Aside From Leadership Scramble, There Is Real Work to Be Done

Appropriations battles, foreign policy issues, and the VA are among the many pressing issues before Congress.

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 11: Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is trailed by reporters while walking through Statuary Hall the U.S. Capitol building, June 11, 2014 in Washington, DC. Yesterday House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) lost his Virginia primary to Tea Party challenger Dave Brat, opening a slot for Majority Leader. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images
National Journal
Billy House
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Billy House
June 15, 2014, 3:56 p.m.

The House and Sen­ate enter this week un­der pres­sure to hash out dif­fer­ences in their vet­er­ans’ health care bills, even as law­makers eye events in Ir­aq and House Re­pub­lic­ans plan to pick a new ma­jor­ity lead­er in the wake of Eric Can­tor’s primary elec­tion de­feat.

The ef­forts to forge a two-cham­ber deal on a Vet­er­ans Af­fairs De­part­ment re­form bill and get it to Pres­id­ent Obama for his sign­ing will also come amid de­mands for pro­gress on 12 spend­ing meas­ures due be­fore the new fisc­al year be­gins on Oct. 1. It could all prove a tough jug­gling act, par­tic­u­larly for House Re­pub­lic­ans dis­trac­ted by in­tern­al up­heav­al.

But both cham­bers are in­tent on stop­ping the rash of re­por­ted — and pre­vent­able — vet­er­an deaths. The Sen­ate and House bills would sim­il­arly re­duce wait times and hold the VA more ac­count­able by ex­pand­ing health care ac­cess bey­ond the VA med­ic­al cen­ters and by mak­ing it easi­er to fire in­com­pet­ent seni­or lead­ers.

There are dif­fer­ences to over­come, however, in­clud­ing a pro­vi­sion in the Sen­ate bill that provides whatever emer­gency fund­ing is ne­ces­sary to carry out the re­forms — without off­set­ting the spend­ing un­der pay-as-you-go budget rules.

House Vet­er­ans’ Af­fairs Com­mit­tee Chair­man Jeff Miller, a Flor­ida Re­pub­lic­an, has said it will be hard for him to sell that open-fund­ing meas­ure to his caucus.

Mean­while, the House GOP lead­er­ship races for the No. 2 and pos­sibly No. 3 posts un­der Speak­er John Boehner will con­sume at­ten­tion, with a “can­did­ate for­um” set on Wed­nes­day morn­ing at the Cap­it­ol for con­tenders. In that closed-door meet­ing, they will state their cases to fel­low House Re­pub­lic­ans. The vot­ing by the 233 GOP House mem­bers will also oc­cur be­hind closed doors on Thursday.

Rep. Kev­in Mc­Carthy of Cali­for­nia ap­peared on track to rise from ma­jor­ity whip — the No. 3 lead­er­ship job — to suc­ceed Can­tor as ma­jor­ity lead­er. However, Rep. Raul Lab­rador of Idaho an­nounced Fri­day he would be chal­len­ging Mc­Carthy. Mean­while, a three-way race to suc­ceed Mc­Carthy as whip — as­sum­ing he wins Can­tor’s post — was un­der­way late last week between Reps. Steve Scal­ise of Louisi­ana, Peter Roskam of Illinois (the cur­rent chief deputy whip), and Marlin Stutz­man of In­di­ana.

Here’s some of what else Con­gress will be do­ing this week:

— Gen­er­al Mo­tors CEO Mary Barra, and Ant­on Valu­kas, head of the com­pany’s in­tern­al ig­ni­tion switch re­call in­vest­ig­a­tion, is to ap­pear be­fore the House En­ergy and Com­merce sub­com­mit­tee on Over­sight and In­vest­ig­a­tions.

— The Sgt. Bowe Ber­g­dahl pris­on­er-ex­change con­tro­versy re­mains in the spot­light, with the House For­eign Af­fairs Com­mit­tee set to hold a joint sub­com­mit­tee hear­ing Wed­nes­day on its im­plic­a­tions for na­tion­al se­cur­ity and the fight against ter­ror­ism.

— On Wed­nes­day, against the un­fold­ing events in Ir­aq, the Sen­ate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee is to hold a hear­ing on the gov­ern­ment’s troop-trans­ition policy in Afgh­anistan, in­clud­ing testi­mony from James Dob­bins, the State De­part­ment’s spe­cial rep­res­ent­at­ive for Afgh­anistan and Pakistan. Wheth­er the House or Sen­ate in­tends to ad­vance any res­ol­u­tion or oth­er ac­tion this week per­tain­ing spe­cific­ally to Ir­aq was not cer­tain.

