Outlook: Yet Another Shutdown Deadline Looms

Congress will have to pass a short-term spending bill this week to keep the government open past Thursday.

From left, House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi at a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony honoring former Sen. Bob Dole on Jan. 17.
AP Photo/Evan Vucci
Alex Rogers
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Alex Rogers
Feb. 4, 2018, 8 p.m.

Turn your shutdown countdown clock back on: Congress has until Thursday night to pass its fifth short-term spending bill since September.

At their retreat last week in West Virginia, Republicans said they are eyeing a stopgap measure to keep the government funded through March 22.

While Senate Democrats caused a three-day shutdown last month over immigration, it’s less likely that they will do so again. They’ve secured a promise from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring to the floor a to-be-determined bill that would address some 700,000 recipients enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which was created by executive action under President Obama. Last year, the Trump administration announced that it would end legal protections shielding those young undocumented people from deportation by March 5, spurring Congress into action.

The White House has introduced a proposal that includes a path to citizenship for 1.8 million young people who illegally came here with their parents in exchange for a $25 billion trust fund for border security. But Democrats have balked because the president’s plan also sharply curtails future legal immigration, barring Americans from petitioning for their parents, adult children, or siblings to join them by limiting family sponsorships to only spouses and minor children.

Here’s what else is on tap this week:

DEFENSE AND FOREIGN POLICY

Top officials from the Defense and State departments are set to head to Capitol Hill this week. Defense Secretary James Mattis and Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are slated to testify before the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday about the administration’s recently released National Defense Strategy and Nuclear Posture Review. The Senate Armed Services Committee will also meet that day for a closed briefing on the National Defense Strategy.

Elsewhere Tuesday, Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan is scheduled to appear at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the administration’s strategy in Afghanistan and South Asia. And the House Foreign Affairs Committee will convene a group of outside experts for a hearing on U.S. cyberdiplomacy.

ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT

Energy infrastructure will be front and center in this week’s congressional agenda.

The top Republican senator on energy policy, Lisa Murkowski, will convene a hearing Thursday on energy infrastructure, one potential part of a heavily anticipated infrastructure package. Oil-and-gas industry representatives are calling for pipeline expansion in that package, and Murkowski, an oil-and-gas ally, regularly calls for growth in solar micro-grids and renewable sectors as a whole.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing Tuesday on the nuclear-power-industry’s contributions to national security and the economy. Nuclear power faces a bleak future, as prices for natural gas and renewables steadily decline.

Meanwhile, the Senate environment panel will air preferences for an Environmental Protection Agency proposal on water regulation during a Wednesday hearing on impacts for American farmers and ranchers. EPA chief Scott Pruitt recently delayed implementation of the regulation, known as the Waters of the United States rule, for two years, to the applause of those farmers and ranchers. Environmental groups, however, are crying foul, arguing that the EPA decision adds to a growing list of dangerous regulatory rollbacks.

HEALTH

While Republicans may have largely moved on from Obamacare repeal, there is never a shortage of health care priorities. Last week, President Trump promoted right-to-try legislation that would allow seriously ill patients to sidestep the Food and Drug Administration regulations and obtain experimental therapies that have not been approved.

Meanwhile, the Health and Human Services Department has been sent through a fresh round of leadership turmoil after Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Brenda Fitzgerald stepped down last week. Her departure comes as two congressional committees plan to have hearings on the opioid epidemic this coming week, an issue in which the CDC is critical for the federal response. The House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee will have a hearing Tuesday to discuss ways to reduce barriers to prevention and treatment of opioid abuse in the Medicare program. On Thursday, the Senate health committee will hold a hearing examining the effects of the crisis on children and families.

Lawmakers will also consider legislation that could impact consumer access to nutritional information. The House Rules Committee has a hearing Monday on The Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act, which aims to provide more flexibility to businesses in disclosing such information to consumers.

On Tuesday, the House Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Workforce Protections will hold a hearing on the policies and priorities of the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

TAXES

When Congress passed the sweeping tax overhaul in December, the measure was, by many accounts, historically unpopular. More than a month in, its numbers have improved. According to a recent Monmouth poll, 44 percent of respondents approved of the bill and 44 percent disapproved, a big jump from the 26 percent approval, 47 percent disapproval numbers last month.

President Trump played up the tax bill in last week’s State of the Union address and he is expected to carry that theme to Cincinnati for a speech Monday, The Cincinnati Enquirer reported.

The president even hinted at the possibility of a second tax bill, a “phase two,” in a speech to lawmakers during the GOP retreat. House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady has been talking about the likelihood of annual tax bills in the near future as well, but neither he nor Trump have put much policy details on those proposals.

Ways and Means members will meet separately this Tuesday in the Library of Congress for their own policy retreat. They’ll likely discuss upcoming tax issues like an extenders bill, implementation of the tax overhaul and a planned reorganization of the Internal Revenue Service.

Congress has until Thursday to craft another funding bill. There’s isn’t much talk about attaching an extenders bill renewing various expired tax breaks to that measure, lobbyists say, leaving few pieces of major legislation for extenders language to ride on before the election season heats up.

Elsewhere, the Ways and Means Committee is set to hold two hearings this week, one on combating opioid abuse and dependence in Medicare, and another on revamping Social Security for veterans. The Senate Finance Committee has no hearings scheduled.

TECHNOLOGY

The Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance, and Data Security is slated to meet Tuesday to discuss ride-hailing company Uber Technologies’ $100,000 payout to a hacker who, in 2016, discovered a vulnerability impacting the data privacy of consumers using the Uber app. Lawmakers will examine the overall value of “bug bounty” programs—in which companies pay hackers to find vulnerabilities in their systems—as well as claims that Uber made impermissible payments in order to conceal the incident. The chief information security officer at Uber is expected to testify.

The House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Communications will meet Tuesday for a hearing on the state of emergency alerts and warnings. The hearing was conceived in the wake of last month’s false ballistic-missile alert that was issued over wireless devices throughout Hawaii, sparking more than a half hour of panic across the state. Democratic lawmakers in the Senate continue to discuss legislation that would place additional federal requirements on state-controlled alert systems.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee will convene a hearing Tuesday to examine the role that diplomacy plays in addressing cybersecurity threats. Lawmakers will hear from officials and academics in the cybersecurity realm about how to best cooperate with American allies, and how to prevent or lessen the impact of attempts by authoritarian regimes to exert increased control online.

The Federal Communications Commission is hitting the conference circuit this week. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and his fellow commissioners are slated to speak Tuesday at the Multicultural Media, Telecom, and Internet Council’s annual Broadband and Social Justice Summit in Washington. Democratic FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn will speak Wednesday at INCOMPAS’s policy summit, where she will join lawmakers including Democratic House members Peter Welch and Anna Eshoo and Republican House members Bob Latta and Mike Coffman.

WHITE HOUSE

President Trump begins this week in the key electoral state of Ohio on a dual mission to tout his tax cuts and bring together the state GOP. He and first lady Melania Trump will visit a cylinder factory outside Cincinnati, Sheffer Corp., which gave each of its workers a $1,000 bonus after the tax bill was signed into law. He also hopes to unite Ohio Republicans behind the Senate candidacy of Rep. Jim Renacci, according to local party officials. And, for the first time as either a candidate or president, he will be accompanied by Sen. Rob Portman, the popular Republican who has kept his distance from Trump. On Tuesday, the president will hold a law enforcement roundtable. And on Thursday, he will attend the National Prayer Breakfast and meet the president of Guatemala.

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