Outlook: Recess Canceled, But No Deal in Sight

As the partial government shutdown careens into its fifth week, McConnell will bring Trump's border-wall proposal up for a vote. Democratic leaders say the president's bid is a nonstarter.

AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana
Jan. 21, 2019, 8 p.m.

President Trump's proposal to end the partial government shutdown, offering temporary relief for some undocumented immigrants in exchange for billions in border-security funding, will get its first legislative test this week. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell vowed to bring Saturday's proposal to the floor when the Senate returns. But Democrats, who would need to join with Republicans for the legislation to pass the chamber, largely panned what Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called a "one-sided and ineffective" remedy while continuing to call for the government's immediate reopening.

Meanwhile, House Democrats will bring to the floor a continuing resolution for a revote in order to allow Republicans to register their objections after a minor controversy on the House floor last week.

The new vote comes after a vote on a CR was vacated last Thursday following outcry from Republican leaders. The CR, which would reopen government through Feb. 28, passed by voice vote after the presiding Democrat said no Republicans had objected or requested a roll-call vote. Democratic leaders eventually capitulated to the GOP’s complaints and agreed to vote again so Republicans can vote against the measure as they continue to push for money to construct a border wall.

Democrats will also bring to the floor various other appropriations measures to reopen the government, including a package of six spending bills covering various shuttered agencies. None of the measures, however, are expected to become law.

The Senate will also continue to consider thrice-rejected legislation, blocked by Democrats, that would impose sanctions on Syria, bolster security for American allies, and enable punishments for companies boycotting Israel.

Here’s what else is on tap this week:

DEFENSE AND FOREIGN POLICY

The House Armed Services Committee is adding 16 new Democrats, all freshman members except Reps. William Keating and Filemon Vela. Several new lawmakers—Reps. Mikie Sherrill, Gil Cisneros, Elaine Luria, Jason Crow, Chrissy Houlahan, and Jared Golden—will bring military experience to the table.

And four new Democrats will join the House Foreign Affairs Committee: Rep. Tom Malinowski, the former assistant secretary of State for democracy, human rights, and labor under President Obama; Rep. Ilhan Omar, a progressive Somali-American; Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a career CIA officer; and Houlahan, an Air Force veteran.

Chairman Eliot Engel is reorganizing the committee structure, scrapping the Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade Subcommittee in favor of a Subcommittee on Investigations. He also announced that the committee’s first hearing will focus on the Arabian peninsula.

Four Americans were killed in Manbij, Syria on Wednesday in a suicide attack that could complicate Trump’s intent to pull out of the country. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, which came just weeks after Trump declared the group completely defeated. Lawmakers who oppose the pullout are likely to cite the attack as proof that the move is premature.

Furloughed diplomats, meanwhile, will return to work this week after the State Department said it found enough money to pay for one period during the shutdown.

ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT

It's expected to be a mostly quiet week for energy and environment policy on Capitol Hill, as senators stay put at home and House Democrats work to formalize committee rules and subpanel rosters. A House Energy and Commerce hearing on climate change could take place this week, but the following week is more likely.

Chairman Frank Pallone has tapped climate change for the committee’s first hearing.

Mayors from across the country, meanwhile, are convening this week in Washington, and climate policy is a top priority. Dozens of mayors from major cities like New York City, Los Angeles, and Washington D.C. pledge to continue to meet the emissions-reduction goals spelled out in the Paris climate accord despite Trump’s informal withdrawal from the agreement in 2017.

On Wednesday at the Capital Hilton Hotel, New Bedford, Mass., Mayor Jon Mitchell will join officials from the Energy Department and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, as well as a representative from Xcel Energy, to discuss a nationwide transition to 100 percent renewable energy.

The following day, Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski and Pallone’s top energy and environment staffer will discuss climate change. And later on, Sen. Jeff Merkley, a climate hawk, will deliver remarks. Merkley last week grilled Environmental Protection Agency Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler on climate action during Wheeler’s nomination hearing before the Environment and Public Works Committee.

HEALTH

As the shutdown continues to hold funding for the Agriculture Department and the Food and Drug Administration in its grasp, the new Congress is rounding out its health care leadership with the appointment of Rep. Lloyd Doggett as the chairman of the Ways and Means Health Subcommittee.

