Outlook: Approps, Puerto Rico, and Defense Bills Top the Agenda

The House will navigate more thorny amendment votes before turning to Puerto Rico legislation, while the Senate will address Pentagon policy.

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National Journal Staff
May 22, 2016, 8:01 p.m.

The House floor may erupt with de­bate over LGBT is­sues again this week, just days after Demo­crats de­cried Re­pub­lic­an arm-twist­ing that sank an amend­ment af­firm­ing a White House or­der ex­tend­ing an­ti­discrim­in­a­tion pro­tec­tions to fed­er­al con­tract­ors’ LGBT em­ploy­ees.

Demo­crats may pro­pose a sim­il­ar amend­ment to the en­ergy and wa­ter ap­pro­pri­ations bill, which is set for floor con­sid­er­a­tion. Mean­while, the bill may also provide a ven­ue for Demo­crats to tar­get the dis­play of the Con­fed­er­ate flag and the pos­ses­sion of fire­arms on land con­trolled by the Army Corps of En­gin­eers, as well as fund­ing for the wa­ter crisis in Flint, Michigan.

The polit­ic­ally sens­it­ive top­ics have come to the fore as Re­pub­lic­ans’ ded­ic­a­tion to an open ap­pro­pri­ations pro­cess has al­lowed Demo­crats to bring forth amend­ments that present battle­ground-dis­trict Re­pub­lic­ans with a tough vote.

Last week, dur­ing con­sid­er­a­tion of the Mil­it­ary Con­struc­tion and Vet­er­ans Af­fairs spend­ing bill, Demo­crats won a vote on an amend­ment ban­ning the dis­play of Con­fed­er­ate flags on some battle­ground me­mori­als. Then a chaot­ic scene broke out on the House floor, when pro­ponents ap­peared to have the votes on the LGBT con­tract­ors’ amend­ment but Re­pub­lic­ans held the floor open to con­vince a few of their mem­bers to change their votes.

This week of­fers sim­il­ar pos­sib­il­it­ies for Demo­crats. Dur­ing the com­mit­tee markup of the en­ergy and wa­ter bill, Demo­crats also at­temp­ted to at­tach an amend­ment giv­ing fed­er­al aid to Flint. It did not pass, and Re­pub­lic­ans said the de­bate would be bet­ter suited for the In­teri­or ap­pro­pri­ations bill, which handles En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency fund­ing. Nev­er­the­less, Demo­crats may try again to fun­nel funds to Flint.

After strik­ing a deal with the White House and con­gres­sion­al Demo­crats, House Re­pub­lic­ans are likely to pro­ceed with a bill to help ease Pu­erto Rico out of debt. The meas­ure had been stalled over mul­tiple con­cerns about so­cial policy and the fed­er­al re­view board it would im­ple­ment, but the bill re­leased last week looks to have enough sup­port to pass.

Here’s what else is on tap this week:

DE­FENSE

The Sen­ate ex­pects to con­sider its ma­jor de­fense-policy bill after the House passed its $610 bil­lion ver­sion last week. Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell has said that the cham­ber will pass its bill be­fore the Me­mori­al Day break.

But even if the Sen­ate acts on sched­ule, the meas­ures from the two cham­bers are far apart and will take time to re­con­cile. The House wants to dip in­to a war­time ac­count to boost de­fense spend­ing by an ex­tra $18 bil­lion, which would fully de­plete mil­it­ary cam­paign funds by spring 2017. The plan has drawn a veto threat from the White House; Pres­id­ent Obama blocked Con­gress’s first at­tempt at a Na­tion­al De­fense Au­thor­iz­a­tion Act last year in part be­cause Con­gress used a sim­il­ar budget gim­mick to avert across-the-board budget cuts passed in­to law in 2011.

While the Sen­ate’s le­gis­la­tion doesn’t use the House’s money-rais­ing ploy, Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Chair­man John Mc­Cain has said he will seek to raise bil­lions for the mil­it­ary through an amend­ment on the floor. But Demo­crats would likely ask for a sim­il­ar in­crease in nondefense pro­grams in re­turn for their sup­port. 

There are oth­er con­tro­ver­sial dif­fer­ences between the cham­bers to sort out, in­clud­ing wheth­er young adult wo­men should be re­quired to sign up for a mil­it­ary draft. House Re­pub­lic­ans stripped that pro­pos­al from their bill be­fore it passed. But last week, Mc­Con­nell agreed with his cham­ber’s com­mit­tee, say­ing that even though he doesn’t an­ti­cip­ate the coun­try re­turn­ing to a draft, wo­men should be re­quired to re­gister for the Se­lect­ive Ser­vice.

