Will Lawmakers Stop Federal Medical Marijuana Raids?

House takes on VA scandal, appropriations—and whether to ban federal interference with state medical-marijuana laws.

Chairman of the Congressional Steel Caucus Congressman Tim Murphy, R-PA, listens to testimony on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, March 25, 2014, on the state of US steel trade, energy, and currency policies. 
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Billy House
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Billy House
May 27, 2014, 6:46 p.m.

With the Senate on recess this week, the focus will be on the House, where members will return Wednesday prepared to vote on the 2015 National Intelligence Authorization Act.

Meanwhile, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee will continue to keep pressure on the Veterans Affairs Department in a hearing Wednesday designed to probe into reports of preventable deaths. The committee has already issued two subpoenas to VA officials.

But it’s a battle over medical marijuana that could spark the most intense debate, when the House takes up the third of 12 annual appropriations bills for the new fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. An amendment being offered by Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California and other lawmakers would prohibit agencies from using any of the $51.2 billion in discretionary spending contained in the Commerce, Science, Justice, and Related Agencies spending bill to pursue marijuana-related prosecutions in states where the drug is legal.

Such amendments have failed in the past. But now, more than half the states — 26 and the District of Columbia — have some form of medical-marijuana law on their books.

Indeed, a wide range of amendments are expected, from issues surrounding the Guantanamo Bay detention facility to prohibiting funding for a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives reporting requirement on multiple-rifle sales in border states.

Other action in the House will include:

- A full House Appropriations Committee hearing Thursday to mark up the fiscal 2015 Agriculture appropriations bill, anticipated to bring some tense battles over child nutrition programs and other issues.

-A House Foreign Affairs Committee markup on Thursday for the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act of 2015.

-A House Small Business Committee hearing Thursday on a recent Environmental Protection Agency rule expanding U.S. waters subject to regulation under the Clean Water Act.

-A House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on Wednesday to mark up the 2015 Homeland Security spending bill.

-A briefing Thursday on the Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee’s recent report about federal programs addressing severe mental illness.


Slow Ride

Thursday’s full House Appropriations Committee markup of the fiscal 2015 Agriculture appropriations bill is expected to have lawmakers arguing.

Democrats, led by Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, already are accusing Republicans of using the appropriations process to weaken child-nutrition programs. One accusation is that provisions incorporated during a subcommittee markup would roll back school nutrition standards, leading the way for less whole grains and more sodium in school meals. The legislation, they say, would also circumvent the USDA/Institute of Medicine process to determine the appropriate food package for the Women, Infants, and Children nutrition program.

If the Commerce, Science, Justice, and Related Agencies spending bill is approved by the House as expected, it will mark the third spending bill completed by the House. The Appropriations Committee also has already marked up its 2015 Transportation and Housing and Urban Development bill.

But there is rising concern over the pace of the House and Senate action on the spending bills. The House has passed only its least-controversial measures, and the Senate has not yet passed any spending bills. There is growing doubt that action on all 12 individual measures can get done in time as lawmakers focus more on reelection.

Increasingly, discussion is centered on the prospect that a continuing resolution will be needed to keep some agencies and programs funded into the new fiscal year at current levels, and that some spending bills will have to be addressed after the Nov. 4 election in a lame-duck session.

Last week, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer tried to question Majority Leader Eric Cantor about whether all of the fiscal 2015 spending bills will, in fact, be primed for House floor action within the 31 legislative days remaining before Congress takes its August break.

Cantor hedged. “The [Appropriations] Committee’s certainly expressed its desire, as our conference has, as our speaker has, to move all 12 appropriations bills,” Cantor said.


VA Probed

While the VA scandal simmers, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee is continuing to oversee a range of other veterans’ issues.

The panel plans to hold two subcommittee hearings Thursday on veterans’ issues: one on inadequate service for visually impaired vets and another evaluating the VA’s performance in helping vets transition out of the military.

The House is also expected to take up the intelligence authorization bill this week, which authorizes classified appropriations for covert activities at the National Security Agency, the CIA, and the FBI.

The Armed Services Committee is regrouping from its work on the National Defense Authorization Act and has no committee activity planned.


Climate Hearing

The House Science Committee will tackle global warming this week, with a deep dive on Thursday into the methodology behind the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment.

But don’t expect calls for action on climate. Republican Chairman Lamar Smith of Texas is a noted climate-change skeptic and frequently attacks the science underpinning EPA regulations.

The hearing will feature testimony from Roger Pielke, a senior research scientist at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences. Pielke has drawn fire from the environmental community and climate scientists alike for voicing criticism of the U.N. climate report.

The House Small Business Committee’s hearing on U.S. waters will focus on how a broader reading of the Clean Water Act will affect the construction and agriculture sectors; the hearing will include testimony from the National Stone, Sand, and Gravel Association. Conservatives and industry groups have expressed concern that federal jurisdiction over streams and temporary waterways can mean more regulation that will slow commerce.

A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee will put the spotlight Friday on the Energy Department’s green-technology loan program, which has been a magnet for GOP criticism in recent years. Peter Davidson, who heads the Energy Department’s Loan Programs Office, will testify. The program recently invited applications for a new round of loan guarantees focused on, among other things, integrating renewable energy into power grids.


Psychology Exam

Rep. Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania, a clinical psychologist, will be accompanied by a handful of experts as the Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee discusses the findings of its report on federal programs addressing mental health.

According to the committee, its investigation underscores the need to improve training on mental health issues for law enforcement and emergency services personnel.

The report follows a yearlong investigation reviewing mental health resources and programs across the federal spectrum. The committee’s investigation began in January 2013, following the school shooting in Newtown, Conn.


Defense Focus

The major event in President Obama’s week will come Wednesday at the U.S. Military Academy. He returns to West Point, the site of his major 2009 speech on Afghanistan and Pakistan, to deliver a commencement address that will be a full-throated defense of his embattled foreign policy.

Jason Plautz, Ben Geman, George E. Condon Jr., Clare Foran and Stacy Kaper contributed to this article.
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