Lame Duck: The Final Days?
This may be the final week of the 113th Congress. The House and Senate have planned to adjourn by Dec. 12th. However, on Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced, "Next week could be a long, long week spilling into the next week. We have imperative things we have to do.”
Last week, the House passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and a one-year retroactive tax extension bill. However, it has yet to pass a government funding bill, or the “cromnibus” — legislation that will prevent a government shutdown after Dec. 11. Meanwhile, the Senate intends to pass a government funding bill and the NDAA, but it’s unclear if they will be voting on a tax extender deal. Here's a look at what to expect this week.
Avoiding a Government Shutdown
The FY 2015 budget is set to expire on Dec. 11th. Congress must act on the budget in order to avoid a government shutdown. The House Republicans have been circulating a omnibus plan to fund most of the government through the end of the Fiscal Year but only temporarily fund the Homeland Security Department through March. This strategy may give the House an opportunity to deal with funding President Obama’s immigration policy early next year. House Speaker John Boehner told reporters he is looking at "a variety of options, both for right now and when Republicans control both houses of the Congress next year."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said it was "imperative” for the Senate to pass a government funding bill before adjourning for the year. He told reporters last week that the Senate would consider a spending package that only funds DHS through March, as long as it didn’t include additional rides that were unacceptable to his party.
On Thursday, the House passed — by a 300 – 119 bipartisan vote — a National Defense Authorization bill (NDAA), which would fund the Pentagon’s programs for FY 2015:
The bill provides for the pay and benefits of our troops and their families, funds counter-ISIL operations, continues a bi-partisan process of reforming the way DoD does business, and makes important investments while adjusting to an era of declining resources. The bill also includes a bipartisan, bicameral package of public lands provisions that was worked out by the Chairmen and Ranking Members of the Natural Resources Committees in the Senate and the House of Representatives. The NDAA represents a broad bi-partisan consensus about America’s national security goals, resources, and policies.”
The bill would keep pay raises at 1 percent but freeze raises for general and flag officers — and reduce housing subsidies by 1 percent. It also would cut subsidies for military commissaries by $100 million. The House had originally passed its version in May, but the Senate never brought one to the floor.
From our Hill Sources: Some of the most controversial aspects of the bill are related to public land and energy provisions. For example, the bill would designate new national parks and wilderness areas and speed up the permit process for oil and gas drilling.
Source: Summary of NDAA from the House Armed Services Committee
A-10 and F-35 Aircraft in the NDAA
A few months back, we shared an Issue Spotlight on the Air Force’s A-10s and F-35s. In March 2014, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James announced that the Air Force is “severely, severely limited by the fiscal choices” after the "sequestration" related budget agreement. As a result, the Air Force announced it would retire the A-10 Thunderbolt II close air support aircraft and instead, the Air Force would prioritize the joint strike fighter. The decision to retire the A-10 has been a controversial one. “That is, I know, an extremely controversial area… But I want you to know we are absolutely committed to the close air support mission,” Secretary James explained. “We will not let it drop.” (Source: Testimony before the House Armed Services Committee) However, last week's NDAA Compromise may prevent the retirement of the A-10.
NDAA Compromise Prevents the Retirement of the A-10 Thunderbolt (Warthog)
The House and Senate reached a compromise in the National Defense Authorization bill (NDAA) to forbid the retirement of the A-10 and provides $350 million to prevent 100 A-10s from being retired. However, it would make it possible to drop their readiness level if the Pentagon creates a commission to investigate whether keeping the A-10s will make it harder for the Air Force to grant F-35s “Initial Operational Capability”. The F-35s are scheduled to be ready to fly by Fall 2015.
More Delays to the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter
With Congress keeping A-10s in the air, the Air Force is expecting a mechanics shortage. That means the F-35s may get delayed even further. The Air Force was expecting to train 1,100 personnel on F-35 fleet maintenance by Fall 2015. Approximately 800 of those were experienced maintainers available as a result of the A-10 retirement. Now that Congress is keeping the A-10 in use, there will be a shortage of F-35 personnel. In addition, the NDAA authorizes $6.63 billion to buy 34 F-35s, 26 of which are the Air Force variants.
