Outlook: The Hunt for an Exit Strategy

The Senate is working toward a deal to keep the government funded, raising hopes that both chambers might be able to finish pre-election work by the end of the week.

AP Photo/David Goldman
Alex Rogers and Daniel Newhauser
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Alex Rogers and Daniel Newhauser
Sept. 18, 2016, 8:01 p.m.

By the rules that guide it, the House of Representatives is usually able to move bills faster than the “cooling saucer” Senate. But with the House beset by divisions in its controlling Republican Party, the Senate has led the effort to craft and pass the legislation that will avert a government shutdown by the end of this month. And it looks like it will do so with time to spare.

Senate leaders and appropriators have spent the weekend trying to tie up the loose ends of a short-term bill that will fund the government to Dec. 9. Leadership aides expect to pass the package this week, potentially allowing vulnerable Republican incumbent senators to go home a week earlier than expected and campaign.

Seven months after the president requested $1.9 billion to fight the spread of the birth defect causing the Zika virus, Democratic and Republican members are still attempting to find a compromise that will cost approximately $1.1 billion. Republicans are expected to drop controversial language that would prevent a small portion of that money from going to Puerto Rico’s Planned Parenthood affiliate.

At least three other sticking points remain. The Obama administration, business groups, Democrats, and Republicans have pushed to allow the Export-Import bank to finance $10 million-plus deals again over the objections of some conservatives and Senate Banking Committee chairman Richard Shelby. The administration has also requested $2.6 billion to help Louisiana after devastating floods; some Republican congressional aides believe that a portion of that funding will get included in a final deal. And there have also been concerns from Sen. Ted Cruz and other conservatives over a U.S. group transferring control over Internet domains to an international body.

As Democratic and Republican negotiators passed paper back and forth last week, the differences were so great that Sen. Dick Durbin told reporters that he doubted the Senate would be able to resolve them by mid-week. But some Republican congressional aides are privately more optimistic.

The House, meanwhile, is waiting to see what the Senate will produce. Although some Republicans want to use the CR as a leverage point to block Syrian refugees, House GOP leaders and much of the conference will likely approve any reasonable package that the Senate sends over. Whether they do so this week or next is yet to be determined.

On the House floor, the focus will turn to Iran. Leaders will bring to the floor legislation that seeks to bring more transparency to the White House’s dealings with Tehran on the heels of news that the Obama administration’s sent $400 million owed in a legal settlement to the Middle Eastern state as part of a prisoner swap. Republicans say it was a ransom payment.

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen will be in the hot seat as well, as he may testify before the House Judiciary Committee about the agency’s alleged targeting of conservative groups. The hearing is part of a deal between Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte and the House Freedom Caucus. Instead of bringing a privileged motion calling for Koskinen’s impeachment, the caucus struck a deal with Goodlatte to hold a hearing on the matter.

Here’s what else is on tap this week:

ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT

After the Senate moved its water-infrastructure bill—with aid for Flint’s water crisis attached—the House is set to move its slimmer version to the floor this week. Senate leaders have already said they won’t accept a final version that does not contain funding for Flint, but Democrats have been exploring other avenues, including the funding bill, to move the aid package.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s subcommittee on commerce, trade, and manufacturing on Thursday holds a hearing to examine the coming midterm review for federal fuel-economy standards for light-duty vehicles, which will offer automakers and the administration an opportunity to reassess progress and market conditions to meeting the efficiency goals.

The House Natural Resources Committee will discuss Council on Environmental Quality guidance meant to dictate how federal agencies consider the impacts of climate change and greenhouse-gas emissions at a Wednesday hearing.

The Senate Commerce Committee will mark up a $19.5 billion bill that would set NASA policy for fiscal 2017, including direction for NASA to develop a plan for deep-space exploration and human exploration of Mars. Notably, the proposal released last week does not touch NASA’s earth-science programs, including the agency’s climate-change research, which was cut in a House NASA bill.

HEALTH

President Obama on Friday declared this week “Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week.” Various administration officials are scheduled to hold several events throughout the week to discuss the epidemic. And Wednesday, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a hearing examining the government’s and private insurers’ efforts to curb the opioid epidemic. The House Judiciary Committee joins in on Thursday, with a hearing on competition in the market for addiction treatments.

Aside from the opioids issue, the Senate HELP Committee holds a hearing Tuesday on the future of lab testing amid the shift toward “personalized medicine.” Also Tuesday, the Bipartisan Policy Center will host a discussion about delivery-system reform, focusing on the particularly expensive patients who are covered by both Medicare and Medicaid.

Wednesday, the House oversight committee will hold a hearing on the high-profile spike in the cost of EpiPens, and the Senate Appropriations Committee’s health care panel will review the FDA’s oversight of generic drugs.

The HELP Committee also reconvenes to consider a handful of bills, including a measure from Sen. Bill Cassidy that would ensure that emergency medical service crews could deliver drugs that have been classified as controlled substances. And Thursday, HELP has scheduled a hearing on the safety of cosmetics.

Friday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s oversight panel holds a hearing titled “Bioresearch Labs and Inactivation of Dangerous Pathogens.”

TECHNOLOGY

On Tuesday, senators will hear from Wells Fargo’s CEO on the company’s recent scandal. The company created millions of unauthorized bank and credit card accounts in its customers’ names, often resulting in illegitimate fees, and used dummy email addresses to sign them up for online-banking services. The hearing will take place in the Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee.

Meanwhile, the House is slated to take on telemarketers. On Thursday, a House panel will hold a hearing on modernizing a 1991 bill to restrict telemarketing. According to Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chair Greg Walden, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act needs to be updated, as it’s failing to stop many robocalls while blocking legitimate calls.

WHITE HOUSE

President Obama has a packed schedule this week, with a mix of high-level meetings with foreign leaders, a little politics, and the opening of a museum in Washington.

From Monday to Wednesday, he will be in New York for his last address to an opening of the United Nations General Assembly. He will also attend a UN summit on the world refugee crisis, a U.S.-Africa summit, and several meetings with individual leaders. While in New York, he will attend an event to raise money for Democrats.

On Thursday, back at the White House, he will present medals for the National Endowment of the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts. On Friday, he will host a reception for the opening of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture and attend a performance at the Kennedy Center. On Saturday, he will attend the official dedication ceremonies for the museum.

Jason Plautz, Sam Baker, Alex Brown and George E. Condon Jr. contributed to this article.
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