Outlook: Clock Ticking on Immigration, Spending

Little progress has been made ahead of the fast-approaching Jan. 19 funding deadline.

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
Daniel Newhauser
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Daniel Newhauser
Jan. 15, 2018, 8 p.m.

The already fragile negotiations over immigration and government spending became even shakier after President Trump reportedly asked a bipartisan group of lawmakers why he should accept immigrants from “shithole countries,” sparking outrage and casting a cloud over this week’s talks.

Although government funding is set to lapse on Jan. 19, Democrats have refused to sign off on a government-spending deal until Republicans agree to legislation granting legal status to immigrants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Negotiators had yet to strike a deal as of last Friday, and Trump’s remarks cast further doubt on whether they will.

Absent a deal, House Republicans could try to pass a continuing resolution on the strength of their own votes, but there is no guarantee conservative members would agree to that strategy, as they did in December. Furthermore, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would need at least a few Democrats to sign off on a CR to advance it in his chamber.

Here’s what else is on tap:

DEFENSE AND FOREIGN POLICY

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is set to testify Tuesday before a Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearing.

On Wednesday, the Senate Intelligence Committee will consider the nominations of Michael Atkinson to be inspector general of the intelligence community and Jason Klitenic to be general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The panel is scheduled to meet again Thursday for a closed briefing.

On the other side of the Capitol, the House Foreign Affairs subcommittees on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade and Asia and the Pacific will hold a joint hearing on North Korea’s biological, chemical, and conventional weapons with outside experts.

Meanwhile, Navy Secretary Richard Spencer and Chief of Naval Operations John Richardson are slated to testify Thursday before the House Armed Services subcommittees on Readiness and Seapower and Projection Forces.

ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will gather a group of federal officials Wednesday to game out a path forward on another water-infrastructure bill. Chairman John Barrasso has called for action this year on a new Water Resources Development Act, which lawmakers regularly use to update policy and spending authorizations on water navigation, flood protection, and related environment policy.

That effort appears to be moving in parallel with a broad infrastructure package. The White House is now floating a $200 billion plan, and Wednesday’s hearing will be the third on infrastructure for the Senate environment committee since late December.

A disaster-relief bill still hangs in the balance as Senate appropriators try to map out a path forward. The chamber’s Democrats have called for a resolution on disaster funding as part of broader negotiations on federal spending and budget legislation, which lawmakers must act on before spending authorization expires Jan. 19.

Meanwhile, the House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing Thursday on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund policies. No witnesses have been announced yet, and the Trump administration hasn’t nominated anyone to fill the top slot for the EPA office that controls Superfund, a program designed to clean up the country’s most polluted industrial sites. Republican committee leaders recently raised questions about how the agency developed a list—released in early December—that identifies 21 sites as top priorities.

That committee will also hold a hearing Friday on legislation to modernize the Puerto Rican electricity utility, a notoriously inefficient and outdated service, and another bill to speed up the regulatory process for liquefied-natural-gas exports. The Trump administration habitually calls for increased LNG sales abroad to boost the bottom lines of American energy companies.

HEALTH

House Republicans seem confident that a deal will be reached on Children’s Health Insurance Program funding this week, with Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden saying they are looking a six-year deal. Democrats, however, are pushing for more.

Meanwhile, committees on both sides of Congress will be taking on a slew of health policy topics. The House Rules Committee will consider a bill Tuesday that would require a health care practitioner who is present when a child is born alive following an abortion to exercise care and ensure that that the child is immediately admitted to a hospital. Practitioners who do not follow these requirements could be fined, face up to five years in prison, or both.

The House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee will hold a hearing Wednesday on the opioid crisis. Members will look at Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services efforts to use data to identify people in the Medicare Part D program who may abuse opioids, as well as what tools CMS has to prevent people from receiving unnecessary opioids.

The Energy and Commerce Committee Health Subcommittee will also mark up three health-related bills that would shield health care professionals from liability when they volunteer during a declared disaster, clarify how drug and device companies can share health care economic or scientific information and establish an over-the-counter monograph user fee program at the Food and Drug Administration.

On Wednesday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will hold a hearing on the reauthorization of the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act, which helps the country prepare for a range of public health threats.

The Senate Judiciary Crime and Terrorism Subcommittee will also have a hearing on the long-term-care needs of first responders injured in the line of duty.

