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Global Policy Watch

Key Public Policy Developments Around the World From Covington & Burling LLP

A New World Bank?

Posted in Asia, International Strategy

The “Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank” (AIIB) was  launched by China in 2013.  It only became headlined in the world press this month when the United States publicly criticized Britain for announcing its participation.

Indeed, soon after Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, stated that the UK would be among the “founding members” of AIIB, the FT published a comment from a “US Government official:  “We are wary about a trend toward constant accommodation of China, which is not the best way to engage a rising power…”

The message was two-fold: the British move had not been agreed with the US–a blow to the special relationship–and it would undercut the Bretton Woods Institutions, the IMF, the World bank and the Asia Development bank, the jewels of the “pax Americana,” the world has enjoyed since the end of world war two.

The problem is that the Bretton Woods institutions were not capable of adapting in order to maintain their “exclusiveness” at a time when China is becoming the first economic power in the world.  China is trailed only by India and other Asian tigers in terms of GDP growth.

A major effort has been made since the beginning of the 21th Century to adapt the IMF and the World Bank to changing world realities.  An albeit modest reform package linked to a revision of IMF quotas had been approved by the Obama administration and agreed in the G 20 in 2010, but it has remained stuck in the US Congress.  An attempt to have it ratified by linking it to a Ukraine aid package failed in March 2014.

The AIIB is not the first challenge to the Washington institutions launched by the new emerging powers–the so-called BRICS countries–Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.  In a summit in Fortaleza in July 2014, they decided to create a “New Development Bank” (NDB) with each of them pledging $10 Billion as a capital base for infrastructure and sustainable development projects.

The Chinese initiative followed a few months later and immediately took center stage.  Launched with a registered capital of $50 billion, it was opened to the participation of India and other countries.  Twenty one Asian and Middle East countries participated in a MoU signed in Beijing in October 2014.

It was later opened to non-Asian members–for a maximum of 25% of the shares.  The British move in early March was followed days later by the remaining European members of the G 7, France, Germany and Italy.  Other EU members followed with the blessing of the European Commission and the External Action Service which noted that “infrastructure investment is much needed in the fast growing Asia- Pacific region and Europe can help build this infrastructure.”

This leaves Australia, South Korea and Japan with little pretext to snub the new Asian Bank.  Their participation is expected before the end of the month, the deadline to be a founding member .

Will the new bank “incorporate the high standards of the World Bank related to Governance? Will it protect worker’s rights? The environment? Will it fight corruption?”  asked Treasury Secretary Jack Lew in a face saving statement when it became clear that US allies would join the new bank en masse.

The “founding members” will now need to weigh the articles of the treaty establishing the AIIB which should be adopted by the end of June.  Angel Gurria the head of OECD noted during a recent visit to Beijing that participation by European countries helped to convince him that the institution will be “managed in a professional and transparent way.”

Christine Lagarde, who was also in Beijing a few days ago stated that the IMF “would be delighted to cooperate” with AIIB and that there was “massive room for IMF’s cooperation with the new bank in infrastructure financing.”

What will certainly help the AIIB is that there is a strong need for infrastructure development in Asia which cannot be covered with the current resources of the IMF.  And nobody could disagree that new large flows of capital to developing countries would be good for the world economy.

President Obama’s “pivot to Asia” was an attempt to catch up with Asia’s spectacular development in the last decade while keeping the US in the leading role.  From that point of view, March 2015 is a failure for the US.  A new era in world geopolitics is at hand.  The lesson from these recent events must be learned in Washington–notably by those who thought they could stick to the old Bretton Woods model, at all cost.

Focus on Patent Quality

Posted in Intellectual Property Protection

Any system of property rights functions best when all parties know the metes and bounds of the property.  Our patent system is no different, and that is why the ongoing, two-day Patent Quality Summit at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“PTO’s”) is so significant.

The Summit is part of the PTO’s Enhanced Quality Initiative.  As newly-confirmed Director Lee said in kicking-off the event, the PTO is now in a position to “focus more than ever on building a world-class patent quality system for American entrepreneurs and innovators.”

The attention to patent quality is important and part of a larger effort to improve the reputation of the patent system and improve its functioning for inventors and innovators.  Patent owners should have a clear understanding of what property rights they have, and those who use inventions every day should be able to determine from a patent what is protected.

The Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (“AIA”) gave the PTO additional tools to enhance patent quality, including an improved process for third parties to submit information about a pending application, a new opposition proceeding available for nine-months after a patent issues, and better funding for the PTO.  Patent quality ultimately relies, however, on the attention of the PTO and the professionals who work there.  Director Lee’s focus on patent quality is therefore an important step in implementing the AIA and curtailing litigation based on ambiguous claims.

No one should expect that the Initiative will overtake or replace the legislative effort to reduce abusive patent litigation.  After all, the AIA was largely about giving the PTO the tools needed to more quickly examine and issue patents with higher quality claims, but there remain calls for further patent legislation because improving the quality of newly issued patents does not address the quality of patents already in the system.

If properly done, however, the combination of the AIA and the PTO’s Initiative can rejuvenate the patent system.  A witness who testified yesterday before the House Judiciary Committee in favor of patent litigation reform explained that the business model of bad actors is based on the “abundance of poor quality patents.”  Newly issued patents should be of high quality, with clear claims, and therefore not susceptible to that form of abuse.  All participants in the system will benefit if that happens.

Chinese Government Issues 2015 Foreign Investment Catalogue — Effective April 10, 2015

Posted in China

The Chinese government makes no secret of the fact that in its view, foreign investment should be consistent with China’s economic development plans and industrial policies. Its ability to administer foreign investment in accordance with industrial policy is aided by the fact that all foreign investment must go through an often rigorous approval process. By contrast, only particularly large or sensitive foreign investments require approval in the US. (For a more thorough treatment of the Chinese approval process for foreign investment, see the report prepared by Covington for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce available here.)

Since 1995, foreign investment in China has been guided by the Catalogue of Industries for Guiding Foreign Investment (“Catalogue”). The Catalogue is divided into three lists which, respectively, list (1) “encouraged” industry sectors for which the government is actively seeking foreign investment and will therefore provide special advantages to foreign investors (e.g., preferential tax treatment, easier government approval), (2) “restricted” industry sectors for which special restrictions such as a relatively more onerous and time-consuming approval process apply, and (3) “prohibited” industry sectors in which foreign investment is banned altogether. Sectors not specifically listed are considered “permitted.”

The categorization of industry sectors is updated approximately every three years in order to reflect the government’s then prevailing economic and political goals and policies. On March 10th, the National Development and Reform Commission (“NDRC”) and the Ministry of Commerce (“MOFCOM”), the two principal authorities in charge of foreign investment in China, issued a new version of the Catalogue (full Chinese version available here; English translation available here). The new Catalogue will take effect on April 10th, replacing the previous 2011 version, which became effective in 2012.

The latest revision represents a more marked change than was seen the last time the Catalogue was revised, indicating that the government is more keen to attract foreign investment in the face of declining interest (see a post we wrote on this blog about declining foreign investor sentiment here). The government’s keenness is particularly evident when it comes to foreign investment in advanced and green technologies (e.g., manufacturing of high-throughput gene sequencing equipment and production of pollution-free feeds and additives) as well as in traditionally inefficient state-dominated sectors into which the government is seeking to inject new life (e.g., the construction and operation of urban and interurban railways and the operation of eldercare facilities).

The new Catalogue lifts restrictions on foreign investment in many sectors. Most of the liberalization is seen in the manufacturing sector, with some relaxation also found in other sectors including services, agriculture, and infrastructure. According to an NDRC official’s count, the number of restricted industries has been reduced from 79 to 38, with direct sales and insurance brokerage companies among the beneficiaries. The 2011 Catalogue listed 44 industries for which Chinese-controlled joint ventures were required, and that number has been reduced to 35 in the new Catalogue. In addition, the number of industries requiring joint ventures (with Chinese partners), but without the Chinese control requirement, has been reduced from 43 to 15, including in such sectors as real estate development. These numbers to some extent reflect improved market access in some areas and reduced market access in others, as well as the consolidation of some items — which resulted in lower numbers of restricted sectors but no actual lifting of market access restrictions. Nonetheless, the overall trend is one of liberalization.

In general, we find that foreign investment restrictions remain largely unaltered in industries that traditionally face heavy restrictions — e.g., banking, telecommunications, and cultural industries — though a significant and welcome exception is e-commerce, an industry in which companies’ foreign equity may now exceed 50%. Some types of investments face new restrictions. For example, higher education and pre-school education have been moved into the restricted category, and TV and radio ratings survey companies must now be controlled by Chinese parties.

Other industries that appear to be newly prohibited (e.g., internet publishing services, wholesale tobacco retail, and the sale of culture relics have been added to the prohibited category), or that appear to face new restrictions such as equity caps (e.g., a single foreign investor may hold no more than a 20% share of a Chinese bank, with total foreign-held shares capped at 25%) or  nationality requirements (e.g., the chief partner of a foreign-invested accounting firm and the principal of a Sino-foreign cooperative school must be Chinese nationals), do not reflect actual changes to the status quo. Instead, they represent an effort by the authorities to incorporate restrictions contained in other laws, regulations, and policies that were not reflected in previous versions of the Catalogue in order to make the Catalogue more comprehensive and useful. Interestingly, a disclaimer at the end of the 2011 Catalogue that any administrative regulations or industrial policies touching upon matters related to market access shall prevail over the provisions of the Catalogue has been removed. Whether this reflects an intention to make the Catalogue a single, one-stop list for foreign investment restrictions (bringing it closer to the concept of an economy-wide negative list, as described below) is unclear, as the text does not explicitly state that the Catalogue is now to be considered as comprehensive.

