Weekly Washington Outlook — June 22, 2015

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What to Watch This Week:

 Congress:

House:

On Monday, the House is not in session.

On Tuesday, the House will meet at meet at 12:00 p.m. for morning hour and 2:00 p.m. for legislative business. Votes will be postponed until 6:30 p.m and the House will consider legislation under suspension of the rules:

1) H.R. 805 – Domain Openness Through Continued Oversight Matters (DOTCOM) Act of 2015 (Sponsored by Rep. John Shimkus / Energy and Commerce Committee)

2) H.R. 2576 – TSCA Modernization Act of 2015, as amended (Sponsored by Rep. John Shimkus / Energy and Commerce Committee)

3) H.R. 893 – Boys Town Centennial Commemorative Coin Act, as amended (Sponsored by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry / Financial Services Committee)

4) H.R. 1698 – Bullion and Collectible Coin Production Efficiency and Cost Savings Act, as amended (Sponsored by Rep. Bill Huizenga / Financial Services Committee)

5) H.R. 2620 – To amend the United States Cotton Futures Act to exclude certain cotton futures contracts from coverage under such Act, as amended (Sponsored by Rep. David Scott / Agriculture Committee)

6) H.R. 1633 – DHS Paid Administrative Leave Accountability Act of 2015, as amended (Sponsored by Rep. Barry Loudermilk / Homeland Security Committee)

7) H.R. 1615 – DHS FOIA Efficiency Act, as amended (Sponsored by Rep. Buddy Carter / Homeland Security Committee)

8) H.R. 1640 – Department of Homeland Security Headquarters Consolidation Accountability Act, as amended (Sponsored by Rep. Mark Walker / Homeland Security Committee)

9) H.R. 1626 – DHS IT Duplication Reduction Act of 2015, as amended (Sponsored by Rep. Will Hurd / Homeland Security Committee)

10) H.R. 2390 – Homeland Security University-based Centers Review Act, as amended (Sponsored by Rep. Bennie Thompson / Homeland Security Committee)

11) H.R. 1637 – Federally Funded Research and Development Sunshine Act of 2015, as amended (Sponsored by Rep. John Ratcliffe / Homeland Security Committee)

12) H.R. 2200 – CBRN Intelligence and Information Sharing Act, as amended (Sponsored by Rep. Martha McSally / Homeland Security Committee)

13) H.R. 1646 – Homeland Security Drone Assessment and Analysis Act, as amended (Sponsored by Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman / Homeland Security Committee)

14) Concur in the Senate Amendment to H.R. 615 – Department of Homeland Security Interoperable Communications (Sponsored by Rep. Donald Payne / Homeland Security Committee)

Also Tuesday, complete consideration of H.R. 1190 – Protecting Seniors’ Access to Medicare Act of 2015 (Subject to a Closed Rule, No Further Debate) (Sponsored by Rep. Phil Roe / Ways and Means Committee / Energy and Commerce Committee).

On Wednesday, the House will meet at 10:00 a.m. for morning hour and 12:00 p.m. for legislative business and will consider H.R. 2042 – Ratepayer Protection Act of 2015, Rules Committee Print (Subject to a Rule) (Sponsored by Rep. Ed Whitfield / Energy and Commerce Committee).

On Thursday, the House will meet at 10:00 a.m. for morning hour and 12:00 p.m. for legislative business.

On Friday, the House will meet at 9:00 a.m. for legislative business. Last votes expected no later than 3:00 p.m. with consideration of H.R. 2822 – Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2016 (Subject to a Rule) (Sponsored by Rep. Ken Calvert / Appropriations Committee). There might also be consideration of legislation related to trade.

Senate:

Today, the Senate will vote on two nominations. Tomorrow and the remainder of the week, the Senate will focus on trade, with a vote on a procedural motion to limit debate on “fast-track” Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) legislation. Senate passage would clear the bill for the president’s signature. There will also be a cloture vote later this week on the legislative vehicle for Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA). If passed by the Senate, that bill would go back to the House, where its passage is anything but assured.

White House:

On Monday, the president will host an Iftar dinner celebrating Ramadan at the White House.

On Tuesday, President Obama will attend meetings at the White House.

