Military / National Security News
Here is our list of upcoming space policy events. This edition covers two weeks instead of one since the coming week includes the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday and not much is scheduled. The House and Senate are in recess for the holiday week. The Senate returns on November 30; the House on December 1.
During the Weeks
As of Sunday morning, we are not aware of any space policy events on tap for Thanksgiving week, but President Obama has two space-related bills on his desk that could be signed into law once he returns to the States: the FY2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act.
The following week, Congress gets back to work on, among other things, finalizing a FY2016 budget. The Continuing Resolution (CR) currently funding the government expires on December 11. Despite the budget deal agreed to earlier this month, there are enough controversial policy issues at stake that laying odds on getting full-year appropriations passed by then remains risky.
Apart from that, the NASA Advisory Council meets at Johnson Space Center on December 1-3, Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James will speak at the National Press Club on December 2, and Orbital ATK will return its Cygnus capsule (though not its Antares rocket) to flight on December 3. Cygnus will launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V from Cape Canaveral, FL. Orbital ATK hopes to resume Antares launches from Wallops Island, VA in May 2016.
Also on December 1, NASA's Mars Exploration Program Scientist, Michael Meyer, will give an update on NASA's Mars program at the next Space Policy & History Forum. This one is being held at the Applied Physics Lab (APL) in Laurel, MD, rather than at the National Air and Space Museum (NASM) in D.C. APL and NASM co-sponsor this quarterly lecture series.
Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are listed below. Check back to see any additions to our Events of Interest list that we learn about later.
Thursday, November 26
Tuesday, December 1
Tuesday-Thursday, December 1-3
Wednesday, December 2
Thursday, December 3
Friday, December 4
The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC) recommends in its most recent report, released today, that the U.S. government review items on the State Department's Munitions List and the Department of Commerce's Commerce Control List (CCL) to determine which items China could obtain on the open market regardless of U.S. restrictions and which continue to require U.S. protection.
The USCC was created by Congress in the 2001 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to review the national security implications of trade and economic ties between the United States and China. It is currently chaired by Willilam Reinsch, President of the National Foreign Trade Council and former Under Secretary of Commerce for Export Administration (later named the Bureau of Industry and Security). Its comprehensive annual report to Congress is among the many reports it produces.
The 631-page report for 2015 presents a summary and analysis of China's space program based on testimony to the Commission by experts and its own research. On February 18, the Commission took testimony from nine experts on China's space program, including Joan Johnson-Freese of the Naval War College, Dean Cheng of the Heritage Foundation, and Kevin Pollpeter of the University of California-San Diego.
Today's report repeats familiar themes about China's growing capabilities across the broad spectrum of space activities to further its national security, economic and political objectives. These include direct ascent and co-orbital antisatellite (ASAT) capabilities that threaten U.S. satellites up to geosynchronous orbit, the report says. "China has become one of the top space powers in the world" and even though its "space capabilities still generally lag behind those of the United States and Russia, its space program is expanding and accelerating rapidly as many other nations' programs proceed with dwindling resources and limited goals."
One of China's goals is to capture 15 percent of the global launch market and it did so in 2011 and 2012, but not in 2013, the last year for which data is available, the report says. It also wants to export commercial satellites to developing countries, which contributes to demand for use of China's launch services.
However, citing testimony to the Commission by Tate Nurkin of IHS Jane's Aerospace, and comments by former NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe and former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General James Cartwright (Ret.) at a May 2015 Center for Strategic and International Studies event, the Commission writes that U.S. export restrictions under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) "are not currently in line with the pace of technological innovation and are therefore in need of reform in order to protect the U.S. space industry's global competitiveness." Europe's development of "ITAR-free" satellites is an example of the challenges to U.S. industry posed by the export restrictions, it says.
Against that backdrop, the Commission recommends that: "Congress direct appropriate jurisdictional entities to undertake a review of (1) the classification of satellites and related articles on the U.S. Munitions List under the International Trafficking in Arms Regulations and (2) the prohibitions on exports of Commerce Control List satellites and related technologies to China under the Export Administration Regulations, in order to determine which systems and technologies China is likely to be able to obtain on the open market regardless of U.S. restrictions and which are critical technologies that merit continued U.S. protection."
Congress and the Obama Administration have modified export regulations for space products in recent years, but exports to China and certain other countries were excluded.
The report goes on to warn that China may attain greater prestige in human spaceflight because it plans a new space station for launch in 2022, while the International Space Station (ISS) is scheduled for "deorbiting" in 2024.