“Giv­en where we are today, with wo­men in the mil­it­ary per­form­ing vir­tu­ally all kinds of func­tions, I per­son­ally think it would be ap­pro­pri­ate for them to re­gister just like men do,” Mc­Con­nell said.

EN­ERGY

The House and Sen­ate are both poised to vote on a long-awaited up­date to a 1976 law reg­u­lat­ing chem­ic­als in con­sumer products, one that has left the gov­ern­ment largely power­less to test and re­strict tox­ic sub­stances. The bi­par­tis­an up­date to the Tox­ic Sub­stances Con­trol Act comes after years of ne­go­ti­ation that found con­ser­vat­ives like Sens. Dav­id Vit­ter and James In­hofe sid­ing with lib­er­als like Sens. Tom Ud­all and Bar­bara Box­er on a fi­nal bill, al­though some House Demo­crats say they’re still not happy with the fin­ished product and could vote against it on the floor.

Don­ald Trump is ex­pec­ted to out­line his en­ergy plat­form in a speech to the Wil­lis­ton Basin Pet­ro­leum Con­fer­ence in Bis­mar­ck, North Dakota on Thursday. Rep. Kev­in Cramer of North Dakota was tapped by Trump to ad­vise him on en­ergy policy and last week presen­ted him with a white pa­per out­lining a push for get­ting rid of the Clean Power Plan and lev­el­ing tax in­cent­ives for dif­fer­ent power sources.

The Sen­ate En­vir­on­ment and Pub­lic Works Com­mit­tee on Tues­day will dig in­to the im­ple­ment­a­tion of the EPA’s Wa­ters of the United States rule, which Re­pub­lic­ans have de­cried as a reg­u­lat­ory over­reach.

HEALTH

Two sen­at­ors fo­cused on re­form­ing the men­tal-health sys­tem—which, at the be­gin­ning of the year, was con­sidered one of the big-tick­et le­gis­lat­ive items that could pass in a con­ten­tious elec­tion year—are host­ing a Sen­ate Men­tal Health Sum­mit this Thursday. Demo­crat­ic Sen. Chris Murphy and Re­pub­lic­an Sen. Bill Cas­sidy have in­vited health ex­perts, pro­viders, and ad­voc­ates to speak at dif­fer­ent ses­sions fo­cused on pro­vider per­spect­ive, the price of in­ac­tion, and more.

On the oth­er side of the Cap­it­ol, the House En­ergy and Com­merce Over­sight and In­vest­ig­a­tions Sub­com­mit­tee will hold a hear­ing Tues­day to look in­to how to com­bat im­prop­er pay­ments and in­eligible pro­viders for Medi­care and Medi­caid. On Wed­nes­day, the House Sci­ence, Space, and Tech­no­logy Com­mit­tee will con­vene a hear­ing titled, “Sci­ence of Zika: The DNA of an Epi­dem­ic.”

On Tues­day, the House Ways and Means Com­mit­tee will mark up the Help­ing Hos­pit­als Im­prove Pa­tient Care Act. On Wed­nes­day, the House En­ergy and Com­merce Health Sub­com­mit­tee will hold a hear­ing to ex­am­ine the Health and Hu­man Ser­vices De­part­ment’s cy­ber­se­cur­ity. 

JU­DI­CIARY

The House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee will vote this week on its latest pro­pos­al to over­haul crim­in­al-justice policy. The newly un­veiled, bi­par­tis­an “Due Pro­cess Act”, which the com­mit­tee will mark up Wed­nes­day, is de­signed to curb ab­uses of fed­er­al civil-as­set-for­feit­ure pro­grams.

“While as­set for­feit­ure is a use­ful law en­force­ment tool, ab­uses of it clearly show that re­form is needed now to bet­ter pro­tect Amer­ic­ans from hav­ing their prop­erty wrong­fully seized,” said Ju­di­ciary Chair­man Bob Good­latte.

The bill would in­crease the gov­ern­ment’s bur­den of proof in as­set-for­feit­ure cases and ex­pand pro­ced­ur­al pro­tec­tions in sev­er­al ways, in­clud­ing of­fer­ing pro­vi­sions to en­sure coun­sel and the right to at­tor­neys’ fees in suc­cess­ful cases against the gov­ern­ment.

The bill is the latest of sev­er­al crim­in­al-justice-re­form meas­ures to move through the com­mit­tee, with more to come. Bills ad­vanced thus far have fo­cused on top­ics in­clud­ing the re­vi­sion of sen­ten­cing laws for non­vi­ol­ent drug of­fend­ers and cut­ting in­mates’ re­cidiv­ism risk. House Speak­er Paul Ry­an has said he wants to move crim­in­al-justice re­form through the House this year, but has not yet an­nounced when le­gis­la­tion might come to the floor or in what form.