On Wednesday, the president will host a reception at the White House in recognition of LGBT Pride Month.

On Thursday and Friday, President Obama will attend meetings at the White House.

Supreme Court

By the end of June, the Supreme Court is set to hand down numerous decisions, including on three significant cases. As noted above, King v. Burwell will decide the availability of tax subsidies for those who enrolled in health insurance through the federal exchange under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), with a decision against the government potentially leading to the disruption of health care coverage for millions of people. A decision on Obergefell v. Hodges will determine if the Constitution requires states to allow same-sex marriages and if states must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states that allow it. In Texas Department of Housing and Community Affiars v. The Inclusive Communities Project the Court will decide on whether disparate-impact claims are viable under the Fair Housing Act.

Also This Week:

Appropriations – The Senate Appropriations Subcommittees will continue mark-up of their versions of spending bills for FY2016. Up on Tuesday are Transportation-HUD and Labor-HHS-Education. Senate Democrats have vowed to vote against procedural motions on the floor for any appropriations bill that upholds sequestration spending levels. The House Appropriations Committee plans a mark-up Wednesday on their Labor-HHS-Education spending bill. The measure would slash programs by $3.7 billion, with education taking the biggest hit.

Education – The Student Success Act (H.R. 5) remains off this week’s House schedule despite its inclusion in Majority Leader McCarthy’s memo for this work period. Instead, attention remains on the Senate where members are preparing ESEA reauthorization for introduction after the July 4 recess, at the earliest. The business and civil rights community is continuing to work toward bipartisan support of an amendment to strengthen the accountability system in the bill.

Health – The House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee is holding a hearing on Wednesday on health insurance premiums under the ACA. In anticipation of a King v. Burwell decision, House and Senate Republicans are preparing a response. Senator Johnson (R-Wis.) has crafted the most likely legislative proposal, which would reportedly block new enrollments in the federal health care exchange, but would extend tax credits for two years for those already enrolled. Repeal of the ACA would increase the budget deficit by an estimated $353 billion according to a recent Congressional Budget Office assessment.

The House Education and the Workforce Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education Subcommittee is holding a hearing on Wednesday titled “Child Nutrition Assistance: Looking at the Cost of Compliance for States and Schools” and the House Ways and Means Human Resources Subcommittee and House Agriculture Committee Nutrition Subcommittee are holding a joint hearing on the “Past, Present, and Future of SNAP: How Our Welfare System Can Discourage Work.”

Labor – The Department of Labor is expected to announce a long-awaited overtime rule that could double the salary level of workers able to claim time-and-a-half payments. Republicans are expected to fight the rule, with a House Education and Workforce hearing earlier this month indicating staunch opposition to any regulatory proposal seen as an overreach.

Consumer Protections – This Thursday the House Financial Services Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee is holding a hearing on “Examining Continuing Allegations of Discrimination and Retaliation at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau” with testimony from two whistleblowers after reports that worker complaints against the agency have increased.

Civil Rights – The House Judiciary Committee is holding a listening session on criminal justice reform this Thursday and the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice will hold a Friday hearing titled “The State of Property Rights in America Ten Years After Kelo v. City of New London.”

Your Housing Rights Are on the Line

By Nancy Wilberg Ricks, Senior Policy Strategist, NCLR

This year all eyes are on anti-discrimination laws that impact your housing rights, as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) intends to release a much-needed and improved Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule. Congress has already tried to stymie that rule, while the Supreme Court will scrutinize a legal theory called “disparate impact” that has long helped families battle housing discrimination.

This alphabet soup of players and policies could have a big impact on where you live, how much you pay for housing, and whether or not you are denied a chance to move into a neighborhood that’s good for your kids.

Legislative Obstacles
HUD’s release of a new AFFH rule has been a point of debate for more than 40 years. Now that HUD aims to finalize the rule, Congress is working hard to ensure that it is impossible to enforce. This rule would help in multiple ways:

  • It ensures that all people—regardless of race, ethnicity, family status, or disability—have a range of choices on where to live.
  • It gives jurisdictions the tools to identify barriers to fair housing and devise their own solutions to the unique problems they face.
  • It will advance opportunity in America by shaping investments in housing, transportation, environment, health, education, infrastructure, and economic development—all essential pathways to prosperity.