Although the new Catalogue indicates some attempt to build a friendlier, less discriminatory investment environment for foreign investors in China, it does not remove as many restrictions as foreign investors had hoped. The European Chamber of Commerce described the draft version of the Catalogue issued in November 2014 (if anything, slightly less restrictive than the final version) as merely an “incremental development,” arguing that a simplified negative list (a presumption that all investment is permitted except for a small number of narrowly crafted exceptions all listed in an easily accessible negative list) would have showed more ambition. The government has already accepted a negative list approach in the Shanghai Pilot Free Trade Zone (though it drew significant criticism for an overly extensive list of exceptions), in an important new draft foreign investment law, and in US-China bilateral investment treaty negotiations. With the release of the final version of the new 2015 Catalogue, it appears that those waiting for a negative list approach to foreign investment nationwide must wait a bit longer.

For foreign investors interested in the Chinese market who would like to carefully examine the new Catalogue and its changes, we have prepared a color-coded “redline” version identifying changes between the new 2015 Catalogue and the previous 2011 version.

Material for this post was supplied by Ashwin Kaja and Shirleen Hong of Covington & Burling LLP.

This Week in Congress – March 23, 2015

Posted in Congressional Action

This week both chambers begin the annual Congressional budget debate, a process that will set the budget rules and the spending limits for the congressional Appropriations Committees to follow in funding federal agencies for Fiscal Year (FY) 2016, which begins on October 1st. While a congressional budget resolution is not signed into law by the President, when passed by both chambers it serves as an agreement between the House and Senate on a budget framework for any spending or revenue legislation moving forward.  The statutory deadline by which Congress must pass a budget is April 15, and adoption of a budget is important if Republicans want to use the vehicle of reconciliation, which provides procedural benefits in the Senate, to try to enact significant legislation.

The Senate budget resolution was reported favorably last week by the Senate Budget Committee, led by its new chairman, Sen Mike Enzi (R-WY), on a party-line vote of 12-10.  The resolution would seek to balance the budget in ten years, by 2025, with most of the cost savings coming from reductions in mandatory (entitlement) programs.  The details of the plan are widely available, so we will not belabor them here.

The House budget proposal was also reported out favorably last week by the House Budget Committee, under its new chairman, Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), on a party-line vote of 22-13.  The House plan would work more dramatic changes in the largest entitlement programs.  It would repeal the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and completely overhaul Medicare and Medicaid.  Medicare would be converted into a “premium support” system in which, starting in 2024, retirees would purchase, with government subsidies, insurance on the private market.  Medicaid would become essentially a block-grant program under which the states would decide how to use the money to provide healthcare for the poor.

Both Senate and House budget resolutions also make an effort to provide more funds for the Defense Department than would otherwise be available under the 2011 budget agreement and attendant sequester.  In order to secure support for the budget resolutions from Republican defense hawks, who have been demanding higher levels of spending on the military in light of the perilous global security situation, both resolutions include funding for overseas contingency operations,  Whether the funding is sufficient to satisfy the defense hawks will become clearer during the debate, but amendments to boost defense spending will surely be on the table during floor debate in both chambers.

The Senate returns on Monday and will begin consideration of the Fiscal Year 2016 budget resolution.  After up to 50 hours of debate (the limit is actually set by law), on Thursday the chamber will begin its famed “Vote-a-rama,” an extended sequence of back-to-back amendment votes to the budget resolution. It is unclear at this point how many amendments will be voted on or on what issues they will be focused.

The Senate still has not yet considered the President’s nominee for Attorney General, Loretta Lynch.  Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had initially committed to taking up the nomination after the Senate was scheduled to work through a human trafficking bill last week.  After Senate Democrats filibustered the bill over the inclusion of an anti-abortion provision, McConnell said he will not allow a vote on the attorney general nominee until the trafficking bill passes.  It is unclear when that will happen, as all previous cloture votes on the bill have failed and the Republicans appear to be two votes shy of securing the 60 votes needed to cut off the Democratic filibuster.

The House will begin its week considering several bills under suspension of the rules, including a resolution calling on the President to provide military assistance to Ukraine.  In addition to its budget resolution, this week the House is also expected to consider legislation related to the expiration of the suspension of the cuts in physicians’ reimbursement rates in the Medicare program.  Without an extension by the end of March, when the current law expires,, fees to doctors will be cut substantially pursuant to a formula, called the Sustainable Growth Rate, enacted years ago.  Last Thursday, House and Senate leaders announced the introduction of “bipartisan, bicameral” legislation that will replace the Sustainable Growth Rate with a new annual reimbursement update each year for five years, and streamline other methods of payment to doctors who accept Medicare.  The legislation also reportedly provides a two-year extension for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).  The bill pays for a portion of the new spending by making changes to the Medicare programs, but the new spending is not fully offset, and that could prompt fiscal conservatives to rebel against the bill.  In addition, the two-year extension of SCHIP does not meet Senate Democratic demands for a four-year extension. With the bill needing 60 votes in the Senate, the result is uncertain.  If both chambers are unable to pass the same bill and send it to the President by the end of the week, look for yet another short-term extension of the existing law preventing cuts to physician payments to be adopted and sent to the President before the March 31 expiration of the current law.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has pushed back its planned markup of the Iran sanctions bill to Mid-April.  Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) and Ranking Member Bob Menendez (D-NJ) released a joint press release on March 19th stating “We have been working together very closely to ensure we have the strongest vote possible on the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act and to achieve that result, we have agreed to a markup of the bill in the Foreign Relations Committee as soon as we return on Tuesday, April 14.”  The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act would require the president to submit any Iran nuclear agreement to Congress within five days of its conclusion. The scheduling of a markup puts additional pressure on the Obama Administration as it continues to seek an international deal on Iran’s nuclear program. President Obama has threatened to veto the legislation.

Congressional authorizing and appropriating committees continue to hold hearings on the President’s FY 16 budget requests. The House Homeland Security Committee holds a hearing on Islamist extremism, while the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa holds a hearing on Iran’s nuclear program. Following up on another high-profile incident for the U.S. Secret Service, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hold a hearing on Secret Service Oversight. The new network neutrality regulations established by the FCC will be the topic of a House Judiciary Committee hearing, with FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and Commissioner Ajit Pai scheduled to appear as witnesses along with Federal Trade Commissioner Joshua Wright. House Judiciary will also follow on last week’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on patent reform with its own hearing on patent litigation reform, as the Committee considers the bill introduced by its chairman, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA).  House Energy and Commerce will look at spectrum policy, and House Agriculture looks at reauthorizing the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.  And even as the Senate is unable to move forward on the Attorney General nomination, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing next week on Sally Yates, the former U.S. Attorney in Atlanta and a career federal prosecutor, to serve as Deputy Attorney General.  Finally, in an interesting bicameral coincidence highlighting a growing social problem, next Thursday committees on each side of the Capitol (Senate Veterans Affairs and House Energy & Commerce) will hold hearings on the abuse of prescription opioids and the attendant rise in opioid and heroin abuse around the country.

These hearings and other key congressional hearings in a busy week are listed below:

Monday, March 23, 2015 

House Committees 

Fiscal 2016 Appropriations: Financial Services
House Appropriations – Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government
Subcommittee Hearing
3 p.m., 2359 Rayburn Bldg.

Intelligence Issues
House Select Intelligence
Full Committee Hearing
5 p.m., HVC-304 Capitol Visitor Center

Human Rights and Statelessness
Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission (TLHRC)
Full Committee Hearing
1:30 p.m., 2172 Rayburn Bldg.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

House Committees

Biotechnology Cost and Legal Issues
House Agriculture
Full Committee Hearing
10 a.m., 1300 Longworth Bldg.

Fiscal 2016 Appropriations: Agriculture
House Appropriations – Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies
Subcommittee Hearing
10 a.m., 2362-A Rayburn Bldg.

Fiscal 2016 Appropriations: Defense
House Appropriations – Subcommittee on Defense
Subcommittee Hearing
10 a.m., H-140 Capitol Bldg.

Fiscal 2016 Appropriations: Energy-Water
House Appropriations – Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development
Subcommittee Hearing
10 a.m., 2362-B Rayburn Bldg.

Fiscal 2016 Appropriations: Financial Services
House Appropriations – Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government
Subcommittee Hearing
11 a.m., 2359 Rayburn Bldg.

Fiscal 2016 Appropriations: Homeland Security
House Appropriations – Subcommittee on Homeland Security
Subcommittee Hearing
10 a.m., H-309 Capitol Bldg.

Native American Public and Outside Witness Hearing
House Appropriations – Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies
Subcommittee Hearing
9 a.m., B-308 Rayburn Bldg.

Fiscal 2016 Appropriations: Labor, HHS, Education
House Appropriations – Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies
Subcommittee Hearing
10 a.m., 2358-C Rayburn Bldg.

Fiscal 2016 Appropriations: Transportation-HUD
House Appropriations – Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies
Subcommittee Hearing
10 a.m., 2358-A Rayburn Bldg.

Employment Practices Legislation
House Education and the Workforce – Subcommittee on Workforce Protections
Subcommittee Hearing
10 a.m., 2175 Rayburn Bldg.

Internet Technology Issues
House Energy and Commerce – Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade
Subcommittee Hearing
11 a.m., 2123 Rayburn Bldg.

