Ukraine, Fiscal Issues Top Post-Recess Agenda

A man waves a Russian flag as the word 'Russia' is projected onto a building in the center of the Crimean city of Simferopol on March 21, 2014. Russia's upper house of parliament unanimously voted on March 21 to ratify the treaty incorporating Crimea into Russian territory in defiance of the international community's insistence that the peninsula is part of Ukraine. AFP PHOTO / DMITRY SEREBRYAKOV (Photo credit should read DMITRY SEREBRYAKOV/AFP/Getty Images)
National Journal
March 23, 2014, 7:56 a.m.

Law­makers re­turn to the Cap­it­ol this week de­term­ined to take steps to aid Ukraine and pun­ish Rus­sia, but they first must re­solve dif­fer­ences between ap­proaches in­tro­duced in the House and those pre­ferred by Sen­ate Demo­crats and the ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Re­forms to the In­ter­na­tion­al Mon­et­ary Fund sought by the Sen­ate and Pres­id­ent Obama are among not­able hang-ups. House GOP lead­ers and con­ser­vat­ives op­pose the changes, and the IMF pro­pos­als were left out of a House bill un­veiled on Fri­day.

Also on tap this week is a flurry of ap­pear­ances be­fore the House and Sen­ate Ap­pro­pri­ations com­mit­tees re­gard­ing agency and de­part­ment budget re­quests for fisc­al 2015.

Obama will spend most of the week over­seas, in­clud­ing a meet­ing set for Thursday in Vat­ic­an City with Pope Fran­cis to dis­cuss poverty and in­come in­equal­ity.

Here’s some oth­er con­gres­sion­al ac­tion ex­pec­ted this week:

  • With ne­go­ti­ations stalled on a bi­par­tis­an bill to find a long-term or per­man­ent ap­proach to pay­ing Medi­care phys­i­cians, con­gres­sion­al ne­go­ti­at­ors will move to­ward an­oth­er short-term “doc fix” of nine months to a year. They must act by March 31 to avert an auto­mat­ic cut to those pay­ments.
  • Sec­ret­ary of State John Kerry is to testi­fy Tues­day be­fore the Sen­ate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee on the na­tion­al se­cur­ity and for­eign policy pri­or­it­ies in the pres­id­ent’s budget pro­pos­al.
  • The For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee also holds a hear­ing on Syr­ia on Wed­nes­day.
  • Treas­ury Sec­ret­ary Jac­ob Lew will not only be ap­pear­ing Tues­day be­fore the House Ap­pro­pri­ations Com­mit­tee, he also is set to ap­pear on Wed­nes­day be­fore the House Fin­an­cial Ser­vices Com­mit­tee on the state of the in­ter­na­tion­al fin­an­cial sys­tem.
  • The House Fin­an­cial Ser­vices Com­mit­tee on Tues­day will hold the first in a planned series of hear­ings on the $17 tril­lion na­tion­al debt. This hear­ing is to ex­am­ine the debt’s im­pact on jobs, eco­nom­ic growth, and the abil­ity of the na­tion to fund en­ti­tle­ment pro­grams and dis­cre­tion­ary spend­ing.
  • Ad­voc­ates of ex­port­ing nat­ur­al gas will ramp up their ef­forts, ready to make their case be­fore Con­gress that sur­ging U.S. gas pro­duc­tion should open the door for ex­ports that help Europe ease re­li­ance on Rus­si­an en­ergy. On Tues­day the Sen­ate En­ergy and Nat­ur­al Re­sources Com­mit­tee will have a hear­ing on the top­ic. A day later the House For­eign Af­fairs Com­mit­tee will have a hear­ing on the “Geo­pol­it­ic­al Po­ten­tial of the U.S. En­ergy Boom.”

The House’s ex­clu­sion of IMF re­forms con­tained in a Ukraine aid bill ap­proved earli­er this month by the Sen­ate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee sets up a clash between the two cham­bers. For in­stance, the Sen­ate bill backs an ad­min­is­tra­tion call to shift $63 bil­lion from an IMF crisis ac­count to its gen­er­al fund.

Re­pub­lic­ans who op­pose that, in­clud­ing House Speak­er John Boehner, say such a move really has noth­ing to do with the Ukraine crisis. They note that Obama and Demo­crats have been push­ing the move for some time and that the pres­id­ent in­cluded it in his budget pro­pos­al for fisc­al 2015.

In hear­ings be­fore the Ap­pro­rpi­ations pan­els, sched­uled wit­nesses in­clude Treas­ury’s Lew, FBI Dir­ect­or James Comey, Ag­ri­cul­ture Sec­ret­ary Tom Vil­sack, Cap­it­ol Po­lice Chief Kim Dine, In­teri­or Sec­ret­ary Sally Jew­ell, Labor Sec­ret­ary Thomas Perez, Fed­er­al Com­mu­nic­a­tions Com­mis­sion Chair­man Tom Wheel­er, and En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency Ad­min­is­trat­or Gina Mc­Carthy, among oth­ers.


GOP Mys­tery

Ques­tions have per­sisted about wheth­er House Re­pub­lic­ans led by Budget Com­mit­tee Chair­man Paul Ry­an will fol­low Sen­ate Demo­crats and not pass a fisc­al 2015 budget plan. On Fri­day, however, Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Eric Can­tor said in a memo that ac­tion will be taken on a spend­ing plan, along with three budget-pro­cess re­form bills.

There has been spec­u­la­tion that a GOP budget could have dif­fi­culty passing in the House, and wheth­er Re­pub­lic­ans should — or even have to — pro­duce a budget as they head to­ward Novem­ber’s elec­tions.