— Ju­li­an Castro, the may­or of San Ant­o­nio, Texas, is to go be­fore the Sen­ate Bank­ing Com­mit­tee on Tues­day for his con­firm­a­tion hear­ing to be­come the Hous­ing and Urb­an De­vel­op­ment sec­ret­ary.

— Spend­ing bills for the up­com­ing fisc­al year will make their Sen­ate floor de­but with votes as early as Tues­day. Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id and Ap­pro­pri­ations Com­mit­tee Chair­wo­man Bar­bara Mikul­ski have agreed on a pack­age that com­bines three meas­ures in­to one, known as a minibus — a mini­ature om­ni­bus. The spend­ing pack­age is ex­pec­ted to in­clude fund­ing for Ag­ri­cul­ture, Com­merce, Justice, HUD, and Trans­port­a­tion.

— The House Rules Com­mit­tee is to meet on Tues­day to set pro­ced­ures for a floor vote later in the week on the 2015 De­fense Ap­pro­pri­ations bill. The meas­ure would be the fifth of the 12 an­nu­al spend­ing bills to be passed in that cham­ber. That same day, the com­mit­tee is to also meet to provide lan­guage call­ing for a House-Sen­ate con­fer­ence on the vet­er­ans le­gis­la­tion.

— On Wed­nes­day, the House Rules Com­mit­tee is to meet to set up pro­ced­ures for a floor vote on reau­thor­iz­a­tion of the Com­mod­ity Fu­tures Trad­ing Com­mis­sion, and floor ac­tion could be­come con­tro­ver­sial over ef­forts by Re­pub­lic­ans to scale back what they say are its too-broad powers.

— On Monday, the Sen­ate is to vote on Sal­vador Men­d­oza Jr. to be U.S. dis­trict judge for the East­ern Dis­trict of Wash­ing­ton; Staci Yandle to be U.S. dis­trict judge for the South­ern Dis­trict of Illinois; and Dar­rin Gayles to be U.S. dis­trict judge for the South­ern Dis­trict of Flor­ida.

— On Tues­day, the Sen­ate is to vote on the con­firm­a­tion of Peter Kadzik to be an as­sist­ant at­tor­ney gen­er­al.

In ad­di­tion, Sen­ate En­ergy and Nat­ur­al Re­sources Com­mit­tee Chair­wo­man Mary Landrieu of Louisi­ana has set votes for Wed­nes­day on a con­ten­tious ex­ec­ut­ive branch nom­in­ee — Nor­man Bay to chair the Fed­er­al En­ergy Reg­u­lat­ory Com­mis­sion — as well as on le­gis­la­tion to fast-track con­struc­tion of the Key­stone XL pipeline.


Push on Ap­props

The House De­fense Ap­pro­pri­ations bill to be taken up this week would provide $491 bil­lion in dis­cre­tion­ary fund­ing for na­tion­al se­cur­ity and oth­er needs. House GOP lead­ers had pushed back ac­tion on the 2015 Ag­ri­cul­ture Ap­pro­pri­ations bill un­til at least the week of June 23 be­cause of the con­fer­ence lead­er­ship shuffle.

The minibus pack­age to hit the Sen­ate floor this week would provide nearly $126 bil­lion for pro­grams in­clud­ing Com­munity De­vel­op­ment Block Grants, nu­tri­tion, rail­road and trans­port­a­tion in­fra­struc­ture, and com­batting gun vi­ol­ence.

The Trans­port­a­tion/HUD bill, the largest of the three bills un­der con­sid­er­a­tion, spends $54.4 bil­lion, about $3 bil­lion over what the pres­id­ent re­ques­ted. The bill in­cludes $18 bil­lion for the Trans­port­a­tion De­part­ment and $36 bil­lion for HUD. Last year’s THUD bill, the only one to make it to the floor, was de­railed over GOP fears that it would bust the Budget Con­trol Act caps. This year, be­cause of the Bi­par­tis­an Budget Act, those fears have been mostly neut­ral­ized.

The Com­merce, Justice, Sci­ence bill al­lots $51.2 bil­lion — $1 bil­lion more than the pres­id­ent re­ques­ted. It in­cludes fund­ing for the FBI, Drug En­force­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion, and the Bur­eau of Al­co­hol, To­bacco, Fire­arms, and Ex­plos­ives, as well as for NASA. The bill also in­cludes $1.1 bil­lion to ad­dress gun vi­ol­ence, mem­bers say, with por­tions of those funds go­ing to the FBI to run in­stant back­ground checks on pur­chases, for ex­ample.

