7 Bills That Could Actually Pass

None

House Transportation and Infrastructure Full Committee Chairman Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., left, talks to the committee's ranking Democrat Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va. on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, May 16, 2013, during the committee's markup to consider legislation on the Keystone XL pipeline project and other measures.
National Journal
Billy House
See more stories about...
Billy House
Aug. 12, 2013, 1:08 p.m.

The pro­nounce­ments that this Con­gress is one of the least pro­duct­ive in his­tory have reached a cres­cendo. Of the 25 bills that have been signed in­to law so far, even the most rudi­ment­ary took a tor­tured route to pas­sage.

But just as there are signs that parties and cham­bers can work to­geth­er to get things done — wit­ness the bill to lower stu­dent-loan rates that was signed last week — there are bills that stand a sol­id chance of nav­ig­at­ing the le­gis­lat­ive maze to pas­sage, ac­cord­ing to in­ter­views with law­makers and staff.

Like much of the busi­ness of gov­ern­ment, many of these bills are not sexy, in­clud­ing meas­ures that tackle wa­ter in­fra­struc­ture, phar­ma­ceut­ic­al com­pound­ing, and postal re­forms. But they con­tain sol­id le­gis­lat­ive work that af­fects the every­day lives of mil­lions of Amer­ic­ans.

Of course, no one has a crys­tal ball, and any­thing can hap­pen when Con­gress re­turns from its break to ad­dress fisc­al is­sues and the debt ceil­ing. But here are sev­en meas­ures that could find suc­cess after the Au­gust break:

Wa­ter Re­sources

The House Trans­port­a­tion and In­fra­struc­ture Com­mit­tee is set to mark up the Wa­ter Re­sources Re­form and De­vel­op­ment Act in Septem­ber, ready­ing it for an Oc­to­ber floor vote. Sig­ni­fic­antly, it has sup­port from com­mit­tee Demo­crats, which means there should be no floor-time sur­prises of the sort that met the farm bill and cer­tain spend­ing meas­ures earli­er this year.

The Sen­ate has passed its own ver­sion, also on a bi­par­tis­an vote. The only ques­tions start to arise if the meas­ure makes it to a con­fer­ence com­mit­tee.

Last year, the Sen­ate was able to force most of its bi­par­tis­an high­way bill through the House be­cause the House proved un­able to pass its own ver­sion. For this bill, however, House ne­go­ti­at­ors are in a much stronger po­s­i­tion to bar­gain. They will in­sist that man­dates for the Army Corps of En­gin­eers — such as auto­mat­ic­ally deau­thor­iz­ing pro­jects that have been delayed too long — re­main in the fi­nal product.

Sen­ten­cing Laws

Sen­ten­cing policies are about to spring back onto the agenda, after At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Eric Hold­er said Monday that the Justice De­part­ment may no longer pur­sue man­dat­ory min­im­um sen­tences for some less­er drug crimes.

And the is­sue could have a le­gis­lat­ive fu­ture, too. Bi­par­tis­an le­gis­la­tion to re­form the coun­try’s stat­utory min­im­um-sen­ten­cing laws, to com­bat skyrock­et­ing pris­on pop­u­la­tions, and to curb what some say is money wasted on lengthy pris­on terms for non­vi­ol­ent crimes, in­clud­ing many drug of­fenses, is un­der con­struc­tion.

Bills such as the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013, for ex­ample, would give judges more dis­cre­tion in set­ting sen­tences. The meas­ure was in­tro­duced by Sen­ate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee Chair­man Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. A com­pan­ion meas­ure has been in­tro­duced with bi­par­tis­an spon­sors in the House.

A sep­ar­ate meas­ure to mod­ern­ize fed­er­al sen­ten­cing for non­vi­ol­ent of­fenses, The Smarter Sen­ten­cing Act, has been in­tro­duced by Sen­ate As­sist­ant Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah.

De­fense Au­thor­iz­a­tion

The na­tion­al de­fense au­thor­iz­a­tion bill is a con­tender to be­come law. The House passed its ver­sion of the bill in early Ju­ly, 315-108, and the Sen­ate is ex­pec­ted to take up its ver­sion be­fore the end of the ses­sion, ac­cord­ing to a Demo­crat­ic lead­er­ship aide.

The House’s bill au­thor­izes Pentagon ap­pro­pri­ations for a range of pro­grams, in­clud­ing pro­cure­ment, re­search and de­vel­op­ment, and op­er­a­tions and main­ten­ance, as well as NATO and base clos­ures. It also sets re­quire­ments for per­son­nel and train­ing, mil­it­ary pay, and health care. The Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee re­por­ted its bill to the Sen­ate in June.

The Sen­ate ver­sion of the le­gis­la­tion es­tab­lishes an un­der­sec­ret­ary of De­fense for man­age­ment and also au­thor­izes ap­pro­pri­ations to the En­ergy De­part­ment for the de­part­ment’s na­tion­al se­cur­ity pro­grams.