Sources: Janes; Air Force Times
Earlier this year, Members of Congress introduced a bill to prohibit the retirement of the A-10:
(Also HR 3657 in the House) — Bipartisan — Prohibits the obligation or expenditure of any Department of Defense (DOD) funds to retire, prepare to retire, or place in storage any A-10 aircraft until: (1) the Secretary of the Air Force certifies that the F-35A aircraft has achieved full operational capability and Block 4A capabilities and that a sufficient number of F-35A aircraft exists in the Air Force inventory to replace the A-10 aircraft in order to meet close air support capability requirements of the combatant commands.
Members of Congress have also introduced proposals related to these Air Force potentially retiring aircraft:
(S 2758 in Senate) — Bipartisan — To authorize the Secretary of the Air Force to modernize C-130 aircraft using alternative communication, navigation, surveillance, and air traffic management program kits and to ensure that such aircraft meet applicable regulations of the Federal Aviation Administration.
— Bipartisan — The KC-10 aircraft, which is the largest, newest, and most capable refueling aircraft currently in the military’s inventory, is a workhorse and vital to meeting air refueling mission taskings for the Arctic, Trans-Atlantic, and Pacific routes,” according to the bill sponsor.
Authorizing Military Force Against ISIS
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced a resolution declaring that a state of war exists between the organization referring to itself as the Islamic State (ISIS) and the government and people of the United States:
To declare that a state of war exists between the organization referring to itself as the Islamic State and the Government and the people of the United States, and to make provisions to prosecute the same. "I believe the President must come to Congress to begin a war and that Congress has a duty to act. Right now, this war is illegal until Congress acts pursuant to the Constitution and authorizes it," Sen. Paul said.
From our Hill Sources: Senator Paul's plan was to tie his proposal to authorize military force against ISIS to an obscure water bill during a procedural meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Republicans on the committee — and especially Senator John McCain (R-AZ) — were angered. "It was the most bizarre meeting of the Foreign Relations Committee that I have ever attended in my life or ever expected to attend," Sen. McCain said. "A water bill, a nice little water bill, uncontroversial. … It was ludicrous. It's a living, breathing argument against lame-duck sessions."
President Obama’s veto threats against a tax extender package killed any potential bipartisan deal between House and Senate leaders. “The President would veto the proposed deal because it would provide permanent tax breaks to help well-connected corporations while neglecting working families,” said Jen Friedman, deputy White House press secretary.
Instead, the House passed a retroactive one-year bill extending more than 50 tax provisions that expired on January 1:
"Would extend, for one year (generally through the end of 2014), a number of tax relief provisions that expired either at the end of calendar year 2013 or during 2014, thus preventing tax increases on millions of families and businesses as the tax year 2014 filing season begins early next year,” according to the House Ways and Means Committee. " By enacting HR 5771, Congress can continue to pursue its efforts to make certain expiring tax provisions permanent to provide certainty and stability to families and businesses, without causing disruption for taxpayers trying to file their 2014 tax returns.”
These extensions include:
- Individual Tax Extenders
- Extension of deduction for certain expenses of elementary and secondary school teachers.
- Extension of exclusion from gross income of discharge of qualified principal residence indebtedness.
- Extension of parity for employer-provided mass transit and parking benefits.
- Extension of mortgage insurance premiums treated as qualified residence interest.
- Extension of deduction of State and local general sales taxes.
- Extension of special rule for contributions of capital gain real property made for conservation purposes.
- Extension of above-the-line deduction for qualified tuition and related expenses.
- Extension of tax-free distributions from individual retirement plans for charitable purposes.
- Business Tax Extenders
- Extension of research credit.
- Extension of temporary minimum low-income housing tax credit rate for non-Federally subsidized buildings.
- Extension of military housing allowance exclusion for determining whether a tenant in certain counties is low-income.
- Extension of Indian employment tax credit.
- Extension of new markets tax credit.
- Extension of railroad track maintenance credit.
- Extension of mine rescue team training credit.
- Extension of employer wage credit for employees who are active duty members of the uniformed services.
- Extension of work opportunity tax credit.
- Extension of qualified zone academy bonds.
- Extension of classification of certain race horses as 3-year property.
- Extension of 15-year straight-line cost recovery for qualified leasehold improvements, qualified restaurant buildings and improvements, and qualified retail improvements.
- Extension of 7-year recovery period for motorsports entertainment complexes.
- Extension of accelerated depreciation for business property on an Indian reservation.
- Extension of bonus depreciation.
- Extension of enhanced charitable deduction for contributions of food inventory.
- Extension of increased expensing limitations and treatment of certain real property as section 179 property.
- Extension of election to expense mine safety equipment.
- Extension of special expensing rules for certain film and television productions.
