Congress Hits the Ground Running in 2014

Congress Hits the Ground Running in 2014

The second session of the 113th Congress began in earnest this past week, with budget issues still at the top of the agenda.  Even so, the Senate had time to pass the bill renaming NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center (DFRC) after Neil Armstrong, an effort in the works since soon after he died in 2012.

That bill, H.R. 667, passed the House almost a year ago.  That actually was the second time the House approved the measure, which is sponsored by Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) who represents the district that includes DFRC and is the House Majority Whip.  The bill originally passed the House on December 31, 2012 in the final days of the 112th Congress, but the clock ran out without Senate action.  Bills that are not passed by the end of a Congress die, so it had to be reintroduced in the current Congress.   The House passed it again on February 25, 2013.   Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) introduced a companion bill in the Senate (S. 1636) in October, but on Wednesday (January 8, 2014), the Senate simply agreed to the House bill.  It now goes to the White House for signature.    It renames DFRC as the Neil A. Armstrong Flight Research Center.   While he is best known as the first man to walk on the Moon, Armstrong spent the early part of his career as a test pilot there.   The bill renames the Western Aeronautical Test Range after Dryden.   Hugh L. Dryden was director of NASA’s predecessor agency, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), and NASA’s first deputy administrator.

On matters of national interest, Congress is working hard to finalize FY2014 appropriations.   The Bipartisan Budget Act signed into law on December 26 sets limits on how much the government may spend in FY2014 and FY2015, but does not actually give money to anyone.   That is the province of the House and Senate  appropriations committees.  They are now finalizing the 12 regular appropriations bills for FY2014.   Numerous news sources report that negotiations on at least half of those are completed, including Defense and the Commerce-Justice-Science bill that funds NASA and NOAA.   Details are not being released while negotiations continue on the rest.   All 12 bills are expected to packaged together into a single “Omnibus Appropriations” bill for consideration by the House and Senate.

The existing Continuing Resolution (CR) that funds the government expires on Wednesday, January 15, and although appropriators reportedly are very close to agreement on everything, they are not there yet and a very short-term CR is likely to be passed as a bridge early in the coming week.  The expectation is that it will be a three-day CR, keeping the government operating through Saturday, January 18, by which time the House and Senate presumably will pass the Omnibus. 

There is little talk this time of a government shutdown.   The 16-day shutdown at the beginning of the fiscal year (October 1-16) seems to have convinced many Republicans that it is not in their best interest to do that again this time, particularly in an election year.  Still, there are many controversial issues and it may be that some are pushed off into the FY2015 budget cycle for resolution.   Strictly speaking the White House should send its FY2015 budget request to Congress on the first Monday in February, but rumors are that it will be delayed until late February or early March because the budget agreement, which affects FY2015 as well as FY2014, was not reached until late in December.

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