Phar­ma­ceut­ic­al Com­pound­ing

A phar­ma­ceut­ic­al com­pound­ing bill to more clearly define the roles of the Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion and state boards of phar­macy in over­see­ing phar­ma­ceut­ic­al com­pound­ing fa­cil­it­ies, which cus­tom mix drugs, could be­come law by year’s end.

A bi­par­tis­an Sen­ate bill passed out of com­mit­tee in May, and sup­port­ers hoped for, but did not get, a vote be­fore the Au­gust re­cess. Sen­ate Health, Edu­ca­tion, Labor, and Pen­sions Com­mit­tee Chair­man Tom Har­kin, D-Iowa, and rank­ing mem­ber Lamar Al­ex­an­der, R-Tenn., in­tro­duced an up­dated ver­sion of the le­gis­la­tion in Ju­ly.

The House ver­sion of the le­gis­la­tion hasn’t got­ten out of com­mit­tee yet, and a dis­cus­sion draft in­tro­duced by Rep. Mor­gan Grif­fith, R-Va., dif­fers from the Sen­ate ver­sion in how it cat­egor­izes com­pound­ing fa­cil­it­ies for reg­u­la­tion. The House has passed a sep­ar­ate bill to more closely track drugs through the na­tion’s sup­ply chain, something that would be done in the Sen­ate Health and Edu­ca­tion Com­mit­tee’s com­pound­ing bill.

Hope re­mains that le­gis­la­tion could be en­acted this year, in part be­cause the mo­mentum to pass new reg­u­la­tions has been steady since last fall’s deadly out­break of fungal men­ingit­is from tain­ted ster­oid in­jec­tions pro­duced by a com­pound­ing cen­ter in Mas­sachu­setts. Hun­dreds be­came sick from the in­jec­tions and more than 60 died, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion.

On Monday, Al­ex­an­der poin­ted to an­oth­er reas­on Con­gress should pass a com­pound­ing bill: FDA is­sued a vol­un­tary re­call this week­end of com­poun­ded drugs from a Texas-based com­pany cit­ing con­cerns that they may have been re­spons­ible for an out­break of bac­teri­al blood­stream in­fec­tions.

Some As­pects of Postal Re­form

Pre­vi­ous con­gres­sion­al ef­forts to ad­dress the bleed­ing fin­ances of the U.S. Postal Ser­vice have sputtered, thanks to a lack of Sen­ate-House agree­ment over how to ap­proach the prob­lem. The Sen­ate passed a bill last ses­sion, but the House did not vote on that bill, nor did it pass its own ver­sion.

Mean­while, the Postal Ser­vice has con­tin­ued to hem­or­rhage money, al­beit at a slower pace than be­fore, ac­cord­ing to a quarterly re­port on its fin­ances re­leased Monday.

Now, both cham­bers are back at it. House Over­sight and Gov­ern­ment Re­form Com­mit­tee Chair­man Dar­rell Issa’s new bill was ap­proved by his com­mit­tee along party lines. It in­cludes ef­forts to soften pre­vi­ous pro­pos­als to close rur­al post of­fices, which could provide House lead­er­ship with the votes they need to bring the bill to the floor.

A bi­par­tis­an Sen­ate bill in­tro­duced last week by House Home­land Se­cur­ity and Gov­ern­ment­al Af­fairs Com­mit­tee Chair­man Tom Carp­er, D-Del., and the com­mit­tee’s rank­ing mem­ber, Tom Coburn, R-Okla., con­tains some sig­ni­fic­ant dif­fer­ences. For in­stance, the Sen­ate Demo­crats still want a more delayed trans­ition to five-day mail de­liv­ery (with Sat­urday de­liv­ery lim­ited to pack­ages), as op­posed to the House bill, which im­me­di­ately ends Sat­urday ser­vice. But there is also agree­ment in both bills on cer­tain meas­ures, such as au­thor­iz­ing the Postal Ser­vice to of­fer new ser­vices, such as is­su­ing fish­ing or hunt­ing li­censes.

Sen­ate Demo­crats will have a num­ber of prob­lems with the bill, in­clud­ing pos­sibly “de­liv­ery-point mod­ern­iz­a­tion” that could im­pact “to-the-door” de­liv­ery. And they may have a prob­lem with Issa’s lim­its on col­lect­ive bar­gain­ing. But there is op­tim­ism that both chair­men are genu­inely com­mit­ted to work­ing to­ward some agree­ment, even if it is not as com­pre­hens­ive as some may like.

Med­ic­al Devices Le­gis­la­tion

Le­gis­la­tion to re­peal a 2.3 per­cent ex­cise tax on med­ic­al devices en­acted to help pay for Pres­id­ent Obama’s health care law stands a chance of pas­sage. In the House, the bill has 259 co­spon­sors. In the Sen­ate, a 79-20 sym­bol­ic, non­bind­ing vote was taken in March to re­peal the tax as part of its 2014 budget res­ol­u­tion.