Drug Pricing Assessment
House Energy and Commerce – Subcommittee on Health
Subcommittee Hearing
10 a.m., 2322 Rayburn Bldg.

SEC Fiscal 2016 Budget
House Financial Services
Full Committee Hearing
10 a.m., HVC-210 Capitol Visitor Center

U.S.-South Asia Relations
House Foreign Affairs – Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific
Subcommittee Hearing
11 a.m., 2172 Rayburn Bldg.

State Department, USAID Oversight
House Foreign Affairs – Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere
Subcommittee Hearing
March 24, 11 a.m., 2255 Rayburn Bldg.

Global Terrorism Issues
House Homeland Security
Full Committee Hearing
10:30 a.m., 311 Cannon Bldg.

Forest Service, BLM Fiscal 2016 Budget
House Natural Resources – Subcommittee on Federal Lands
Subcommittee Hearing
10 a.m., 1324 Longworth Bldg.

Water Resources Fiscal 2016 Budget
House Natural Resources – Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans
Subcommittee Oversight Hearing
10:30 a.m., 1334 Longworth Bldg.

Secret Service Oversight
House Oversight and Government Reform
Full Committee Hearing
10 a.m., 2154 Rayburn Bldg.

Space Telescope Research
House Science, Space and Technology – Subcommittee on Space
Subcommittee Hearing
10 a.m., 2318 Rayburn Bldg.

FAA Air Traffic Control Issues
House Transportation and Infrastructure – Subcommittee on Aviation
Subcommittee Hearing
10 a.m., 2167 Rayburn Bldg.

Medicare Fraud Issues
House Ways and Means – Subcommittee on Oversight
Subcommittee Hearing
10 a.m., B-318 Rayburn Bldg.

CFTC Reauthorization
House Agriculture – Subcommittee on Commodity Exchanges, Energy, and Credit
Subcommittee Hearing
1 p.m., 1300 Longworth Bldg.

Fiscal 2016 Appropriations: State-Foreign Operations
House Appropriations – Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs
Subcommittee Hearing
2 p.m., 2359 Rayburn Bldg.

Atomic Energy Fiscal 2016 Budget
House Armed Services – Subcommittee on Strategic Forces
Subcommittee Hearing
3:30 p.m., 2118 Rayburn Bldg.

Improving Coal Combustion Residuals Regulation Act
House Energy and Commerce – Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy
Subcommittee Hearing
2 p.m., 2123 Rayburn Bldg.

FDIC and Operation Choke Point
House Financial Services – Subcommittee on Capital Markets and Government Sponsored Enterprises
Subcommittee Hearing
2 p.m., HVC-210 Capitol Bldg.

Global Anti-Semitism Issues
House Foreign Affairs – Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations
Subcommittee Hearing
2:30 p.m., 2175 Rayburn Bldg.

Iran and IAEA Compliance
House Foreign Affairs – Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa
Subcommittee Hearing
2 p.m., 2172 Rayburn Bldg.

USGS Fiscal 2016 Budget
House Natural Resources – Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources
Subcommittee Oversight Hearing
1 p.m., 1324 Longworth Bldg.

Office of Energy Efficiency Oversight
House Science, Space and Technology – Subcommittee on Energy
Subcommittee Hearing
2 p.m., 2318 Rayburn Bldg.

Veterans Work and Education Legislation
House Veterans’ Affairs – Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity
Subcommittee Hearing
2 p.m., 334 Cannon Bldg.

Senate Committees

EPA Proposed Waters Rule Impact
Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry
Full Committee Hearing
10 a.m., 106 Dirksen Bldg.

U.S. Middle East Policy
Senate Armed Services
Full Committee Hearing
9:30 a.m., 216 Hart Bldg.

Regional Bank Regulation
Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs
Full Committee Hearing
10 a.m., 538 Dirksen Bldg.

Surface Transportation Reauthorization
Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation – Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security
Subcommittee Hearing
10 a.m., 253 Russell Bldg.

U.S. Forest Systems Evaluation
Senate Energy and Natural Resources
Full Committee Hearing
10 a.m., 366 Dirksen Bldg.

Transnational Crime and Border Security
Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
Full Committee Hearing
10 a.m., 342 Dirksen Bldg.

Judiciary Nominations
Senate Judiciary
Full Committee Confirmation Hearing
10 a.m., 226 Dirksen Bldg.

Capital and Small Business Issues
Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs – Subcommittee on Securities, Insurance and Investment
Subcommittee Hearing
2:30 p.m., 538 Dirksen Bldg.

Unmanned Aircraft Systems
Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation – Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety and Security
Subcommittee Hearing
2:30 p.m., 253 Russell Bldg.

Veterans Choice Act
Senate Veterans’ Affairs
Full Committee Hearing
2:30 p.m., 418 Russell Bldg.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

House Committees 

CFTC Reauthorization
House Agriculture – Subcommittee on Commodity Exchanges, Energy, and Credit
Subcommittee Hearing
1:30 p.m., 1300 Longworth Bldg.

Meat Labeling Regulatory Issues
House Agriculture – Subcommittee on Livestock and Foreign Agriculture
Subcommittee Hearing
9 a.m., 1300 Longworth Bldg.

Native American Public and Outside Witness Hearing
House Appropriations – Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies
Subcommittee Hearing
9 a.m., B-308 Rayburn Bldg.; 12:30 p.m., B-308 Rayburn Bldg.

Fiscal 2016 Appropriations: Energy-Water
House Appropriations – Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development
Subcommittee Hearing
9:30 a.m., 2362-B Rayburn Bldg.

Fiscal 2016 Appropriations: Labor, HHS, Education
House Appropriations – Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies
Subcommittee Hearing
8:30 a.m., 2358-C Rayburn Bldg.

Fiscal 2016 Appropriations: Transportation-HUD
House Appropriations – Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies
Subcommittee Hearing
9 a.m., 2358-A Rayburn Bldg.

Patent Litigation Issues
House Judiciary – Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet
Subcommittee Hearing
10 a.m., 2141 Rayburn Bldg.

Fiscal 2016 Appropriations: Commerce-Justice-Science
House Appropriations – Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies
Subcommittee Hearing
1 p.m., H-309 Capitol Bldg.

Fiscal 2016 Appropriations: Financial Services
House Appropriations – Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government
Subcommittee Hearing
2:30 p.m., 2362-A Rayburn Bldg.

Public and Outside Witness Hearing
House Appropriations – Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs
Subcommittee Hearing
2 p.m., 2358-C Rayburn Bldg.

Military Compensation Retirement Commission
House Armed Services – Subcommittee on Military Personnel
Subcommittee Hearing
2 p.m., 2212 Rayburn Bldg.

Fiscal 2016 Defense Authorization: WMD Strategy
House Armed Services – Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities
Subcommittee Hearing
3:30 p.m., 2118 Rayburn Bldg.

National Security Space Fiscal 2016 Budget
House Armed Services – Subcommittee on Strategic Forces
Subcommittee Hearing
5 p.m., 2212 Rayburn Bldg.

Child Abduction and Goldman Act Implementation
House Foreign Affairs – Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations
Subcommittee Hearing
2 p.m., 2172 Rayburn Bldg.

Changing Crude Oil Market Conditions Bill
House Foreign Affairs – Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade
Subcommittee Markup
1:30 p.m., 2172 Rayburn Bldg.

TSA PreCheck Assessment
House Homeland Security – Subcommittee on Transportation Security
Subcommittee Hearing
2 p.m., 311 Cannon Bldg.

FCC Net Neutrality Rule
House Judiciary
Full Committee Hearing
2 p.m., 2141 Rayburn Bldg.

Senate Committees

Fiscal 2016 Defense Authorization: Navy, Marine Corp Aviation
Senate Armed Services – Subcommittee on Seapower
Subcommittee Hearing
9 a.m., 222 Russell Bldg.

Central American Migration
Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
Full Committee Hearing
10 a.m., 342 Dirksen Bldg.

Fiscal 2016 Defense Authorization: U.S. Forces Readiness
Senate Armed Services – Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support
Subcommittee Hearing
2:30 p.m., 232A, Russell Bldg.

Fiscal 2016 Defense Authorization: Ballistic Missile Defense Policy
Senate Armed Services – Subcommittee on Strategic Forces
Subcommittee Hearing
2:30 p.m., 222 Russell Bldg.

Financial Stability Oversight Counsel Transparency
Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs
Full Committee Hearing
March 25, 2 p.m., 538 Dirksen Bldg.

Foreign Relations Nominations
Senate Foreign Relations
Full Committee Markup
2:15 p.m., 419 Dirksen Bldg.

Carcieri v. Salazar Decision
Senate Indian Affairs
Full Committee Panel Discussion
2:30 p.m., 216 Hart Bldg.

Alzheimer’s Disease
Senate Special Aging
Full Committee Hearing
2:15 p.m., 106 Dirksen Bldg.

Thursday, March 26, 2015 

House Committees

Agricultural Act Implementation Issues
House Agriculture – Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management
Subcommittee Hearing
9 a.m., 1300 Longworth Bldg.

Federal Neuroscience Investments
House Appropriations – Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies
Subcommittee Oversight Hearing
10:30 a.m., H-309 Capitol Bldg.

Fiscal 2016 Appropriations: Defense
House Appropriations – Subcommittee on Defense
Subcommittee Hearing
10 a.m., H-140 Capitol Bldg.

Fiscal 2016 Appropriations: Homeland Security
House Appropriations – Subcommittee on Homeland Security
Subcommittee Hearing
9 a.m., 2359 Rayburn Bldg.

