The House of Representatives left last week and the Senate will leave the end of this week for the Congressional August recess. When Congress returns after Labor Day, it will face a full agenda including funding deadlines for the federal government and highway programs hitting within weeks of the Department of the Treasury’s borrowing authority (debt ceiling) expiring.
Some of the items include:
- FY ’16 Appropriations: The House and Senate Appropriations Committees has passed all 12 fiscal year 2016 appropriations bills. The House has passed some of the bills but the Senate has not passed a single appropriations bill. The White House has threatened to veto all of the bills because of policy issues, evading spending caps by designating ordinary spending as war funding, and wanting to renegotiate spending levels. It is expected Congress will pass a continuing resolution prior to Sept. 30 to keep the government running for the remainder of the year.
- Highway bill: The House and Senate passed a short-term 90-day highway bill that shores up federal highway funds for transportation programs through Oct. 29 and replenishes the Highway Trust Fund with $8 billion. This is 34th short-term transportation funding extension since 2009. The Senate also passed a six-year highway bill to try and give some certainty and long-range planning for states. The House plans to work on a longer term bill later this year.
- Debt ceiling: Congress will have to raise the debt ceiling before the end of the year. The Treasury Department has stated that the United States will hit its debt limit on Oct. 30. This always becomes a political issue and with the Presidential primaries and caucuses next year it could be even more so this year.
- Export-Import Bank: The Export-Import Bank’s authorization expired on June 30. Ex-Im guarantees loans for foreign companies interested in buying U.S. exports. Some companies have indicated they may move some operations to other countries that have equivalents to the Ex-Im if Congress doesn’t renew the program. The business community strong support reauthorization but many Tea Party and conservative groups would like to see the program ended.
- Iran nuclear agreement: Congress plans to consider the Iran nuclear agreement where the administration will face strong Republican opposition.
- Tax extenders: The various tax extenders (biodiesel, Section 179, research and development, etc.) will need to be renewed by the end of the year. The Senate Finance Committee passed legislation to extend them for 2015 and 2016.
- Mandatory Price Reporting: Mandatory Price Reporting for beef and pork expires on Sept. 30. The House of Representatives passed its bill earlier this year that covers beef, pork and lamb.
- COOL: The Senate Agriculture Committee is deeply divided on how to resolve the mandatory country-of-origin labeling issue. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), chairman of the committee, has introduced legislation to repeal mandatory COOL and ranking member Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) has introduced legislation that would replace mandatory COOL with a voluntary program. However, Canada and Mexico have stated their opposition to Stabenow’s efforts. A World Trade Organization panel is expected to rule this fall on the level of damages Canada and Mexico have incurred because of COOL, and this will then allow Canada and Mexico to proceed with tariffs against the United States. The two countries are seeking $3.2 billion annually in tariffs.
- Child nutrition reauthorization: The Senate Agriculture Committee plans to reauthorize the child nutrition programs (school lunch, school breakfast, summer feeding program, etc.) when Congress returns in September. There are a number of issues to be addressed including cost, reimbursement rates to school districts, flexibility, nutrition standards, etc. The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act expires Sept. 30.