The hol­dup seems eas­ily fixed. The spon­sor of the House meas­ure, Rep. Erik Paulsen, R-Minn., has said he’s been press­ing House lead­ers to take ac­tion, but that they have ex­pressed con­cern about send­ing a rev­en­ue bill to the Sen­ate.

The Con­sti­tu­tion re­quires rev­en­ue meas­ures to ori­gin­ate in the House, but once the Sen­ate re­ceives those bills, they can be used as a vehicle for the Sen­ate’s own tax pri­or­it­ies. Some House Re­pub­lic­ans point to the po­ten­tial use of these bills by Sen­ate Demo­crats to ad­vance tax hikes and oth­er meas­ures that Re­pub­lic­ans op­pose. So, their strategy on this bill — and oth­er rev­en­ue bills — has been that the House will have to first se­cure a com­mit­ment from Sen­ate Demo­crats that they will ad­dress the med­ic­al-device tax spe­cific­ally, and not oth­er pri­or­it­ies.

But the pres­sure is build­ing. Last week, 35 of the 37 House GOP fresh­men wrote a let­ter to their lead­er­ship ask­ing for a vote. Their let­ter noted that more than 8,000 med­ic­al-device man­u­fac­tur­ers in the United States em­ploy more than 420,000 people. The tax, en­acted in 2010 and which took ef­fect in Janu­ary 2013, “will raise nearly $30 bil­lion from Amer­ica’s med­ic­al-device man­u­fac­tur­ers, put­ting up to 43,000 high-pay­ing U.S. jobs at risk,” the let­ter said.

For­eign In­tel­li­gence Sur­veil­lance Court

Le­gis­la­tion to re­form the For­eign In­tel­li­gence Sur­veil­lance Court, which over­sees re­quests for sur­veil­lance war­rants, could get a boost after the re­cent rev­el­a­tions that it au­thor­ized broad re­cord-col­lec­tion and sur­veil­lance of Amer­ic­ans.

Re­form ef­forts have sputtered in the past. But rev­el­a­tions in June about the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency’s activ­it­ies, brought to light by Ed­ward Snowden, a former NSA con­tract­or, have spawned some un­usu­al in­ter­party co­ali­tions of con­cerned law­makers.

Obama too has ad­dressed the is­sue, call­ing as late as Fri­day for re­forms to the court that would in­tro­duce an “in­de­pend­ent voice” that would “make sure the gov­ern­ment’s po­s­i­tion is chal­lenged by an ad­versary.” He said he would work with Con­gress to push the re­forms through.

Sens. Richard Blu­menth­al, D-Conn., Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Tom Ud­all, D-N.M., have an­nounced two new bills that would change the FISA court. One would cre­ate a spe­cial ad­voc­ate with the power to ar­gue in the FISA courts on be­half of the right to pri­vacy and oth­er in­di­vidu­al rights. The second bill would re­form how judges are ap­poin­ted to the FISA courts, to en­sure that the court is geo­graph­ic­ally and ideo­lo­gic­ally di­verse.

What We're Following See More »
A DARK CLOUD OVER TRUMP?
Snowstorm Could Impact Primary Turnout
2 days ago
THE LATEST

A snowstorm is supposed to hit New Hampshire today and “linger into Primary Tuesday.” GOP consultant Ron Kaufman said lower turnout should help candidates who have spent a lot of time in the state tending to retail politicking. Donald Trump “has acknowledged that he needs to step up his ground-game, and a heavy snowfall could depress his figures relative to more organized candidates.”

Source:
IN CASE OF EMERGENCY
A Shake-Up in the Offing in the Clinton Camp?
2 days ago
THE DETAILS

Anticipating a primary loss in New Hampshire on Tuesday, Hillary and Bill Clinton “are considering staffing and strategy changes” to their campaign. Sources tell Politico that the Clintons are likely to layer over top officials with experienced talent, rather than fire their staff en masse.

Source:
THE LAST ROUND OF NEW HAMPSHIRE POLLS
Trump Is Still Ahead, but Who’s in Second?
1 days ago
THE LATEST

We may not be talking about New Hampshire primary polls for another three-and-a-half years, so here goes:

  • American Research Group’s tracking poll has Donald Trump in the lead with 30% support, followed by Marco Rubio and John Kasich tying for second place at 16%. On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders leads Hillary Clinton 53%-41%.
  • The 7 News/UMass Lowell tracking poll has Trump way out front with 34%, followed by Rubio and Ted Cruz with 13% apiece. Among the Democrats, Sanders is in front 56%-40%.
  • A Gravis poll puts Trump ahead with 28%, followed by Kasich with 17% and Rubio with 15%.
IT’S ALL ABOUT SECOND PLACE
CNN Calls the Primary for Sanders and Trump
1 days ago
THE LATEST

Well that didn’t take long. CNN has already declared Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump the winners of the New Hampshire primary, leaving the rest of the candidates to fight for the scraps. Five minutes later, the Associated Press echoed CNN’s call.

Source:
×