If such a budget ad­hered to spend­ing caps put in place by the two-year, $1.1 tril­lion budget deal passed in Decem­ber — which Ry­an helped cre­ate — pas­sage could be dif­fi­cult. Sixty-two House Re­pub­lic­ans voted against that meas­ure, mean­ing a sim­il­ar spend­ing plan would re­quire Demo­crat­ic sup­port for pas­sage. That could be a tough task if Re­pub­lic­ans turn their budget in­to a mes­saging vehicle for cuts to so­cial or some oth­er pro­grams, es­pe­cially if it also in­cludes ad­ded mil­it­ary spend­ing.

But in his memo Fri­day, Can­tor said: “While the pres­id­ent’s budget blows past the spend­ing lim­it pre­vi­ously agreed to, the House Re­pub­lic­an budget “¦ will ad­here to the agreed upon spend­ing lim­its and bal­ance in 10 years.”

The con­gres­sion­al timetable sets April 15 as the dead­line for com­plet­ing ac­tion on the an­nu­al budget res­ol­u­tion for the new fisc­al year that starts Oct. 1.


Scop­ing the Pentagon

The House and Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices com­mit­tees start dig­ging in­to the an­nu­al de­fense au­thor­iz­a­tion for 2015 with a series of hear­ings dis­sect­ing dif­fer­ent pieces of the Pentagon’s budget pro­pos­al.

On Tues­day, HASC re­views the Army’s de­fense au­thor­iz­a­tion budget re­quest, while the Mil­it­ary Per­son­nel Sub­com­mit­tee ex­am­ines per­son­nel pro­grams in the af­ter­noon and the Stra­tegic Forces Sub­com­mit­tee looks at mis­sile-de­fense pro­grams. Mean­while the Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee holds a hear­ing on the U.S. Pa­cific Com­mand and Korea.

On Wed­nes­day in the House, the Stra­tegic Forces Sub­com­mit­tee holds a hear­ing on an in­ter­im re­port on nuc­le­ar se­cur­ity, and the Tac­tic­al Air and Land Forces Sub­com­mit­tee holds a hear­ing on the Navy, Mar­ine Corps, and Air Force pro­grams.

In the Sen­ate, the Per­son­nel Sub­com­mit­tee holds a hear­ing on per­son­nel pro­grams. Also on Wed­nes­day the SASC Stra­tegic Forces Sub­com­mit­tee holds a hear­ing on nuc­le­ar and en­vir­on­ment­al budget se­cur­ity.

On Thursday, HASC’s Read­i­ness Sub­com­mit­tee holds a hear­ing on how op­er­a­tion and main­ten­ance will work without Over­seas Con­tin­gency Op­er­a­tions funds. The SASC holds a hear­ing on the pos­ture of the Navy.


Coal and Car­bon

Demo­crat­ic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota will at­tempt to strike a dif­fi­cult bal­ance on Monday with the in­tro­duc­tion of le­gis­la­tion to pro­mote coal while at the same time tamp­ing down on its car­bon foot­print. The sen­at­or prom­ises that her le­gis­la­tion will en­sure that coal re­mains a vi­able part of the U.S. en­ergy mix while also giv­ing a boost to clean coal tech­no­logy.

The pres­id­ent’s pro­posed budget for EPA will get lots of at­ten­tion in du­el­ing hear­ings in both the House and the Sen­ate.

The Sen­ate En­vir­on­ment and Pub­lic Works Com­mit­tee will go over the agency’s pro­posed budget for fisc­al 2015 in a hear­ing set for Wed­nes­day. The fol­low­ing day, the House In­teri­or and En­vir­on­ment Ap­pro­pri­ations Sub­com­mit­tee is to hold a hear­ing on its own. EPA’s Mc­Carthy is set to testi­fy at the House sub­com­mit­tee hear­ing.


High Court Hear­ing

On Tues­day, the Su­preme Court is to hear open­ing ar­gu­ments in the Hobby Lobby and Con­es­toga Wood chal­lenges to the Af­ford­able Care Act’s con­tra­cep­tion man­date.

The own­ers of both com­pan­ies ar­gue that it is a vi­ol­a­tion of their re­li­gious liberty to force them to cov­er cer­tain forms of con­tra­cep­tion for their em­ploy­ees. The Court con­venes at 10 a.m. for 90 minutes of ar­gu­ments.

Also on Tues­day, the House Ap­pro­pri­ations Com­mit­tee will hear from the pub­lic and out­side wit­nesses about the fisc­al 2015 budget re­quest for the Health and Hu­man Ser­vices De­part­ment. Rep­res­ent­at­ives of nu­mer­ous chil­dren’s or­gan­iz­a­tions are ex­pec­ted be on hand.


World Trav­el­er

Obama is to spend the en­tire week over­seas, vis­it­ing four coun­tries on two con­tin­ents and meet­ing with more than 50 world lead­ers be­fore re­turn­ing to Wash­ing­ton next week­end.

He will spend Monday and Tues­day at the Hag­ue, at­tend­ing the Nuc­le­ar Se­cur­ity Sum­mit and an emer­gency meet­ing of the G-7 al­lies to dis­cuss de­vel­op­ments in Ukraine. Tues­day night and Wed­nes­day will see him in Brus­sels for a com­mem­or­a­tion of World War I and a U.S.-E.U. sum­mit.

Then it’s off to Rome and Vat­ic­an City for the pres­id­ent’s first meet­ing with Pope Fran­cis and a ses­sion with the new Itali­an prime min­is­ter on Thursday. From there, he goes on the fi­nal leg of the trip: Saudi Ar­a­bia for meet­ings with the Saudi king on Fri­day be­fore re­turn­ing to Wash­ing­ton on Sat­urday.

Catherine Hollander, Stacy Kaper, Clara Ritger, Clare Foran, George E. Condon Jr. and Ben Geman contributed to this article.
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