July 27, 2007
Re: I. Federal Update for Period Ending July 27, 2007
II. Special Program on Flooding Issues
I. Again, thanks to the great work of the federal relations staff at the National League of Cities, here’s the latest from our Nation’s Capital.
Transportation and Housing Spending Bill Clears House
Earlier this week, the House, rejecting a series of amendments to the transportation and housing spending bill that would have eliminated funding for many of the programs important to cities and towns, passed H.R. 3074 by a vote of 268 – 153. The bill, which exceeds the President’s budget request by more than $4.1 billion, would provide $104.4 billion for transportation and housing programs. The Senate Appropriations Committee adopted its transportation and housing spending bill, S. 1789, earlier this month; that bill would provide $104.6 billion for transportation and housing programs and awaits action by the full Senate.
Labor-HHS Spending Bill Passes House and Awaits Action in Senate
Last week, the House adopted a bill to fund the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (H.R. 3043) by a vote of 276 -- 140. Under the bill, Title I schools, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program or LIHEAP, and pandemic influenza preparedness would see funding increases, while un-obligated funds for the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) program would be rescinded. NLC sent a letter supporting the funding increases and opposing cuts to WIA to Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-WI) and Ranking Member Jerry Lewis (R-CA). The Senate is scheduled to vote on its version of the bill (S. 1710) before the August recess. The Senate bill would increase funding for Title I programs, the National Institutes of Health, community and rural health centers, LIHEAP and pandemic influenza preparedness, but would not rescind WIA funds. The White House has threatened to veto either version of the bill because they exceed the President’s budget request.
Senate Begins Debate on Homeland Security Spending Bill
Earlier this week, the Senate began debate on S. 1644, the FY 08 Homeland Security spending bill. The $37.6 billion spending bill exceeds the President’s request by $2.3 billion, and the House-passed version, H.R. 2638, by $177 million. Both the House and Senate versions of the funding bill include funding for local emergency responder programs and interoperable communications grants. In a rare bipartisan agreement on an immigration issue, an amendment that would add $3 billion in emergency spending for border enforcement was approved 89-1. The Senate bill would provide $1.8 billion more for state and local first-responder grants than the President requested. The bill would provide $400 million for port security grants, which is equal to the proposed funding in the House bill and $190 million more than the President requested. It would provide $820 million for urban area security grants, which is $20 million more than in the House bill and the President’s request. The bill would fund rail and mass transit security grants at $400 million, which matches the House bill and is $225 million more than the President requested. The President has threatened to veto the bill because it exceeds his budget request.
Three Percent Withholding Requirement Implementation May Be Delayed One Year
On July 18, the House Ways and Means Committee approved the Tax Collection Responsibility Act of 2007 (H.R. 3056). The bill includes language that would delay for one year implementation of a requirement that the federal, state and local governments withhold contractor and vendor fees for tax collection purposes. Current law requires that, starting December 31, 2010, governments spending more than $100 million per year on purchases of goods and services must withhold three percent from all payments to contractors and vendors and remit those funds to the Internal Revenue Service to be applied toward the contractors’ and vendors’ federal income tax liabilities. Under H.R. 3056, the implementation of that requirement would be delayed to December 31, 2011. This bill also directs the Department of the Treasury to study the impact of the withholding requirement and issue its findings within six months of the Act’s enactment. NLC, along with several national associations, sent a letter to Chairman Charles Rangel (D-NY) and Ranking Member Jim McCrery (R-LA) supporting the one-year delay and urging that the provision ultimately be repealed.
House Committee Holds Hearings on Clean Water Restoration Act
Last week, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment held two hearings on the status of the nation’s waters, including wetlands that come under the jurisdiction of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act. Earlier this year, Rep. James L. Oberstar (D-MN) introduced H.R. 2421, the Clean Water Restoration Act of 2007, which is an attempt at a legislative fix to the recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions impacting federal regulatory jurisdiction over the nation’s waters. The bill, which has 168 co-sponsors, would change the language in the Clean Water Act by striking the definition of “navigable waters” and all references to the term, and replace it with a new definition of “waters of the U.S.” Proponents of the bill argue that the original intent of the Clean Water Act was to protect all U.S. waters, and believe that the law should extend to all upstream tributaries. Opponents argue that the bill oversteps Congressional bounds and usurps local and state authority over water bodies within their boundaries. NLC has not taken a position on the legislation.
