Outlook: Wrapping Up the 114th Congress

Spending, defense, and medical-research bills will dominate the final week’s agenda.

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
Alex Rogers
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Alex Rogers
Dec. 4, 2016, 8:01 p.m.

Before Democrats go home and drink to their blues, and Republicans to their victories, Congress needs to spend at least one more week in Washington checking off an end-of-the year list.

This week, the Senate looks to pass the 21st Century Cures Act. It’s a $6.3 billion bill that funds a variety of measures—Vice President Joe Biden’s “cancer moonshot,” President Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative, a major Alzheimer’s research program, and a significant grant to address the opioid crisis—and ushers in consequential reforms that quicken the drug- and device-approval review process at the Food and Drug Administration. The House passed it last week and the Senate is expected to do the same over the opposition of liberals like Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

After that, the Senate will consider the annual defense-policy bill, which reportedly includes the largest troop pay raise in six years, and an energy-policy package.

Most importantly, Congress needs to pass by Friday a short-term funding bill, which the Defense Department strongly opposes and which wouldn’t include the troops’ raise. The spending bill, known as a continuing resolution, could stretch government funding into May, helping the Senate confirm early next year a chunk of the 1,000-plus politically appointed positions necessary to run the Trump administration. An aide to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said the chamber will likely vote to extend government funding into next spring.

With the spending bill, Congress will keep the lights on through the New Year and provide resolutions to conflicts it has faced throughout 2016. The bill is linked to negotiations over an important water-infrastructure bill, which will likely include up to $100 million in aid for Flint, Mich., a community that has been suffering from lead-tainted drinking water. The CR may also give disaster assistance to Louisiana and other states affected by devastating flooding.

Here’s what else is on tap this week:

DEFENSE AND FOREIGN POLICY

The Senate is expected to pass the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act this week after the House voted overwhelmingly to approve the legislation last Friday. On Tuesday, the Senate Armed Services Committee holds a hearing on “Emerging U.S. Defense Challenges and Worldwide Threats,” while the Senate Foreign Relations Committee holds a hearing on “Defeating the Iranian Threat Network: Options for Countering Iranian Proxies.” And off the Hill that morning, Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking member of the House Intelligence committee, speaks at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast.

On the House side, the Armed Services subcommittee on military personnel is scheduled to hold a hearing Wednesday on the California National Guard’s bonus-repayment issue.

ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT

The House and Senate will try to move a water infrastructure bill that could also be the vehicle for an aid package to Flint, Mich.—the result of months of bipartisan negotiation between the House and Senate that authorizes money for 25 projects in 17 states. The original Senate bill carried a $220 million fund for Flint and other communities afflicted with lead pollution, but legislators have indicated that the final version may be closer to the $170 million package passed by the House.

Negotiators will also scramble to wrap up a bicameral energy bill before the end of the week, ironing out policy related to liquefied-natural-gas exports, and addressing the California drought and wildfires.

House Republicans will question the Environmental Protection Agency’s handling of the consent decree with Volkswagen over the automaker’s emissions-cheating scandal at an Energy and Commerce Committee hearing Tuesday. Also Tuesday, the House Natural Resources Committee will focus on two cases of data manipulation at a U.S. Geological Survey lab in Colorado.

HEALTH

The 21st Century Cures Act will be heading to the Senate floor Monday after it overwhelmingly passed the House by a vote of 392-26. It is expected to clear the Senate, despite some Democrats’ continued complaints about the bill.

The new version of the bill is nearly 1,000 pages long and includes provisions to streamline the research and development of medical products, overhaul the mental-health system, and make changes to Medicare.

The legislation lowers the amount of money designated for the National Institutes of Health from the originally slated $8.75 billion to $4.8 billion, and it is no longer mandatory but must be appropriated each year. There is also $500 million for FDA and $1 billion in grants to states to address the opioid crisis.

As it is likely lawmakers will be busy hammering out the details of a continuing resolution before leaving, committee activity as it relates to health policy is thin. But there is an Energy and Commerce health subcommittee hearing related to the Agriculture Department’s catfish-inspection program on Wednesday.

WHITE HOUSE

The focal point of President Obama’s week will be his final speech on the battle against terrorism. On Tuesday, he will travel to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa to meet with combatants in that struggle and review his administration’s eight-year record in counterterrorism. MacDill is home to the U.S. Special Operations Command as well as CENTCOM. He will spend the rest of the week at the White House.

Daniel Newhauser, Adam Wollner, Jason Plautz, Erin Durkin and George E. Condon Jr. contributed to this article.
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