Tense Week Ahead for Both House and Senate

Issues from Keystone to the IRS scandal will keep the pressure on.

Caption:WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 11: U.S. President Barack Obama (L), walks with outgoing Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (C) and Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget Sylvia Mathews Burwell (R) after an event in the Rose Garden at the White House, on April 11, 2014 in Washington, DC. President Obama announced that Burwell will replace Sebelius as HHS secretary.
National Journal
Billy House Michael Catalini
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Billy House Michael Catalini
May 4, 2014, 8 a.m.

The Sen­ate may be head­ing for some tense mo­ments this week as a pro­pos­al to ap­prove the Key­stone XL pipeline comes to the fore­ground and con­firm­a­tion hear­ings be­gin for Pres­id­ent Obama’s nom­in­ee to be the next Health and Hu­man Ser­vices sec­ret­ary.

Of­fice of Man­age­ment and Budget Dir­ect­or Sylvia Math­ews Bur­well, Obama’s nom­in­ee to re­place out­go­ing HHS Sec­ret­ary Kath­leen Se­beli­us, will ap­pear Thursday be­fore the Sen­ate Health, Edu­ca­tion, Labor, and Pen­sions Com­mit­tee.

The House, mean­while, will hit fric­tion of its own over a vote on wheth­er to call upon At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Eric Hold­er to ap­point a spe­cial coun­sel to in­vest­ig­ate the scan­dal at the In­tern­al Rev­en­ue Ser­vice.

The House Rules Com­mit­tee will lay out pro­ced­ures Tues­day for a sep­ar­ate vote later in the week on a res­ol­u­tion to de­clare former IRS of­fi­cial Lois Lern­er in con­tempt of Con­gress for re­fus­ing to com­ply with a sub­poena, a move her law­yer has said would be “un-Amer­ic­an.”

Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Eric Can­tor says the vote to re­quest spe­cial coun­sel stems from the Justice De­part­ment’s in­ac­tion on a re­fer­ral by the Ways and Means Com­mit­tee for crim­in­al ac­tion against Lern­er. But Rep. Sander Lev­in, the top Demo­crat on Ways and Means, de­scribed the move as part of the “GOP’s wild at­tempt from the get-go to tar the ad­min­is­tra­tion.”

Both votes have been set for Fri­day, and are sched­uled un­der a floor pro­ced­ure usu­ally re­served for non­con­tro­ver­sial mat­ters that re­quires ap­prov­al by two-thirds of vot­ing mem­bers for pas­sage.

Here are some of the oth­er items Con­gress will ad­dress this week:

  • The House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee is slated to un­veil its full Na­tion­al De­fense Au­thor­iz­a­tion Act on Monday, and to vote on the le­gis­la­tion Wed­nes­day.
  • The House Ju­di­ciary Reg­u­lat­ory Sub­com­mit­tee will hold a hear­ing Thursday on the pro­posed Com­cast-Time Warner Cable mer­ger. The massive, $45 bil­lion deal would com­bine the na­tion’s two largest cable pro­viders, and com­pany ex­ec­ut­ives re­main hope­ful they can close the mer­ger by the end of 2014.
  • The full House will vote this week on the Suc­cess and Op­por­tun­ity Through Qual­ity Charter Schools Act. Re­pub­lic­ans say the bill would mod­ern­ize charter schools by con­sol­id­at­ing two fed­er­al pro­grams in­to one, and per­mit states more flex­ib­il­ity to al­loc­ate fed­er­al funds.
  • State and Treas­ury of­fi­cials will testi­fy Thursday be­fore the House For­eign Af­fairs Com­mit­tee on Rus­si­an in­flu­ence in the on­go­ing crisis in Ukraine.
  • The Sen­ate will vote Monday on Nancy Mor­itz to be U.S. cir­cuit judge for the 10th Cir­cuit and Peter Sel­fridge to be chief of pro­tocol, with the rank of am­bas­sad­or.
  • The House Rules Com­mit­tee will hold a hear­ing Tues­day to set floor-vote pro­ced­ures on a bill to ad­dress the re­search and de­vel­op­ment tax cred­it for com­pan­ies that do such re­search in the United States.

But it’s the Key­stone XL pipeline that is likely to take cen­ter stage in the Sen­ate as law­makers pre­pare to de­bate the bi­par­tis­an en­ergy-ef­fi­ciency bill.

The Key­stone bill is sig­ni­fic­ant in part be­cause it has be­come such a hot elec­tion-year is­sue. Re­pub­lic­ans and many con­ser­vat­ive Demo­crats view the le­gis­la­tion as a job cre­at­or and cast the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s delay of the pipeline as polit­ic­al. Mean­while, many lib­er­al Demo­crats op­pose it on en­vir­on­ment­al grounds.

Back­ers of the cur­rent bill, which calls for ap­prov­al of the pipeline, say they have 56 spon­sors and are work­ing be­hind the scenes to find the four ad­di­tion­al law­makers they’ll need to get it to the floor. The bill has the back­ing of the GOP con­fer­ence as well as Demo­crats fa­cing elec­tion in con­ser­vat­ive states, in­clud­ing Sens. Mark Be­gich of Alaska, Kay Hagan of North Car­o­lina, and Mark Pry­or of Arkan­sas.

Sponsored by Sens. John Ho­even, a North Dakota Re­pub­lic­an, and Mary Landrieu, a Louisi­ana Demo­crat, the bill would es­sen­tially re­buke the White House, which re­cently de­cided to delay the pipeline in­def­in­itely.


Key­stone Re­dux

The Key­stone XL pipeline de­bate is sure to over­shad­ow — and po­ten­tially im­per­il — an­oth­er Sen­ate vote on that re­l­at­ively mod­est en­ergy bill from Demo­crat Jeanne Shaheen of New Hamp­shire and Re­pub­lic­an Rob Port­man of Ohio.

