With the Senate on recess this week, the focus will be on the House, where members will return Wednesday prepared to vote on the 2015 National Intelligence Authorization Act.
Meanwhile, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee will continue to keep pressure on the Veterans Affairs Department in a hearing Wednesday designed to probe into reports of preventable deaths. The committee has already issued two subpoenas to VA officials.
But it’s a battle over medical marijuana that could spark the most intense debate, when the House takes up the third of 12 annual appropriations bills for the new fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. An amendment being offered by Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California and other lawmakers would prohibit agencies from using any of the $51.2 billion in discretionary spending contained in the Commerce, Science, Justice, and Related Agencies spending bill to pursue marijuana-related prosecutions in states where the drug is legal.
Such amendments have failed in the past. But now, more than half the states — 26 and the District of Columbia — have some form of medical-marijuana law on their books.
Indeed, a wide range of amendments are expected, from issues surrounding the Guantanamo Bay detention facility to prohibiting funding for a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives reporting requirement on multiple-rifle sales in border states.
Other action in the House will include:
- A full House Appropriations Committee hearing Thursday to mark up the fiscal 2015 Agriculture appropriations bill, anticipated to bring some tense battles over child nutrition programs and other issues.
-A House Foreign Affairs Committee markup on Thursday for the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act of 2015.
-A House Small Business Committee hearing Thursday on a recent Environmental Protection Agency rule expanding U.S. waters subject to regulation under the Clean Water Act.
-A House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on Wednesday to mark up the 2015 Homeland Security spending bill.
-A briefing Thursday on the Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee’s recent report about federal programs addressing severe mental illness.
Thursday’s full House Appropriations Committee markup of the fiscal 2015 Agriculture appropriations bill is expected to have lawmakers arguing.
Democrats, led by Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, already are accusing Republicans of using the appropriations process to weaken child-nutrition programs. One accusation is that provisions incorporated during a subcommittee markup would roll back school nutrition standards, leading the way for less whole grains and more sodium in school meals. The legislation, they say, would also circumvent the USDA/Institute of Medicine process to determine the appropriate food package for the Women, Infants, and Children nutrition program.
If the Commerce, Science, Justice, and Related Agencies spending bill is approved by the House as expected, it will mark the third spending bill completed by the House. The Appropriations Committee also has already marked up its 2015 Transportation and Housing and Urban Development bill.
But there is rising concern over the pace of the House and Senate action on the spending bills. The House has passed only its least-controversial measures, and the Senate has not yet passed any spending bills. There is growing doubt that action on all 12 individual measures can get done in time as lawmakers focus more on reelection.
Increasingly, discussion is centered on the prospect that a continuing resolution will be needed to keep some agencies and programs funded into the new fiscal year at current levels, and that some spending bills will have to be addressed after the Nov. 4 election in a lame-duck session.
Last week, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer tried to question Majority Leader Eric Cantor about whether all of the fiscal 2015 spending bills will, in fact, be primed for House floor action within the 31 legislative days remaining before Congress takes its August break.
Cantor hedged. “The [Appropriations] Committee’s certainly expressed its desire, as our conference has, as our speaker has, to move all 12 appropriations bills,” Cantor said.
While the VA scandal simmers, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee is continuing to oversee a range of other veterans’ issues.
The panel plans to hold two subcommittee hearings Thursday on veterans’ issues: one on inadequate service for visually impaired vets and another evaluating the VA’s performance in helping vets transition out of the military.
The House is also expected to take up the intelligence authorization bill this week, which authorizes classified appropriations for covert activities at the National Security Agency, the CIA, and the FBI.
The Armed Services Committee is regrouping from its work on the National Defense Authorization Act and has no committee activity planned.
ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT
The House Science Committee will tackle global warming this week, with a deep dive on Thursday into the methodology behind the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment.
But don’t expect calls for action on climate. Republican Chairman Lamar Smith of Texas is a noted climate-change skeptic and frequently attacks the science underpinning EPA regulations.