TAXES

Tax writers are combing the recently passed overhaul bill for areas that may need fixing through upcoming legislation, but they don’t expect tweaks to be attached to a bill to fund the federal government.

“I wouldn’t anticipate that,” House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady told reporters last Thursday. “We’re going to make sure any fine-tuning we do is well thought-out.”

Ways and Means announced a subcommittee reshuffle last week, moving Rep. Peter Roskam to lead the Health Subcommittee and Rep. Lynn Jenkins to head the Oversight Subcommittee. Both of these positions will be key this year as Congress mulls another run at repealing the Affordable Care Act and tax writers gear up for a reorganization of the Internal Revenue Service, which would fall under Jenkins’s jurisdiction. Rep. Vern Buchanan will chair the Tax Policy Subcommittee this year, just as the panel gets ready to work on technical corrections to the tax bill, a separate tax-extenders bill, and further tax-code changes.

The need for additional IRS resources to implement the overhaul bill remains an open issue as Congress grapples with funding legislation for fiscal 2018. IRS Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson released her annual report last week, saying the agency would need nearly $500 million over the next two years to implement the tax-code changes.

Brady said last week that lawmakers are still open to the idea of additional funding and are vetting proposals, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said at an economic forum Friday that he expects the IRS to hire a significant number of additional staff for the implementation push.

TECHNOLOGY

The Senate is scheduled to vote Tuesday on a House resolution, passed last week, that reauthorizes Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act without the privacy reforms sought by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. The House bill sets no limits on the warrantless use of Americans’ intercepted electronic communications by law enforcement, which has been a key sticking point in the months-long debate on reauthorization.

Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden and Republican Sen. Rand Paul have both threatened to filibuster similar legislation, and several other senators including Republicans Mike Lee and Steve Daines and Democrat Patrick Leahy have expressed grave reservations about reauthorizing the surveillance program without reforms. The bill would need 60 votes to pass in the upper chamber should any senator choose to filibuster. The foreign electronic surveillance program—which the intelligence community insists is vital to national security—will expire on Jan. 19 absent another extension.

Expect more reaction from senators regarding last week’s report that Russian-government hackers are seeking to compromise Senate network accounts. On Friday, GOP Sen. Ben Sasse called on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to update Congress on what steps the Department of Justice has taken to protect Congress and other federal networks from Russian cyberattacks.

The Senate Commerce Committee is having its first tech-focused week of the new year. On Wednesday, the committee will hear from representatives of Facebook, Google, and Twitter on their efforts to fight the spread of terrorist and extremist content on their platforms. The title of the hearing—“Is Big Tech Doing Enough?”—suggests Silicon Valley may be in for some tough questions.

On Thursday, the Commerce Committee will convene an executive session to consider the nomination of Brendan Carr, the newest Republican member of the Federal Communications Commission, to a new term. Republicans had hoped to nominate Carr to two consecutive terms last year, after he was tapped last summer to finish out the term of former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. But Sen. Bill Nelson, the ranking member on Commerce, scuttled that approach over concerns that Carr lacks independence from his former boss, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.

The House Homeland Security Committee will meet Wednesday to discuss the Continuous Diagnostic and Mitigation cybersecurity system. Run by the Homeland Security Department, the CDM program is designed to constantly scan and fortify federal networks against cyberattack, but it’s still in its early stages. Wednesday’s hearing is set to bring together federal stakeholders with industry experts to examine barriers to rolling out the program across the federal government.

On Wednesday, the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will hear from representatives of NASA, Boeing, and private-space firm SpaceX for an update on NASA commercial-crew systems development. The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing Thursday on the manufacturing and innovation of Internet of Things devices.

WHITE HOUSE

Back in Washington after a long weekend in Florida, President Trump will spend only two days in town before hitting the road in an effort to save a Republican seat in the House. On Tuesday, he will meet with Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev. On Wednesday, he will attend the ceremony when the Congressional Gold Medal is presented to former Senate Majority Leader and GOP presidential nominee Bob Dole, who is 94. Then, on Thursday, he will travel to a manufacturing plant outside Pittsburgh to campaign for Rick Saccone, the Republican hoping to fill the vacancy created when GOP Rep. Tim Murphy resigned amid scandal. The special election is March 13. On Friday, the president will host an event related to the 45th annual March for Life, protesting the Supreme Court’s 1973 abortion decision. Then, he is back to his Florida golf resort.

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