Congress Averts Government Shutdown with Another Continuing Resolution

Congress Averts Government Shutdown with Another Continuing Resolution – By a vote of 66-32, the Senate passed HR 1370, a CR that will fund the government through January 19, 2018.  The Senate vote follows this afternoon's 231-188 vote in the House.  The bill contains a provision which suspends the sequestration that would have been required by this CR. The new CR maintains programs at the FY17 level, a level that exceeds the current statutory spending caps for FY18 and without the suspension provision, a sequestration would have been triggered.  By a vote of 251-169, the House also passed HR 4667, an $81B disaster supplemental.   Senate consideration of this third disaster supplemental in response to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, as well as wildfires, could be delayed until January.

This CR will allow negotiations to continue between the Congress and the White House on raising discretionary spending levels for defense and non-defense programs for FY18 and a legislative solution for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.  Once the parties reach agreement on new defense and non-defense spending levels, the pending individual appropriations bills may be finalized by House and Senate appropriation conferees.

Congress Passes Tax Reform Legislation – This week the House and Senate passed and sent to the President a major legislative initiative that makes sweeping changes in the Nation’s tax code. The final bill includes the following key provisions:

·      37% top income tax rate;

·      21% corporate tax;

·      Up to $10k of state or property taxes can be deducted;

·      Removes the tax on graduate student tuition waivers;

·      Maintains estate tax but raises threshold to qualify to about $11 million from $5.49 million;

·      Pass-throughs get a 20% deduction on their income;

·      Preserves the individual Alternative Minimum Tax;

·      Gets rid of the proposed corporate AMT;

·      Mortgage interest deduction cap would be lowered to $750,000 from the current $1 million; and

·      Individual mandate contained in the Affordable Health Care Act is eliminated.

The agreement sets the top individual tax rate at 37%, which is less than the current rate of 39.6% and lower than the top rate in each of the bills that passed the House and Senate.  With respect to state and local tax deductions, the would cap that deduction at $10,000. The corporate rate would be cut to 21% and would take effect in 2018.

The agreement eliminates the corporate alternative-minimum tax. Keeping that, as the Senate bill did, would have undercut the value of many popular business-tax breaks, including a research-and-development tax credit. The bill would retain the individual alternative minimum tax with exemptions for incomes up to $500,000 for individuals and $1 million for married couples, much higher than current law. 

The final agreement drops some of the more controversial changes in the House plan, including taxes on graduate-student tuition waivers, the repeal of deductions for student-loan interest and medical expenses and the end of tax-free private activity bonds used for projects such as hospitals and affordable housing.  The Tax Policy Center has a detailed summary of the final tax reform bill here.

NOAA Announces Funding Opportunity for Cooperative Institute for Modeling the Earth System – NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR) invites applications for the establishment of a Cooperative Institute (CI) for Modeling the Earth System. This new cooperative institute supports the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) as it works toward advancing NOAA’s ability to understand and predict variations and changes in weather, climate, oceans and coastal systems on a spectrum of timescales, through advanced numerical modeling of the Earth System’s physical, dynamical, chemical, biogeochemical, and ecological processes. The scope of the new Cooperative Institute incorporates explicitly the consideration of the unforced variability of the Earth System, natural and anthropogenic forcings that include regional contributions and feedbacks, which together govern the response and temporal evolution of the Earth system (IPCC, 2001, 2013). Current state-of-the-art coupled climate models used to forecast weather-to-climate conditions particularly from subseasonal to seasonal to interannual to decadal and longer timescales must be improved dramatically. Fundamental research is needed to improve the representation of many processes and interactions of importance if these models are to fulfill their promise of advancing the scientific understanding and prediction and addressing NOAA’s goals. Consistent with the National Research Council, “A National Strategy for Advancing Climate Modeling” (2012) recommendation of a focus on advancing climate modeling across the continuum of time scales from weather-to-climate, this new Cooperative Institute is expected to conduct research and modeling across the continuum extending from the weather all the way to multidecadal timescales, covering processes, phenomena, variations, changes, and extremes. A copy of the funding announcement is available here.

Bipartisan Legislation Introduced to Address Coastal Communities and Ocean Acidification-- Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) recently introduced the Coastal Communities Ocean Acidification Act of 2017 to identify and assess communities, including island communities, low-population rural communities, and subsistence communities, that are most dependent on coastal and ocean resources that may be impacted by ocean acidification. This bipartisan bill was introduced with Senators Cantwell (D-WA), Collins (R-ME), Peters (D-MI), and Whitehouse (D-RI). The Coastal Communities Ocean Acidification Act of 2017 would conduct coastal community vulnerability assessments related to Ocean Acidification.  The act strengthens collaborations with a wide range of stakeholders including Indigenous Knowledge groups, IOOS, regional Ocean Acidification Networks, and Sea Grant into the planning and implementation of coastal community vulnerability assessments. The act requires that the assessment identifies: (1) the communities that are most dependent on ocean and coastal resources, (2) the nature of the social and economic vulnerabilities of the communities, and (3) identify the harmful impacts of ocean acidification on those communities.

NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) Announces Summer Student Internship Program -- Virtually all the meteorological data collected over the globe arrives at NCEP, where environmental scientists analyze this information and generate a wide variety of environmental guidance information. NCEP delivers national and global weather, water, climate and space weather guidance, forecasts, warnings and analyses to a broad range of users and partners. These products and services respond to user needs to protect life and property, enhance the nation's economy, and support the nation's growing need for environmental information. NCEP is offering up to 10 paid summer internships targeted towards current undergraduate and graduate students to work in areas that will meet the future needs of the ever-broadening user community and address the strategic climate-water-weather issues. Each student will collaborate with one or more scientists at our five centers located in College Park, MD: Climate Prediction Center, Environmental Modeling Center, NOAA Central Operations, Ocean Prediction Center, and Weather Prediction Center.  More information on NCEP’s internship program is available here