A Hot July Forecast on Capitol Hill

Major legislation continues to stack up as lawmakers focus more on the midterms.

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 13: U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (ID-VT) speaks during a Conference on the FY2014 Budget Resolution meeting November 13, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Congressional Budget Office Director Doug Elmendorf briefed the conferees on CBO's budget and economic outlook. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
National Journal
July 6, 2014, 4:41 p.m.

The un­fin­ished work of this Con­gress is pil­ing up with no more than 20 sched­uled le­gis­lat­ive days be­fore the an­nu­al Au­gust re­cess, and stan­doffs over eco­nom­ic is­sues and oth­er mat­ters are con­tinu­ing to vex law­makers as they re­turn to ses­sion this week.

More time and fo­cus is likely to be stolen from this im­port­ant stretch run of a midterm elec­tion year by the revved-up di­vis­ive­ness in re­cent days between Pres­id­ent Obama and con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­ans.

The ad­ded ten­sions in­clude Obama’s claim that House in­ac­tion will prompt him to uni­lat­er­ally en­act changes to the coun­try’s im­mig­ra­tion sys­tem, Speak­er John Boehner’s in­ten­tion to sue over Obama’s use of ex­ec­ut­ive ac­tions to get around con­gres­sion­al ap­prov­al, and House Re­pub­lic­an sug­ges­tions that they will not “rub­ber-stamp” the pres­id­ent’s war-fund­ing re­quest.

Mean­while, the ad­min­is­tra­tion and many con­gres­sion­al Demo­crats con­tin­ue to warn that a crisis looms un­less ac­tion is taken to pre­vent the High­way Trust Fund from go­ing broke by the end of Au­gust, halt­ing trans­port­a­tion pro­jects at the height of con­struc­tion sea­son. But many Re­pub­lic­ans and con­ser­vat­ive groups dis­pute the level of ser­i­ous­ness.

Also this week, House and Sen­ate con­fer­ees con­tin­ue try­ing to re­solve dif­fer­ences on a bill to re­form the be­lea­guered Vet­er­ans Af­fairs De­part­ment. In ad­di­tion, the two cham­bers re­main out of sync on meas­ures to re­new dozens of ex­pired tax pro­vi­sions, and most of the ap­pro­pri­ations bills needed to fund the gov­ern­ment after Oct. 1 still need ac­tion.

Some law­makers in­sist there is also an ur­gent need to reau­thor­ize the Ex­port-Im­port Bank be­fore its charter ex­pires Sept. 30. But many con­ser­vat­ives say they’d rather shut down, or sig­ni­fic­antly re­form, the in­sti­tu­tion that provides loans and cred­it in­sur­ance to for­eign buy­ers of U.S. products.

This is not to say law­makers will be sit­ting idle when the Sen­ate re­turns to ses­sion on Monday and the House on Tues­day.

The Sen­ate is sched­uled to vote Monday on a mo­tion to end de­bate on the Bi­par­tis­an Sports­men’s Act of 2014 sponsored by Demo­crat Kay Hagan, who is in a heated race for reelec­tion in North Car­o­lina against Re­pub­lic­an Thom Tillis, speak­er of the state House. The bill in­cludes meas­ures that would give the In­teri­or sec­ret­ary au­thor­ity to is­sue elec­tron­ic duck stamps to the states as well as a pro­vi­sion al­low­ing im­port­a­tion of leg­ally hunted po­lar bears.

Also Monday, the Sen­ate is to vote on the nom­in­a­tion of Cheryl Krause to be U.S. cir­cuit judge.

The House is to take up a spate of bills Tues­day un­der sus­pen­sion of the rules, in­clud­ing meas­ures to set an­ti­ter­ror­ism stand­ards at chem­ic­al fa­cil­it­ies and to reau­thor­ize the U.S. Com­mis­sion on In­ter­na­tion­al Re­li­gious Free­dom.

On Wed­nes­day the House is sched­uled to vote on a bi­par­tis­an, bicam­er­al Work­force In­nov­a­tion and Op­por­tun­ity Act.

With Con­gress ex­pec­ted to ad­journ for the midterms in early Oc­to­ber, the weeks lead­ing up to the Au­gust re­cess are likely to de­term­ine how much work will ul­ti­mately be put off by way of ex­tenders, patches, or oth­er tem­por­ary bills un­til a postelec­tion lame-duck ses­sion. In oth­er words, the fore­cast for the rest of Ju­ly is ex­treme heat.


