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House passes FY2015 Homeland Security bill, but amendment blocking immigration order draws veto threat

Friday, January 16th, 2015

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This week, the House passed the FY2015 Homeland Security Appropriations bill (236-191), the last FY2015 appropriations bill to be considered.

In December, Congress approved and the president signed an Omnibus Appropriations bill that contained 11 of the 12 FY2015 appropriations bills. However, the Homeland Security Appropriations bill, which was subject to intense debate after the president announced executive action on immigration, was funded under a Continuing Resolution (CR) through February 27, 20175

The House action opens the bidding final action on what should prove to be difficult negotiations between the House and the Senate and the White House. The House bill includes two amendments that block the president’s action on immigration. This immediately brought a veto threat from the White House.

A Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) expressed support for the House-passed underlying FY2015 Homeland Security Appropriations bill, but strongly opposed the addition of the two immigration-related amendments. If the final bill includes these amendments, the SAP stated, the president’s senior advisors would recommend that the president veto the bill.

However to get to the president, the House bill would have to pass the Senate, which appears unlikely. Democrats, while in the minority, could still hold up the bill through a filibuster, which would require 60 votes to proceed on an up-or-down vote. But, the House bill is also problematic for some Senate Republicans. Several of them, including Sen. Lindsay Graham, have indicated that while they oppose the president’s actions on immigration, they are uncomfortable with forcing a showdown on Homeland Security funding over the issue. \

So, while House passage starts the process towards final action on the FY2015 Homeland Security bill, it will probably take much of the remaining time between now on February 27th to reach an agreement.

This means that the agencies funded in the bill (totaling about $40 billion), Secret Service, Customs and Border Protection, Immigration, Transportation Security Agency (TSA), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the Coast Guard will continue to operate under a CR.

President’s State of the Union address set for January 20

Thursday, January 15th, 2015

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President Obama will deliver the annual State of the Union Address before a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night, January 20.  In December, House Speaker Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) had formally invited the president to address Congress.

By tradition, the president will report on the current condition of the nation and lays out a framework for the administration’s domestic and foreign policy plans and the FY2016 budget request. 

This annual address fulfills the constitutional requirement in Article II, Sec 3 of the Constitution that “The President shall from time to time give to the Congress Information on the State of the Union.”  President Obama’s speech this year will mark the 226th time presidents have reported to Congress, either in person or in written form, under this requirement. 

From 1790 until 1946 the speech was known as the ‘Annual Message.” During the period 1942-1946 it was referred to informally as the “state of the Union” address. In 1947 the speech began to be formally called the “State of the Union Address.”

President George Washington gave the first address on January 8, 1790.  Washington and his successor John Adams delivered their statements in person, but President Thomas Jefferson sent his message to Congress in writing.  This practice of sending Congress only a written submission continued until President Woodrow Wilson (in 1913) decided to go before Congress to deliver his message. 

Between 1913 and 1934 presidents held to no particular tradition, sometimes giving their statements in person and sometimes sending them to Congress only in writing.  However, since President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first State of the Union Address in 1934, most presidents have appeared in person.  Notable exceptions have been written statements by President Eisenhower after his heart attack and by Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, and Carter in the final year of their the presidency. 

President Calvin Coolidge delivered the first State of the Union address to a national audience on radio in 1923 and President Harry Truman’s 1947 address was the first to be broadcast on television.  President George W. Bush’s message in 2002 was the first State of the Union address to be webcast live on the internet.

Since 1966, a representative of the opposition party has delivered a response to the president’s address.  The first opposition response was given by Sen. Everett Dirksen (R-IL) and Rep. Gerald Ford (R-MI). Last year, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) gave the republican response in English and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) presented the response in Spanish. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) will give the Republican response.

The CRS report “The President’s State of the Union Address: Tradition, Function, and Policy Implications” provides a comprehensive review of the State of the Union Address.

114th Congress convenes, eyes Homeland Security CR and FY2016 appropriations process

Friday, January 9th, 2015

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The 114th Congress convened this week with Republicans controlling both the House (246R to 188D, 1 vacancy) and the Senate (54R to 44D, with 2 Independents who caucus with the Democrats) as a result of the 2014 Mid-term elections.