House Passes Section 8 Reform Bill
H.R. 1851, the “Section 8 Voucher Reform Act,” passed the House, 333-83. The Section 8 voucher program, the largest federal low-income housing program, provides rental assistance for eligible families. The bill makes several modest reforms to the program aimed at making Section 8 funding stable and efficient. Among them, the bill requires HUD to use better housing-cost data to determine the distribution of Section 8 funds. Also, the bill provides incentives to public housing agencies (PHAs) that utilize greater amounts of their Section 8 funds. These PHAs would receive additional funds that are recaptured from those PHAs that fail to meet utilization thresholds. The final provision of the bill expands the “Moving-to-Work (MTW)” program from 25 participating PHAs to 80. Under MTW, HUD can waive particular rules governing the Section 8 program for participating PHAs. The waivers create the necessary flexibility for encouraging innovative programmatic strategies, such as coordinating benefits from multiple programs like Section 8 and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). H.R. 1851 currently awaits action in the Senate.
House Passes Pair of Bills Aimed at Rural Housing
The House passed H.R. 1980, the “Housing Assistance Council Authorization Act,” and H.R. 1982, the “Rural Housing and Economic Development Improvement Act.” Both bills are aimed at improving rural housing development. H.R. 1980 authorizes Congress to annually fund the Housing Assistance Council, a national housing assistance group specializing in the development of housing for working low-income rural families. H.R. 1982 rejuvenates funding for the Rural Housing and Economic Development program, which is the only exclusively rural housing program administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The program provides competitive grants to support housing and economic development programs across the country. Although the Senate has yet to consider either bill, House appropriators decided to provide funding for both programs in FY 2008. However, with the threat of a Presidential veto looming for nearly all domestic spending bills, the ultimate amount of funding is far from certain.
Senate Commerce Committee Passes Broadband Legislation
On July 19, the Senate Commerce Committee approved legislation, S. 1492, intended to produce a more accurate picture of the U.S. broadband market. In addition to directing the FCC to improve its definitions of broadband and to enhance broadband providers’ reporting requirements, the bill authorizes a five-year $200 million grant program to be used to support state-level initiatives to map current broadband availability and identify barriers to broadband deployment. This portion of the legislation is modeled on the “Connect Kentucky” program, Kentucky's comprehensive plan to accelerate technology growth, which will result in that state achieving full broadband coverage by the end of 2007.
SCHIP Proposal Moves Forward in the Senate
Last week, the Senate Finance Committee approved legislation to reauthorize SCHIP, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, for an additional five years. The Senate bill would increase funding for SCHIP by $35 billion to $60 billion over five years, reach millions more children than the current program, provide coverage to women who are pregnant, and substantially reduce the number of uninsured children. The House is expected to begin considering its own version of the bill soon. The House bill would increase funding for SCHIP by $50 billion to $75 billion over five years. Like its Senate counterpart, coverage would be extended to include children whose families are not eligible for Medicaid but within 300 percent of poverty, and provide coverage to women who are pregnant. The bill also would allow states to cover children who have “aged out of the program.” Both proposals, which rely on an increase in the tobacco tax to pay for the additional spending, have drawn veto threats from the White House.
Local Governments File Brief with Court Blasting FCC Video Franchising Order
On July 18, NLC, along with other local government organizations, filed a Brief with the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in support of its request that the Court overturn the video franchising Order issued by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in March. In the Brief, the groups argue that the FCC lacked statutory authority, acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner, and violated public notice requirements when it issued its Order. The groups also assert that the Order would severely restrict the ability of local governments to protect their citizens, rights-of-way, community channels and public safety networks. In addition, the groups argue that the Order could lead to lost revenues and control over public rights of way, as well as loss of cable services to many governmental buildings and schools. On July 24, the Court denied the groups’ separately filed motion requesting that the Court block the Order from going into effect until after it makes a final determination on the lawsuit. According to the Court, the groups may renew their motion for a stay with the Court after a ruling on the stay by the FCC.
II. On another matter, U.S. Senator Bob Menendez has organized an important informational program, “Stemming the Tide: Helping New Jersey Cope with Past and Future Floods.” In addition to Senator Menendez, keynote speakers will include NJDEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson and Colonel Nello Tortora, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Breakout session will treat individual components of our flooding problems, in depth. This session is free for all participants, but you must register in advance. It is scheduled for:
Wednesday, August 8, 2007
8:00AM - 12:30PM
At New Brunswick High School
1125 Livingston Avenue
New Brunswick, NJ 08901
Please register by Friday, August 3, using the Registration Flyer and Form - Click Here
Very truly yours,
William G. Dressel, Jr.