Ap­props Crawl

Ex­pect more talk this week about the de­vel­op­ment of an om­ni­bus ap­pro­pri­ations bill or at least a con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion to keep the gov­ern­ment op­er­at­ing when fisc­al 2015 be­gins Oct. 1, since it ap­pears un­likely either cham­ber will fin­ish all 12 an­nu­al spend­ing bills by then, much less be able to reach bicam­er­al agree­ment on them. Ex­ten­sions of cur­rent fund­ing levels for most agen­cies will likely be ad­op­ted un­til a longer-term ap­proach can be found, prob­ably in the lame-duck ses­sion.

Even if the House acts this week or next on two ap­pro­pri­ations bills—En­ergy and Wa­ter, and Fin­an­cial Ser­vices—it still has five oth­er spend­ing bills to bring to the floor.

The Sen­ate, mean­while, has yet to pass any of the an­nu­al spend­ing bills. Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id blocked off two weeks in Ju­ly for floor con­sid­er­a­tion of the meas­ures but the pro­cess stalled over amend­ments last month.

Be­fore the Ju­ly Fourth hol­i­day, Ap­pro­pri­ations Chair­wo­man Bar­bara Mikul­ski said sen­at­ors were tak­ing a break from try­ing to un­knot the par­tis­an hol­dup but were not giv­ing up. The Sen­ate failed to reach an agree­ment over amend­ments on a three-in-one spend­ing bill last month. That “minibus” would have fun­ded Trans­port­a­tion, Hous­ing and Urb­an De­vel­op­ment; Com­merce, Justice, Sci­ence; and Ag­ri­cul­ture, as well as oth­er agen­cies, in­clud­ing NASA.

On an­oth­er is­sue, the House Rules Com­mit­tee could meet this week to set floor pro­ced­ures for a vote on a “Bo­nus De­pre­ci­ation” bill, the latest in a series of that cham­ber’s tax-ex­ten­sion meas­ures.


VA Talks

Law­makers in­volved in the con­fer­ence ne­go­ti­ations over Vet­er­ans Af­fairs re­forms are still work­ing to con­tain costs and have been con­sult­ing with the non­par­tis­an Con­gres­sion­al Budget Of­fice. Re­pub­lic­ans have raised ques­tions about the le­git­im­acy of es­tim­ates that the le­gis­la­tion could cost as much as $50 bil­lion a year.

No form­al pub­lic meet­ings have been sched­uled and the real ne­go­ti­at­ing is ex­pec­ted to take place largely be­hind the scenes.

Mean­time, the House Vet­er­ans’ Af­fairs Com­mit­tee is con­tinu­ing its probe of chal­lenges fa­cing the VA with a hear­ing Tues­day on whistle-blowers and an­oth­er Thursday on vet­er­ans’ ac­cess to men­tal health care.

The Sen­ate Vet­er­ans’ Af­fairs Com­mit­tee is work­ing to sched­ule a con­firm­a­tion hear­ing for Robert Mc­Don­ald, the former cor­por­ate ex­ec­ut­ive who is Obama’s pick to be the next VA sec­ret­ary. Chair­man Bernie Sanders ex­pects to re­ceive Mc­Don­ald’s form­al nom­in­a­tion from the White House this week and hopes to meet with nom­in­ee to dis­cuss how he would lead the de­part­ment.

Law­makers also re­main fo­cused on mon­it­or­ing the situ­ation in Ir­aq. The Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee on Tues­day is to hold a closed-door hear­ing on the state of play in both Ir­aq and Afgh­anistan.

Also in the Sen­ate, the For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee de­bates European en­ergy se­cur­ity in a hear­ing Tues­day. The Home­land Se­cur­ity and Gov­ern­ment­al Af­fairs Com­mit­tee is to hold a hear­ing Wed­nes­day on the chal­lenges fa­cing the U.S. along the south­ern bor­der.

In the House, the For­eign Af­fairs Com­mit­tee digs in­to hu­man-rights is­sues in South­east Asia in a hear­ing on Wed­nes­day. The Over­sight and Gov­ern­ment Re­form Com­mit­tee on Thursday will hold a hear­ing to ex­am­ine wheth­er new ad­min­is­tra­tion policies re­gard­ing more-open em­bassy con­struc­tion and designs are put­ting Amer­ic­ans over­seas in danger.


