Space Law 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 compromise version of new commercial space legislation passed the House this evening, clearing the measure for the President. The bill, H.R. 2262, covers a broad range of commercial space policy issues from third party indemnification to asteroid mining.
The compromise bill, which retains the House number following negotiations on House- and Senate-passed versions of the bill, includes the following provisions:
The original version of HR. 2262 passed the House in May. The Senate version, which was quite different, passed in August. The two chambers have been working out their differences ever since. This final version passed the Senate last week.
The House version combined four separate pieces of legislation that cleared the House Science, Space and Technology (SS&T) Committee in May. It was collectively named the Spurring Private Aerospace Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship (SPACE) Act when it passed the House. The Senate bill, S. 1297, was more narrowly cast in some respects, although it included a provision extending operations of the International Space Station until at least 2024.
The bill passed the House today by voice vote under suspension of the rules and now goes to the President for signature.
The lead sponsor of the House version is House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) whose district includes the Mojave Air & Space Port. He said the bill "ensures America remains the leader in space exploration and innovation in the 21st century." House Science, Space and Technology (SS&T) Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Space Subcommittee chairman Brian Babin (R-TX) echoed those sentiments.
Among the organizations applauding passage of the bill are the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF) and Deep Space Industries (DSI). CSF called the bill "one of the most significant modernizations of commercial space policy and regulatory legislation" since the 1984 Commercial Space Launch Act (CSLA). DSI, one of two entrepreneurial companies seeking to clarify rights to resources mined from asteroids, also praised passage of the bill. DSI Chair Rick Tumlinson said it "builds on our national space legacy and will help enable the rapid and sustainable growth of America's space economy."
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), who led efforts to obtain Senate approval of the compromise last week, today called it "a new era for our commercial ventures in space, which will likely include the development of new drugs, the possibility of mining asteroids and an explosion of new technology as we advance our outreach in space."
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
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 10, 2015: The House and Senate now have each appointed conferees on the bill; the House on November 5 and the Senate today. The House said that it may appoint additional conferees subsequently.
UPDATE, NOVEMBER 5, 2015, 12:01 pm ET: The House now has passed H.R. 22 (371-54), which includes the Export-Import Bank reauthorization. The Senate now must agree to the House changes to the entire bill or the two sides will set up a conference committee to negotiate a final compromise version. Each side then would have to approve the compromise.
ORIGINAL ARTICLE, NOVEMBER 5, 2015, 7:45 am ET: A week after the House voted to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank, the issue was back on the House floor last night as opponents tried again to restrict the Bank's activities. After intense debate, 10 amendments ultimately were defeated, however.
Created in 1934, the Bank needs to be periodically reauthorized, a step taken with little notice until recently. The Bank helps provide financing for U.S. exports, including communications satellites, for example. The Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) and the Satellite Industry Association are among its supporters. The Bank has not been able to issue new loans since its authorization expired on June 30, 2015. AIA reports that U.S. companies have lost three contracts to build satellites since then.
Some very conservative Republicans and very liberal Democrats oppose the Bank because they consider it corporate welfare for a few large companies like Boeing and GE. Supporters argue it is a critical component in the competitiveness of U.S. companies that compete against foreign companies with access to similar lending organizations in their countries. Supporters have consistently argued that a large majority of House members support the Bank and its authorization lapsed only because a small group of powerful Republicans were preventing the full House from voting on the issue. Last week, a group of Republicans who support the Bank, led by Rep. Steve Fincher (R-TN), used a rare parliamentary procedure to move a bill (H.R. 597) out of the Financial Services Committee against the objections of its chairman, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX). After fractious debate, the House voted decisively 313-118 to put the Bank back in business with support from a majority of Republicans and Democrats.
The Senate still would have to act on that bill, however, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who opposes the Bank, has said he will not move a stand-alone bill. Instead he will allow the Senate to consider the issue only as part of a larger measure. Indeed, in July the Senate passed a surface transportation bill that includes reauthorizing the Bank through 2019.
The Senate action was taken by amending a House-passed Surface Transportation bill, H.R. 22. The House refused to take up the Senate version of the bill at that time, but now is doing so.
