The Senate will vote Monday at noon to advance a spending bill that would end the government shutdown. While an agreement wasn’t reached by Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer over the weekend, it appeared by Sunday evening that some progress had been made. McConnell took to the floor and said he would take up a bill that would address the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, border security, and other illegal-immigration issues if Democrats agreed to open the government back up and keep it running past the spending bill’s Feb. 8 deadline.
“When the Democrat filibuster of the government-funding bill ends, the serious, bipartisan negotiations that have been going on for months now to resolve our unfinished business—military spending, disaster relief, health care, immigration, and border security—will continue,” he said. “It would be my intention to resolve these issues as quickly as possible so that we can move on to other business that is important to our country.”
“However, should these issues not be resolved by the time the funding bill before us expires on Feb. 8, 2018, assuming that the government remains open, it would be my intention to proceed to legislation that would address DACA, border security, and related issues,” McConnell added. “It is also my intention to take up legislation regarding increased defense funding, disaster relief, and other important matters.”
The federal government shut down early Saturday morning as Democratic senators refused to agree to a short-term spending bill without an agreement that would also provide legal status to nearly 800,000 people who illegally came to America as children. The House passed a bill Friday that would have kept the government running at current spending levels for a month, extended for six years funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program and delayed some Obamacare taxes on medical devices and generous, or “Cadillac”, health plans.
Both parties blamed the other for the shutdown and raised money off of the breakdown in negotiations. In a sign of the crippling partisanship displayed over the weekend, the Trump reelection campaign released an ad saying Democrats “who stand in our way” are “complicit in every murder committed by illegal immigrants.”
On Sunday, McConnell blamed Schumer for appeasing “a portion of his party’s left-wing base,” while Schumer said McConnell, House Speaker Paul Ryan, and President Trump oversaw the first shutdown to ever take place while one party controlled the White House and Congress. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham pointed to White House senior aide Stephen Miller, a hard-line conservative on immigration, as a threat to the president striking a bipartisan deal that would bolster border security, reform the visa system and provide a path to citizenship for the “Dreamers”.
A group of nearly 20 senators also met to shape the negotiations. Some expressed an interest in a three-week spending bill that would put pressure on the immigration talks to wrap up quickly. The Trump administration has said it will rescind the Obama-era DACA program by March 5, unless Congress reaches a deal to codify it into law.
After weeks of name-calling on cable shows and in sparring speeches, some senators were simply pleased that McConnell and Schumer agreed to be in the same room as one another.
On Sunday evening, Sen. Jeff Flake tweeted, “Senate leaders are meeting and talking!”
Here’s what else is on tap this week:
DEFENSE AND FOREIGN POLICY
The Senate Armed Services Committee is set to gather twice this week. On Tuesday, the panel will meet for a closed briefing on the Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review. The Defense Department plans to publicly release the review, which is completed once every four years, next month. And on Thursday, former secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, and former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, will testify before a committee hearing on the United States’ national security strategy.
Meanwhile, the Senate Intelligence Committee is scheduled to have two closed briefings as it continues its Russia investigation.
Ryan said he planned to visit Iraq this week, but he will likely be forced to postpone that trip if the government remains shut down.
ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT
The White House must decide this week whether to slap tariffs on imported solar cells and modules. Trump, who has until Friday to make the call, said in an interview last week that subsidized imports are putting U.S. companies out of business. The U.S. International Trade Commission has recommended imposing tariffs of as much as 35 percent on imported panels.
The Senate is poised for a slow week on the energy and environment front. Energy Department and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission officials will testify before the Senate energy committee on electricity performance in extreme weather conditions, a particularly salient hearing following the recent spate of severe cold in the Northeast. The chamber may also take the week to hammer out details of its version of a disaster-relief package.
Lawmakers are still scrambling to find a deal to fund the government. The initial proposal floated last week included a long-term extension of CHIP. The continuing resolution was passed by the House, but bucked in the Senate, causing the government to shut down.
But there are other health care issues—such as community health centers’ funding and Medicare extenders—that remain unresolved and have not been addressed in this debate. Both House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady and Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden pointed to a budget-caps deal as a place to take care of these issues.
On Tuesday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will hold its second hearing on the reauthorization of the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act. The legislation aims to prepare the country for different public health threats, including infectious disease and nuclear agents.
