Outlook: September Deadlines Still Loom

Congress cleared multiple must-do items last week, but several more remain on the docket.

Sen. John McCain in Washington on Sept. 5.
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
Daniel Newhauser
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Daniel Newhauser
Sept. 10, 2017, 8 p.m.

Congress may have avoided a dramatic September cliff by passing a short-term spending bill and debt-limit increase last week, but it still has a number of items to reauthorize before the month is done.

Extensions of the nation’s flood-insurance program, children’s health insurance program, and the Federal Aviation Administration will be necessary before September is done. Meanwhile, the administration wants to turn its attention to passing some changes to the tax system and Democrats will continue to push for Congress to take up a measure granting legal status to people who immigrated to the country illegally when they were minors.

First, however, the House will continue voting on appropriations amendments and plans to pass a multi-bill spending act that covers all the appropriations bills they did not pass before the August recess. That process was meant to be finished last week, but was interrupted by President Trump’s insistence that Congress send him a CR and debt-ceiling increase tied to aide for victims of Hurricane Harvey. The Senate is unlikely to take up any House-passed spending bills, but House leaders believe having passed the bills improves their posture heading into year-end omnibus negotiations.

With Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John McCain back at the Capitol, the upper chamber will take up the annual National Defense Authorization Act this week. The legislation sets the total Pentagon budget for the next fiscal year at $700 billion, compared the $696.5 billion bill the House passed in July. Both measures are more than $70 billion above the current defense-spending caps. The Senate will vote to begin debate on Monday evening, and GOP leaders are aiming to approve the NDAA by the end of the week. “Hopefully, we’ll get it done in a relatively short time,” McCain told reporters. “We’ve done it for 55 years.”

Here’s what else is on tap:

DEFENSE AND FOREIGN POLICY

In the wake of North Korea’s latest missile and nuclear tests, the House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing Tuesday on sanctions and diplomacy in the country. Susan Thornton, the acting assistant secretary of State for east Asian and Pacific affairs, and Marshall Billingslea, the assistant Treasury secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, are set to appear as witnesses.

Elsewhere, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will consider nominees for four posts Tuesday: undersecretary of State for management, U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, U.S. ambassador to Bahrain, and U.S. director of the African Development Bank. On Thursday, the panel will meet again for a hearing on U.S. policy options to support democracy in Venezuela.

And the Senate Intelligence Committee will meet for a closed hearing Tuesday. as it continues its Russia investigation.

ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT

A House Natural Resources subcommittee will convene a hearing Tuesday on the Sportsmen Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act, which includes several gun-related provisions. Among other things, the NRA-backed measure would ease restrictions on silencers.

Also Tuesday, the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee has a hearing on the resiliency of the electric grid. And the House Energy and Commerce Committee has a session on “Defining Reliability in a Transforming Electricity Industry.”

Wednesday brings a Senate Environment and Public Works panel hearing on carbon-capture technology, and an American Petroleum Institute briefing on the economic impact of the oil-and-gas industry in all 50 states.

HEALTH

The Senate health committee is attempting to sprint towards the finish line on a bipartisan compromise to stabilize Obamacare marketplaces. Chairman Lamar Alexander is pushing to fund cost-sharing-reduction payments for at least one year and provide more flexibility to the states via revised Obamacare waivers. He wants a consensus among lawmakers by the end of this week.

The committee will continue with hearings on the subject on Tuesday and Thursday. Tuesday’s hearing will include testimony from former Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt and Allison Leigh O’Toole, chief executive officer of MNsure. The second hearing will include input from other healthcare stakeholders, such as Robert Ruiz-Moss, vice president of the Individual Market Segment at Anthem Inc.

The Senate Finance Committee will be taking a look at issues impacting cost and coverage of health care Tuesday. Witnesses will include Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity President Avik Roy, Heritage Foundation Senior Research Fellow Edmund Haislmaier, former Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Acting Administrator Andrew Slavitt, and Center on Budget and Policy Priorities Senior Fellow and Senior Counselor Aviva Aron-Dine.