Defense Department Readiness
House Armed Services – Subcommittee on Readiness
Subcommittee Hearing
8 a.m., 2212 Rayburn Bldg.

Combat Aviation Fiscal 2016 Budget
House Armed Services – Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces
Subcommittee Hearing
9 a.m., 2118 Rayburn Bldg.

Science and Technology Fiscal 2016 Budget
House Armed Services – Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities
Subcommittee Hearing
10:30 a.m., 2212 Rayburn Bldg.

Spectrum Policy Outlook
House Energy and Commerce – Subcommittee on Communications and Technology
Subcommittee Hearing
10:15 a.m., 2322 Rayburn Bldg.

Prescription Drug and Heroin Abuse Issues
House Energy and Commerce – Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations
Subcommittee Hearing
10 a.m., 2123 Rayburn Bldg.

BLM, Forest Service Fiscal 2016 Budget
House Natural Resources – Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources
Subcommittee Hearing
9 a.m., 1324 Longworth Bldg.

EPA Record Maintenance Oversight
House Science, Space and Technology – Subcommittee on Environment; House Science, Space and Technology – Subcommittee on Oversight
Committee Joint Hearing
10 a.m., 2318 Rayburn Bldg.

Senate Committees

Fiscal 2016 Defense Authorization: Central, Africa, Special Operations Command
Senate Armed Services
Full Committee Hearing
9:30 a.m., G-50 Dirksen Bldg.

Quadrennial Energy Review
Senate Energy and Natural Resources
Full Committee Hearing
9:30 a.m., 366 Dirksen Bldg.

Immigration and Border Issues
Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
Full Committee Hearing
10 a.m., 342 Dirksen Bldg.

Opioid Prescription Policy
Senate Veterans’ Affairs
Full Committee Hearing
10 a.m., 418 Russell Bldg.

Why AGOA should be extended for 15 years: An Ethiopian case study

Posted in Africa

It is frequently said that investing in Africa is not for the faint-hearted.

It is less well appreciated that entering the U.S. market is not for the faint-hearted either, especially by those small and medium businesses in Africa that AGOA was designed to benefit.

For the last 24 months, the African Union and African diplomatic corps in Washington have been advocating a 15-year extension of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). The Obama administration has also called for a 15-year extension.

Recently, I spent a week in Ethiopia last month meeting with many businesses working to take advantage of AGOA.[i] I gained the clear impression that a 15-year extension is needed for Ethiopia and that most other African countries would benefit in the same way.

Ethiopia’s trade priorities and business environment

In many respects, Ethiopia works well as a representative AGOA country. It is an agriculture-based economy and, with 94 million people, the second-most populous nation in Africa. The country has experienced impressive economic growth of 10.7 percent from 2003 to 2012 and actually has no oil and few minerals to export. It is one of the poorest countries in the world, ranking 173 out of 187 countries in the 2013 UNDP Human Development Index.

Since 2001 when AGOA went into effect, Ethiopia’s AGOA exports—principally apparel and textiles, leather products, and horticulture—increased by 150 percent. While this might sound encouraging as a percentage, Ethiopia’s AGOA exports were a mere $35 million in 2013. In fact, as the World Bank recently noted, Ethiopia is underperforming not so much in the current utilization rates of trade preferences, but rather in the volume of exports it could be sending to the U.S. and other countries. For example, though Ethiopia and Vietnam have roughly the same population, Ethiopia exports less than $3 billion to the EU and U.S., while Vietnam exports $120 billion, even though it faces higher tariffs.

Competing national priorities are one reason why the number of Ethiopian AGOA exports is so small. Working with local companies to navigate the complexities of the U.S. market under AGOA has taken a back seat to the government’s more immediate need to increase productivity in the agricultural sector, launch major infrastructure projects, and negotiate entry to the World Trade Organization and the emerging tripartite free market of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, the East African Community, and the Southern African Development Community in an effort to increase regional exports. The conflicts in neighboring Sudan, South Sudan, and Somalia also require significant government attention and resources.

Ethiopia’s business environment is also a major obstacle. The country ranks 125th out of 189 economies in the 2014 World Bank Doing Business report and 166th for “Starting a Business.” In addition, lack of access to credit and reliable internet considerably hinder business development and innovation.

U.S. non-tariff barriers also constrain Ethiopia’s exports to the U.S. under AGOA. Last year, a group of Ethiopian horticulture companies sent a consignment of roses to the U.S. for sale for Valentine’s Day in an effort to break into the U.S. market. Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has not delivered on its commitment to establish a fumigation center at Dulles airport in Washington, D.C. (the port of entry for Ethiopian Airlines), and the roses were destroyed. With Ethiopian Airlines set to expand service to Los Angeles in June, this bottleneck needs to be removed quickly, especially given the potential for Ethiopian horticulture to be competitive in the U.S.

In fact, the expansion of Ethiopia’s horticulture is a “spectacular export success” of the past decade,  apart from its inability to access the U.S. market. The sector now consists of 100 firms, generates $200 million of export earnings, and employs 300,000, directly and indirectly. 

Ethiopia and AGOA: Great success and immense potential

At the same time, Ethiopia is at the forefront of utilizing AGOA: It is among the first countries to develop an AGOA strategy, a draft of which was completed in October 2013. More recently, an AGOA Center was established in the Ministry of Trade with a mandate to help Ethiopian companies take advantage of the legislation.

Ethiopia is creating opportunities around AGOA outside of the government as well: Three years ago, as a result of significant government investments, the Ethiopian Institute of Textile and Fashion Technology opened at Bahir Dar University. Last year’s graduating class of 45 were all employed by Ethiopian apparel companies. While this number might seem small, it is actually impressive and suggests that the institute has the potential to become a center of excellence on the continent for apparel design and the backbone of a robust national apparel industry.

Ethiopian companies are just beginning to find American buyers interested to source from the country. Bahir Dar Tannery, an 18-year-old company that has been exporting gloves to Italy, Japan, and Sweden is in the final stages of completing an agreement to supply Wal-Mart. Once finalized, the agreement would lead to increased production from 10,000 to 50,000 pairs of gloves a month, which could lead employment to increase from about 200 workers to two shifts of 350. Bahir Dar Tannery is just one of numerous companies in Ethiopia working to utilize AGOA.

International apparel companies are also looking to locate in Ethiopia in order to access the U.S. market under AGOA. Phillips-Van Heusen (PVH) Corporation, which owns the Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein labels, is considering a major investment that would include integrated cotton and apparel production. A privately owned Chinese company, Huajian shoes, has already established a production facility, and, last year, the company’s 3,500 workers produced 2 million pairs of shoes. Huajian will soon expand to 10,000 employees and develop apparel and leather products for export.

Ethiopia and AGOA are both are at key transition points. Ethiopia is about to issue its second Growth and Transformation Plan (2016-2020), which is expected to place an emphasis on the promotion of light manufacturing in an effort to shift labor from low to high productivity. In fact, Ethiopia’s potential in light manufacturing is significant: Ethiopian manufacturing firms have grown at 9.8 percent over the last decade, and they can help absorb the 2.5 million young and semi-skilled people who enter the country’s job market each year. This is precisely what AGOA was intended to achieve.

There are concerns that sub-Saharan Africa’s rapid economic growth has not led to an economic transformation toward higher productivity and economic diversification. Across the continent, fewer than 10 percent of workers find manufacturing jobs and in Ethiopia only 3 percent of workers do. Clearly, the principal sector that can accelerate this economic transformation is manufacturing.

A short-term renewal of AGOA would compound the complexities and uncertainties of accessing the U.S. market. As a result, a short-term renewal would deny Ethiopia and the majority of African countries a vital policy instrument with which to transition to more inclusive and higher-value economic growth. Given that the apparel and other industries place orders month or even years in advance, a long-term extension would be particularly helpful. Some African countries, such as Mauritius, Lesotho, and Kenya have relatively robust light-manufacturing sectors and, as a result, benefit from AGOA. The vast majority of the 41 African countries that participate in AGOA, however, need significantly more time for the legislation to achieve its intended results. When Congress does vote to renew AGOA, it needs ensure that the legislation will be in place for the next 15 years.

______________
[i] The visit was sponsored by the U.S. State Department’s International Visitor’s program.

Note: This piece originally appeared on the Brookings Africa Growth Initiative’s blog Africa in Focus.

This Week in Congress – March 16, 2015

Posted in Congressional Action

The House of Representatives returns from a district work period on Monday March 16.  The House is set to take up five health-related bills and a bill dealing with volunteer firefighters and emergency responders under suspension of the rules.  The bills are expected to pass with large majorities.

The House will then turn to the bills it had planned to consider before its recess week started early due to heavy snow in Washington two weeks ago.  It will take up bills to address Republican concerns with the manner in which the Environmental Protection Agency relies on science in developing its regulations.  One bill is the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act, sponsored by former House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK), and the second is the Secret Science Reform Act, sponsored by Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX).  Both bills passed the House last year but were never considered by the then-Democratic-controlled Senate.  Both bills have received veto threats from the Administration.

The House will then consider S.J. Res. 8, the Senate-approved resolution to undo the National Labor Relations Board’s so-called “ambush elections” rule that is meant to make it easier for unions to win representation elections. While the Senate passed the resolution by a vote of 53-46, that margin is insufficient to override a promised Presidential veto.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy had expressed to his colleagues desire to try and tackle the so-called “doc fix” bill this week, but the House schedule does not provide for its consideration.  The legislation is needed to address the payment rate to physicians under Medicare. The current temporary provision that prevents drastic cuts to payment rates to physicians will expire at the end of this month.  Rumors abound of a possible deal to prevent the need to pass short-term patches to the existing Sustainable Growth Rate, by which the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services manages the growth in costs of the Medicare program.  So we know that legislation to address this issue will definitely be on the agenda of both chambers during the week of March 23.