The House re-elected Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) Speaker of the House despite the defection of 25 Republicans, twenty-four of whom voted for other candidates, while one voted present. In his brief acceptance speech, Boehner acknowledged these dissenters who disagreed with his perceived lack of commitment to overturning Obamacare and the president’s executive order on immigration. He urged his Republican colleagues to “disagree without being disagreeable.”

In the Senate, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) became Senate Majority Leader as Republicans took control for the first time since the 109th Congress (2005-2007) when their majority was 55R to 44D with one Independent.

The 114th Congress has some unfinished FY2015 appropriations business. In December, the 113th Congress passed the FY2015 Omnibus Appropriations bill that funded 11 appropriations bills for the full year. However, the Homeland Security Appropriations bill, which was subject to intense debate after the president announced executive action on immigration, was funded under a Continuing Resolution (CR) through February 27, 2017.

The House will open the bidding on the Homeland Security bill next week by moving to pass its version that will include a provision to block the president’s executive action. The House bill may not be acceptable to the Senate and is sure to draw a presidential veto. However, acting almost seven weeks before the CR expires should give Congress time to construct a bill that avoids a shutdown on the Department of Homeland Security.

Regarding FY2016 appropriations bills, both the House and Senate Appropriations Committee leaders have expressed their commitment to proceed under regular order. This would mean a process that includes committee hearings, markups, and passage in each chamber followed by a conference agreement for each of the 12 appropriations bills. If this happens, it would be a significant departure from recent years, in which the congressional appropriations review process has been marked by intermittent action that most often concluded with omnibus and mini-omnibus appropriations bills.

However, this enthusiasm for regular order for appropriations bills could be dashed by the specter of sequestration (automatic cuts), which is set to restart again in FY2016. The budget agreement completed in 2013 established budget targets for 2014 and 2015 that set aside sequestration. But, in 2016 sequestration returns and, once again, Republicans and Democrats will have to try to reach a new budget agreement that addresses sequestration.

While there is general agreement on the Hill that sequestration is a bad idea that should be fixed, there continues to be little agreement on how that should be done. Many want to protect defense from significant cuts and others are concerned about the effect of sequestration on nondefense budgets. Speaker Boehner will have problems within his own party in efforts to reach a deal with Democrats. The Tea Party faction of the Republican Caucus will will press hard for additional spending cuts, while pushing for defense increases. It will take more than good intentions to conclude an agreement that can be passed in Congress and be acceptable to the president.

GSA increases mileage reimbursement rate for official travel in 2015

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015

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The General Services Administration (GSA) announced that the mileage reimbursement rate for federal employees using privately –owned vehicles during official travel will increase to 57.5 cents per mile from the current level of 56 cents.  The new rate went into effect on January 1, 2015. 

Mileage reimbursable rates also increased for official travel by motorcycle (to 54.5 cents from 53 cents), but decreased for official airplane travel (to $1.29 from $1.31).

GSA annually reviews mileage reimbursement rates.  GSA rates cannot exceed the rate set by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for calculating business mileage expenses on tax returns.  

Presidential order implements 1% pay raise for federal civilian employees and military personnel

Tuesday, December 30th, 2014

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Beginning January 1, 2015 federal civilian employees and uniformed military personnel will receive a 1 percent pay raise under and executive order issued earlier this month

The executive order sets pay levels for federal civilian employees (executive level, senior executives, and general schedule employees), uniformed military personnel, and judges.  

Tables from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) supporting the executive order list the pay levels by grade/rank and by years of service for each category of pay plan.  The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) website includes a detailed explanation of each pay plan and their originating authorities.

In September, the president recommended a 1 percent pay raise for federal civilian and military personnel, reaffirming the raise included in his FY2015 budget request. Congress allowed that raise to go into effect because it did not specifically act to change it in legislation. However, Congress did authorize a 1 percent pay raise for military personnel in the FY2015 Defense Authorization Act.

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