- Extension of deduction allowable with respect to income attributable to domestic production activities in Puerto Rico.
- Extension of modification of tax treatment of certain payments to controlling exempt organizations.
- Extension of treatment of certain dividends of regulated investment companies.
- Extension of RIC qualified investment entity treatment under FIRPTA.
- Extension of subpart F exception for active financing income.
- Extension of look-through treatment of payments between related controlled foreign corporations under foreign personal holding company rules.
- Extension of temporary exclusion of 100 percent of gain on certain small business stock.
- Extension of basis adjustment to stock of S corporations making charitable contributions of property.
- Extension of reduction in S-corporation recognition period for built-in gains tax.
- Extension of empowerment zone tax incentives.
- Extension of temporary increase in limit on cover over of rum excise taxes to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
- Extension of American Samoa economic development credit.
- Energy Tax Extenders
- Extension of credit for nonbusiness energy property.
- Extension of second generation biofuel producer credit.
- Extension of incentives for biodiesel and renewable diesel.
- Extension of production credit for Indian coal facilities placed in service before 2009.
- Extension of credits with respect to facilities producing energy from certain renewable resources.
- Extension of credit for energy-efficient new homes.
- Extension of special allowance for second generation biofuel plant property.
- Extension of energy efficient commercial buildings deduction.
- Extension of special rule for sales or dispositions to implement FERC or State electric restructuring policy for qualified electric utilities.
- Extension of excise tax credits relating to certain fuels.
- Extenders relating to Multiemployer Defined Benefit Pension Plans.
Source: House Rules Committee
Also in the House…
In addition, the House will vote on:
— Bipartisan — "Would provide short- term relief from California’s water crisis,” according to bill sponsors. "Sets Old & Middle River pumping rates at -5,000 cubic feet per second, while allowing Federal regulatory agencies the discretion to reduce pumping under certain instances” and “authorizes Federal agencies to increase Old & Middle River pumping rates during the first few storms of the water year."
To amend the National Trails System Act to direct the Secretary of the Interior to conduct a study on the feasibility of designating the Chief Standing Bear National Historic Trail.
To authorize the Secretary of the Interior to acquire approximately 44 acres of land in Martinez, California.
To require that certain Federal lands be held in trust by the United States for the benefit of federally recognized tribes in the State of Oregon
“Requires the Office of Management and Budget to prepare a crosscut budget to better track the progress of Bay restoration efforts, comparing costs and the performance of restoration activities by the various federal agencies involved in the Bay preservation effort,” according to the bill sponsor.
— Bipartisan — “Directs the US Department of Commerce to more accurately calculate consumer propane costs, according to bill sponsors. "It also enables the propane industry to use its resources to mitigate price spikes.”
— Bipartisan — The EARLY Act "created an education and outreach campaign administered by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to highlight the breast cancer risks facing young women and women of higher-risk ethnic and racial backgrounds, while empowering them with the tools they need to fight the disease, according to bill sponsors. "The EARLY Act also targets health care providers with education and information to ensure they are better equipped to catch breast cancer in young women.”
— Bipartisan — To authorize the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
— Bipartisan — To release the City of St. Clair, Missouri, from all restrictions, conditions, and limitations on the use, encumbrance, conveyance, and closure of the St. Clair Regional Airport
— Bipartisan — “A comprehensive bill to prevent veteran suicide and help our nations heroes who may be struggling get the care and support they need,” according to bill sponsors. Amends the requirements for reviewing potentially improper discharge characterizations of individuals diagnosed with PTSD or TBI so that vets can get full access to the care they have earned. Addresses the shortage of mental health care professionals by authorizing the VA to conduct a student loan repayment pilot program aimed at recruiting and retaining psychiatrists.
— Bipartisan — To authorize the Feed the Future Initiative to reduce global poverty and hunger in developing countries on a sustainable basis.
— Bipartisan — To strengthen implementation of the Senator Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act of 2005 by improving the capacity of the United States Government to implement, leverage, and monitor and evaluate programs to provide first-time or improved access to safe drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene to the world's poorest on an equitable and sustainable basis.
To provide for the transfer of naval vessels to certain foreign recipients.
— Bipartisan — To improve the security of the United States border and to provide for reforms and rates of pay for border patrol agents.
— Please keep in mind that highlighting a bill doesn't imply a POPVOX endorsement in any way. Rather, we're simply trying to offer one more way to stay informed of an overwhelmingly complex legislative system. —