The Senate also returns on Monday and plans to vote on the nomination of Carlos A. Monje to be an Assistant Secretary of Transportation and on the nomination of Manson K. Brown to be an Assistant Secretary of Commerce.

The Senate is then expected to resume consideration of S.178, Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015. Consideration of the bill hit a snag last week over a provision dealing with abortion.  The provision, an expansion of the Hyde Amendment, would prevent any of the funds reserved for trafficking victims from being used on abortions or Plan B contraception.  The language went unnoticed when the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved the bill on March 2.  Only after agreeing on the motion to proceed to the bill did Senate Democrats note the inclusion of the language.  Since then, they have blocked progress on the bill.  Majority Leader McConnell has filed cloture on the bill, setting up a Tuesday morning vote that is likely to fail without Democratic support.  A companion bill was passed by the House of Representatives in January without the abortion provision attached.

Last week,, Leader McConnell announced that later this week the Senate would take up the nomination of Loretta Lynch to be U.S. Attorney General.  Senate Democrats have been pressing for a vote on the Lynch nomination since the Judiciary Committee approved it three weeks ago.  While Ms. Lynch was approved by the committee by a vote of 12-8, with three Republican members voting in favor of the nominee, debate on the Senate floor is expected to be highly partisan, and it remains unclear whether any individual members may try to filibuster a vote.  Some conservative senators have stated they will oppose her nomination based on her support of the Administration’s immigration policy.  While a very close vote is highly likely, Ms. Lynch is expected to be confirmed eventually.

In addition to the debate surrounding Ms. Lynch, immigration policy will be the focus of several hearings in the House and Senate this week. The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Oversight will review the implications of Texas v. United States, the case brought by 26 states challenging President Barack Obama’s recent executive actions on immigration, granting  deferred action for immigrants in the country illegally and attendant benefits.  On February 16, a Texas federal district judge issued an injunction against the Obama Administration’s immigration actions, essentially putting them on hold.   The Department of Justice has asked a federal appeals court to lift the injunction.  Two House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittees will also hold a joint hearing on the President’s Executive Actions on immigration.  The House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security will examine the visa waiver program.  On the Senate side, the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday will focus on immigration reform and skilled worker programs.  The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will examine security on the southwest border.

The Federal Communications Commission’s net neutrality regulations is another major topic this week on both sides of the hill.  Released last Friday, Congressional Republicans have called the new rules an “overreach.”  The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will host a hearing on Wednesday on the topic of FCC Oversight at which all five commissioners will appear before the committee, making for an interesting hearing after the 3-2 decision on the new net neutrality regulations.  The process by which the FCC developed the net neutrality rules is the subject of a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on Tuesday.  Members will undoubtedly examine the influence purportedly exerted by the Obama Administration in the FCC rulemaking, as the FCC is ostensibly an independent agency.  On Thursday, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology will hold an FCC oversight hearing.

Also of note on the hearing schedule, on Tuesday, former Indiana Governor and current Purdue University president Mitch Daniels will be testifying before the House Education & Workforce Committee regarding higher education issues; Treasury Secretary Jack Lew will testify before the House Financial Services Committee; and North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory will appear before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee regarding surface transportation reauthorization bill.  On Wednesday, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter will appear before the House Armed Services Committee to discuss the President’s proposed authorization for the use of military force against Islamic State terrorists and the Defense Department’s Fiscal Year 2016 budget request; Secretary of Labor Tom Perez will testify before the House Education & Workforce Committee regarding the  Department of Labor FY16 budget proposal.

These hearings and other key congressional hearings in a busy week are listed below:

Monday March 16, 2015

House Committees

Federal Leased Office Space Issues
House Transportation and Infrastructure – Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management
Subcommittee Panel Discussion
10 a.m., Atlanta Conference Room, Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Building, 77 Forsyth St., Atlanta, Ga.

Fiscal 2016 Appropriations: Financial Services
House Appropriations – Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government
Subcommittee Hearing
3 p.m., 2359 Rayburn Bldg.

Intelligence Issues
House Select Intelligence
Full Committee Hearing
5 p.m., HVC-304 Capitol Visitor Center

Veterans Affairs and Transparency Issues
House Veterans’ Affairs
Full Committee Hearing
7:30 p.m., 334 Cannon Bldg.

Senate Committees

Improper Payments and the Death Master File
Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
Full Committee Hearing
4 p.m., 342 Dirksen Bldg.

Tuesday March 17, 2015

House Committees

Fiscal 2016 Appropriations: Agriculture
House Appropriations – Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies
Subcommittee Hearing
10 a.m., 2362-A Rayburn Bldg.

Fiscal 2016 Appropriations: Commerce-Justice-Science
House Appropriations – Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies
Subcommittee Hearing
10:30 a.m., H-309 Capitol Bldg.; March 18, 10:30 a.m., H-309 Capitol Bldg.

Fiscal 2016 Appropriations: Defense
House Appropriations – Subcommittee on Defense
Subcommittee Hearing
10 a.m., H-140 Capitol Bldg.

Fiscal 2016 Appropriations: Energy-Water
House Appropriations – Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development
Subcommittee Hearing
10 a.m., 2362-B Rayburn Bldg.

Fiscal 2016 Appropriations: Financial Services
House Appropriations – Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government
Subcommittee Hearing
11 a.m., HT-2 Capitol Bldg.

Fiscal 2016 Appropriations: Homeland Security
House Appropriations – Subcommittee on Homeland Security
Subcommittee Hearing
10 a.m., 2359 Rayburn Bldg.

Fiscal 2016 Appropriations: Labor, HHS, Education
House Appropriations – Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies
Subcommittee Hearing
10 a.m., 2358-C Rayburn Bldg.

Fiscal 2016 Appropriations: Transportation-HUD
House Appropriations – Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies
Subcommittee Hearing
10 a.m., 2358-A Rayburn Bldg.

Fiscal 2016 Defense Authorization: Military Departments
House Armed Services
Full Committee Hearing
10 a.m., 2118 Rayburn Bldg.

U.S. Higher Education Issues
House Education and the Workforce – Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training
Subcommittee Hearing
10 a.m., 2175 Rayburn Bldg.

EPA Proposed Power Plant Rule
House Energy and Commerce – Subcommittee on Energy and Power
Subcommittee Hearing
10 a.m., 2123 Rayburn Bldg.

International Financial System
House Financial Services
Full Committee Hearing
10 a.m., HVC-210 Capitol Visitor Center

Foreign Aid Fiscal 2016 Budget
House Foreign Affairs
Full Committee Hearing
10 a.m., 2172 Rayburn Bldg.

Visa Waiver Program and National Security
House Homeland Security – Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security
Subcommittee Hearing
10 a.m., 311 Cannon Bldg.

Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act
House Judiciary – Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice
Subcommittee Hearing
10 a.m., 2141 Rayburn Bldg.

National Park Service Fiscal 2016 Budget
House Natural Resources – Subcommittee on Federal Lands
Subcommittee Oversight Hearing
9:30 a.m., 1334 Longworth Bldg.

Natural Resources Fiscal 2016 Budget
House Natural Resources – Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources
Subcommittee Oversight Hearing
10 a.m., 1324 Longworth Bldg.

FCC: Process and Transparency
House Oversight and Government Reform
Full Committee Hearing
10 a.m., 2154 Rayburn Bldg.

EPA Proposed Ozone Standards
House Science, Space and Technology
Full Committee Hearing
10 a.m., 2318 Rayburn Bldg.

Contracting and Industrial Base
House Small Business – Subcommittee on Contracting and Workforce
Subcommittee Hearing
10 a.m., 2360 Rayburn Bldg.

Surface Transportation Reauthorization
House Transportation and Infrastructure
Full Committee Hearing
9:30 a.m., 2167 Rayburn Bldg.

Coast Guard Mission Assessment
House Transportation and Infrastructure – Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation
Subcommittee Hearing
10:30 a.m., 2253 Rayburn Bldg.

Low-Income Funding Issues
House Ways and Means – Subcommittee on Human Resources
Subcommittee Hearing
10 a.m., B-318 Rayburn Bldg.

Fiscal 2016 Appropriations: Interior-Environment
House Appropriations – Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies
Subcommittee Hearing
1 p.m., B-308 Rayburn Bldg.

Proposed Waters Rule and Rural America
House Agriculture – Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry
Subcommittee Hearing
2 p.m., 1300 Longworth Bldg.

Space Access Issues
House Armed Services – Subcommittee on Strategic Forces
Subcommittee Hearing
3:30 p.m., 2118 Rayburn Bldg.

Fiscal 2016 Appropriations: State-Foreign Operations
House Appropriations – Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs
Subcommittee Hearing
2:30 p.m., H-140 Capitol Bldg.

National Security and Trade Agreements
House Foreign Affairs – Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade
Subcommittee Hearing
2 p.m., 2172 Rayburn Bldg.

Immigration Executive Action
House Oversight and Government Reform – Subcommittee on Health Care, Benefits and Administrative Rules; House Oversight and Government Reform – Subcommittee on National Security
Committee Joint Hearing
2 p.m., 2154 Rayburn Bldg.

