibustered in the Senate, and has a 20-hour debate clock in both chambers. The House budget offers instructions for all House committees to achieve some deficit reduction and flexibility in determining how to repeal the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”). On the other hand, the Senate budget only provides reconciliation instructions to the Finance and Heath, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committees—the two committees with jurisdiction over the Affordable Care Act—requiring legislation to provide at least $1 billion in savings in ten years by July 31, 2015. These instructions may help the Republican-majority Senate repeal, replace or amend parts of the Affordable Care Act without a filibuster threat.
Share your voice on the House budget resolution, HConRes 27 and the Senate budget resolution, SConRes 11.
Queen of the Hill
The House used a “Queen of the Hill” strategy—voting on two versions of the proposal and advancing whichever received the most support—to pass its budget proposal, HConRes 27. The version that passed, in a 219 – 208 vote, proposed additional defense funding—$38 billion more than requested by President Obama. This version also proposed privatizing Medicare in 10 years and repealing the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
The Senate passed its budget, SConRes 11, in a 52 – 48 vote after a "vote-a-rama," a lengthy series of amendment votes that lasted until 3:20 a.m. on Friday—with a new amendment up for vote approximately every 20 minutes. Many of these amendments were offered to get members of the opposing party on the record on hot-button issues as we enter a Presidential election season. (See the full list of amendments.)
Not all Senators agreed with this strategy, including Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), who explained: “There is no doubt that the process gets misused to just simply make the other side cast uncomfortable votes. I think that's unfortunate because I think the budget should be a serious process, and when we do a vote-a-rama—where we will vote 40 times into the wee hours of the morning with only a minute of explanation pro and a minute of explanation against the amendment—it's hard to say it's a dignified process worthy of the United States Senate, which is supposed to be the world's most deliberative body.”
In the end, the Senate did pass some amendment, inlcuding supporting the repeal of the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare"); guaranteeing paid sick days; extending Social Security and Veterans Affairs benefits to legally married same-sex spouses; prohibiting a carbon tax and supporting Iran sanctions.
Paid Sick Days
Last week, the Senate passed an amendment to the Senate budget to expand access to paid sick days, 61 – 39. The amendment would allow workers to earn up to seven paid sick days yearly, according to the sponsor, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), and is modeled after the Healthy Families Act (S 497). “I am thrilled that the Senate showed strong support today for expanding access to paid sick days and giving more families some much-needed economic stability. No worker should have to sacrifice a day’s pay, or their job altogether, just to take care of themselves or their sick child,” explained Senator Murray.
From our Hill Sources: Since budget resolutions are not binding, this doesn’t mean that paid sick days will become law, but it’s a symbolic first step to have Senators on the record as supporting this issue. And this may be the work-and-family issue that gets attention as we near a Presidential campaign season. Fourteen Republican Senators voted for the paid sick days amendment, including Sens. Pat Toomey (R-PA), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Lamar Alexander (R-TX), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Susan Collins (R-ME), Bob Corker (R-TN), Lisa Murkowski (R-AL), John McCain (R-AZ), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), John Hoeven (R-ND), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Rob Portman (R-OH) and John Thune (R-SD).
Work and Family Legislation in Congress
The last significant federal expansion of leave was the Family and Medical Leave Act, which was passed by Congress in 1993, and allows workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for medical reasons, to care for a seriously ill family member or for the birth of a child. Since then, lawmakers have proposed legislation to guarantee paid time off and more flexibility of work hours.
Sponsors: Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) “Would allow workers to earn paid sick leave to use when they are sick, to care for a sick family member, to obtain preventive care, or to address the impacts of domestic violence, stalking or sexual assault,” according to the bill sponsors. “Would allow workers in businesses with at least 15 employees to earn up to 56 hours or seven days of job-protected paid sick leave each year. Workers would earn one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked.” (Read bill text)
Sponsors: Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) ”Would create an independent trust fund within the Social Security Administration to collect fees and provide benefits. This trust would be funded by employee and employer contributions of 0.2 percent of wages each, creating a self-sufficient program that would not add to the federal budget. Benefit levels, based on existing successful state programs in New Jersey and California, would equal 66 percent of an individual’s typical monthly wages up to a capped monthly amount that would be indexed for inflation,” according to bill sponsors. (Read bill text)
Sponsors: Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) “Would ensure that workers have the right to request a flexible work arrangement without fear of retribution,” according to bill sponsors. “Workers could request temporary or permanent changes to: The number of hours the employee is required to work; The times when the employee is required to work or be on notice; Where the employee is required to work; Notifications of schedule assignments.” (Read bill text)
Sponsor: Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) “Would allow voluntary workplace arrangements such as compensatory time and flexible credit hour agreements to be extended to hourly workers in the private sector,” according to the bill sponsors. “The bill would amend the FLSA to allow private employers to offer comp time to employees at a rate of one-and-one-half hours for every hour of overtime work. A completely voluntary process, an employee could still choose to receive monetary payments as their overtime compensation. This bill simply allows the option for employees to instead choose paid time off for overtime work.” (Read bill text)
Sponsors: Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL) Amends the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to authorize private employers to provide compensatory time off to private employees at a rate of 1 1/2 hours per hour of employment for which overtime compensation is required. Authorizes an employer to provide compensatory time only if it is in accordance with an applicable collective bargaining agreement or, in the absence of such an agreement, an agreement between the employer and employee. (Read bill text)
Congressman Aaron Schock (R-IL) announced he will resign at the end of the month after allegations of improper spending of his Congressional funds, lavish spending on trips, mileage reimbursements and the "Downton Abbey"-style redecoration of his congressional office, which constituted an in-kind contribution. In light of his resignation, the Committee on House Administration said that it is reviewing regulations governing lawmaker spending. Committee Chairwoman Candice Miller (R-MI) said that the committee “will review current House regulations and explore ways to strengthen the regulations governing official expenses, as well as ways to enhance the training and educational opportunities available to assist each office with compliance.”
Congressional Ethics Bills in Congress
There are several bills already pending before Congress to address Congressional ethics:
— Bipartisan — Sponsor: Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) Requires the Committee on Ethics of the House of Representatives to conduct ongoing ethics training and awareness programs for Members, officers, and employees of the House. (Read bill text)
Sponsor: Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) To require Members of Congress to disclose delinquent tax liability and to require an ethics inquiry into, and the garnishment of the wages of, a Member with Federal tax liability. (Read bill text)
Sponsor: Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL) To provide that a former Member of Congress or former Congressional employee who receives compensation as a lobbyist shall not be eligible for retirement benefits or certain other Federal benefits. (Read bill text)
Sponsor: Rep. Gwen Graham (D-FL) To prohibit the use of official funds for airline accommodations for Members of Congress which are not coach-class accommodations or for long-term vehicle leases for Members of Congress. (Read bill text)
Sponsor: Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) To prohibit former Members of Congress from engaging in lobbying contacts. (Read bill text)
Sponsor: Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) To prohibit authorized committees and leadership PACs from employing the spouse or immediate family members of any candidate or Federal office holder connected to the committee. (Read bill text)
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