ISS is not, in fact, scheduled to be deorbited in 2024. The U.S. is committed to operate the ISS until 2024, and Russia and Canada have agreed (Japan and the European Space Agency still have not formally done so), but NASA human spaceflight officials have made clear they hope to keep it operating at least until 2028, the 30th anniversary of the launch of the first modules.
Nevertheless, the Commission sees the possibility of China having "the only space station in orbit" as giving it "a diplomatic tool" that it can "leverage to execute its broader foreign policy goals. Furthermore, given current Congressional restrictions on U.S.-China space cooperation, the United States would not participate in China's space station program barring changes to annual appropriations legislation. For the first time in decades, the United States could be without a constant human presence in space."
The Commission does not have a corresponding conclusion or recommendation, other than to say that "China's rise as a major space power challenges decades of U.S. dominance in space...."
In addition to the export control recommendation, there are three other space-related recommendations in today's report, that Congress --
Here is our list of space policy events for the week of November 16-20, 2015 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session this week.
During the Week
The House may take up the compromise commercial space bill (H.R. 2262) on Monday. It passed the Senate on November 10. It is a broad bill that deals not only with traditional commercial space issues like third party indemnification (extending the FAA's authority through 2025) and the "learning period" for commercial human spaceflight (extending the prohibition on new FAA regulations until 2023), but new ones like asteroid mining. This version is a compromise between the bill that passed the House in May and a bill that passed the Senate in August (S. 1297). The lead sponsor of the House version is House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who represents the district that includes the Mojave Air and Space Port. Assuming the bill passes the House, it then will go to the President for signature.
The President could sign the FY2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) this week, although the bill has not officially been presented to him yet. It can take a couple of days for clerks to look through the bill and make any necessary "technical and conforming changes" before sending it on to the White House. The Senate passed it on November 10 (the House did so on November 5).
On Thursday, United Launch Alliance (ULA) will announce what it calls a "new program that will transform the way our nation's CubeSats are launched." The announcement (which will be webcast) will take place at the Colorado State Capitol with the State's Lieutenant Governor participating. Both the President and the Chancellor of the University of Colorado also will join ULA President Tory Bruno on stage. ULA is headquartered in Colorado.
Those and other events we know about as of Saturday morning are listed below. Check back throughout the week for updates to our Events of Interest list on our home page.
Tuesday, November 17
Tuesday-Wednesday, November 17-18
Tuesday-Thursday, November 17-19
Wednesday, November 18
Thursday, November 19
Friday, November 20
The Senate passed the revised FY2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) today, clearing the bill for the President. The President vetoed an earlier version of the NDAA primarily because of a budget "gimmick" it used to add money for defense while ignoring non-defense needs. The recently approved budget/debt limit deal solved that problem.
The President had objected to two policy provisions in the earlier version (H.R. 1735) that have not been changed (that the bill prevented needed reforms and did not allow the closing of Guantanamo), but no new veto threat has been issued for this version (S. 1356). The only changes were budgetary. The House passed the revised authorization bill last week by a vote of 370-58. The Senate vote today was 91-3. By passing a revised bill, Congress avoids a showdown over whether to try and override the President's veto of H.R. 1735.
The bill sets policy. It also recommends funding for defense programs, but only appropriations bills actually provide money. Senate Democrats are blocking action on the defense appropriations bill for fear that Republicans might pass only defense spending bills and leave the rest of the government under a year-long Continuing Resolution (CR). One exception is the Military Construction-Veterans Affairs (MilCon-VA) appropriations bill. Senate Democrats reportedly did not object to that bill because its funding is about equally split between defense and non-defense activities. The Senate passed the MilCon-VA appropriations bill today, too.
Among the space-related provisions of the revised FY2016 NDAA is a limit on the number of Russian RD-180 engines the United Launch Alliance (ULA) can obtain for its Atlas V rockets. A 2013 block-buy contract between ULA and the Air Force called for obtaining 29 RD-180s. ULA already has contracted for 15 of them but the remaining 14 have been the source of strong debate. This bill permits nine, while ULA wanted all 14, although the Secretary of Defense may grant waivers under certain circumstances. The limits are only on the use of RD-180s for national security space launches.
Congressional opposition to the use of RD-180s stems primarily from a desire to end dependence on Russia for launching U.S. national security satellites following Russia's annexation of Crimea and resulting tensions in the U.S.-Russian geopolitical relationship. The new goal is to develop an American engine to replace the RD-180s by 2019. Determination by some very influential Senators, including Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-AZ), to reduce costs by forcing ULA to compete for national security launches with new entrants like SpaceX is another factor. ULA has held a monopoly on those launches since it was formed as a Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture in 2006. The RD-180 issue is very controversial.