Intelligence Issues
House Select Intelligence
Full Committee Hearing
1 p.m., HVC-304 Capitol Visitor Center

Veteran Educational Issues
House Veterans’ Affairs – Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity
Subcommittee Hearing
2 p.m., 334 Cannon Bldg.

Senate Committees

Agriculture Trade with Cuba
Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry
Full Committee Hearing
10 a.m., 328A Russell Bldg.

Fiscal 2016 Defense Authorization: China-Russia Strategic Competition
Senate Armed Services
Full Committee Hearing
9 a.m., SVC-217 Capitol Visitor Center

Systemically Important Financial Institutions
Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs
Full Committee Hearing
10 a.m., 538 Dirksen Bldg.; March 19, 10 a.m., 538 Dirksen Bldg.

TSA Fiscal 2016 Budget
Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation – Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety and Security
Subcommittee Hearing
2:30 p.m., 253 Russell Bldg.

Electric Grid Technology
Senate Energy and Natural Resources
Full Committee Hearing
10 a.m., 366 Dirksen Bldg.

Recreational Hunting Legislation
Senate Environment and Public Works – Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife and Water
Subcommittee Hearing
10 a.m., 406 Dirksen Bldg.

U.S. International Tax System
Senate Finance
Full Committee Hearing
10 a.m., 215 Dirksen Bldg.

Politics and Economy in Venezuela
Senate Foreign Relations – Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights and Global Women’s Issues
Subcommittee Hearing
10 a.m., 419 Dirksen Bldg.

Health IT Innovation
Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
Full Committee Hearing
10 a.m., 430 Dirksen Bldg.

Southwest Border Security
Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
Full Committee Hearing
10 a.m., 342 Dirksen Bldg.

Immigration Overhaul
Senate Judiciary
Full Committee Hearing
10 a.m., 226 Dirksen Bldg.

Wednesday March 18, 2015

House Committees

Trade and Agriculture
House Agriculture
Full Committee Hearing
10 a.m., 1300 Longworth Bldg.

Fiscal 2016 Appropriations: Agriculture
House Appropriations – Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies
Subcommittee Hearing
10 a.m., 2362-A Rayburn Bldg.

Fiscal 2016 Appropriations: Commerce-Justice-Science
House Appropriations – Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies
Subcommittee Hearing
10:30 a.m., H-309 Capitol Bldg.

Fiscal 2016 Appropriations: Energy-Water
House Appropriations – Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development
Subcommittee Hearing
10 a.m., 2362-B Rayburn Bldg.

Fiscal 2016 Appropriations: Defense
House Appropriations – Subcommittee on Defense
Subcommittee Hearing
Noon, H-140 Capitol Bldg.

Fiscal 2016 Appropriations: Financial Services
House Appropriations – Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government
Subcommittee Hearing
11 a.m., 2359 Rayburn Bldg.

Public and Outside Witness Hearing
House Appropriations – Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies
Subcommittee Hearing
9 a.m., B-308 Rayburn Bldg.; 1 p.m., B-308 Rayburn Bldg.

Higher Education Issues
House Appropriations – Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies
Subcommittee Oversight Hearing
9:30 a.m., 2358-C Rayburn Bldg.

Fiscal 2016 Defense Authorization: DoD and AUMF
House Armed Services
Full Committee Hearing
10 a.m., 2118 Rayburn Bldg.

Labor Department Fiscal 2016 Budget
House Education and the Workforce
Full Committee Hearing
10 a.m., 2175 Rayburn Bldg.

Data Security and Breach Notification Act of 2015
House Energy and Commerce – Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade
Subcommittee Hearing
10 a.m., 2123 Rayburn Bldg.

Improving Coal Combustion Residuals Regulation Act
House Energy and Commerce – Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy
Subcommittee Hearing
10:15 a.m., 2322 Rayburn Bldg.

Consumer Financial Issues
House Financial Services
Full Committee Hearing
10 a.m., HVC-210 Capitol Visitor Center

Drone Security Issues
House Homeland Security – Subcommittee on Oversight and Management Efficiency
Subcommittee Hearing
10 a.m., 311 Cannon Bldg.

Iran and Hezbollah in the Western Hemisphere
House Foreign Affairs – Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere; House Foreign Affairs – Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa
Committee Joint Hearing
10:15 a.m., 2172 Rayburn Bldg.

U.S. Support for African Elections
House Foreign Affairs – Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations
Subcommittee Hearing
10:15 a.m., 2255 Rayburn Bldg.

Office of Surface Mining Fiscal 2016 Budget
House Natural Resources – Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources
Subcommittee Oversight Hearing
10:30 a.m., 1334 Longworth Bldg.

Small Business Manufacturer Issues
House Small Business
Full Committee Hearing
11 a.m., 2360 Rayburn Bldg.

EPA Fiscal 2016 Budget
House Transportation and Infrastructure – Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment
Subcommittee Hearing
10:30 a.m., 2167 Rayburn Bldg.

Estate Tax Issues
House Ways and Means – Subcommittee on Select Revenue Measures
Subcommittee Hearing
10 a.m., B-318 Rayburn Bldg.

Fiscal 2016 Appropriations: State-Foreign Operations
House Appropriations – Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs
Subcommittee Hearing
2 p.m., 2359 Rayburn Bldg.

Fiscal 2016 Appropriations: Military Construction-VA
House Appropriations – Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies
Subcommittee Hearing
2 p.m., 2358-C Rayburn Bldg.

Naval Cooperative Strategy
House Armed Services – Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces; House Transportation and Infrastructure – Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation
Committee Joint Hearing
2 p.m., 2118 Rayburn Bldg.

U.S. Special Operations Fiscal 2016 Budget
House Armed Services – Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities
Subcommittee Hearing
3:30 p.m., 2212 Rayburn Bldg.

Middle East Issues and Fiscal 2016 Budget
House Foreign Affairs – Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa
Subcommittee Hearing
2 p.m., 2172 Rayburn Bldg.

Indian Affairs Fiscal 2016 Budget
House Natural Resources – Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs
Subcommittee Oversight Hearing
2 p.m., 1324 Longworth Bldg.

Senate Committees

Fiscal 2016 Defense Authorization: Army, Air Force
Senate Armed Services
Full Committee Hearing
2:30 p.m., 106 Dirksen Bldg.

FCC Oversight
Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation
Full Committee Hearing
2:30 p.m., 253 Russell Bldg.

Indian Affairs Legislation and Nomination
Senate Indian Affairs
Full Committee Markup
2:30 p.m., 628 Dirksen Bldg.

Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act
Senate Indian Affairs
Full Committee Hearing
3:30 p.m., 628 Dirksen Bldg.

Patent Litigation Practices
Senate Judiciary
Full Committee Hearing
10 a.m., 226 Dirksen Bldg.

Joint Committees

Veterans Service Organizations Legislative Issues
House Veterans’ Affairs; Senate Veterans’ Affairs
Committees Joint Hearing
10 a.m., G-50 Dirksen Bldg.

Thursday March 19, 2015

House Committees

Fiscal 2016 Appropriations: Agriculture
House Appropriations – Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies
Subcommittee Hearing
10 a.m., 2362-A Rayburn Bldg.

United States European Command
House Appropriations – Subcommittee on Defense
Subcommittee Hearing
10 a.m., H-140 Capitol Bldg.

Fiscal 2016 Appropriations: Financial Services
House Appropriations – Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government
Subcommittee Hearing
11 a.m., 2362-B Rayburn Bldg.

Fiscal 2016 Appropriations: Homeland Security
House Appropriations – Subcommittee on Homeland Security
Subcommittee Hearing
10 a.m., 2359 Rayburn Bldg.

Fiscal 2016 Appropriations: Interior-Environment
House Appropriations – Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies
Subcommittee Hearing
9:30 a.m., B-308 Rayburn Bldg.

Veterans Affairs Inspector General Oversight
House Appropriations – Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies
Subcommittee Oversight Hearing
9:30 a.m., H-309 Capitol Bldg.

Fiscal 2016 Appropriations: Transportation-HUD
House Appropriations – Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies
Subcommittee Hearing
10 a.m., 2358-A Rayburn Bldg.

Missile Defense Fiscal 2016 Budget
House Armed Services – Subcommittee on Strategic Forces
Subcommittee Hearing
9 a.m., 2118 Rayburn Bldg.

Ground Force Programs Fiscal 2016 Budget
House Armed Services – Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces
Subcommittee Hearing
10:30 a.m., 2212 Rayburn Bldg.

Efficiency Standards for Grid-Enabled Water Heaters Bill
House Energy and Commerce – Subcommittee on Energy and Power
Subcommittee Hearing
10 a.m., 2322 Rayburn Bldg.

FCC Reauthorization Oversight
House Energy and Commerce – Subcommittee on Communications and Technology
Subcommittee Hearing
11 a.m., 2123 Rayburn Bldg.

SEC Division of Enforcement
House Financial Services – Subcommittee on Capital Markets and Government Sponsored Enterprises
Subcommittee Hearing
9 a.m., 2167 Rayburn Bldg.

Chemical Terrorism Response
House Homeland Security – Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response and Communications
Subcommittee Hearing
9:30 a.m., 311 Cannon Bldg.

Child Exploitation Legal Issues
House Judiciary – Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations
Subcommittee Hearing
10 a.m., 2141 Rayburn Bldg.

Fish and Wildlife Service, NOAA Fiscal 2016 Budget
House Natural Resources – Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans; House Natural Resources – Subcommittee on Federal Lands
Committee Joint Hearing
9:30 a.m., 1334 Longworth Bldg.

