Washington Insights & Highlights
November 30, 2018
Congressional Update

Congress Continues to Work on Spending Agreement for FY 2019

Lawmakers continue negotiations around a final Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 spending package that would include funding for the Agriculture, Interior-Environment, Commerce-Justice-Science, State and Foreign Operations, and Homeland Security bills. A deal must be reached before the current continuing resolution (CR) expires on December 7. If negotiators cannot reach an agreement before then, a short-term CR may be needed to provide a funding extension.

Much of the disagreement persists around funding to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. The President indicated this week that he will not sign spending legislation that does not provide his requested funding level, which could lead to a partial government shutdown. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) stated that a full-year CR is possible for the remaining seven bills if an agreement on the border wall is not reached in the next two weeks. Another contentious issue hanging in the balance is what to do for individuals with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status. It is unlikely that a permanent solution for DACA will be rolled in as part of a deal.

Tax Extender Package Introduced in the House

On Monday, November 26, the House Ways and Means Committee released yet another tax package with a series of tax extenders and fixes to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The legislation features a range of changes to savings and retirement-related tax provisions, including one that would allow graduate students and postdoctoral researchers to save for retirement using funds received through certain fellowships and stipends. This provision passed the House as part of a Tax “2.0” package earlier this fall. House Republicans will aim to move the bill during the lame-duck session, although it is unlikely to get the bipartisan support necessary to pass the Senate. However, there could be agreement on a smaller measure that may just include tax extenders. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that the bill would cost approximately $55 billion over the next decade.

House Democrats Elect Party Leaders

House Democrats held their leadership elections this week, officially nominating Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to be Speaker of the House. The floor vote for speaker will be held on January 3, 2019, when the 116th Congress first convenes. Reps. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), James Clyburn (D-SC), and Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) were also elected to serve as majority leader, majority whip, and assistant Democratic leader, respectively. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) will be House Democratic Caucus chairman. Full committee rosters and chairman/ranking members will be determined in the coming weeks once the steering committees of both parties are finalized.

Senators Call for Reversal of Policy on Student Visas

Last week, a group of 18 Democratic senators asked the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to rescind policy guidance that changes the way international students and visiting scholars on F, J or M visas accrue “unlawful presence” in the U.S. Their letter highlighted the negative impact this would have on international students and scholars, including the potential implications for their spouses and families. The letter also expresses concern that the changes would reduce the economic benefits brought to the U.S. by international students.

Nominations Move Forward in the Senate

On Thursday, November 29, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee advanced the nomination of Robert L. King to be Assistant Secretary of Postsecondary Education, by a party-line 12-11 vote, reporting it to the Senate floor. Also, this week, the full Senate took procedural votes on the nomination of Kathleen Kraninger to be director of the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection (CFPB).

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