(The underlying bill addresses issues unrelated to the Export-Import Bank, but they are just as contentious. Among them is reauthorizing expenditures from the Highway Trust Fund and since legislation to provide a long-term solution to that and other issues has not cleared both chambers, they have been passing short-term extensions instead. The short-term extensions do not include the Export-Import Bank provisions. The most recent, passed last week, extends the Highway Trust Fund authorization through November 20. Congress presumably will try to get work on H.R. 22 completed before then to avoid the need for another short-term extension.)
Opponents of the Bank offered 10 amendments last night to restrict the Bank's activities, reopening the debate supporters thought they had put to rest last week. The coalition of Republicans and Democrats that supports the Bank held together and defeated those amendments by votes almost as definitive as the one last week.
The House was in session until 1:05 am this morning (Thursday) debating those and other issues. It will reconvene at 9:00 am this morning to continue debate. The House is scheduled to recess at the end of today and remain in recess next week.
The bill still must go back to the Senate and unless the Senate agrees with the House-passed text of the entire bill with no changes, the issue could arise again during conference negotiations.
For today, however, efforts to reopen the Bank have survived another round.
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.
Despite opposition from some of the top Republican leaders in the House, the Export-Import Bank was firmly reauthorized in the House today. The next stop is the Senate, where its fate is uncertain though supporters are optimistic.
The House voted 313-118 today to reauthorize the Bank following two procedural votes today and yesterday that passed by closer margins. Debate today was intense, with Republicans including Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), who is expected to become Speaker of the House later this week, castigating the bank as "crony capitalism."
Created in 1934, the Bank needs to be periodically reauthorized, a step taken with little notice until recently. The Bank helps provide financing for U.S. exports, including communications satellites, for example. The Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) and the Satellite Industry Association are among its supporters. Orbital ATK President and CEO David Thompson repeated today during an investors conference call on the company's third quarter results that it lost a satellite manufacturing contract because of the hiatus in Ex-Im financing.
Some conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats oppose the Bank on the grounds that it is a government subsidy -- corporate welfare for a few big companies like Boeing and General Electric -- while others hail the Bank as an important jobs creator by facilitating U.S. exports.
Supporters have consistently argued that a majority of the House supports the Bank, but Republican leaders have not allowed the issue to be voted on by the full House. Instead, the bill to reauthorize the Bank has been held in the House Financial Services Committee, chaired by Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) who opposes the Bank. The bill only reached the floor for a vote today because another Republican, Rep. Steve Fincher (R-TN), employed a rarely-used parliamentary procedure called a discharge petition to get it out of committee.
Despite the fractious debate today where Hensarling, Ryan and House Majority Leader Keven McCarthy (R-CA) were among the party leaders lambasting the Bank, 127 Republicans voted in favor of reauthorization. They joined 186 Democrats supporting the Bank, while 117 Republicans and 1 Democrat (Alan Grayson of Florida) voted against it.
AIA issued a statement this evening praising the House action. Asserting that U.S. companies have lost three satellite orders since the Bank's authorization lapsed, AIA urged the House and Senate "to join in a cooperative, bipartisan spirit" to put it back in business.
It is now up to the Senate to act. The House passed a stand-alone bill, H.R. 597, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) insists that he will not take up such a bill on its own, only as part of other legislation. The Senate voted in July to approve reauthorization as part of legislation to continue spending from the Highway Trust Fund. In that case, the House refused to bring the Senate bill to the floor and instead passed a separate Highway Trust Fund bill without the Ex-Im Bank provision. Due to timing constraints, the Senate was forced to agree.
Bank supporters are optimistic that the Senate will agree to reauthorize the Bank this week. One possible legislative vehicle is the latest Highway Trust Fund extension, which also passed the House today. The extension that passed this summer was only through October 29.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) is trying to clear the decks for his presumptive successor, Ryan, before he leaves on Friday. Passing the Highway Trust Fund extension, the Ex-Im Bank reauthorization, and getting a deal to raise the debt limit and fund the government beyond December 11 when the current Continuing Resolution (CR) expires are all his to-do list. It looks as though he may have the first two of those completed and a debt limit/budget deal was announced very early this morning though it has yet to pass either the House or Senate.