Cyber Threats and American Businesses
House Select Intelligence
Full Committee Hearing
9 a.m., HVC-210 Capitol Visitor Center

Contracting, Industrial Base and SBA Rulemaking
House Small Business – Subcommittee on Contracting and Workforce
Subcommittee Hearing
10 a.m., 2361 Rayburn Bldg.

Veterans Affairs Security Legislation
House Veterans’ Affairs – Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations
Subcommittee Hearing
8 a.m., 334 Cannon Bldg.

Senate Committees

Fiscal 2016 Defense Authorization: Strategic, Transportation and Cyber Commands
Senate Armed Services
Full Committee Hearing
9:30 a.m., G-50 Dirksen Bldg.

Fiscal 2016 Defense Authorization: Navy Shipbuilding
Senate Armed Services – Subcommittee on Seapower
Subcommittee Hearing
9:30 a.m., 222 Russell Bldg.

Regional Bank Regulation
Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs
Full Committee Hearing
10 a.m., 538 Dirksen Bldg.

Cyber Insurance Marketplace
Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation – Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance and Data Security
Subcommittee Hearing
10 a.m., 253 Russell Bldg.

Crude Oil Export Policy
Senate Energy and Natural Resources
Full Committee Hearing
10 a.m., 366 Dirksen Bldg.

U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit
Senate Foreign Relations – Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health Policy
Subcommittee Hearing
9:30 a.m., 419 Dirksen Bldg.

Regulatory Process Overhaul
Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
Full Committee Hearing
10 a.m., 342 Dirksen Bldg.

Fiscal 2016 Defense Authorization: Air Force Structure
Senate Armed Services – Subcommittee on Airland
Subcommittee Hearing
2:30 p.m., 222 Russell Bldg.

Texas V. United States Decision
Senate Judiciary – Subcommittee on Oversight, Agency Action, Federal Rights and Federal Courts
Subcommittee Hearing
3:30 p.m., 226 Dirksen Bldg.

Revenue from Drone Videos Could Convert Hobbyists into Commercial Operators, FAA Says

Posted in Drones

Last July, we raised the question of whether advertising revenue from hobbyists’ drone videos posted on YouTube could constitute commercial operations of a drone.  At the time, we noted that some hobbyists’ videos were preceded by advertisements, indicating that the videos were likely part of YouTube’s Partner Program, where a portion of the advertising revenue is paid to the video creator.  Because the FAA had already stated that selling images taken from drones was a commercial operation, we wondered if it would apply the same conclusion to YouTube ad revenue.

Yesterday, Motherboard revealed that at least one FAA official had indeed reached that conclusion.  In a warning letter issued on March 9, 2015, an aviation safety inspector in the Tampa (Fla.) Flight Standards District Office warned Jayson Hanes that he appeared to be operating a drone “for commercial purposes” by posting a video on YouTube.  According to the report, the FAA said that “because there are ads on YouTube, Hanes’s flights constituted a commercial use.”  Hanes told Motherboard that he only flew as a hobby, and he earned “less than a dollar” from the YouTube ads.

This is yet another example of the strange results that occur when traditional regulatory interpretations designed for aircraft are applied to drones.  Traditionally, the FAA has adopted a very broad view of activities that constitute commercial operations.  A series of FAA legal interpretations state that “anything of value” can constitute compensation to the pilot, which makes the flight a commercial operation.  The FAA has gone so far as to rule that receiving loggable flight time free of charge is compensation, and even simply receiving “goodwill” for giving someone a flight can be considered compensation.[1]

In an update to the Motherboard story, the FAA said that its guidance on drones did not address the question of advertising revenue.  The agency said it will now look into the issue.  It will be interesting to see which way the agency rules after its review.  Will the FAA permit incidental ad revenue on hobbyist videos?  Or will the agency perhaps be concerned that permitting incidental revenue will encourage hobbyists to record outrageous drone videos in the hopes of a viral (and financial) success?

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[1] See Legal Interpretation to John W. Harrington (Oct. 23, 1997); Blakey v. Murray, NTSB Order No. EA-5061 (Oct. 28, 2003).

EU Policy Update—March

Posted in EU Law and Regulatory

Last month the EU Agenda was dominated by three themes: 1) the Energy Union, 2) Greece and the future of the euro, and 3) tax planning and tax avoidance. Below we provide a brief summary of the key points.

1. Energy and climate change

On 25 February 2015, the European Commission presented its vision for a European Energy Union. This is the first major initiative by the new Commission and sheds light on the direction that Commission President Juncker wants to head in.

The Energy Union Communication is composed of 15 action items, which seek to address the EU’s security in energy supply, the further development of an internal energy market, an increase in energy efficiency, the EU’s policy on climate change as well as possible incentives for the research and development of new technologies in this field.

Commission officials have informed us that the keys to the success of the Energy Union will be the improvement of the European Emission Trading Scheme as well as a clear investment strategy, in particular for EU countries with a lower GDP per capita.

For more detailed analysis of the Energy Union package please read our latest blog entry here.

2. Economic & Monetary Union

Whereas in January news headlines revolved around the European Central Bank’s announcement of an expanded asset purchase programme—the Eurozone’s equivalent to the Quantitative Easing measures taken in the US and UK—February has been all about Greece’s request to prolong the Master Financial Assistance Facility Agreement (MFFA) signed in 2012.

The crux of the negotiations revolved around the conditions on the basis of which the current loan package would be extended. A lot of resistance to showing more (public) leniency with Greece came from other economically troubled countries, such as Spain, where the government fears the impact of a growing anti-austerity movement on its upcoming election results. In the end, on 24 February, the finance ministers of the Eurogroup agreed to grant Greece an extension of the existing MFFA, based on a renewed reform programme presented by the Greek government.

Looking to the future of the European Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), President Juncker made an interesting statement at the informal European Council meeting on 12 February. He insinuated, to the puzzlement of some Member States, that the report on the future of the EMU, which is being drafted by the four presidents (of the Commission, European Council, European Central Bank and Eurogroup) and due in June this year, considers the development of a “core” Europe a positive prospect.

3. Taxation

With media attention centring on “Swiss Leaks” and HSBC last month, President Juncker declared the issue of aggressive tax planning and tax avoidance by corporations in Europe a priority for the new Commission. On 18 February, the College of Commissioners had its first debate on a fairer and more transparent approach to taxation in the EU and agreed that increased transparency and co-operation in the area of corporate tax is needed. The Commission agreed to present a Tax Transparency Package in March.

In parallel, the Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament surprised everyone in January by gathering enough signatures to request the formation of a committee of inquiry on the matter of Luxleaks. The details of the committee’s responsibilities were ironed out in February. It received the status of special committee (and not committee of inquiry) and was awarded a broad mandate to investigate cases of breaches or poor application of EU law with regard to taxation. The first meeting is foreseen for this evening (9 March), when their mandate and working programme will be discussed.

5 Myths about Super PACs

Posted in Uncategorized

Few subjects in federal campaign finance law are so frequently garbled by commentators, the press and the public as what a Super PAC is and how it operates.  Here is a short list of common mistakes.

1.  Super PACS are “shadowy” “dark money” groups that mask where their money comes from and how its spent. 

Quite simply, nothing could be further from the truth.  A Super PAC is among the most transparent outside spending groups around, disclosing to the public the source of all of its funds (including the name, address, occupation and employer of every person that gives over $200 in a year) and how it spends all those funds (including the name and address of every person or vendor that receives over $200 in a year, including the purpose of the disbursement).  All that information is available on the web at www.fec.gov.  Some complain that the disclosure is not fast enough or frequent enough.  This is a problem mostly for those interested in the horse race aspect of politics.  Super PACs can chose to disclose their activities either monthly or quarterly in election years and either monthly or semi-annually in non-election years.  Others complain that entities such as 501(c)(4) social welfare groups (that do not publicly disclose their donors) can give to Super PACs and hence the source of those funds cannot be known.  This problem arises from the laws that govern 501(c)(4) groups, not Super PACs.

2.  Super PACs cannot talk to the candidates they support.

Wrong again.  Federal law prohibits Super PACs from making expenditures in cooperation, consultation, or concert with, or at the request or suggestion of, a candidate, but that is a far cry from a total ban on communications.  In fact, the FEC has specifically blessed candidates appearing at Super PAC fundraising events.  Candidates must comply with restrictions on raising non-federal funds and cannot communicate with the Super PAC about its expenditures in a way that violates the coordination rules.  So while Super PACs and candidates can talk about some things, like fundraising, they cannot talk about other things, like how the Super PAC is going to spend its money.

3.  Super PACs can contribute to candidates.

One thing that Super PACs cannot do is make contributions directly to federal candidates.  They can spend all they have explaining to citizens why they should vote for (or against) a particular candidate, but they cannot give a federal candidate (or her opponent) even a nickel as a contribution.

4.  Corporations use Super PACs to funnel money into politics.  

While corporations are permitted to give to Super PACs, very few do.  Those that do are often small or privately-held corporations.  The truth is that only on rare occasions have well-known, publicly-traded corporations given to a Super PAC.

5.  If we amend the Constitution, we can do away with Citizens United and the Super PACs it created. 

Well maybe, but Citizens United isn’t the problem.  The idea of “independent expenditures” having a higher level of constitutional protection dates back to at least the 1976 Supreme Court decision in Buckley v. Valeo (practically the age of the dinosaurs in campaign finance law) and in some ways, even earlier than that.  So a constitutional amendment that merely overturns Citizens United and bars corporations from making contributions or expenditures in federal elections will have very little practical effect on the Super PAC activity we have today.

