Outlook: Funding Deadline Looms Over Congress's Short Week

Lawmakers are looking to wrap up the spending package that includes the Energy-Water, Legislative Branch and Military Construction-VA bills.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (left) and Speaker Paul Ryan
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
Sept. 9, 2018, 8 p.m.

On a week made short by the Rosh Hashanah holiday, the House will aim to finish consideration of the first conferenced minibus. The package of the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, Energy and Water, and Legislative Branch spending bills was nearing completion at the end of last week, according to Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

McCarthy said more minibuses are to come. Yet with time running short before the Sept. 30 deadline to fund the entire government, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer pressed McCarthy during their Friday colloquy about whether a continuing resolution will eventually be necessary.

“I’m encouraged by the work [that] committees are doing and I expect further progress,” McCarthy answered. “I want to focus on appropriations. … We can deal with a continuing resolution with whatever’s left when that moment comes.”

The House will also take a parting shot at Affordable Care Act taxes. The chamber will vote on a measure to shield employers from Obamacare penalties, mandating they provide coverage only to employees who work 40-hour weeks, instead of the current 30-hour threshold, and delaying implementation of the so-called Cadillac tax on high-cost health care plans.

The Senate will return Wednesday evening to vote on the nomination of Charles Rettig to be IRS commissioner. The Senate may then turn to a bill to combat the opioid epidemic.

Here’s what else is on tap this week:

DEFENSE AND FOREIGN POLICY

U.S. sanctions policy and U.S.-Russia relations will be front and center this week on the Hill. Lawmakers in both chambers will hold hearings to assess the effectiveness of sanctions as a foreign policy tool under the Trump administration and to dive into the Kremlin’s Middle East strategy.

President Trump’s July meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin will also return to the spotlight, with the House Foreign Affairs Committee marking up a resolution asking for notes and documents related to the Helsinki summit. It’s still unclear what commitments may have been made during the two-hour conversation.

On Wednesday, the Senate Banking Committee meets in the morning for a hearing with outside experts to discuss new tools to counter Russia. The full House Foreign Affairs Committee meets on Thursday for a hearing on oversight of U.S. sanctions policy, with Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs Manisha Singh and Marshall Billingslea, Treasury assistant secretary for terrorist financing, testifying before lawmakers.

The committee will also be marking up a resolution Thursday requesting the president, and directing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, to provide copies of all documents and records related to the one-on-one meeting.

On Wednesday, the Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations Subcommittee will review developments in Ethiopia, where Abiy Ahmed became prime minister in April following a year filled with political upheaval and protests. The State Department’s top diplomat on Africa policy, Tibor Nagy, will testify.

Sen. Jim Inhofe has officially taken the reins as the Armed Services chairman. He’d been serving in an acting capacity since Sen. John McCain, who died last month, returned to Arizona for treatment for brain cancer. Jon Kyl, who has now filled McCain’s Senate seat, will also join the committee.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee gathers Thursday morning to consider a number of ambassador nominations. That will be immediately followed by a hearing on Russia’s role in Syria and the Middle East, featuring officials from State and the Defense Department.

The House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support, meanwhile, meets Thursday on whether the new Army Futures Command will help modernization and acquisition efforts. Ryan McCarthy, under secretary of the Army, and Gen. John Murray, the first commander of the AFC, will testify. On Friday morning, the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations will hear from military officials on U.S. strategy in Syria.

ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT

The House and Senate could put to bed a minibus spending bill led by Energy Department appropriations. Lawmakers held their first public meeting Wednesday to conference the bills from each chamber, and power brokers on Capitol Hill are bullish on the chances of a compromise bill hitting the president’s desk before federal funding expires at the end of this month.

That would be a big step in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s quest to strike bicameral deals on the lion’s share of funding bills, rather than fall back on a continuing resolution to fund the entire government. But sticking points remain. Most notably, lawmakers are continuing to lock horns over funding for a permanent nuclear-waste repository at Yucca Mountain. House negotiators are insisting on that inclusion. The House bill also includes a number of controversial riders.

The Energy Department minibus would fund the Veterans Affairs Department, the legislative branch, and some Defense Department programs.

Meanwhile, the Senate Banking Committee meets Wednesday to discuss potential new Russia sanctions. A number of sanctions bills await action in both chambers. The Banking Committee holds jurisdiction over the legislation seen as most viable: the Deter Act.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing Thursday on prospective U.S. liquefied-natural-gas exports to Europe. Many policymakers see those exports as a counterweight to Russian influence on the continent.

HEALTH

The Senate plans to vote this week on its package of more than 70 proposals to address the opioid crisis. That will include legislation to provide grants to states so they can better share drug-monitoring-program data and expand access to medication-assisted treatment, per a press release from Sen. Lamar Alexander’s office.

While there is overlap between this proposal and the House’s, lawmakers will have to contend with significant differences, such as a House provision that partially repeals a Medicaid limitation so that patients can have broader access to residential treatment regarding opioid- and cocaine-use disorders. This provision has drawn criticism for excluding other types of substance-use disorder.

