Current Legislative Update:

  • February 2016


Legislative Updates

Keeping you up to date on policy action from the president's administration and the U.S. Congress.

December 2014

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January 2015 will usher in significant changes to the Washington, D.C. political scene. The November 2014 elections were largely seen as a sweep for Republican lawmakers, who flipped the U.S. Senate to GOP control for the first time since 2006 (54-46) and picked up the largest Republican majority in the House of Representatives since the Great Depression (247-188).

U.S. Senate Changes
The GOP gained nine seats in the U.S. Senate, defeating Democratic incumbents in Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana, and North Carolina and winning the seats of four retiring Democratic Senators in Iowa, Montana, South Dakota, and West Virginia. This victory will make Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) the Majority leader when the Senate reconvenes in January.

Black Members of Congress
The 114th Congress will feature 49 Black members (47 in the House and 2 in the Senate). Six new Black members were elected in 2014, including two former state legislators. These members are:

  • Alma Adams (D-NC)*

  • Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ)*

  • Will Hurd (R-TX)

  • Brenda Lawrence (D-MI)

  • Mia Love (R-UT)

  • Stacey Plaskett (D-VI)

Congressman Steven Horsford (D-NV) lost his race to Republican challenger Cresent Hardy. Congresswoman Donna Christensen (D-VI) retired and was replaced by Stacey Plaskett (D-VI). Congresswoman-elect Bonnie Watson Coleman, Congressman-elect Will Hurd, and Congresswoman-elect Mia Love were elected to seats not previously held by Blacks.

*Denotes Former State Legislator

Key Issues Facing Washington in 2015

Government Funding
As the 113th Congress adjourned in December 2014, House and Senate members were able to agree upon an 11th Hour proposal to avoid a second government shut down in 14 months, and to keep the federal government funded through September 2015.

With a new Senate majority, Congressional Republicans will likely pursue efforts to weaken and/or repeal significant provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Some reforms have been touted by members of both parties, including repealing the medical device tax, reforming flexible spending accounts, and redefining “full-time work” under the law to 40 hours per week (up from 30 hours).

Authorization for the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) expires on September 30, 2015. While CHIP has traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support, it is uncertain how reauthorization of the program will proceed in light of GOP hopes to reform ACA.

In November 2014, President Obama announced a series of executive actions on immigration to shield up to 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation. The President has ordered the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to prioritize deportations for felons and dangerous individuals, improve border security, and allow more immigrants the opportunity to apply for deferred action status and work authorizations. The President’s actions did not include a path to citizenship or access to health insurance through the Affordable Care Act.

The President indicated that he responded to Congressional inaction in passing comprehensive immigration reform. Nevertheless, Congressional Republicans denounced the President’s plan as amnesty, inappropriately unilateral, and provocative. During the end-of-year funding bill, Republicans successfully included a spending proposal that lapses authorization for DHS so it expires in February 2015, allowing Congress a better chance to negotiate with the President to reverse course.

Net Neutrality
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is in the midst of crafting rules governing net neutrality. According to the FCC, these rules—which will determine how the internet is controlled/regulated—will aim to maintain a competitive marketplace while ensuring free access to the internet. Whatever the FCC rules, it is likely that the Republican-controlled Congress will consider legislative steps to allow internet service providers more flexibility on service offerings, setting up a likely showdown between Congress and the President.

Voting Rights
2015 will mark the 50th Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA). The 113th Congress failed to pass a new preclearance formula after Title V of VRA was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2013. Congress has not released any immediate plans to readdress the issue, but VRA reauthorization/ reform is expected to be a top legislative priority for the Congressional Black Caucus.

In addition, the Supreme Court is expected to rule in 2015 in the case of Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama, a case challenging the constitutionality of Alabama’s 2010 redistricting plan, which the caucus contends packs Black voters into districts designed to maintain partisan political advantages.

One of the first energy issues that will likely be taken up by the new Republican-controlled Congress is the Keystone XL pipeline, which has long been opposed by most Senate Democrats and supported by the GOP. The GOP is also likely to challenge attempts by the Administration to regulate methane and carbon emissions, as well as clean water and air quality standards.

Two major transportation bills will likely be considered in 2015: the Surface Transportation Reauthorization (Highway Bill) and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization. The Highway bill has been touted as a potential job creator by members of both parties and the White House, with disagreements looming about how to fund the bill. One of the major concerns is over plummeting federal gasoline tax revenues due to improved fuel efficiency of cars, which has blown a hole into the budget for the program. 

FAA reauthorization will likely consider steps to overhaul air traffic control from radar to GPS-based systems, and curtail rising airline fees and costs.

Similar to transportation, Congress will also likely consider two major education bills in 2015 that are long overdue for reauthorization: the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), and the Higher Education Act (HEA). ESEA was last scheduled to be reauthorized in 2007, but reauthorization has been delayed every year since then. With Republicans in charge of both chambers, it is likely that Congressional Republicans will pursue legislation to allow Title I funds to follow children regardless of their school, eliminate Race to the Top, and discourage states from implementing Common Core State Standards.

Congress will likely consider HEA after ESEA. Issues include streamlining federal loan and aid programs, reducing regulations on higher education institutions (including for-profit colleges), and reinstituting yearround Pell Grants.

Senate Confirmations
With current Attorney General Eric Holder’s resignation, President Barack Obama nominated U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch to take his place. Some members of the Senate have expressed their desire to push back on her nomination as retaliation for the President’s executive action on immigration. President Obama also nominated former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter to replace outgoing Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.

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