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter told a defense forum yesterday (Saturday) that he is concerned about Russian activities in space as well as on the sea, in the air, and in cyberspace. He also alluded to technology investments the United States is making in response to Russia's "provocations," including new systems for space.
Carter spoke at the annual Reagan National Defense Forum held at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, CA after returning from a trip to Asia. While he also discussed challenges presented by China, his focus was on Russia.
He worries that Russia has become intent on "flouting" the principles that underlie the "principled international order" that has "served the United States, our many friends and allies -- and yes -- if you think about it, Russia, China, and many other countries, well for decades."
"At sea, in the air, in space and in cyberspace, Russian actors have engaged in challenging activities," and its "nuclear saber-rattling" suggests it is not committed to strategic stability. "We do not seek a cold, much less a hot war with Russia," but the United States will defend its own interests as well as "our allies, the principled international order, and the positive future it affords us all."
Among the actions the United States is taking is investing in new technologies, Carter said, including "innovation in technologies like electromagnetic railgun, lasers, and new systems for electronic warfare, space and cyberspace, including a few surprising ones that I really can't describe here."
No further details were provided.
Presumably coincidentally, the Navy conducted a test of a submarine-launched unarmed Trident II missile off the California coast last night that lit up the sky as far away as Phoenix, according to Alan Boyle at GeekWire. The display would have been visible to any participants in the Reagan forum who remained during the evening. The forum's website says it brings together leaders and key stakeholders in the defense community including Members of Congress, civilian officials and military leaders from DOD and industry.
Here is our list of space policy related events for the week of November 9-13, 2015 and any insight we can offer about them. The Senate is in session this week except for Wednesday (Veterans Day, a federal holiday). The House is in recess all week.
During the Week
NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman will become more widely known in the DC-area space community this week as she speaks at two luncheons -- the Maryland Space Business Roundtable on Tuesday in Greenbelt, MD, and the Washington Space Business Roundtable on Thursday in Washington, DC. She also will speak to the annual meeting of the American Society for Gravitational and Space Research on Wednesday morning at 8:30 am ET (will be webcast -- h/t to NASAWatch's Keith Cowing for bringing it to our attention). These are not her first public speeches since being sworn in last May, but she has kept a relatively low profile until now. Should be interesting to hear what she has to say, though it's easy to guess that NASA's "Journey to Mars" and "inspiration" slogans will be repeatedly repeated.
The American Astronomical Society's Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) holds its annual meeting this week at National Harbor, MD, just outside Washington, DC. DPS is the key event where planetary scientists announce new discoveries and with all that's been going on this year, it should be a treasure trove of news throughout the week. Press briefings are scheduled Monday-Thursday at lunchtime and although the live webcasts are only available to journalists, they will be archived and then anyone can watch them. On Friday, DPS chair Bonnie Buratti (JPL) will moderate a lunch-time briefing on Capitol Hill (385 Russell) to highlight key findings, with New Horizons PI Alan Stern, NEOWISE PI Amy Mainzer, and Georgia Tech graduate student Mary Beth Wilhelm who studies biomarkers on Mars and is a science team collaborator for the Curiosity mission.
On Capitol Hill, the House is taking the week off, but the Senate will be hard at work except for Veterans Day (Wednesday). On Tuesday, it plans to vote on the revised version of the FY2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). President Obama vetoed the original bill in large part because of a "gimmick" used by Republicans to add money for defense without increasing funds for non-defense activities. Now that the White House and Congress have agreed to the budget/debt limit bill, the NDAA has been revised to fit within those funding caps by cutting $5 billion. The new bill, S. 1356, passed the House on Friday. The policy provisions remain the same and the President objected to two of them in his veto message (that the bill prevented needed reforms and did not allow the closing of Guantanamo), but the White House has not issued a new veto threat on the revised bill.
The NDAA is an authorization bill that sets policy and recommends funding levels. Only appropriations bills actually give money to agencies, and Senate Democrats blocked consideration of the defense appropriations bill last week because of concern that if that bill moves forward on its own, Republicans might not pass the non-defense appropriations bills and force the rest of the government to operate under a year-long Continuing Resolution (CR) instead. The current CR expires on December 11, so they have that much time to reach agreement or a new CR, either short- or long-term, will be needed. The House is scheduled to be in session for only 12 days between now and then. The Senate plans to be in session throughout that period except for the week of Thanksgiving (November 23-27).
