The year-end spotlight will shine on the Senate this week as it considers final passage of the two-year budget deal, as well as confirmation votes on Janet Yellen to head the Federal Reserve Board and Jeh Johnson to lead the Homeland Security Department.
Other items already passed by the House will also reach the Senate floor, such as an annual policy bill for the Pentagon and legislation to extend the existing farm bill through January to allow for continued negotiations on a new, long-term version.
With the House already gone for the year, it is left to the Senate to approve the budget deal worked out by Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray and that was passed by the House last week.
Heading into this week, some Senate Republicans have raised reservations about how the budget deal exceeds previously set budget caps and how it would also reduce some military pension benefits, while liberals worry about the exclusion of unemployment insurance from the legislation.
Yet senators acknowledge that without this deal, little else could pass and no one wants to take the blame for tanking a measure that will avoid another government shutdown come Jan. 15. So, expect the deal to get cloture, Republicans say, and then to pass.
Overall, the spending blueprint calls for funding government at annualized levels slightly more than $1 trillion through Oct. 1, 2015. It also would spare military and social programs of $63 billion in automatic "sequester" cuts, while allotting another $23 billion for deficit reduction—without raising taxes.
The Senate is expected to vote on cloture Tuesday and the final vote could come Wednesday.
Here are the other major items before the Senate this week:
- A vote is anticipated Monday on Johnson's nomination. Last week, Republicans protested the rules change that took away their power to block nominations, costing the Senate a great deal of floor time. But Republicans appear to have reached an agreement with Democrats heading into this week that would avoid additional hang-ups.
- On Wednesday, the Senate is expected to take up the National Defense Authorization Act, which the House passed last week. A sticking point, though, has been amendments, with Republican lawmakers bristling that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid closed the process.
- The Senate Judiciary Committee has set a hearing Tuesday on the issue of predatory patent-litigation practices.
- A vote on Yellen's confirmation is set later in the week, which will make her the first woman to head the Fed.
The timing of the anticipated vote on Yellen's nomination comes as the final Fed meeting of 2013 takes place Tuesday and Wednesday.
With the recent pickup in the economic data, economists are divided over whether the Fed will begin to taper its $85 billion monthly bond-buying program this month or wait until next year. The market-moving decision will be released Wednesday afternoon, followed by a press conference with outgoing Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.
Analysts say they expect Yellen to speak following the Fed meeting alongside Bernanke on Wednesday, if she is confirmed by then.
BUDGET AND APPROPRIATIONS
Senate Democrats will need five Republicans to join them in invoking cloture on the budget bill before they can vote for final passage—and they're expected to get them. Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona, as well as Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, said Friday that they would vote for cloture, and Republican leadership has indicated to their Democratic counterparts that they will have the votes.
Once cloture is invoked, the vote for final passage could come as soon as Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday.
Given the bill's prospects for passage, appropriators in both chambers are continuing their work to put together an omnibus spending bill for the remainder of fiscal 2014 at the $1.012 trillion top-line outlined in the budget agreement. The omnibus will need to pass before Jan. 15, or Congress will be forced to contend with another continuing resolution or government shutdown.
Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said Thursday that he was confident that appropriators will finish their work in time. "There's a lot to do. But they're good people, and they want to get it done. We're back the 6th; the House is back the 7th of January. We have one week to finish the deal and be able to make the January 15 deadline," he said.
DEFENSE AND NATIONAL SECURITY
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., and ranking member James Inhofe, R-Okla., say they are confident they can persuade enough of their colleagues to approve the National Defense Authorization Act without amendments.
But several Republicans have raised objections to that process, including Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, and Rand Paul of Kentucky. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has said he wants assurances the Senate will take up Iran sanctions at a date certain before he supports the bill.
The House passed the defense bill Thursday before adjourning for the year on Friday, leaving the Senate with a take-it-or-leave-it option. There is much pressure to pass the bill, which enjoys a 51-year running streak and authorizes $552.1 billion in spending for national defense, including pay increases and hardship compensation for armed-services members.
On Iran, a bipartisan group of senators has been working on legislation meant to ensure that Iran dismantles any nuclear-weapons capabilities, including sanctions and other measures defining what a final pact should entail. But it is becoming increasingly less likely they will roll out additional legislation before the Senate adjourns. Either way, the Senate is not expected to act on the issue before the end of the year.
On Monday, the Brookings Institution will host an event on systemic risk in the asset-management industry; Richard Berner, the head of the Office of Financial Research, will speak about a report his office issued as guidance for the Financial Stability Oversight Council on the industry. Asset managers have pushed back against the OFR's findings, which could pave the way for them to be classified as "systemically important" and thus subject to tougher regulation under the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial-reform law.
White House Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Jason Furman will speak about economic policymaking in the Obama administration at a Tuesday event hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City.
The Senate Finance Committee will hold a Wednesday hearing on Social Security, defined benefits, and private retirement accounts.
Finally, U.S.-European Union trade talks over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership are scheduled to resume in Washington this week.
ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT
Roster of Nominees
Two Senate panels will consider a raft of high-level executive-branch nominees Tuesday.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hear from nominees such as Rhea Suh, who is President Obama's choice to become the Interior Department's sssistant secretary for fish and wildlife and parks, and Victoria Wassmer, the nominee to be the Environmental Protection Agency's chief financial officer.
The Energy and Natural Resources Committee will consider nominees for key posts at the Interior and Energy departments, including Neil Kornze as director of Interior's Bureau of Land Management and Marc Kastner as director of DOE's Office of Science.
Holiday in Hawaii
In sharp contrast to the last few years when Obama's Christmas vacation plans were up in the air until the last minute because of fiscal-cliff and other budget deadlines, the president plans a quiet week at the White House.
No late-night crisis meetings are on the schedule—just a planned departure Friday for the annual family journey to the president's birthplace of Hawaii.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that President Obama would not have to sign the budget agreement for it to become law.
Michael Catalini, George E. Condon Jr., Clare Foran, Catherine Hollander, Stacy Kaper, Sarah Mimms, and Dustin Volz contributed to this article.
This article appears in the December 16, 2013 edition of NJ Daily as Senate Will Be Busy as Year-End Nears.