What’s Left on the Senate’s To Do List

U.S. Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), shown talking last week to reporters, on Sunday outlined several concerns about a deal reached by Iran and six other governments to address the Middle Eastern nation's disputed nuclear activities.
National Journal
Billy House
Dec. 15, 2013, 7:10 a.m.

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.


Tight Sched­ule

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.


Avert­ing Amend­ments

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.


Meas­ur­ing In­fla­tion

New in­fla­tion data will be re­leased Tues­day and a third read­ing of third-quarter gross do­mest­ic product Fri­day.

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.


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.
What We're Following See More »
Warren Goes After Trump Yet Again
3 hours ago

When it comes to name-calling among America's upper echelon of politicians, there may be perhaps no greater spat than the one currently going on between Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Donald Trump. While receiving an award Tuesday night, she continued a months-long feud with the presumptive GOP presidential nominee. Calling him a "small, insecure moneygrubber" who probably doesn't know three things about Dodd-Frank, she said he "will NEVER be president of the United States," according to her prepared remarks."We don't know what Trump pays in taxes because he is the first presidential nominee in 40 years to refuse to disclose his tax returns. Maybe he’s just a lousy businessman who doesn’t want you to find out that he’s worth a lot less money than he claims." It follows a long-line of Warren attacks over Twitter, Facebook and in interviews that Trump is a sexist, racist, narcissistic loser. In reply, Trump has called Warren either "goofy" or "the Indian"—referring to her controversial assertion of her Native American heritage. 

Congress Passes Chemical Regulations Overhaul
6 hours ago

The House on Tuesday voted 403-12 "to pass an overhaul to the nation’s chemical safety standards for the first time in four decades. The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act aims to answer years of complaints that the Environmental Protection Agency lacks the necessary authority to oversee and control the thousands of chemicals being produced and sold in the United States. It also significantly clamps down on states’ authorities, in an effort to stop a nationwide patchwork of chemical laws that industry says is difficult to deal with."

GOP Could Double Number of Early Primaries
6 hours ago

"Leaders of the Republican Party have begun internal deliberations over making fundamental changes to the way its presidential nominees are chosen, a recognition that the chaotic process that played out this year is seriously flawed and helped exacerbate tensions within the party." Among the possible changes: forbidding independent voters to cast ballots in Republican primaries, and "doubling the number of early states to eight."

Kasich Tells His Delegates to Remain Pledged to Him
8 hours ago

Citing the unpredictable nature of this primary season and the possible leverage they could bring at the convention, John Kasich is hanging onto his 161 delegates. "Kasich sent personal letters Monday to Republican officials in the 16 states and the District of Columbia where he won delegates, requesting that they stay bound to him in accordance with party rules."

House GOP Changes Rules for Spending Measures
8 hours ago

"Speaker Paul Ryan is changing the rules of how the House will consider spending measures to try to prevent Democrats from offering surprise amendments that have recently put the GOP on defense. ... Ryan announced at a House GOP conference meeting Tuesday morning that members will now have to submit their amendments ahead of time so that they are pre-printed in the Congressional Record, according to leadership aides." The change will take effect after the Memorial Day recess.