The fate of the Export-Import Bank is now in the hands of conferees on H.R. 22, the surface transportation bill that passed the House last week. The House has already appointed some conferees, but said more will be appointed in the future. The Senate has not appointed its conferees yet. The main purpose of the bill is to fund transportation infrastructure projects (highways, rail, etc) that currently are authorized only through November 20, so there is some urgency to get the bill finalized. We have reported on the travails of the Export-Import Bank at length, so will not repeat its tortuous history here. If you need to catch up on what's been going, type Export-Import Bank into the search box at the top of our main page.
The Senate might also take up the compromise version of the Commercial Space Transportation Competitiveness bill, but Sen. Bill Nelson's optimism a week and a half ago that it would be acted on quickly seems to have run into a snag.
All the events we know about as of Sunday morning for the coming week are listed below. Check back throughout the week to see any new events that get added to our Events of Interest list.
Sunday-Friday, November 8-13
Monday, November 9
Monday-Friday, November 9-13
Tuesday, November 10
Tuesday-Thursday, November 10-12
Wednesday-Saturday, November 11-14
Thursday, November 12
Thursday-Friday, November 12-13
Friday, November 13
Note: This article was updated with the information about the ASGSR meeting.
Now that the White House and Congress have agreed on raising the budget caps for FY2016 and FY2017, the impasse over the FY2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) may be resolved. President Obama vetoed the bill two weeks ago, but today the House passed a revised version that conforms to the new caps, avoiding the need to attempt a veto override. Meanwhile, Senate Democrats blocked a vote on the defense appropriations bill over concern that Republicans would not honor the new budget agreement.
House Armed Services Committee (HASC) chairman Mac Thornberry (R-TX) released the text of the revised NDAA, S. 1356, and a list of the changes from the version that was vetoed. The changes are to funding, not policy. President Obama vetoed the bill primarily because of a budget "gimmick" used to add more money for defense while ignoring non-defense needs. The budget/debt limit deal agreed to last week and signed into law on Monday resolves that issue.
To conform to the new budget caps, $5 billion in spending had to be removed from the NDAA that originally was sent to the President (H.R. 1735). A list of the changes is posted on the HASC website. The biggest single change is a $1 billion reduction possible due to lower fuel costs, but the other reductions are spread across a wide range of programs and accounts. A few space activities get minor adjustments:
The House passed the new version under suspension of the rules this morning by a vote of 370-58. The bill now goes to the Senate. Congress is using an unrelated bill, S. 1356, as the legislative vehicle for the revised NDAA. S. 1356 originally was the Border Control Agent Pay Reform Act, which passed the Senate in May. The House passed the bill today with an amendment that strikes the existing text of the bill and replaces it with the revised NDAA.
The President's veto statement expressed disagreement with two policy issues -- that the bill prevented needed reforms and did not allow the closing of Guantanamo. Those parts of the bill have not changed. Whether the President would veto the revised version over those matters is an open question, but no veto threat has been issued yet. The Senate may take up the bill next week.
Authorization bills like the NDAA recommend funding levels, but only appropriations bills actually give money to DOD or other government agencies.
While the House was passing the revised NDAA, Senate Democrats blocked consideration of the FY2016 DOD appropriations bill. Sixty votes were needed to invoke cloture and allow the bill to be considered; the vote was 51-44. This is the third time consideration of the bill has been blocked.
Senate Democrats reportedly are concerned that if the defense appropriations bill moves forward on its own, Republicans might not honor the new budget agreement and force all the other government agencies into a long-term Continuing Resolution (CR). Democrats want an appropriations bill that combines most of the 12 regular appropriations bills into a single package. That carries its own risks, since controversial policy provisions -- such as defunding Planned Parenthood -- could doom funding for the entire government.
Despite the optimism expressed just last week when the budget/debt limit deal passed, the fate of FY2016 appropriations seems anything but assured.
Update: This article was updated to reflect the fact that Senate Democrats agreed to allow the Military Construction-Veterans Affairs (Milcon-VA) appropriations bill to advance reportedly because its funding is more equally split between defense and non-defense spending.
UPDATE, November 2, 2015: President Obama signed the bill into law today.
ORIGINAL STORY, October 30, 2015: At about 3:00 am ET this morning (October 30), the Senate passed the budget/debt limit deal negotiated by top congressional leaders and President Obama. The deal was reached just days ago, but now has cleared Congress and will be sent to the President for his signature.