The bill has floundered the pre­vi­ous times it has come to the floor thanks to amend­ments that would push GOP en­ergy pri­or­it­ies and health care lan­guage from Sen. Dav­id Vit­ter, R-La. Vit­ter has re­in­tro­duced his pro­pos­al to cut the fed­er­al sup­port that mem­bers of Con­gress and Cap­it­ol Hill aides re­ceive for their health in­sur­ance and has said he’ll push for a vote on it linked to the en­ergy bill, while Re­pub­lic­ans will look for amend­ments on everything from nat­ur­al-gas ex­ports to block­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s power-plant rules.

On Wed­nes­day, Nuc­le­ar Reg­u­lat­ory Com­mis­sion Chair­wo­man Al­lis­on Mac­far­lane will ap­pear along­side her four fel­low NRC com­mis­sion­ers to dis­cuss the fisc­al 2015 budget re­quest be­fore the House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee, a hear­ing that is likely to also cov­er Re­pub­lic­an con­cerns that NRC has been over­reg­u­lat­ing the in­dustry and over the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s hold on the Yucca Moun­tain nuc­le­ar-waste stor­age site.


Bur­well Round 1

Bur­well, in ad­di­tion to her ap­pear­ance set for Thursday be­fore the Sen­ate HELP Com­mit­tee, is to have a second con­firm­a­tion hear­ing be­fore the Sen­ate Fin­ance Com­mit­tee that is not yet sched­uled.

Her con­firm­a­tion was ini­tially ex­pec­ted to be a dif­fi­cult pro­cess, giv­en the politi­cized nature of the HHS sec­ret­ary po­s­i­tion fol­low­ing the botched rol­lout of the Af­ford­able Care Act ex­changes.

But a num­ber of Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­ors have ex­pressed their ap­prov­al of Bur­well’s nom­in­a­tion, and their sup­port plus new Sen­ate rules that re­quire only a simple ma­jor­ity for con­firm­a­tion mean her ap­point­ment is look­ing in­creas­ingly as­sured.

On Wed­nes­day, cur­rent HHS of­fi­cials will ap­pear be­fore the Sen­ate Ap­pro­pri­ations Com­mit­tee to dis­cuss the pres­id­ent’s fisc­al 2015 budget pro­pos­al for the de­part­ment. Cen­ters for Medi­care and Medi­caid Ser­vices Ad­min­is­trat­or Mar­ilyn Taven­ner, along with rep­res­ent­at­ives from the Health Re­sources and Ser­vices Ad­min­is­tra­tion and the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion, are to testi­fy.


Au­thor­iz­a­tion Revs Up

The House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee’s con­sid­er­a­tion of the Na­tion­al De­fense Au­thor­iz­a­tion Act, which star­ted in sub­com­mit­tee last week, marks the first steps to­ward the Pentagon’s fisc­al 2015 budget.

Among the key is­sues are de­cisions about the Pentagon’s pro­posed cuts to per­son­nel be­ne­fits and plans to cut or re­tire cer­tain weapons sys­tems and plat­forms such as the A-10 at­tack air­craft and U-2 spy planes.

At the sub­com­mit­tee level, the pan­el re­jec­ted most of the De­fense De­part­ment’s pro­posed cuts in per­son­nel be­ne­fits, in­clud­ing re­duc­tions in health care, hous­ing, and com­mis­sary sub­sidies.

But Demo­crat­ic Rep. Adam Smith of Wash­ing­ton, the com­mit­tee’s rank­ing mem­ber, has ar­gued that some ser­i­ous de­fense spend­ing cuts are ne­ces­sary. He is push­ing col­leagues to ac­cept some of the weapons-sys­tems cuts, ar­guing the mil­it­ary won’t be equipped for fu­ture threats if it is pre­ven­ted from mod­ern­iz­ing.

“The worst thing [law­makers] can do is pro­tect pro­gram after pro­gram after pro­gram “¦ be­cause the first thing to go in that scen­ario is read­i­ness,” Smith said in a speech last week.

The Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee is work­ing on as­sem­bling its ver­sion of the de­fense au­thor­iz­a­tion bill be­hind the scenes; the goal is to make it pub­lic later this month. The com­mit­tee plans to ex­am­ine mil­it­ary com­pens­a­tion is­sues at a hear­ing Tues­day with Pentagon top brass.

Mean­while, the Sen­ate For­eign Re­la­tions and House For­eign Af­fairs com­mit­tees con­tin­ue their scru­tiny of the destabil­iz­a­tion of Ukraine with the Sen­ate pan­el hold­ing a hear­ing on coun­ter­ing Rus­si­an in­ter­ven­tion Tues­day and the House pan­el ex­amin­ing the depth of the crisis Thursday.


Pat­ent Pending

The Sen­ate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee will at­tempt to hold a markup of ma­jor pat­ent-re­form le­gis­la­tion on Thursday after nu­mer­ous delays of con­sid­er­a­tion.

Stake­hold­ers close to ne­go­ti­ations say most stick­ing points have been re­solved, but fee-shift­ing, which would make a loser pay the win­ner’s leg­al fees in some pat­ent in­fringe­ment cases, re­mains a fi­nal hurdle.

A man­ager’s amend­ment has still not been made pub­lic, but ad­voc­ates re­main hope­ful that a com­prom­ise, led by Sens. Chuck Schu­mer and John Cornyn, are inches from the fin­ish line.

Clare For­an, Soph­ie No­vack, Stacy Kaper, and Dustin Volz con­trib­uted

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