When Congress returns this week, it will have a lengthy agenda waiting. The U.S. House of Representatives is only scheduled to be in session for six more weeks prior to the election, and the U.S. Senate for eight weeks before November. Time is of the essence.
Here is a snapshot of that agenda.
- Discretionary Funding. Roughly 25 percent of the federal budget consists of discretionary spending, which Congress divides into 12 appropriations bills that must be passed each year. The federal fiscal year ends on Sept. 30. During the last two weeks of June, the House Appropriations Committee reported all 12 bills and will attempt to pass them on the House floor by the end of July. The Senate committee has yet to act. To avoid a government shutdown, Congress must either pass each of these bills, combine them into a larger package, or pass a short-term extension of existing funding through a “Continuing Resolution.”
- National Defense Authorization Act. Congress has passed an annual defense authorization bill for 61 straight years. The Senate Armed Services Committee completed its markup of the NDAA on June 16, and the House committee followed one week later on June 23. House floor debate is scheduled to begin this week, and the Senate is expected to bring its bill to the floor before the end of the month. Thus far, the Senate has authorized $44 billion more than the House, and differences will need to be resolved in the fall.
- China Competitiveness. The Senate passed its United States Innovation and Competition Act more than one year ago, and the House passed a similar America Competes Act in February. Differences between these two bills are now being negotiated by a House-Senate conference committee. Both bills provide $52 billion for semiconductor production and research, revamp federal research policies relating to key technology areas, and bolster domestic supply chains. However, there are significant differences, particularly regarding trade policy. And at the end of June, Senate Republican Leader McConnell indicated that there would be no bipartisan support for a final bill if Democrats continued to pursue a partisan approach on reconciliation legislation. A final China competitiveness bill will require at least 10 Republican votes to overcome a potential Senate filibuster. (Most bills require a three-fifths vote to limit debate in the Senate and get to final passage; the reconciliation bill described below is an exception to these rules that can pass with a simple majority.)
- Reconciliation / Build Back Better Act. On Nov. 19, 2021 the House passed the Build Back Better Act, and it has since languished in the Senate. Senate Democrats are attempting to pass the bill under “budget reconciliation” procedures, which limit the content of the bill but avoid filibuster rules and provide for passage with a majority vote. Senate Democratic Leader Schumer has been attempting to line up all 50 Senate Democrats in support, which has forced him to pursue a significantly smaller bill than the House. He has focused on negotiations with Senator Joe Manchin, who could represent the 50th vote. The package is reportedly in the $1 trillion range, and negotiations have focused on prescription drug pricing reform, clean energy incentives, corporate tax increases, and deficit reduction.
- FDA User Fee Reauthorization. The Food and Drug Administration relies on user fees to review and approve applications for prescription drugs, medical devices, generic drugs, and biosimilars. The current programs expire on Sept. 30. On June 8 the House passed the Food and Drug Amendments of 2022 to extend these programs. On June 14 the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee passed a broader version of this legislation (the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Landmark Advancements Act). The House and Senate are now attempting to informally negotiate a compromise bill to increase the chances of quick passage by the full Senate.
- Confirmation of Biden Administration Nominees. Pending on the current Senate calendar are 20 judicial nominees, 78 Executive Branch nominees, and 23 other privileged nominees to various federal boards and commissions that require Senate confirmation before they can be sworn in. This doesn’t include the many additional nominees that may be made before the end of the year. With the knowledge that the Senate majority may change parties next year, it will be a high priority to get as many of these nominees confirmed as possible.
- Tax extenders. Several widely supported tax provisions expire or are modified at the end of the year, including a phase-out of full expensing enacted in 2017, biodiesel incentives, an expanded business meals deduction, and multiemployer plan designations.
- ACA increased premium subsidies. The American Rescue Plan Act expanded ACA health plan subsidies to eliminate the “subsidy cliff” for those with incomes at four times the poverty rate. This ARPA provision expires on Dec. 31. Extending the provision will have a budgetary impact of more than $20 billion per year, and it is being debated as part of the reconciliation package.
- Medicare extenders. Several Medicare provisions expire at the end of the year, including the Medicare Access and CHIPS Reauthorization Act (MACRA), radiation oncology rules, and physician bonus payments.
- Maternal Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting program. The five-year program expires on Sept. 30.
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. Expires on Sept. 30.
- National Flood Insurance program. Expires on Sept. 30.
Other Notable Items
- Data Privacy. On June 23 the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce approved the American Data Privacy and Protection Act on a bipartisan basis. The legislation does not yet enjoy bipartisan support in the Senate, but the House compromise represents significant progress in an area that Congress has been attempting to address for several years.
- Mental Health. On June 22 the House passed the Restoring Hope for Mental Health and Well-Being Act, a comprehensive package that reauthorizes and expands several major mental and behavioral health programs. The Senate Finance Committee released a “discussion draft” of its alternative in June and is expected to attempt to report similar legislation in the weeks ahead.