The Senate vote was 64-35. Republican presidential candidates Rand Paul (KY), Ted Cruz (TX), and Marco Rubio (FL) voted against the bill, while Lindsey Graham (SC) voted in favor. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (VT), who is an Independent in the Senate, voted in favor.
The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 (H.R. 1314) increases the budget caps set by the 2011 Budget Control Act by $50 billion for FY2016 and $30 billion for FY2017. It also adds $32 billion over those two years for Overseas Contingency Operations to fund the war in Afghanistan, for example. Most of the increases are offset by changes to Social Secuity and Medicare. It does not end sequestration, the across-the-board budget cuts that automatically go into effect if Congress exceeds the caps. In fact, it extends sequestration through 2025.
The bill also raises the debt limit through March 16, 2017, past the 2016 congressional and presidential elections. It does not set a new limit, but suspends the limit until that date.
Although very controversial in both the House and Senate, sufficient votes were cast to get it through. House Speaker John Boehner's (R-OH) imminent departure and the need to raise the debt limit before November 3 motivated the quick action. Boehner's term as Speaker ended yesterday after Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) was elected and sworn in as his replacement. Boehner was one of the handful of top congressional leaders who negotiated the deal with the White House. He was willing to rely on Democratic votes to get it passed even though many Republicans opposed it. The vote in the House on Wednesday was 266-167, with all 167 no votes cast by Republicans.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) chose the wee hours of the night to get the legislation passed in that chamber. A procedural vote to bring the bill to the floor of the Senate for debate was taken beginning at 1:01 am ET this morning. In that case, 60 votes were needed to invoke cloture and proceed with the bill. That vote was 63-35. After about an hour and a half of debate, the vote on the bill itself was called, passing by a similar margin (64-35). That action cleared the bill for the President at a dizzying pace in a town known more for political gridlock. President Obama is expected to sign the bill quickly.
The $80 billion total increase in the FY2016-2017 spending caps are at the top level. There is no detail on how the extra funds will be spent so there is no way to know how much more, if any, NASA or NOAA will receive compared to the congressional action that has already taken place on their FY2016 appropriations. It is now up to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to allocate the funding across the 12 regular appropriations bills. All 12 likely will be combined into a single "omnibus" appropriations bill. House Appropriations Committee chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) expressed optimism that work can be completed by December 11 when the existing Continuing Resolution (CR) expires.
This afternoon (October 28) the House passed the deal negotiated by the White House and top congressional leaders to increase spending caps for FY2016 and FY2017 and raise the debt limit through March 2017. Announcement that bipartisan agreement had been reached was made less than 48 hours ago. The bill now goes to the Senate.
The House used an existing, unrelated bill, H.R. 1314, as the legislative vehicle. H.R. 1314 began as a bill to allow appeals of IRS determinations of tax-exempt status. The Senate amended that bill, replacing it with the text of the Trade Act of 2015. Today the House amended the Senate amendment with the text of the budget/debt limit deal -- the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015.
The vote was 266-167. All 167 no votes were Republicans. The 266 yes votes were from 79 Republicans and all 187 Democrats who voted. (One Democrat, Rep. Gregory Meeks of New York, and one Republican, Rep. Richard Hudson of North Carolina, did not vote).
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), who earlier today was chosen by the House Republican Conference as their candidate to become Speaker of the House, voted yes on the bill even though yesterday he said the process by which the agreement was reached "stinks." He would have preferred more involvement by members of Congress, rather than just the very top leadership of both chambers. The full House is expected to vote tomorrow to elect Ryan as Speaker, although 45 Republicans did not support him today in the Republican Conference voting. He received 200 votes from his fellow Republicans. He needs 218 votes to become Speaker and it is expected that Democrats will vote for their leader, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) or another Democrat, not Ryan. Thus he needs to convince at least 18 of the 45 to support him on the floor tomorrow in the vote to replace retiring Speaker John Boehner (R-OH).
The budget/debt limit deal increases the caps on federal spending negotiated in the 2011 Budget Control Act for FY2016 and FY2017 by $80 billion ($50 billion in FY2016; $30 billion in FY2017). It also adds $32 billion in spending for the off-budget Overseas Contingency Operations account. It does not end the sequester (across-the-board cuts that automatically go into effect if Congress exceeds the caps) and, in fact, extends it through 2025.