The hearing will feature testimony from Roger Pielke, a senior research scientist at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences. Pielke has drawn fire from the environmental community and climate scientists alike for voicing criticism of the U.N. climate report.
The House Small Business Committee’s hearing on U.S. waters will focus on how a broader reading of the Clean Water Act will affect the construction and agriculture sectors; the hearing will include testimony from the National Stone, Sand, and Gravel Association. Conservatives and industry groups have expressed concern that federal jurisdiction over streams and temporary waterways can mean more regulation that will slow commerce.
A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee will put the spotlight Friday on the Energy Department’s green-technology loan program, which has been a magnet for GOP criticism in recent years. Peter Davidson, who heads the Energy Department’s Loan Programs Office, will testify. The program recently invited applications for a new round of loan guarantees focused on, among other things, integrating renewable energy into power grids.
Rep. Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania, a clinical psychologist, will be accompanied by a handful of experts as the Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee discusses the findings of its report on federal programs addressing mental health.
According to the committee, its investigation underscores the need to improve training on mental health issues for law enforcement and emergency services personnel.
The report follows a yearlong investigation reviewing mental health resources and programs across the federal spectrum. The committee’s investigation began in January 2013, following the school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
The major event in President Obama’s week will come Wednesday at the U.S. Military Academy. He returns to West Point, the site of his major 2009 speech on Afghanistan and Pakistan, to deliver a commencement address that will be a full-throated defense of his embattled foreign policy.
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Foreign Policy takes a look at the future of mining the estimated "100,000 near-Earth objects—including asteroids and comets—in the neighborhood of our planet. Some of these NEOs, as they’re called, are small. Others are substantial and potentially packed full of water and various important minerals, such as nickel, cobalt, and iron. One day, advocates believe, those objects will be tapped by variations on the equipment used in the coal mines of Kentucky or in the diamond mines of Africa. And for immense gain: According to industry experts, the contents of a single asteroid could be worth trillions of dollars." But the technology to get us there is only the first step. Experts say "a multinational body might emerge" to manage rights to NEOs, as well as a body of law, including an international court.
Not to be outdone by Jeffrey Goldberg's recent piece in The Atlantic about President Obama's foreign policy, the New York Times Magazine checks in with a longread on the president's economic legacy. In it, Obama is cognizant that the economic reality--73 straight months of growth--isn't matched by public perceptions. Some of that, he says, is due to a constant drumbeat from the right that "that denies any progress." But he also accepts some blame himself. “I mean, the truth of the matter is that if we had been able to more effectively communicate all the steps we had taken to the swing voter,” he said, “then we might have maintained a majority in the House or the Senate.”
Ronald Reagan's children and political allies took to the media and Twitter this week to chide funnyman Will Ferrell for his plans to play a dementia-addled Reagan in his second term in a new comedy entitled Reagan. In an open letter, Reagan's daughter Patti Davis tells Ferrell, who's also a producer on the movie, “Perhaps for your comedy you would like to visit some dementia facilities. I have—I didn’t find anything comedic there, and my hope would be that if you’re a decent human being, you wouldn’t either.” Michael Reagan, the president's son, tweeted, "What an Outrag....Alzheimers is not joke...It kills..You should be ashamed all of you." And former Rep. Joe Walsh called it an example of "Hollywood taking a shot at conservatives again."
In a sign that she’s ready to put a longer-than-expected primary battle behind her, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D) is no longer going on the air in upcoming primary states. “Team Clinton hasn’t spent a single cent in … California, Indiana, Kentucky, Oregon and West Virginia, while” Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) “campaign has spent a little more than $1 million in those same states.” Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sanders’ "lone backer in the Senate, said the candidate should end his presidential campaign if he’s losing to Hillary Clinton after the primary season concludes in June, breaking sharply with the candidate who is vowing to take his insurgent bid to the party convention in Philadelphia.”