Outlook: McConnell Juggles FISA, Trade, Highway Bills Before Recess

The Senate is trying to finish three bills—two with looming deadlines—before the week is over.

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 05: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) (3rd L) speaks to the news media after the weekly Senate Republican Caucus policy luncheon with (L-R) Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), Sen. John Thune (R-SD) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) at the U.S. Capitol November 5, 2013 in Washington, DC. The Senate overcame a procedural hurdle Monday to move closer to passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2013, which would outlaw workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
National Journal
May 17, 2015, 4:05 p.m.

Mitch Mc­Con­nell has three com­pet­ing pri­or­it­ies this week be­fore he can send the Sen­ate home for a Me­mori­al Day break: Trade Pro­mo­tion Au­thor­ity, the Pat­ri­ot Act, and a high­way bill. As of last week, the ma­jor­ity lead­er had com­mit­ted ad­dress­ing all of them, but no one in either party knows how ex­actly how they will fit to­geth­er.

Both the tele­phone-sur­veil­lance sys­tem un­der the Pat­ri­ot Act and the gov­ern­ment’s au­thor­ity to draw from the High­way Trust Fund ex­pire at the end of the month, so Con­gress needs a res­ol­u­tion. On high­ways, the Sen­ate’s No. 3 Re­pub­lic­an, John Thune, says the up­per cham­ber will likely fol­low the House’s lead on le­gis­la­tion. The House is slated to vote as early as Tues­day on le­gis­la­tion to ex­tend high­way fund­ing au­thor­ity un­til Ju­ly 31. Once that bill is com­pleted and passed in the House, the Sen­ate will prob­ably OK it without de­bate on a voice vote, ac­cord­ing to a Sen­ate GOP aide.

The For­eign In­tel­li­gence Sur­veil­lance Act ex­ten­sion is a trick­i­er pro­spect. With the House over­whelm­ingly vot­ing last week to end bulk data col­lec­tion by the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency and Mc­Con­nell vow­ing to re­tain the cur­rent pro­gram, law­makers find them­selves at an im­passe. Re­pub­lic­an and Demo­crat­ic lead­ers in the Sen­ate say they aren’t sure the re­quis­ite 60 votes are there even to ex­tend FISA for 30 days.

Sen­ate Minor­ity Whip Dick Durbin last week out­lined Mc­Con­nell’s di­lemma this way: “He has two dooms­day-scen­ario bills. He has the [high­way] trust fund and the Pat­ri­ot Act. And I don’t know what his plans are, but if it’s leav­ing these un­til the last week with this trade bill pending, it’s tempt­ing fate.”

Demo­crats are look­ing at sev­er­al high-pro­file amend­ments to the trade bill that could up­set the White House and Re­pub­lic­ans who sup­port Trade Pro­mo­tion Au­thor­ity, also known as “fast track.” Among the most con­ten­tious will be an at­tempt to add trade-en­force­ment re­quire­ments—which in­clude labor and cur­rency-ma­nip­u­la­tion re­stric­tions—to TPA. If suc­cess­ful, those amend­ments could kill TPA pas­sage.

The Sen­ate isn’t un­der a press­ing dead­line to com­plete work on trade, and Mc­Con­nell could eas­ily put a pause on the fast-track de­bate to sched­ule votes on a FISA res­ol­u­tion or a high­way ex­ten­sion. Still, tim­ing is everything in the Sen­ate, and without the ap­pro­pri­ate mas­sa­ging of mem­bers who might ob­ject to im­me­di­ate votes on any of these is­sues, sen­at­ors could find them­selves vot­ing well in­to the week­end.

Along with the short-term high­way bill, the House also is slated to take up a series of tech­no­logy- and sci­ence-re­lated bills that are in­ten­ded to high­light the need for in­nov­a­tion.


As part of its on­go­ing and am­bi­tious ef­fort to craft a sweep­ing en­ergy bill, the Sen­ate En­ergy and Nat­ur­al Re­sources Com­mit­tee will con­vene a hear­ing on Tues­day to re­view a raft of bills tar­get­ing en­ergy sup­ply. Among the bills up for con­sid­er­a­tion are meas­ures to pro­mote geo­therm­al en­ergy and al­tern­at­ive fuels.

On the oth­er side of the Cap­it­ol, the House Nat­ur­al Re­sources Com­mit­tee holds a hear­ing on Tues­day to ex­am­ine state ef­forts aimed at pro­tect­ing the great­er sage grouse, a bird at the cen­ter of a fight between Wash­ing­ton and the states. Some en­vir­on­ment­al­ists want to see fed­er­al pro­tec­tions for the bird, while a num­ber of West­ern gov­ernors along with the oil and gas in­dustry ar­gue that con­ser­va­tion of the bird’s hab­it­at should be left to the states.