TECH

The Sen­ate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee is set to vote on le­gis­la­tion Thursday that would re­quire the gov­ern­ment to ob­tain a war­rant to seize emails and oth­er on­line com­mu­nic­a­tions. A ver­sion of the bill, which would amend the Elec­tron­ic Com­mu­nic­a­tions Pri­vacy Act, passed the House un­an­im­ously last month, but Sen­ate Ju­di­ciary Chair­man Chuck Grass­ley has sug­ges­ted he is look­ing to make changes to en­sure the bill doesn’t hamper in­vest­ig­a­tions by civil en­force­ment agen­cies like the Se­cur­it­ies and Ex­change Com­mis­sion.

The Sen­ate Com­merce Com­mit­tee will hold a hear­ing on Tues­day to ex­am­ine a plan to turn over con­trol of the In­ter­net’s ad­dress sys­tem to the in­ter­na­tion­al com­munity. The pro­pos­al, which was sub­mit­ted to the Com­merce De­part­ment for re­view in March, would end the U.S. gov­ern­ment’s con­trac­tu­al au­thor­ity over the In­ter­net Cor­por­a­tion for As­signed Names and Num­bers, or IC­ANN, an in­ter­na­tion­al non­profit group that man­ages im­port­ant tech­nic­al func­tions of the in­ter­net. But Sen. Ted Cruz and oth­er Re­pub­lic­ans have warned the pro­pos­al could al­low au­thor­it­ari­an re­gimes like China or Rus­sia to seize power and cen­sor in­ter­net con­tent.

The House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee’s sub­com­mit­tee on trade will hold a hear­ing Tues­day to re­view 17 bills that would af­fect the Fed­er­al Trade Com­mis­sion’s au­thor­ity. Some of the bills would cur­tail the FTC’s power, while oth­ers would ad­dress is­sues in­clud­ing ab­uses in the fu­ner­al in­dustry, on­line hotel-book­ing scams, and busi­ness con­tracts that bar neg­at­ive on­line re­views.

The House Small Busi­ness Com­mit­tee will hold hear­ings on Tues­day and Thursday to ex­am­ine tax­a­tion of “on-de­mand” or “shar­ing eco­nomy” work­ers. The House Home­land Se­cur­ity Com­mit­tee will hold a hear­ing on Tues­day to ex­am­ine how the Home­land Se­cur­ity De­part­ment is help­ing states pre­pare for cy­ber­at­tacks. 

TRANS­PORT­A­TION

A week after the Sen­ate passed the spend­ing bill with little drama, the House Ap­pro­pri­ations Com­mit­tee will mark up its fisc­al 2017 ap­pro­pri­ations bill for the De­part­ments of Trans­port­a­tion and Hous­ing and Urb­an De­vel­op­ment. The $58.2 bil­lion meas­ure con­tains a rider meant to ad­just rules re­gard­ing how many hours per week com­mer­cial truck drivers can work without rest, which safety ad­voc­ates and some Demo­crats have said would put drowsy drivers on the road. (The Sen­ate bill also dealt with the hours-of-ser­vice rule, but set a dif­fer­ent lim­it.) 

And the House Trans­port­a­tion and In­fra­struc­ture Com­mit­tee’s sub­pan­el on high­ways and trans­it will have its hands full, to put it mildly, when it holds a Tues­day hear­ing on the safety and re­li­ab­il­ity of the D.C. metro sys­tem.

WHITE HOUSE

Pres­id­ent Obama spends this week far from Wash­ing­ton, vis­it­ing Vi­et­nam and Ja­pan and at­tend­ing the an­nu­al G7 sum­mit. Monday will see him in Hanoi, meet­ing with Vi­et­nam’s pres­id­ent and prime min­is­ter. On Tues­day, he will talk about hu­man rights and give a speech be­fore mov­ing on to Ho Chi Minh City. On Wed­nes­day, there’s a town-hall meet­ing there be­fore he flies to Ja­pan. The G7 sum­mit opens on Kashiko Is­land on Thursday. On Fri­day, he will be­come the first sit­ting U.S. pres­id­ent to vis­it Hiroshi­ma, where the first atom­ic bomb struck on Aug. 6, 1945, killing thou­sands in­stantly and an es­tim­ated 140,000 by the end of that year. After the Hiroshi­ma vis­it, Obama then re­turns to Wash­ing­ton.

Daniel Ne­whaus­er, Alex Ro­gers, Jason Plautz, Rachel Roubein, Brendan Sas­so, and George E. Con­don Jr. con­trib­uted

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