Outlook: Congress Returns to Defense, Approps, and Puerto Rico Debates

The House will move the legislative-branch spending bill before turning to Puerto Rico, while the Senate will focus on Pentagon policy.

Puerto Rico’s Capitol in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
AP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo
June 5, 2016, 8:01 p.m.

As House Re­pub­lic­ans be­gin re­leas­ing their pro­spect­ive post-elec­tion agenda, this week will test wheth­er they can fin­ish out this year’s le­gis­lat­ive work­load.

After a few fits and starts, le­gis­la­tion aimed at avert­ing de­fault amid Pu­erto Rico’s debt crisis fi­nally looks to come to the House floor. The House will also try to re­sume the ap­pro­pri­ations pro­cess after an un­con­tro­ver­sial spend­ing bill was voted down.

In both cases, amend­ments could be prob­lem­at­ic. Al­though both Speak­er Paul Ry­an and Minor­ity Lead­er Nancy Pelosi have en­dorsed the Pu­erto Rico bill, there re­main peri­pher­al con­cerns that could sink the bill. The bill’s fate hinges on wheth­er the Rules Com­mit­tee will al­low, or wheth­er the House would ap­prove, cer­tain amend­ments that would fun­da­ment­ally al­ter the sens­it­ive bi­par­tis­an agree­ment that al­lowed the bill to pass the Nat­ur­al Re­sources Com­mit­tee.

Mean­while, the House looks to re­vive the ap­pro­pri­ations pro­cess with the low-budget le­gis­lat­ive-branch ap­pro­pri­ations bill. But re­cent floor de­bates have shown no bill too un­con­tro­ver­sial to fail. The En­ergy and Wa­ter spend­ing bill, for in­stance, failed late last month after Demo­crats suc­cess­fully at­tached to it an amend­ment af­firm­ing an ex­ec­ut­ive or­der that fed­er­al con­tract­ors can­not dis­crim­in­ate against LGBT work­ers. While the le­gis­lat­ive-branch bill of­fers few­er op­por­tun­it­ies for pois­on-pill amend­ments, is­sues touch­ing on LGBT rights and con­gres­sion­al-staff paychecks could still make the bill dif­fi­cult to pass.

Here’s what else is on tap:


The Sen­ate will con­sider its an­nu­al ma­jor de­fense policy bill this week after fail­ing to fin­ish its work be­fore the Me­mori­al Day break. The $610 bil­lion pack­age pro­poses sig­ni­fic­ant ac­quis­i­tion and per­son­nel re­forms, in­clud­ing cut­ting hun­dreds of staffers from the pres­id­ent’s 400-per­son Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Coun­cil. There will also be an in­tense fight over spend­ing, as Demo­crats ob­ject to the House Re­pub­lic­ans’ use of a war­time ac­count to boost their bill by about $18 bil­lion.

Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans are ex­pec­ted to of­fer an amend­ment to in­crease spend­ing by a sim­il­ar amount, but Demo­crats will ob­ject, seek­ing par­ity for nondefense pro­grams. The White House has threatened to veto the House’s bill since it drains the na­tion’s des­ig­nated war fund by the end of April. Oth­er high-pro­file de­bates in­clude wheth­er Con­gress should re­quire wo­men to re­gister for the draft.


The Sen­ate En­vir­on­ment and Pub­lic Works will ex­plore the im­pact of the Su­preme Court’s stay on the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which has left states and util­it­ies in limbo about how to plan for the emis­sion rules. The Thursday hear­ing will in­clude testi­mony from leg­al ex­perts, state en­vir­on­ment agen­cies and util­it­ies.

A sub­pan­el of the House Sci­ence, Space, and Tech­no­logy Com­mit­tee holds a hear­ing Wed­nes­day on new tech­no­logy for private-sec­tor weath­er fore­cast­ing, build­ing on an ef­fort by the com­mit­tee to lever­age private data to sup­ple­ment gov­ern­ment weath­er fore­casts.  

The House For­eign Af­fairs Com­mit­tee will hear from the En­ergy De­part­ment and oth­er gov­ern­ment agen­cies on the im­pact the fall in oil prices has had on en­ergy se­cur­ity in the Amer­icas.


