Congress is Back from Easter break!

— by Rachna Choudhry — Co-founder,

todaycongresssketchThe House returns for an early appropriations season — the earliest since at least 1974. Meanwhile, the Senate will consider raising the minimum wage. Here’s the scoop from our Hill Sources:

Appropriations Season Begins!
The annual appropriations process begins this week in the House, as they consider the first two 2015 spending bills. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) has set a goal to have the House pass all of the 12 annual spending bills for FY 2015 before the August recess to avoid another omnibus measure after Sept. 30. (To put it in perspective, the first appropriations bill last year didn’t hit the House floor until June.)

  • Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2015 (HR 4486): Provides $71.5 billion in discretionary funding – a cut of $1.8 billion below the FY 2014 level. This reduction will not negatively affect projects or services on which troops and veterans rely. Instead, the bill provides less funding than the previous year for military construction, largely due to a lack of new need for such projects, while increasing funding for veterans programs by $1.5 billion.
  • Legislative Branch Appropriations Act, 2015 (HR 4487): Provides annual funding for the offices of Members of the House of Representatives, the support agencies of Congress (including security), services for visitors, and Capitol operations and maintenance. The total included for the House and joint operations, excluding Senate-only items, is $3.3 billion. This is the same as the FY 2014 level, and it’s $122.5 million below the President’s request. Also includes a provision preventing any pay increases for Members of Congress in FY 2015, which has been in place since 2010.

Government Reporting

The House will consider two bills related to government reporting:

  • Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA Act) (S 994): Requires standardized reporting of federal spending to be posted to a single website, allowing people to track spending in their communities. (This version passed the Senate on April 10, and the House had passed its version on Nov. 18, and is expected to pass the Senate version and send it to the President for his signature.)
  • Government Reports Elimination Act (HR 4194): Would eliminate or modify 321 legislatively mandated reports from 29 Federal agencies.

Increasing the Minimum Wage  

After completing work on nominations, the Senate could begin considering a bill to raise the minimum wage this week:

  • Minimum Wage Fairness Act (S 1737): Would provide for an increase in the Federal minimum wage in three stages: $8.20 an hour six months after the bill is enacted, $9.15 an hour a year after enactment and to $10.10 an hour two years after enactment. Would also increase the wage of tipped workers to $3.00 six months after the bill is enacted, and then up to 70% of the minumum wage for other workers.

Democrats see raising the minimum wage as an important issue, particularly during an election year. However, Republicans opposing the bill point to a February Congressional Budget Office study, which found that “once fully implemented in the second half of 2016, the $10.10 option would reduce total employment by about 500,000 workers, or 0.3 percent.” The study also found that the policy would lift 900,000 people out of poverty.

Another Obamacare Fix

The House will yet again consider amending the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. But this time, it has bipartisan support:

  • Expatriate Health Coverage Clarification Act (HR 4414): This bipartisan legislation was introduced as a fix to the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) that would exempt plans from the law’s requirements when they sell policies to individuals who work outside of the United States.  However, some Democrats believe that this bill creates large loopholes that would permit insurance companies to sell inferior insurance policies to American and foreign workers and their families who live in the United States.

The House previously considered this bill on April 9, under suspension of the rules, which required two-thirds of the House to support the bill for passage. However, the bill did not garner two-thirds support and failed by a roll call vote (259 – 159). This time, it will need only a simple majority to pass.

Also in the House… 

The House will also vote on:

  • HR 4192: Allows construction of single-story penthouses of up to 20 feet above the roof level in the District of Columbia.
  • HR 298: Would conduct a special resource study to evaluate the significance of the Mill Springs Battlefield located in Pulaski and Wayne Counties, Kentucky, and the feasibility of its inclusion in the National Park System.
  • North Texas Invasive Species Barrier Act (HR 4032): To exempt from Lacey Act Amendments of 1981 certain water transfers by the North Texas Municipal Water District and the Greater Texoma Utility Authority.
  • Huna Tlingit Traditional Gull Egg Use Act (HR 3110): To allow for the harvest of gull eggs by the Huna Tlingit people within Glacier Bay National Park in the State of Alaska.
  • New Philadelphia Study Act (HR 930): To conduct a special resource study of the archeological site and surrounding land of the New Philadelphia town site in the State of Illinois.
  • Law Enforcement Museum Act (HR 4120): To amend the National Law Enforcement Museum Act to extend the termination date.
  • Prison Ship Martyrs’ Monument Preservation Act (HR 1501): To direct the Secretary of the Interior to study the suitability and feasibility of designating the Prison Ship Martyrs’ Monument in Fort Greene Park, in the New York City borough of Brooklyn, as a unit of the National Park System.
  • National Park Service 100th Anniversary Commemorative Coin Act (HR 627): To provide for the issuance of coins to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the National Park Service.
  • Restoring Proven Financing for American Employers Act (HR 4167): Amends the Volcker Rule to exclude certain debt securities of collateralized loan obligations from the prohibition against acquiring or retaining an ownership interest in a hedge fund or private equity fund.