Congress has returned this week to complete legislative action in the shadow of last week’s election. When the 114th Congress convenes in January, Republicans will control both houses. Republicans will gain control of the Senate with an increase of least 8 seats. Republicans will increase their House majority by at least 12 seats, with five district elections yet to be decided.
But, for the remainder of the 113th Congress, Republicans control the House and Democrats control the Senate. So, with about four weeks until the current Continuing Resolution (CR) expires and less than six weeks until the end of the year, the question is: What will the “lame duck” congress accomplish among a compelling list of unfinished business?
FY2015 appropriations bills: Most agree that the most pressing priority is completing action on FY2015 appropriations to keep the government running. The House has passed seven appropriations bills (including DoD and Military Construction/VA) and approved another four through the full House Appropriations Committee. The full Senate has not considered a single appropriations bill, but the Senate Appropriations Committee (SAC) has approved eight bills (including DoD and Military Construction/VA). Congress will not complete all FY2015 appropriations bills before the CR runs out and leaders of both parties have pledged to avoid a government shutdown. So, Congress could either pass one Omnibus appropriations bill including all 12 bills or a few “mini-bus” bills (for example, DoD, MilCon/VA, and Homeland Security) and wrap the remaining bills in one final FY2015.appropriations bill. Time constraints make one Omnibus bill the most likely result.
FY2015 DoD Appropriations: The House passed the FY2015 DoD appropriations bill in June and the full Senate Appropriations Committee (SAC) approved its version in July. The House bill provides $491 billion, $200 million above the request, for the base DoD budget (excluding Military Construction, which the House passed in the VA/MilCon bill). The House bill also includes $79.4 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), the same amount the president requested as a placeholder. The SAC bill provides $490 billion for DoD base budget appropriations, $1 billion below the request, and $58.3 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO). While the White House has expressed displeasure with the House’s denial of the administration’s cost savings and reform proposals, it did not threaten a presidential veto of the bill.
FY2015 Defense Authorization: The House passed the FY2015 Defense Authorization bill in May and the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) has approved its version of the bill. But no action has been taken in the full Senate. There are a number of significant issues that have to be resolved before final agreement, particularly, the size of the military pay raise (House authorizes a 1, 8 percent raise, while the SASC approves the president’s 1 percent request), refueling the USS George Washington, and sanctions against Iran. In addition, both bills authorize some military special pays, multiyear buys, and military construction contracts which would expire unless Congress passes and the president signs a FY2015 Defense Authorization bill.
U.S. military operations against ISIL: The president is expected to send Congress a resolution to authorize the use of military force (AUMF) against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Congressional action could come in the form of an amendment to the FY2015 Defense Authorization bill. However, because this will prove to be a heated debate, Congress could begin to debate a new AUMF now, but not vote until January. The president and defense Secretary Chuck Hagel are also pressing Congress to approve the recently-submitted budget amendment to provide funding and the authority to train and equip rebels fighting ISIL. Congress will likely consider this request when finalizing the FY2015 DoD Appropriations bill.
Other legislation: Over 50 so-called tax extenders will expire at the end of the year. They include research and development tax credits (highly popular with business), state and local sales tax deductions, tax credits for energy efficient homes, and bonus depreciation tax credits. Earlier, the House passed bills permanently extending some credits (including the R&D tax credit), while the Senate Finance Committee approved extending almost all tax provisions for two years. Although there is strong sentiment among some members to kill many of the provisions, given the time crunch and the popularity of the provisions Congress will probably extend most of them.
The president has said he will take executive action on immigration before the end of the year. Congressional opponents argue that the president must involve Congress. Some want to include a provision in an omnibus appropriations bill that would prohibit the president from spending funds to implement such executive action. The president has hinted he might veto such a bill, which could revive the possibility of a government shutdown. House and Senate Republican leaders are strongly opposed to the president’s impending executive action, but dismiss the idea of forcing a government shutdown over this issue.