Doggett immediately placed high drug prices at the top of his agenda. “This includes giving Medicare the power to negotiate drug prices on behalf of seniors, ending surprise medical bills, and protecting the crucial access to care for the millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions,” he said in a statement on Thursday. “I hope that President Trump will follow the advice of Candidate Trump to find common ground with us, reject the advice of the Big Pharma executives he appointed to control his agenda, and deliver a real victory for the American people.”

House Democrats are also preparing to increase oversight of the Trump administration’s immigration policies after a Health and Human Services Department Office of Inspector General report revealed that potentially thousands more children than previously reported may have been separated from their parents during an influx in 2017.

“Not only did this Administration take thousands more children away from their parents—it failed to keep information about the total number and current status of children separated from their parents or guardians,” said Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, chair-designate of the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, in a statement. “That’s unconscionable and inexcusable. When Republicans controlled the House, President Trump may have thought he could get away with this cruelty and incompetence. But those days are over.”

TAXES

House tax writers are getting back in gear with a Thursday hearing on the effects of the shutdown on taxpayer service and the 2019 filing season.

House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal had invited Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to testify, but late Thursday the Treasury Department offered instead to send senior Treasury and IRS officials.

“The department has acted in good faith to meet the committee’s legitimate need for information concerning the impact of the current shutdown,” Treasury said in a letter to Neal posted on Twitter. “If the purpose of the upcoming hearing is to inform Congress and the public, we are confident that goal will be best served by senior department officials with the deepest and broadest expertise on the subject of the hearing, as outlined in your invitation and the press release that accompanied it.”

Mnuchin was supposed to be at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Thursday. However, the White House canceled its delegation’s trip, citing the shutdown, so technically he would be available for the hearing.

Filing season begins Jan. 28, but for taxpayers who rely on a series of regularly renewed tax breaks known as extenders, they may need to revisit their returns. About three-dozen extenders are currently expired, and an effort to retroactively renew them—a common process—failed to get through Congress late last year.

That means it’s up to this year’s tax writers to work on extenders legislation covering the 2018 tax year. But Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley told reporters that there was currently no plan or legislative vehicle to attach an extenders bill onto, and that taxpayers who want to take advantage of the breaks will likely need to file amended returns once Congress renews the extenders.

There are no hearings scheduled in the Finance Committee this week.

TECHNOLOGY

There remains little action on the tech-policy front as the shutdown slides into its fifth week. But the debate over the contours of an eventual privacy bill is ongoing, with privacy bills both old and new being introduced last week and more potentially on the horizon for this week.

Sen. Marco Rubio’s new bill, which would allow only the Federal Trade Commission to write privacy suggestions for Congress to consider while preventing states from enacting their own legislation, will likely continue to ruffle feathers in the policy community. Rubio’s bill could upend what was a slowly expanding agreement between Republicans and Democrats to grant the FTC rule-making authority on privacy in any eventual privacy bill.

Both the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation and the House Energy and Commerce committees largely finalized their rosters late last week, and announcements of new committee hearings could come at any time. But it’s not clear whether tech issues will be first on the docket; earlier this month, E&C Chairman Pallone announced the committee’s first three hearings would respectively address climate change, the Affordable Care Act, and the family-separation policy.

Senate Commerce Chairman Roger Wicker has provided fewer details on his immediate timeline, but he said in his committee’s opening hearing last week that the body would focus on issues such as broadband connectivity, 5G wireless expansion, and data privacy.

Democratic Federal Communications Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel is slated to speak Tuesday at an Internet Innovation Alliance event regarding spectrum auctions and their ability to close the “homework gap,” when students without access to high-speed internet suffer in their schoolwork. But it’s not clear whether the commissioner will show—FCC Chairman Ajit Pai spurned a recent congressional request to brief lawmakers on new reports of unwanted cellphone location tracking, citing the shutdown.

WHITE HOUSE

With the partial government shutdown headed into its second month, President Trump's schedule this week once again is highly flexible. It will feature meetings with Vice President Mike Pence and openings for negotiations.

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