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.