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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