Rough Riders

The House ac­tion ex­pec­ted this week on its En­ergy and Wa­ter Ap­pro­pri­ations bill could get testy, with the sus­pi­cions by en­vir­on­ment­al groups that a host of policy riders could be offered that might spell trouble for re­cently pro­posed en­vir­on­ment­al reg­u­la­tions.

In par­tic­u­lar, en­vir­on­ment­al­ists are an­ti­cip­at­ing that con­ser­vat­ives will at­tempt to tack on amend­ments to the spend­ing bill that could block or un­der­mine draft reg­u­la­tions that would re­quire the En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency to lim­it car­bon emis­sions from the na­tion’s fleet of power plants as well as a reg­u­la­tion that would cla­ri­fy the agency’s jur­is­dic­tion over streams and wa­ter­ways.

Mean­while, the House En­ergy and Com­merce En­vir­on­ment and Eco­nomy Sub­com­mit­tee is to hold a hear­ing Fri­day that looks at state and fed­er­al au­thor­ity when it comes to en­vir­on­ment­al policy im­ple­ment­a­tion. Con­ser­vat­ive pan­el mem­bers will likely ad­voc­ate for great­er state autonomy when it comes to reg­u­la­tions, cit­ing fed­er­al over­reach as they make their case.

On Wed­nes­day, the House Sci­ence Com­mit­tee holds a hear­ing to ex­am­ine EPA’s au­thor­ity un­der the Clean Wa­ter Act, with EPA Deputy Ad­min­is­trat­or Bob Per­ciasepe slated to testi­fy.


Fu­ture Medi­cine

House En­ergy and Com­merce will con­tin­ue its series on “21st Cen­tury Cures” this week, with two hear­ings sched­uled. The Health Sub­com­mit­tee will dis­cuss how to mod­ern­ize clin­ic­al tri­als to more quickly find cures and treat­ments on Wed­nes­day, and a hear­ing Fri­day will cov­er ways to bet­ter gath­er and use pa­tient per­spect­ives in drug de­vel­op­ment and care. The ini­ti­at­ive aims to find ways that Con­gress can help to ac­cel­er­ate med­ic­al re­search and in­nov­a­tion.

The House Over­sight and Gov­ern­ment Re­form Sub­com­mit­tee on En­ergy Policy, Health Care, and En­ti­tle­ments is to hold a hear­ing Thursday on the Medi­care ap­peals pro­cess to eval­u­ate sev­er­al po­ten­tial re­forms. From 2010 to 2013, the num­ber of claims nearly tripled, and, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cials from the Of­fice of Hear­ing and Medi­care Ap­peals, there is a back­log of 460,000 ap­peals wait­ing to be heard by ad­min­is­trat­ive-law judges.



The Sen­ate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee is sched­uled to mark up le­gis­la­tion Tues­day to im­prove the abil­ity of com­pan­ies to share in­form­a­tion about cy­ber­at­tacks with each oth­er and with the gov­ern­ment.

The Fed­er­al Com­mu­nic­a­tions Com­mis­sion will vote Fri­day on a plan to spend $2 bil­lion over the next two years to up­grade wire­less In­ter­net ac­cess in schools and lib­rar­ies across the coun­try. The agency will also vote on rules re­quir­ing closed cap­tion­ing of on­line video clips that have already aired on TV.


More Travel

Obama heads to the West this week in the hunt for polit­ic­al dol­lars, with a few words on edu­ca­tion and the eco­nomy mixed in.

On Monday, he will host a group of teach­ers at the White House.

On Tues­day, he will meet with NATO Sec­ret­ary Gen­er­al An­ders Fogh Rasmussen to plan the up­com­ing al­li­ance sum­mit in Septem­ber and to dis­cuss Afgh­anistan and Ukraine. Then late that night he goes to Den­ver.

On Wed­nes­day the pres­id­ent will at­tend an event for the Demo­crat­ic Sen­at­ori­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee be­fore fly­ing to Dal­las for a Demo­crat­ic Con­gres­sion­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee fun­draiser. From there, he goes to Aus­tin for a Demo­crat­ic Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee event and spends the night.

Thursday morn­ing, he will speak on the eco­nomy be­fore re­turn­ing to Wash­ing­ton.

Michael Catalin, Stacy Kaper, Sophie Novack, Clare Foran, Brendan Sasso and George E. Condon Jr. contributed to this article.
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