The Ag­ri­cul­ture bill in­cludes $20.57 bil­lion for ag­ri­cul­tur­al re­search, the Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion, nu­tri­tion pro­grams, and nat­ur­al re­sources con­ser­va­tion. The bill in­cludes $6.62 bil­lion for the Wo­men, In­fants and Chil­dren (WIC) pro­gram, which is $93 mil­lion less than was al­loc­ated in fisc­al 2014. Demo­crats stress that the pro­gram will ac­com­mod­ate the ex­pec­ted num­ber of par­ti­cipants.

Un­like much of the le­gis­la­tion brought to the floor this year, which has been part of Demo­crat­ic ef­forts to win reelec­tion, these ap­pro­pri­ations bills stand a bet­ter chance of passing. That’s be­cause the spend­ing levels were set by the two-year budget deal agreed to by Rep. Paul Ry­an and Sen. Patty Mur­ray last year.

Most bills have foundered over par­tis­an dis­agree­ments about the amend­ments pro­cess on the floor, with Re­id block­ing Re­pub­lic­ans from of­fer­ing their meas­ures. Demo­crats counter that Re­pub­lic­ans would of­fer non-ger­mane amend­ments, or make them take votes on dif­fi­cult polit­ic­al is­sues — like the med­ic­al device tax, for ex­ample.

Demo­crats are open to amend­ments on the ap­pro­pri­ations bill, Demo­crat­ic aides con­firmed. What’s less clear is wheth­er the amend­ment pro­cess on the minibus will serve as a pois­on pill.

There are signs of trouble ahead, though not on this spate of bills. Mikul­ski can­celed an ex­pec­ted markup of the Labor/Health and Hu­man Ser­vices markup after Re­pub­lic­ans let it be known they planned to push amend­ments tar­get­ing the Af­ford­able Care Act. Sen. Lamar Al­ex­an­der, the rank­ing Re­pub­lic­an on the au­thor­iz­ing com­mit­tee over­see­ing HHS, in­stead took the floor last week to pub­licly air his amend­ments.


Warthog Battle

Floor fights are loom­ing over the Pentagon’s plan to spike the A-10 Warthog at­tack plane, which has the back­ing of House ap­pro­pri­at­ors but is op­posed by Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee mem­bers in both cham­bers. The de­fense au­thor­iz­a­tion bill craf­ted by the two Armed Ser­vices pan­els would spare the plane.

Be­sides ne­go­ti­at­ing a fi­nal bill, the House Vet­er­ans’ Af­fairs Com­mit­tee is con­tinu­ing its ex­am­in­a­tion in­to prob­lems with VA health care. It holds a hear­ing on non-VA health care solu­tions on Wed­nes­day and an­oth­er hear­ing re­view­ing how bo­nuses were awar­ded to seni­or lead­ers at the VA on Fri­day.


CFTC Is­sues

The ef­forts to pass a Com­mod­ity Fu­tures Trad­ing Com­mis­sion reau­thor­iz­a­tion will be car­ried in the form of the Cus­tom­er Pro­tec­tion and End User Re­lief Act, a bill au­thored by House Ag­ri­cul­ture Com­mit­tee Chair­man Frank Lu­cas.

The last reau­thor­iz­a­tion of the CFTC oc­curred in 2008, be­fore the height of the fin­an­cial crisis and pri­or to the en­act­ment of the Dodd-Frank Act. Since then, Re­pub­lic­ans like Can­tor have com­plained that the CFTC has gained broad new au­thor­it­ies to su­per­vise the fu­tures and swaps mar­kets.

And, as as­ser­ted in a re­cent Can­tor memo to fel­low House Re­pub­lic­ans, “many of the CFTC’s new rules have neg­at­ively im­pacted end-users, such as our farm­ers, ranch­ers, man­u­fac­tur­ers, small busi­nesses, and util­it­ies, by mak­ing it more dif­fi­cult and costly to man­age risks as­so­ci­ated with their busi­nesses.”

The Lu­cas bill is be­ing de­pic­ted as “mean­ing­ful re­lief” from overly bur­den­some re­quire­ments from the CFTC.


Key­stone Re­turns

Pres­id­ent Obama nom­in­ated Bay to be­come the FERC chair, but con­ser­vat­ive and mod­er­ate pan­el mem­bers say he lacks the re­quis­ite ex­per­i­ence to steer the body. In­stead, they want act­ing Chair­wo­man Cheryl LaFleur to hold onto her seat.