As the Senate moves forward to address the opioid epidemic, the House will be tackling some other health-related issues.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee's Health Subcommittee will discuss ways to increase the use of value-based models in Medicare and look at possible regulatory and statutory hurdles for such arrangements.

The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee will have a hearing examining the Interagency Program Office, which was established to accelerate the exchange of health care information between the Defense and Veterans Affairs Departments. According to a committee press release on the hearing, the focus of the office has changed as the departments pursued different strategies.

TAXES AND TRADE

Kevin Brady’s “Tax Reform 2.0” is moving forward with a markup Thursday despite concerns among some GOP members over a provision that would make a cap on the state-and-local-tax deduction permanent.

It’s been a sticking point ever since last year’s tax-code overhaul, when Republican lawmakers from high-tax states pushed back against the revenue raiser. Brady’s new legislative push, which the GOP hopes to move through the House before the midterms, would make the provision permanent along with a host of individual tax cuts that are set to expire in 2025.

“That’s one of the major conversations, so I think the chairman is making a direct line of communication open to the SALT-state members and that was some of the conversation today in there, and it continues as we go forward,” New York GOP Rep. Tom Reed—who voted for last year’s tax bill—said as House Republicans were leaving a closed-door listening session on the tax plan Thursday.

On whether tax writers would opt for merely an extension on the SALT cap instead of making it permanent, Reed said discussions were “still a work in progress.”

Brady told reporters Thursday that his committee will hold a markup this week, with a floor vote in the House expected in September. Brady said he has briefed the White House on the details of the set of bills, likely numbering three, and the administration is on board.

In the Senate, McConnell filed cloture Thursday on Rettig, Trump’s pick to lead the IRS. That will likely set up a confirmation vote in the full Senate later this week, ending the 10-month absence of a full-time commissioner at the tax agency.

Talks between Canada and the U.S. over a new trade agreement continued last week, with dispute resolution and Canadian protections on dairy and media companies the remaining sticking points. The two have until the end of this month to arrive at a deal if it’s to be included in a NAFTA-overhaul agreement that the U.S. made with Mexico in August.

Republicans have been hesitant to state whether Congress would move to pass the Mexico agreement without Canada, but both Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have said they would walk away from a deal if it wasn’t favorable to their respective countries. Still, with the U.S. and Mexico reaching a trade deal, the pressure is on Canada to reach an agreement, provided that Congress would accept a bilateral-only pact.

TECHNOLOGY

As concern over the sweeping size and concentrated influence of America’s tech giants continues to rattle through Washington, the Federal Trade Commission plans to hold a marathon hearing to address competition and consumer protection in the 21st century.

Starting Thursday, FTC Chairman Joseph Simons will convene two days of discussion with some of the country’s top experts in antitrust and consumer protection. Planned topics of discussion include the regulation of consumer data, whether the U.S. economy has become more concentrated and less competitive, the interplay between antitrust law and consumer welfare, and a potential rethinking of antitrust policy around vertical mergers.

The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will meet Thursday to discuss evolving threats to the homeland. Kevin Mandia, the chief executive of cybersecurity firm FireEye, and Scott McBride, the head of the infrastructure security department at the Idaho National Laboratory, are among those slated to testify.

The Senate Commerce Committee will meet Thursday to discuss emerging transportation technologies with some of the top executives in the field. Josh Raycroft, an executive from Virgin Hyperloop One, and Laurie Tolson, the chief digital officer for GE Transportation, are expected to testify.

The House Energy and Commerce's Subcommittee on Communications and Technology is planning to mark up a trio of public-safety-related telecommunications bills Friday. A new bill would stiffen penalties for individuals who intentionally spoof caller-ID information to provoke an armed police raid against homes where no emergency is underway. Such pranks, known as “swatting,” have often been deployed against celebrities in recent years. One such “swatting” incident last year led to the fatal shooting of a Kansas man by police.

The other two bills would respectively direct the Federal Communications Commission to designate a new telephone code—other than 911—for Americans to call during critical but nonemergency circumstances, and require that the FCC review the use of 911 fees by state, local, and tribal governments.

WHITE HOUSE

President Trump’s week will begin with a somber remembrance of heroism and death, and end with a rowdy celebration of political victories he hopes will be in his future. On Tuesday, he and first lady Melania Trump will go to Somerset County, Pennsylvania, to participate in the 17th anniversary commemoration of the crash of United Airlines Flight 93 on Sept. 11, 2001. Flight 93 was the last of the four planes hijacked that day and the only one that failed to reach its target. Instead, because of the heroism of the passengers, the plane crashed in an empty field near Shanksville, killing all 33 passengers and seven crew members. The ceremonies will take place at the Flight 93 National Memorial. On Friday, Trump will hold one of his mass political rallies in Jackson, Mississippi.

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