Congress has one week before funding for the Department of Homeland Security morphs from a stalemate into a crisis.
With a weeklong President’s Day recess looming, Republicans and Democrats are still blaming each other for the potential shutdown of the agency. Funding runs out on Feb. 27 — four days after they return — if lawmakers don’t act. And neither side wants to look like they’re skipping town without at least trying to resolve the problem.
Despite the fast approaching deadline, the Senate’s activities this week are something of a mystery. There could be more votes on the House-passed DHS bill, three of which failed last week. Or not. Senate Republicans say Democrats must relent in their refusal to debate that bill, which also would erase the president’s executive action to defer deportations for some 4 million undocumented immigrants. Senate Democrats are refusing to allow the measure to the floor, arguing that such controversial language shouldn’t be part of funding legislation that is “must-pass.” They also say the bill, as written, would effectively shut down DHS because President Obama will veto it over the immigration language.
Republicans are well aware of Democrats’ aversion to the executive action language, but GOP aides argue that the only way to change it that is to allow debate on the bill so it can be amended. They are technically correct on this front. According to the Congressional Research Service, the Senate has parliamentary capability to create its own appropriations bills, but those bills are always added as “substitute” measures to House-passed bills. A “clean” DHS bill does exist in the Senate, sponsored by Democrat Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, that would fund the agency through the year. But, Republicans say, the only way to get to it is by allowing debate on the House bill.
So far, Democrats aren’t biting. They say they will not relent in their opposition to the House-passed legislation. Nor will they accept a modified bill that would erase only part of Obama’s immigration plan to defer deportations for unauthorized parents of legal U.S. residents. On this front, Democrats have the upper hand because at least some of them need to vote ‘yes’ to get past a 60-vote threshold. Once the bill is on the floor, however, they lose that leverage, which should explain the “parliamentary ping-pong,” as Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Barbara Mikulski put it.
While squabbling over DHS, there are a few other items of business that the Senate will take care of. On Monday, senators will vote on Michael Botticelli as Director of the National Drug Control Policy. He is not considered a controversial nominee. Republican aides say the Senate also could vote to confirm Ash Carter, the president’s nominee for Defense secretary.
The House, meanwhile, will give Obama his first opportunity to veto a bill since 2010 when it takes up Senate-passed legislation to allow construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. The House has already passed a Keystone bill, but the Senate amended it to state, among other things, that climate change isn’t a hoax. None of the Senate amendments — including the climate change resolution some non-controversial energy efficiency measures — is expected to prevent the House from passing a Keystone bill for the 11th time since 2011. But the bill still faces certain death at the White House. Neither chamber has a veto-proof majority.
The House also will vote on two small tax bills, one to renew tax credits for charitable contributions and one to extend small business tax credits.
The plan for a quick confirmation of Carter this week is in part driven by lawmakers’ desire to see a new defense secretary get to work. They also are eagerly awaiting a proposal from the White House that would solidify Obama’s legal authority to use military force against Islamic terrorists in Iraq and Syria. Obama promised to produce the first draft of such a document last month, and lawmakers now say they expect to receive it sometime this week.
Once they have the White House document in hand, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is expected to hold several hearings on the country’s strategy for combatting ISIL, particularly in Syria.
Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee’s panel on intellectual property, is set to officially kick off the patent troll debate in the House on Thursday with a hearing to examine the patent litigation landscape in the wake of several Supreme Court decisions. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte last week reintroduced his omnibus patent-reform bill, the Innovation Act, which overwhelming passed the lower chamber last Congress before negotiations stalled in the Senate.
Even as the House passed yet another bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act last week, Obamacare’s second open-enrollment period ends on Sunday, Feb. 15. So far, sign-ups are on track to meet the administration’s goals, and many analysts expect to see a small surge this week, ahead of the weekend deadline.
In the wake of controversial comments from presidential hopefuls Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie questioning vaccines, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will hold a hearing Tuesday on “The Reemergence of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases.”
On Wednesday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Health Subcommittee holds a hearing on the implementation of the ICD-10 coding system, a set of new billing codes for doctors and hospitals that has been delayed amid complaints about its complexity and the sheer number of codes providers would have to use.
Republicans in the House and Senate are separately planning legislative scrutiny of Obama’s ask for the Department of Energy’s 2016 budget. The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s subcommittee on energy and power will hold its hearing on Wednesday, while the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold its hearing on Thursday. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz will appear at both.
On Wednesday, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, with Sen. Jim Inhofe at its helm, will take aim at a pillar of the administration’s climate agenda with a hearing to examine regulations to limit power plant emissions. Janet McCabe, the acting assistant administrator for air and radiation at EPA, will testify.
More committee chairmen and ranking members will come before the House Administration Committee to plead their case on why the budgets they proposed for their respective panels are necessary. It’s a biannual ritual that tugs at the GOP’s desire for fiscal restraint while also ensuring the committees maintain a robust oversight function.
Last Wednesday, 11 committees’ top lawmakers testified before the Administration panel, which is led by Chairwoman Candice Miller. The asks were modest, with some saying they would be fine with flat funding. After part two of the hearing Wednesday, the panel will introduce its omnibus committee expense resolution, mark it up and send it to the House floor.
Obama hits the road this week for a blend of policy, politics and personal time. Policy will be his Summit on Cybersecurity and Consumer Protection at Stanford University on Friday, the day after he arrives in California. At Stanford, he also will meet with business leaders before turning to politics at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser in San Francisco. On the weekend, it’s time for the personal, a mix of Valentine’s Day and golf in Palm Springs. He returns to Washington on Monday.
Before leaving town, the president will meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday to talk about a range of issues, from fighting Islamic extremism to strategy on Ukraine and trade. On Wednesday, he will give an update on the fight to contain Ebola, outlining what the White House calls “the next steps” in West Africa.