This Week in Congress – March 9, 2015

Posted in Congressional Action

Members of the House of Representatives are back in their districts this week for a scheduled district work period, while the U.S. Senate is scheduled to begin consideration of  human trafficking legislation.

On Monday afternoon, the Senate returns to consider several nominations.  We anticipate one roll call vote on the confirmation of Daniel Marti to be the Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator at the White House, and three voice votes to confirm Michelle Lee to be Director of the Patent and Trademark Office, and Jeffery S. Hall and Dallas P. Tonsager to be members of the Farm Credit Administration Board.

The Senate is then expected to begin consideration of human trafficking legislation.  Majority Leader McConnell had initially announced that the Senate would be taking up a bill regarding Iran’s nuclear program, but he postponed a scheduled Tuesday floor vote due to opposition from nine Democratic and one Independent senators.  Introduced by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) and Ranking Member Robert Menendez (D-NJ), the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 would give Congress an up-or-down vote on any agreement that the U.S. and other international negotiators are able to strike with Iran on its nuclear program.  Republican leadership had planned on bypassing a Senate Foreign Relations Committee mark-up and bringing the bill directly to the floor.  In response, the bill’s Democratic co-sponsors wrote to Leader McConnell saying that they would oppose voting on the legislation before March 24, the deadline for the international negotiations with Iran.  Chairman Corker responded that he hoped to obtain a veto-proof majority for the bill when it is considered, and Leader McConnell chose to postpone consideration of the bill.

While waiting on the Iran nuclear negotiations, the Senate will move to consider two human trafficking bills that were approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee last week. The Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act, S. 166, is modeled after Minnesota’s “Safe Harbor” law that helps make sure minors sold for sex aren’t prosecuted as defendants but are instead treated as victims.  The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, S. 178, would empower law enforcement to further crack down on human traffickers in communities across the country while bringing about greater restitution and justice for victims.  Both bills were passed in the House of Representatives on January 27, 2015.

This past week, the Senate failed to override the President’ veto on S. 1, the Keystone XL Pipeline Act, by a vote of 62-37, with eight Democrats joining all Republicans to override the veto.  Republicans needed a two-thirds majority (67 votes if 100 Senators were present) in order to overcome the veto. This was the first time President Obama has vetoed legislation sent to him by the 114th Congress, with the new Republican majorities in both chambers.  Republicans have indicated they may attempt to attach the legislation to other must-pass bills this year.  Also last week the Senate approved a resolution to undo the National Labor Relations Board’s so-called “ambush elections” rule that is meant to make it easier for unions to win representation elections.  Using the mechanism provided by the Congressional Review Act, the Senate approved the resolution to overturn the new NLRB policy, but not with enough votes to override what will be a certain veto when the measure passes the House.

Democrats are pushing for Republican leadership to schedule a vote on Loretta Lynch, President Obama’s nominee for U.S. Attorney General.  The Senate Judiciary Committee reported out the nomination two weeks ago by a vote of 12-8, with three Republican members voting in favor of the nominee.  This delay has frustrated Senate Democrats, who believe the holdup is due to Ms. Lynch’s support of President Obama’s actions on immigration. On March 5, all 45 Senate Democrats signed a letter calling on Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring up the nomination for a vote: “Although a narrow minority of the Senate may want to use Ms. Lynch’s floor vote to protest the immigration enforcement priorities announced last year by the administration, there is simply no credible reason for further delay,” said the letter.  Leader McConnell has not yet indicated when the nomination might be scheduled for a vote.

Last week saw the first step in the eventual debate that will take place this year on raising the debt limit.  The Treasury Department had indicated earlier this year that record tax revenues would give the government enough room to borrow under the existing ceiling until the fall, but in a letter to congressional leaders on Friday, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew indicated that the Treasury would begin taking extraordinary measures to keep the government from default but asked “Congress to raise the debt limit as soon as possible.”  Congress will also need to address the payment rate to physicians under Medicare in March, because the current temporary provision that prevents drastic cuts to payment rates to physicians will expire this month.  Another short-term extension is likely, as Congress agrees on the need to fix the problem but has been unable to come to terms on how to pay for the fix.

This week, the Senate Finance Committee will hold a hearing on tax reform, while the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will focus on U.S. foreign policy in Ukraine, regional security in the Middle East, and authorization for the use of force against ISIS.  The Judiciary Committee’s Antitrust Subcommittee will hold a hearing on Tuesday to review the consent decrees that have governed the marketplace for music and songs for decades.  On Thursday, the Aging Committee will hold a hearing on retirement preparedness, an important issue for most Americans and their families.  A list of these and other Senate hearings scheduled for next week is included below:

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Fiscal 2016 Defense Authorization: Navy
Senate Armed Services
Full Committee Hearing
9:30 a.m., G-50 Dirksen Bldg.

Venture Exchanges and Small-Cap Companies
Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs – Subcommittee on Securities, Insurance and Investment
Subcommittee Hearing
10 a.m., 538 Dirksen Bldg.

Tax Code Overhaul
Senate Finance
Full Committee Hearing
10 a.m., 215 Dirksen Bldg.

U.S. Policy in Ukraine
Senate Foreign Relations
Full Committee Hearing
10 a.m., 419 Dirksen Bldg.

U.S. Medical Innovation
Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
Full Committee Hearing
10 a.m., 430 Dirksen Bldg.

Music Market Governance
Senate Judiciary – Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights
Subcommittee Hearing
10 a.m., 226 Dirksen Bldg.

FY16 and FY17 Veterans Health Administration Budget
Senate Appropriations  – Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs
Subcommittee Hearing
2:30 p.m., Dirksen Bldg.

Fiscal Year 2016 budget request for the CBO and Comptroller General
Senate Appropriations – Legislative Branch Subcommittee
Subcommittee Hearing
3:00 p.m., 138 Dirksen Bldg.

Iran and Regional Security
Senate Armed Services – Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities
Closed Hearing
2:30 p.m., SVC-217 Capitol Visitor Center

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

FY2016 National Nuclear Security Administration Budget Request
Senate Appropriations – Subcommittee on Energy & Water Development
Subcommittee Hearing
9:00 a.m., 138 Dirksen Bldg.

FY 2016 Indian Health Service Budget Request
Senate Appropriations – Interior Subcommittee
Subcommittee Hearing
10:00 a.m., 124 Dirksen Bldg.

Department of Housing and Urban Development FY2016 Budget Request
Senate Appropriations – Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development Subcommittee
Subcommittee Hearing
10:00 a.m., 562 Dirksen Bldg.

FY2016 U.S. Army Budget Request
Senate Appropriations – Defense Subcommittee
Subcommittee Hearing
10:30 a.m., 192 Dirksen Bldg.

Fiscal 2016 Defense Authorization: Marine Corps Modernization
Senate Armed Services – Subcommittee on Seapower
Subcommittee Hearing
9:30 a.m., 222 Russell Bldg.

U.S. Public Safety Broadband Network
Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation
Full Committee Hearing
10 a.m., 253 Russell Bldg.

Authorization to Use Force Against ISIS
Senate Foreign Relations
Full Committee Hearing
9:30 a.m., 419 Dirksen Bldg.

Protecting Religious Freedom Abroad
Senate Appropriations – State, Foreign Operations and Related Agencies Subcommittee
Subcommittee Hearing
2:00 p.m., 124 Dirksen Bldg.

Fiscal 2016 Defense Authorization: Military Construction and Base Closures
Senate Armed Services – Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support
Subcommittee Hearing
2:30 p.m., 216 Hart Bldg.

Indian Gaming Commission Nomination
Senate Indian Affairs
Full Committee Confirmation Hearing
2:30 p.m., 628 Dirksen Bldg.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

FY2016 budget request for the Secretary of the Senate, the Senate Sergeant at Arms, and the U.S. Capitol Police
Senate Appropriations – Legislative Branch Subcommittee
Subcommittee Hearing
9:45 a.m., 124 Dirksen Bldg.

FY2016 FDA Budget Request
Senate Appropriations – Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Subcommittee
Subcommittee Hearing
10:00 a.m., 138 Dirksen Bldg.

FY2016 Budget Requests for the FBI, U.S. Marshals Service, DEA, and ATF
Senate Appropriations – Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee
Subcommittee Hearing
10:00 a.m., 192 Dirksen Bldg.

Fiscal 2016 Defense Authorization: U.S. Northern and Southern Command
Senate Armed Services
Full Committee Hearing
9:30 a.m., G-50 Dirksen Bldg. (Tentative)

Examining the President’s Fiscal Year 2016 Budget Request for NASA
Senate Commerce, Science, Transportation – Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness
Subcommittee Hearing
9:30 a.m., 253 Russell Bldg.

Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2015
Senate Energy and Natural Resources
Full Committee Hearing
10 a.m., 366 Dirksen Bldg.

Tax Scam Protection
Senate Finance
Full Committee Hearing
10 a.m., 215 Dirksen Bldg.

Visa Waivers and National Security
Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
Full Committee Hearing
10 a.m., 342 Dirksen Bldg.

Retirement Preparedness
Senate Special Aging
Full Committee Hearing
10:30 a.m., 562 Dirksen Bldg.

Fiscal 2016 Defense Authorization: Missile Defense Programs
Senate Armed Services – Subcommittee on Strategic Forces
Subcommittee Hearing
2:30 p.m., SVC-217 Capitol Visitor Center