Some members of Congress are doing their best to undo years of progress made in rooting out housing discrimination. In the House last week, Representative Garrett (R–N.J.) offered an amendment to an appropriations bill that would stop the Department of Justice from enforcing the disparate impact rule, Representative Gosar (R–Ariz.) created an amendment that would stop HUD from finalizing the rule altogether, and Representative Stivers (R–Ohio) deliberately offered an amendment after midnight—when few members were present to speak against it—to prohibit the use of funds for fair housing programs. These are egregious and unfounded interventions taken by Congress to impede consumer protections.

Rumblings in the Courts
Adding fuel to the fire, the Supreme Court will decide this month whether the legal theory of “disparate impact” should be modified. Under disparate impact, a housing or lending policy or practice can be ruled discriminatory if it has a disproportionate, adverse effect on a given racial or ethnic group, even if it is unintentional. Disparate impact has laid effective precedent for decades to battle redlining, exclusionary zoning, and racial steering.

Decision-makers must maintain the strength of disparate impact’s parameters. While blatant housing discrimination is rare, studies indicate that prejudice endures. Minority home-seekers are still shown fewer available housing units, raising the costs of search and constraining their choices. With a ruling later this month, the Supreme Court threatens to dilute its strength, which could compromise years of consumer wins.

Segregation endures. It is no coincidence that the Civil Rights Act, passed in 1964, led to the creation of the Fair Housing Act, on which decades of legal precedent now hang. Today’s political climate compromises these advances and has made leaders blind to the impact of housing injustice. Invalidating fair housing rights amounts to much bigger problems for communities and society as a whole. In the wake of racial and economic unrest, now is not the time to roll back civil rights.

The Work of the Fair Housing Act Is Not Yet Complete

HousingDiscrimination_blogpic_newHomeownership is a cornerstone of the American Dream and often a doorway to greater opportunity. The family that is able to buy or rent in a neighborhood with a thriving local economy is undoubtedly more likely to find the kinds of quality, well-paying jobs that will help them move up the economic ladder. Children who are able to attend good school systems have a greater chance of moving on to higher education and achieving their professional dreams. Choosing where to settle down is a decision with tremendous implications for a family’s future.

Unfortunately, not everybody is given a fair shot at living in the communities of their choice. The Fair Housing Act, signed into law more than 45 years ago to end discriminatory housing practices, has been an essential safeguard for Latino families who would otherwise have been denied equal access to housing. Yet housing discrimination persists at alarming rates—more than three million cases every year. NCLR research shows that even in communities with a longstanding Latino presence, such as San Antonio, housing discrimination is still an issue that Latinos face on a regular basis.

Having just gone through a housing crisis that wiped away generations of wealth from communities of color who were disproportionately targeted with predatory lending practices, it is clear the Fair Housing Act is needed now more than ever. However, a challenge in the Supreme Court could irrevocably alter this essential legislation for the worse. Today the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on a case that will determine whether the use of disparate impact within the Fair Housing Act can continue to protect against discriminatory housing policies.

Family in front of houseAs it stands, disparate impact prohibits housing policies that result in discrimination, regardless of intention. For example, when a community passes a local ordinance outlawing families larger than four people to sign a rental lease, the result is an unintentional limitation on rental options for large families—families who may be living with multiple generations under one roof or have relatives visiting from their home countries for extended periods of time. These types of policies, which enable racial exclusion to persist, are kept at bay by provisions of the Fair Housing Act.

If our nation is to live up to its highest principles of fairness, justice, and opportunity, then the Supreme Court cannot chip away at the critical protections offered under the Fair Housing Act. If we allow these discriminatory policies to persist, we will forever have a nation in which people who make the same incomes, have the same financial profiles, and have the same credit scores, will not achieve the same results—simply because housing service providers can employ separate but unequal systems that perpetuate discrimination. Discrimination, even if it is unintentional, must be eradicated in order to foster more diverse and inclusive communities that empower Americans to seek out opportunity and fulfill the American Dream.