Landrieu and En­ergy and Nat­ur­al Re­sources rank­ing mem­ber Lisa Murkowski of Alaska are cur­rently in­volved in ne­go­ti­ations with Sen­ate lead­ers to con­firm Bay as a com­mis­sion­er but keep LaFleur as chair. A deal has not yet been reached.

Mean­while, Landrieu’s push for a vote to ap­prove Key­stone puts a vul­ner­able Demo­crat on the pan­el in a tough spot. Sen. Mark Ud­all of Col­or­ado is fa­cing a tough fight for reelec­tion in the midterms and has worked to court the oil and gas in­dustry as well as en­vir­on­ment­al­ists. Last week, Ud­all said he plans to vote against the pipeline bill, but steered away from mak­ing a judg­ment call on the pro­ject. In­stead, he said he does not think the is­sue should be in­jec­ted with par­tis­an polit­ics.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has been choos­ing friendly audi­ences so far to dis­cuss its plan to lower car­bon emis­sions from ex­ist­ing power plants. But the re­cep­tion won’t be as rosy Thursday when the En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency’s act­ing air chief Janet Mc­Cabe de­fends the plan be­fore the House En­ergy and Com­merce Sub­com­mit­tee on En­ergy and Power. Chair­man Ed Whit­field of Ken­tucky and oth­er com­mit­tee Re­pub­lic­ans have blas­ted the plan as too costly and an ex­ec­ut­ive over­reach that will make en­ergy too ex­pens­ive.

On Wed­nes­day, the Sen­ate En­vir­on­ment and Pub­lic Works Com­mit­tee will hold an­oth­er hear­ing on the need to act on cli­mate change, but this time will be re­cruit­ing help from the right. Among the wit­nesses will be four former EPA ad­min­is­trat­ors that served un­der Re­pub­lic­an ad­min­is­tra­tions: Wil­li­am Ruck­elshaus, Lee Thomas, Wil­li­am Re­illy, and Christine Todd Whit­man.


Med­PAC Re­forms

The House Ways and Means Com­mit­tee will hold a hear­ing Wed­nes­day on the Medi­care Pay­ment Ad­vis­ory Com­mis­sion’s June re­port to Con­gress. Med­PAC is re­quired to sub­mit two re­ports to Con­gress each year, of­fer­ing re­com­mend­a­tions for re­form­ing Medi­care pay­ment policy. The June re­port fo­cuses on spe­cif­ic is­sues fa­cing the fed­er­al pro­gram, and Wed­nes­day’s hear­ing will fea­ture testi­mony from Med­PAC’s ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or, Mark E. Miller.

The Sen­ate’s $158 bil­lion Labor/HHS bill — which in­cludes some fund­ing for Obama­care in 2015 — was sup­posed to be marked up by now in the Ap­pro­pri­ations Com­mit­tee but Mikul­ski can­celed a vote on the bill after Re­pub­lic­ans in­dic­ated they would force a series of polit­ic­ally pain­ful votes on vul­ner­able com­mit­tee Demo­crats.

Demo­crat­ic Sen. Tom Har­kin, the bill’s au­thor, said it is now un­likely to be con­sidered sep­ar­ately on the floor and will end up in a later om­ni­bus pack­age with oth­er spend­ing bills. Har­kin denied that the “tough” Obama­care votes were the reas­on the markup was delayed.


Tech Sup­port

After re­turn­ing to Wash­ing­ton from Cali­for­nia on Monday, Obama will take his mes­sage on the eco­nomy and jobs to Pitt­s­burgh, trav­el­ing there on Tues­day for an event at Tech Shop in the high-tech hub of Bakery Square.

From Pitt­s­burgh, he will travel to New York to raise money for the Demo­crat­ic Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee and par­ti­cip­ate in the DNC’s LGBT Gala.

At the White House on Wed­nes­day, the pres­id­ent will host the first-ever White House “Maker Faire” and meet with “stu­dents, en­tre­pren­eurs and every­day cit­izens who are us­ing new tools and tech­niques to launch new busi­nesses, learn vi­tal skills in sci­ence, tech­no­logy, en­gin­eer­ing and math, and fuel the renais­sance in Amer­ic­an man­u­fac­tur­ing.”

On Thursday, he will award the Medal of Hon­or to former Mar­ine Cpl. Wil­li­am “Kyle” Car­penter for his bravery while serving as a rifle­man in Hel­mand Province, Afgh­anistan.

Obama will close out the week on Fri­day, meet­ing with Prime Min­is­ter John Key of New Zea­l­and.

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