It also raises the debt limit through March 2017, taking both issues -- spending caps and the debt limit -- off the table until after the 2016 congressional and presidential elections.
Congress must raise the debt limit before November 3 to avoid a default, so the Senate is expected to act on this legislation quickly. Although it is controversial in the Senate as well as the House, passage is anticipated.
The agreement is on top-level spending amounts, not specific funding for individual agencies. The House and Senate Appropriations Committees will use the spending caps and allocate funding to agencies like NASA and NOAA. The government is currently operating under a Continuing Resolution (CR) that expires on December 11. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) expressed optimism today that all 12 regular appropriations bills can be finalized by then.
Confidence that the agreement means an end to threats of government shutdowns for the next two years is rampant even though the 16-day government shutdown in 2013 was primarily due to opposition to the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), not to spending caps. Many members of the conservative Republican Tea Party who were instrumental in that shutdown are equally determined to end government funding of Planned Parenthood this year, so it may be too early to breathe a sigh a relief.
The Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) praised the House action in a statement released after the vote: "AIA is relieved and thankful" because it adds "badly-needed" funding for defense and "substantial relief" for agencies like FAA, NASA, NOAA and the Coast Guard.
UPDATE, October 28, 2015, 5:30 pm ET: The House just passed the deal as an amendment to an unrelated bill (H.R. 1314) by a vote of 266-167. Now it goes to the Senate.
ORIGINAL STORY, October 28, 2015, 9:40 am ET: Today the House is scheduled to vote on a deal worked out by the White House and top congressional leaders to raise budget caps and the debt limit for two years -- until after the 2016 elections. The deal is controversial both for its provisions and the way in which it was negotiated, but is expected to pass.
When House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) announced his intent to resign from the Speakership and Congress last month, he promised to "clean the barn" before he left, resolving major issues so his successor would not have to deal with them. Two of the four key issues -- reauthorization of spending from the Highway Trust Fund and reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank -- now have cleared the House. The others -- increasing the budget caps set by the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA) and raising the debt limit -- are combined in the bill the House will consider today. All of these still must pass the Senate, but Boehner will have fulfilled his promise by getting them through the House. The idea is that as outgoing Speaker, he has more flexibility to use Democratic votes to get bills passed even if many Republicans oppose them.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) is expected to be chosen by the House Republican Conference as Boehner's successor at a meeting today and voted in by the full House tomorrow. Boehner's last day is Friday.
Ryan is one of the critics of the budget/debt limit deal saying the process by which it was reached "stinks." Only top congressional leaders were involved in the negotiations with the White House. Ryan was the most recent House member to negotiate a major budget deal when he served as chairman of the House Budget Committee. He and his Senate counterpart, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), found a compromise in 2013 that provided stability for budgets in FY2014 and FY2015.
The Ryan-Murray agreement expired with the FY2015 budget, though, so a new deal was needed for FY2016, which began on October 1. At the same time, Congress needs to raise the $18.1 trillion debt limit by November 3 to avoid a U.S. default on its debts.
By limiting participation in the budget/debt limit talks to just the top congressional leaders, Ryan and others are protected from criticism that they approved of the process or the results.
The new bill, the 2015 Bipartisan Budget Act, was introduced just after midnight yesterday (Tuesday) and would do the following:
Approval of the deal would get these issues off the table through the 2016 congressional and presidential elections. The deal does not end sequestration. In fact, it extends sequestration (automatic across the board cuts if Congress exceeds budget caps) through 2025.
The budget cap increase does not specify how the additional money will be spent. There is no way to know how much any specific agency like NASA or NOAA will benefit, but the agreement should ease (but not eliminate) fears of a government shutdown this year or next.
An appropriations process must take place where the money will be allocated to various agencies and activities that could nonetheless be controversial. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) said his committee "stands at the ready" to implement the details of the deal. The House has passed six of the 12 regular appropriations bills already; the Senate has not passed any. The bills that already passed the House, including the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) bill that funds NASA and NOAA, can be changed in negotiations with the Senate. The government is currently operating under a Continuing Resolution (CR) that expires on December 11.
As for government shutdowns, it is important to remember that the 16-day shutdown in 2013 was driven primarily not by budget issues, but by opposition to the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). Many of the same House and Senate Republicans who fought Obamacare that time are determined to stop government funding of Planned Parenthood now. Breathing a sigh of relief may be premature.
Still, there is a sense that this new deal is better than nothing, raising hopes among its proponents that it will, indeed, become law. The House vote today will be the first test. The Senate is expected to vote on it next week.