With only 11 legislative days left, Congress has a number of key issues that must be finalized before the end of the year. Two of the most pressing are the fiscal year 2016 appropriations bill and the highway bill.
If these two issues are not finalized in the first two weeks of December the federal government will shutdown and the highway trust fund will run out of money. Key issues for Congress include:
- FY ’16 appropriations: Congress will need to finalize a fiscal year 2016 $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill to fund the government. The deadline for the bill is Dec. 11 when the current funding legislation expires. With this being a must-pass bill, Congressional leaders are considering adding various policy riders to the measure. An agreement will have to be reached with the administration on any policy riders attached to the bill. They include:
- COOL: Repeal country-of-origin labeling requirements. The World Trade Organization will announce on Dec. 7 the level of tariffs that Canada and Mexico will be allowed to impose on U.S. goods as the result of an earlier ruling by the WTO against the U.S. COOL. Tariffs could then be imposed as early as Dec. 18.
- Biotech labeling: With the various state deadlines approaching, efforts are being made on a compromise plan that would exempt GMO labeling laws.
- WOTUS: Delay the implementation of the Waters of the U.S.
- Dietary guidelines: Even though the administration has pledged not to use sustainability factors in the new dietary guidelines, there may be language placed in the omnibus package to guarantee sustainability will not be addressed.
- Greenhouse gas emissions: Overturn the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulations regarding greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.
- Syrian refugees: Block President Obama’s proposal to allow 10,000 Syrian refugees to enter the United States
- Planned Parenthood: Provide no federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
- Crop insurance: A major issue for the agricultural community will be federal crop insurance. The earlier passed budget agreement would cut $3 billion from crop insurance. Because of strong opposition from the House and Senate Agriculture Committee’s leadership and members, the House and Senate leaders agreed to find these savings elsewhere. The agriculture committees and community will be closely watching where these additional savings will be made.
- Highway bill: Current funding for federal highway programs expires on Dec. 4. Congress is expected to pass a six-year reauthorization of federal highway programs soon after it returns from its Thanksgiving recess.
- Tax extenders: Congress will need to pass a tax extenders package by the end of the year for taxpayers to be able to take advantage of these programs for tax year 2015. Key extenders for agriculture are Section 179 allowance; 50% bonus depreciation; biodiesel tax credit ($1 per gallon); incentive for cellulosic ethanol ($1.01 per gallon); and research and development.