The Congressional Agenda This Fall: A Preview

The Congressional Agenda This Fall: A Preview

Congress returns to Washington this week to a full plate of legislative items, including a number that have deadlines.  Here’s a quick overview of the agenda:

BUDGET:  September 30th marks the end of the fiscal year and the deadline for Congress to come up with a plan to fund the government beginning October 1.  The big hurdle is the budget caps put in place in past budget deals (remember sequestration?).  Some Republicans support lifting the caps on defense spending, and Democrats generally argue that if defense is increased, domestic spending should be as well.  (The fate of the annual National Defense Authorization Act also hinges on the decision on how much is allocated for defense spending. See: A Fair Shake for Small Business: Five Federal Contracting Reforms)  There are also some side issues creating bumps in ther road (e.g., de-funding Planned Parenthood).  It’s probably too much to expect that all sides can agree to a solution for all of FY2016 before September 30th, so there will probably be a short-term extension to give more time for negotiation, prolonging the battle for a few months.

Infrastructure Projects:  The authority to make public works payments to finance transportation projects was extended before Congress left town for its August break, but it will expire on October 29.  The tricky part of this debate is how to pay for these projects.   Currently, a gas tax is used as a primary funding mechanism, but it’s not enough, and many Republicans are loath to increase it.  Others suggest a change in tax policy related to how U.S. corporations’ earnings are taxed overseas could provide a pay-for.  Combining tax reform with a highway bill would be a heavy lift.

Debt Limit:  Once again, the United States is approaching its limit on borrowing, probably in early December, and Congress will need to increase the debt limit.  While the President and congressional leaders have no interest in defaulting, the issue is always sticky with budget hawks who are tempted to use it as leverage in spending debates (see above).

Iran:  Congress also faces a September 17 deadline to act on the President’s nuclear agreement with Iran.

Cybersecurity:  The Senate started to work on the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA) prior to the August break.  See: What Are Lawmakers Doing to Thwart Cybercrime?  Senate Majority Leader McConnell remains committed to bringing CISA to the floor for a vote.  A deal on what amendments will be offered has been reached, and privacy advocates want a full debate.  A planned visit by the Chinese president to Washington in September should make the debate even livelier, assuming Senator McConnell can find floor time amidst the other priorities (see above).

Patents:  A bill to address abuses in patent claims and lawsuits stalled in the House prior to August.  See:  ICYMI This Summer’s Top 5 Small Business Policy Debates.  Despite the concerns voiced by a variety of stakeholders about the bill’s unintended consequences, there is still hope among supporters that the bill can pass the House this fall.

Net Neutrality:  There have been efforts to block the FCC’s open Internet rules through spending bills.  See:  Net Neutrality:  The Big Event on June 12th.  While Senator Thune, Chairman of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, still favors a legislative approach to implement some of the FCC’s policies but block others, it’s proven difficult to attract enough bipartisan support.   In December, the courts will hear oral arguments in the case objecting to the FCC’s regulations and a decision could be reached this spring, all of which could affect the debate on the Hill.

Other Legislative Deadlines:  There are several program expirations that Congress will need to consider as it wades through its legislative agenda this fall:  FAA reauthorization, child nutrition programs, pipeline safety, tax extenders, Ex-Im Bank charter.

Regulations:  On the regulatory front, there is an expectation that numerous new rules will be proposed before year’s end to give the administration time to finalize regulations before the end of President Obama’s term. See: Small Business Regulatory Watch.   Congress will be scrutinizing these proposals and attempting to thwart those they don’t like.

It’s going to be a busy fall.  And, Congress gets to tackle all of this in the midst of a presidential campaign season that is heating up and influencing public opinion and priorities.  Stay tuned.