The Sen­ate will un­veil its ap­pro­pri­ations bill this week for crit­ic­al health pro­grams, such as the Na­tion­al In­sti­tutes of Health, Cen­ters for Medi­care and Medi­caid Ser­vices, and com­batting the opioid epi­dem­ic. Labor, Health, and Hu­man Ser­vices’ Edu­ca­tion and Re­lated Agen­cies Ap­pro­pri­ations Sub­com­mit­tee marks up the bill Tues­day morn­ing and it heads to full com­mit­tee Thursday.

Fund­ing the NIH has broad bi­par­tis­an sup­port since the agency is charged with over­see­ing pro­jects that could lead to ma­jor med­ic­al break­throughs, such as Vice Pres­id­ent Biden’s Can­cer Moon­shot and the Pre­ci­sion Medi­cine Ini­ti­at­ive. Yet there has been con­ten­tion around which pot of gov­ern­ment funds the money should come from.

Ad­di­tion­ally, there’s been a call for more funds to fight the opioid epi­dem­ic, par­tic­u­larly since a $600 mil­lion emer­gency sup­ple­ment­al failed to be tacked onto the Com­pre­hens­ive Ad­dic­tion and Re­cov­ery Act. Ad­voc­ates have been work­ing to en­sure money is al­loc­ated in the ap­pro­pri­ations pro­cess.

Also in the Sen­ate, the GOP is hot­lining the Men­tal Health Re­form Act to so­li­cit feed­back on the bill, and mov­ing on a fi­nal product could come as soon as this work peri­od, ac­cord­ing to a GOP Sen­ate aide. It hasn’t been hot­lined on the Demo­crat­ic side, ac­cord­ing to a Demo­crat­ic con­gres­sion­al aide. On the House side, a dis­cus­sion draft is cir­cu­lat­ing for mem­bers to provide feed­back on. “Chair­man Up­ton is com­mit­ted to ad­van­cing the Murphy bill and this latest draft re­flects sig­ni­fic­ant pro­gress to­ward de­liv­er­ing mean­ing­ful and needed re­forms for count­less fam­il­ies in crisis,” an En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee spokes­per­son wrote in an email. “We look for­ward to re­ceiv­ing both Mem­ber and stake­hold­er feed­back in the com­ing days so we can push for­ward to the full com­mit­tee markup this month.”

On Tues­day, the Sen­ate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee will hold a hear­ing on syn­thet­ic drugs.

Across the Cap­it­ol, the House Ways and Means Health Sub­com­mit­tee will hold a hear­ing on Wed­nes­day to so­li­cit law­makers’ pro­pos­als to im­prove Medi­care.


The Sen­ate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee is sched­uled to vote on le­gis­la­tion Thursday that would re­quire the gov­ern­ment to ob­tain a war­rant to seize emails and oth­er on­line com­mu­nic­a­tions. Al­though the bill has broad sup­port, the com­mit­tee post­poned a vote last month to try to work out agree­ments on a slew of amend­ments. A ver­sion of the bill, which would amend the Elec­tron­ic Com­mu­nic­a­tions Pri­vacy Act, passed the House un­an­im­ously last month.


Six months after Con­gress passed a much-needed five-year trans­port­a­tion bill, Trans­port­a­tion Sec­ret­ary An­thony Foxx will re­port to Con­gress on its im­ple­ment­a­tion at a Wed­nes­day hear­ing of the Sen­ate Com­merce Com­mit­tee.


The high point of Pres­id­ent Obama’s sched­ule this week comes Tues­day, when he wel­comes In­di­an Prime Min­is­ter Nar­en­dra Modi to the White House, the day be­fore the prime min­is­ter ad­dresses a Joint Meet­ing of Con­gress. This is Modi’s fourth vis­it to the United States since his elec­tion in 2014. He is sched­uled for a work­ing lunch with the pres­id­ent. On Monday, the pres­id­ent will hon­or the Su­per Bowl cham­pi­on Den­ver Bron­cos. On Wed­nes­day, he will travel to New York City for raise money for the Demo­crat­ic Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee and the party’s Sen­ate cam­paign com­mit­tee. On Thursday, he will host an LGBT Pride Re­cep­tion at the White House.

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

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