Sen. Bernie Sanders will also be participating in a national town hall on Medicare for All, his single-payer health care proposal. His legislation would establish a federally run health insurance program and provide the government the ability to negotiate drug prices.
On Thursday, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee’s Permanent Subcommittee On Investigations will have a hearing on combating the opioid crisis and the exploitation of vulnerabilities in international mail.
The Ways and Means Committee is prepping for another year of tax-policy work, but they haven’t yet revealed their timeline. Brady told reporters that he’s been meeting with his subcommittee chairman to hash out the top priorities for each panel, and they’ll be continuing that work when the full House GOP caucus meets for its retreat at the end of this month. Ways and Means will meet shortly afterward, he said.
But there are a few priorities that members have talked about: a bill restructuring the IRS, a tax-extenders bill, and technical corrections for last year’s tax overhaul.
Corporate America is also starting to react to the tax bill. Apple said last week that it would pay a onetime tax of $38 billion after repatriating most of its $252 billion in overseas earnings, using that money to invest billions into its U.S. operations and create up to 20,000 jobs. The move sparked a victory lap for Republicans on Capitol Hill. Less welcome by GOP tax writers was credit-card issuer American Express Co.’s announcement that it would post its first quarterly loss in 26 years due to the tax bill.
Corporate-earnings reports are coming in for the last quarter of 2017, and the tax bill will likely continue to play a big role. Up this week are earnings reports from major companies such as Halliburton, Netflix, UBS, and Johnson & Johnson.
With the government shut down, large parts of the IRS will be out of the office just as the filing season begins and the agency ramps up implementing the tax-overhaul law. Brady told reporters that he hadn’t been in contact with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on contingencies for a shutdown, and followed much of the same line as leadership, saying that if problems arose, blame would fall on the Democrats.
“If Democrats shut down the government, they have a responsibility in dealing with the problems that arise from it,” Brady said.
The IRS has provided a better picture of what happens in tax world when the federal government shuts down just as filing season starts. In a contingency plan released Friday, the agency said about 43.5 percent of employees would continue to work and that it would continue to test filing-season programs, process returns, and maintain law enforcement operations, among other activities.
There aren’t any hearings of the Ways and Means Committee, as the House is out this week, and the Senate Finance Committee doesn’t have any hearings scheduled.
A government shutdown won’t immediately impact operations at the Federal Communications Commission. An FCC spokesman said that the agency has enough funding to remain open and pay staff through “at least” Friday.
Things are less clear at the Federal Trade Commission, where a spokeswoman directed reporters to an FTC shutdown-contingency plan first published in August. That plan directs the FTC, in the absence of the necessary appropriations, to furlough all nonessential employees within a half-day of a federal-government shutdown. The FTC spokeswoman did not answer when asked whether the agency has enough funding squirreled away to remain open for several days.
The Senate Commerce Committee plans to hold a field hearing Wednesday on the federal policies surrounding driverless and semi-autonomous vehicles. Chairman John Thune will convene a panel at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, where lawmakers are set to hear from industry representatives and academics before examining self-driving and other automotive technologies on display.
The Senate’s AV START Act, a bill that would dramatically expand the safety-exemption cap for autonomous-vehicle manufacturers and allow for rapid deployment of driverless technology nationwide, has been stalled in the upper chamber since October over concerns about safety and the exclusion of autonomous trucking technology. Companion legislation passed the House last year, and industry representatives will likely be interested in why the Senate continues to hold up the bill.
On Thursday, the Senate Commerce Committee will convene a hearing to examine the nation’s emergency-alert systems in the wake of this month’s false missile alert in Hawaii. Lawmakers will question representatives from the wireless and broadcast industries, as well as from the head of the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau. A committee spokesperson told National Journal that the hearing may be used to inform future legislation to prevent failures like the one in Hawaii. Brian Schatz, a Democratic senator from Hawaii and a member of the Commerce Committee, is now in the process of crafting such legislation.
It is not known how much President Trump’s schedule this week will be affected by the ongoing government shutdown. Entering the week, the White House insists that the president will go ahead with his planned travel to Davos, Switzerland to attend the World Economic Forum and meet with British Prime Minister Theresa May. He is scheduled to leave for Davos on Wednesday and return Friday.
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