On the other side of the Hill, the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s subcommittee on health will have a hearing Wednesday on modernizing the Food and Drug Administration’s regulation of over-the-counter drugs. The same subcommittee will hold a hearing Thursday that will examine workforce programs under the Public Health Service Act.

TAXES

With a bill to increase the debt ceiling and fund the government through mid-December finished in Congress, lawmakers are turning their attention toward the one measure needed before they can tackle tax reform: a budget.

The House released a proposed budget resolution in July that would set instructions for advancing a tax bill using reconciliation, which would bypass a Democratic filibuster in the Senate by requiring only a simple majority in that chamber. That measure could come to the floor as soon as this week. So far, however, leadership has had little luck getting hardline conservatives like the House Freedom Caucus on board. Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows told reporters Friday that they stand by their demand to see more specifics on a tax-reform bill before voting for the budget.

Senators, meanwhile, continue to work on their own budget measure, though some members say they may need more information from tax-writing committees to complete the measure.

A major issue is which baseline that budget writers should use. Some GOP members are proposing that budget writers not account for a number of expiring tax breaks and spending provisions that are regularly renewed by Congress. That could open up about $450 billion for tax writers without the need for additional offsets.

And the White House and Congress still have major tax-reform issues to reconcile. In a speech last Wednesday, President Trump restated his goal to lower the corporate tax rate from about 35 percent to 15 percent, a plan that many analysts say is out of reach. A day later, House Speaker Paul Ryan said during a tax-reform event that Trump’s target of 15 percent was unlikely, instead pegging the target corporate rate at somewhere in the low 20s. Again, that may cause problems with the Freedom Caucus, as Meadows has said he wants a corporate rate in the teens.

The Senate Finance Committee is set for a Thursday hearing on reforming the individual tax code. The White House and GOP lawmakers have said that they want to lower the rates and collapse the current seven tax brackets into three—though, like the corporate rate, no final individual rates have been set.

Another key issue at the hearing will likely be pass-through entities, companies that are organized so that income is passed on to the owners and thus taxed at the individual rate, instead of the corporate rate. Some GOP members propose applying a lower corporate rate to pass-through entities as well.

TECHNOLOGY

Although the House passed sweeping driverless-car legislation via a unanimous voice vote last Wednesday, negotiations on the Senate bill remain far from complete. Sen. John Thune, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, told reporters that Democrats are concerned about the bill’s potential impact on the trucking industry. Driverless-car manufacturers have expressed an interest in automating America’s trucking system, which employs around 3.5 million drivers. Thune’s committee will hold a hearing Wednesday to discuss the safety opportunities and economic concerns surrounding driverless trucks, as well as the potential to exclude trucks from automated vehicle legislation affecting small passenger vehicles.

On Tuesday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on how protectionist data policies overseas impact American jobs. While American tech corporations have sought to direct the flow of international customers’ data to servers within the United States, countries such as China and Russia have enacted policies seeking to force the companies to retain data on their citizens within their national borders. Privacy Shield—a landmark data-privacy agreement between the United States and the European Union—is also up for renegotiation later this month. Experts worry about the impact to American businesses should the EU seek to fundamentally alter, or even withdraw from, the agreement.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on Thursday to examine potential waste and mismanagement in the Federal Communications Commission’s telephone and broadband internet subsidy program for low-income users. Sen. Claire McCaskill, the panel’s ranking member, has in the past pushed for legislation that would cap the “Lifeline” program’s budget and mandate structural reforms to cut down on waste, fraud, and abuse. Similar reforms could also be driven unilaterally by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who is slated to testify at Wednesday’s hearing. Following a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on the same issue last week, Thune suggested that Pai and the FCC may be better positioned than Congress to pursue reforms to the subsidy program.

WHITE HOUSE

Trump begins the week with a moment of silence at the White House and a visit to the Pentagon to mark the 16th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. On Tuesday, he will meet with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak and host a dinner for senators. On Wednesday, he will meet with South Carolina Republican Sen. Tim Scott. On Thursday, he will welcome leaders of the White House Historical Association to dinner. On Friday, he will take a tour of Joint Base Andrews.

Adam Wollner, Erin Durkin, Casey Wooten, Brendan Bordelon and George E. Condon Jr. contributed to this article.
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