The House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee will hold a markup this week on le­gis­la­tion to in­crease trans­par­ency of FCC pro­ceed­ings. The com­mit­tee has re­cently held two hear­ings on the is­sue, and Demo­crats and Re­pub­lic­ans on the pan­el have in­tro­duced bills. An an­nounce­ment of which bills are un­der con­sid­er­a­tion will come early this week.

And the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee is ex­pec­ted to mark up its pat­ent-re­form bill, the In­nov­a­tion Act, this week. The bill passed the lower cham­ber last Con­gress over­whelm­ingly be­fore stalling in the Sen­ate.


The Sen­ate Bank­ing Com­mit­tee will de­bate and vote Thursday on the Fin­an­cial Reg­u­lat­ory Im­prove­ment Act of 2015, which Chair­man Richard Shelby re­leased last week. The bill pro­poses some of the most am­bi­tious changes to the 2010 Dodd-Frank fin­an­cial-re­form act to date. It would ease reg­u­lat­ory bur­dens on small com­munity banks and in­crease over­sight of the Fed­er­al Re­serve.

The Sen­ate Fin­ance Com­mit­tee also will hold a hear­ing this week on how to safely re­duce re­li­ance on group foster-care homes.


Chair­man Fred Up­ton’s 21st Cen­tury Cures Act will un­der­go a full House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee markup this week after the health sub­com­mit­tee un­an­im­ously ap­proved it last week. The bill sup­ports bio­med­ic­al in­nov­a­tion, in­clud­ing pre­ci­sion medi­cine, al­though there’s plenty still to be worked out in the le­gis­la­tion, par­tic­u­larly re­lated to cost.

The House Ways and Means Com­mit­tee will hold a hear­ing Wed­nes­day on the use of ad­min­is­trat­ive ac­tions in the im­ple­ment­a­tion of the Af­ford­able Care Act, but it hasn’t said yet who the wit­nesses will be. The pan­el’s health sub­com­mit­tee will hold a hear­ing on how to im­prove com­pet­i­tion with­in Medi­care on Tues­day.

And the Hud­son In­sti­tute Thursday will hold a dis­cus­sion on a pop­u­lar ques­tion: “King v. Bur­well: What Next for Obama­care?”


Cap­it­ol Po­lice Chief Kim Dine will be called to testi­fy in front of the House Ad­min­is­tra­tion Com­mit­tee Wed­nes­day on the over­all status of se­cur­ity on Cap­it­ol Hill. The hear­ing comes after the de­part­ment has been cri­ti­cized for sev­er­al in­cid­ents, in­clud­ing a gyro­copter land­ing on the Cap­it­ol’s West Front Lawn and a Roll Call story de­tail­ing in­stances of of­ficers leav­ing guns in bath­rooms.


Pres­id­ent Obama is plan­ning two short trips this week; he will also host a lead­er from the North Afric­an birth­place of the “Ar­ab Spring” up­ris­ings and will wrap up the week with a vis­it to a Wash­ing­ton, D.C., syn­agogue.

The week be­gins with a trip to Cam­den, New Jer­sey to high­light that city’s po­lice de­part­ment and its in­ter­ac­tion with res­id­ents. Obama will tour po­lice headquar­ters as well as meet with loc­al youths from the Cam­den com­munity. Cam­den was a re­cently named a “Prom­ise Zone,” which brings the city fed­er­al grants to help es­tab­lish jobs for young people in troubled com­munit­ies.

Obama is sched­uled to spend Tues­day at the White House, and then travel to New Lon­don, Con­necti­c­ut, on Wed­nes­day to de­liv­er the com­mence­ment ad­dress at the United States Coast Guard Academy. The pres­id­ent tra­di­tion­ally de­liv­ers the gradu­ation speech at one of the ser­vice academies each year. Obama is also plan­ning to at­tend a Demo­crat­ic Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee fun­draiser in Con­necti­c­ut that af­ter­noon be­fore re­turn­ing to Wash­ing­ton.

Tunisi­an Pres­id­ent Beji Caid Es­seb­si is sched­uled to meet with Obama at the White House Thursday. He was elec­ted in the first free elec­tions in that coun­try’s his­tory late last year. Tunisia was home to the first pro-demo­crat­ic protests in the Ar­ab world in 2011, which ul­ti­mately led to the down­fall of a num­ber of auto­crat­ic re­gimes. Obama will hold a Cab­in­et meet­ing later that day.

On Fri­day, Obama is plan­ning a trip a few miles up from the road to the Adas Is­rael syn­agogue in Wash­ing­ton’s Clev­e­land Park neigh­bor­hood to cel­eb­rate Jew­ish-Amer­ic­an Her­it­age Month. And that af­ter­noon, Obama and first lady Michelle Obama are to host a White House re­cep­tion for the for­eign dip­lo­mat­ic corps.

S.V. Dáte, Clare Foran, Kaveh Waddell, Dustin Volz, Eric Garcia, Caitlin Owens and Rachel Roubein contributed to this article.
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