Outlook: Shutdown Deadline Looms Once Again

Lawmakers are scrambling to reach an agreement to prevent a second partial government shutdown.

In this Feb. 6, 2019, photo, Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., the top Republican on the bipartisan group bargainers working to craft a border security compromise in hope of avoiding another government shutdown, is joined by Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., left, and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., right, as they speak with reporters in Washington.
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
Feb. 10, 2019, 9:31 p.m.

As Congress and President Trump near a Friday deadline to avoid another partial government shutdown, appropriators are scrambling to reach an agreement to fund border security.

"The talks are stalled right now," Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby told Fox News Sunday, saying negotiations have reached an impasse on the number of detention beds and funding levels for physical barriers. He added that prospects for a deal are "50/50."

Trump, who will hold a rally for his reelection campaign in El Paso, Texas on Monday, has yet to rule out declaring a national emergency in a legal gambit to secure funding absent a congressional border security agreement. A continuing resolution to avert an appropriations lapse is also on the table.

Both chambers of Congress will return Monday. While they wait for the conference report, the Senate will continue to vote on a bipartisan lands package that includes permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund after Democrats and some Republicans rejected amendments by Sens. Mike Lee and James Lankford it to alter it. It's expected to easily pass and move on the House.

After that, the Senate will take up the confirmation of William Barr, Trump's pick to be attorney general. Barr, who held the same job under George H.W. Bush, faces limited opposition in the Republican-controlled Senate. His nomination passed out of the Judiciary Committee on a party-line vote on Thursday, and Democratic Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama said he'll join with Republicans to confirm him this week.

The Senate Committee on Rules and Administration will also meet Wednesday to consider Lankford's proposal to shorten post-cloture debate time on some executive and judicial nominees in hopes of allowing the Senate to work more quickly through pending nominations. The Senate Judiciary Committee will also hold a hearing the same day, as over 40 judicial nominees are pending before the body.

The House also returns Monday, but won't vote on Tuesday to accommodate the funeral of former Democratic Rep. John Dingell. The former dean of the House passed away Thursday.

The House's docket includes a joint resolution, similar to one passed by the lame-duck Senate in December, directing Trump to cease unauthorized military involvement of the Saudi-led offensive in Yemen, in response to the state-sponsored murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

Here’s what else is on tap this week:

DEFENSE AND FOREIGN POLICY

House Democrats are beginning this week to dig into the substance of President Trump’s foreign policy, with the House Armed Services Committee holding a hearing Wednesday on nuclear deterrence. Democrats oppose the Trump administration’s decision to pull out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Treaty with Russia, which they believe may spark a nuclear arms race in Europe.

The committee will also hear testimony Tuesday from the three service academies—the U.S. Military Academy, the Naval Academy, and the Air Force Academy—in their efforts to combat sexual assault and violence on campus.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee calls Trump’s special envoy to Venezuela, Elliot Abrams, to testify on Tuesday. Abrams’ appointment was controversial, given his involvement in the Reagan-era Iran-Contra scandal. Like Senate Democrats, House members have yet to weigh in on the crisis, largely out of concern that passing too strong a resolution against President Nicolas Maduro could give the Trump administration cover for military intervention in Venezuela, an option that the administration has refused to rule out.

In the Senate, Adm. Philip Davidson, the head of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, and Gen. Robert Abrams, commander of United States Forces Korea, will testify to the Armed Services Committee Tuesday on the Pentagon’s 2020 budget and the Future Years Defense Program. The committee also holds a hearing Wednesday on the military’s housing privatization initiative, a Defense Department program meant improve the quality and affordability of housing for military families by privatizing the real estate. The hearing was called in response to a Reuters investigation revealing widespread safety problems at the houses, including lead paint, mold, rodent infestations, and leaky ceilings.

ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT

The Senate is poised to sign off early this week on a sprawling lands package that includes permanent authorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. So far, Senate leadership has fended off controversial changes, and the deadline for all amendment submissions is 4 p.m. Monday.

A vote is possible Monday night on an amendment from Utah GOP Sen. Mike Lee to limit national-monument designations in his state. That’s a nonstarter for Democrats in both chambers, and the measure is expected to fail.

The roughly 700-page bill, the culmination of years of bicameral, bipartisan negotiations, is composed largely of a laundry list of parochial measures to transfer federal land to private owners or local authorities, as well as federal acquisitions. The bill would also protect 2 million acres of land for conservation purposes and put in place a suite of provisions to expand sportsmen access to public lands.

Key House members, like Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva, are signaling they’ll support quick passage of the Senate bill, so long as no controversial changes are made. In turn, House changes would likely imperil the legislation. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already dedicated roughly a week of floor activity to the bill, and that calendar time isn’t likely to surface again.

Meanwhile, climate change will remain on the front-burner of House legislative activity this week on the heels of the controversial rollout of a Green New Deal resolution. House Science Committee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson will hold a hearing on climate science Tuesday, and Natural Resources Committee subpanels will conduct hearings throughout the week.

HEALTH

President Trump named a handful of drug goals during his State of the Union address last week, including an initiative to end the HIV epidemic within the next decade. However, experts and advocates say that his policies that undermine coverage gains in the Affordable Care Act and have a “chilling effect” on immigrant use of health services could directly hamper this initiative.

Lawmakers have a busy week ahead of them as committees are taking on the administration’s family separation policy, preexisting conditions and issues related to the opioid crisis.

On Tuesday morning, the House Oversight and Reform Committee will have a hearing on the “failure” of the Justice, Homeland Security and Health and Human Services Departments to produce documents on child-separation policy. The House Judiciary Committee will also have a hearing on the administration’s child-separation policy, and the witness list includes the former head of the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement, Scott Lloyd.

The House Appropriations Committee’s Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration subcommittee will be hearing from FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb about the status of operations. Additionally, the House Ways and Means Committee will convene a hearing on the rising price of prescription drugs.

In the Senate, the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee will have a hearing on how treatment of pain can be improved and get updated on the development of new medicines.

On Wednesday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee Health Subcommittee will have a legislation hearing focused on reversing “ACA Sabotage” and ensuring preexisting conditions protections. Lawmakers will consider legislation that would restore funding to outreach for health care enrollment, rescind a Trump administration guidance that give states more flexibility to waive ACA requirements and reverse the administration’s expansion of short-term, limited-duration plans.

The Senate Appropriations Committee labor and Health and Human Services Department subcommittee will have a hearing Thursday on the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and other emerging health threats.

TAXES & TRADE

Last week’s Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee hearing was one of the first volleys in the Democratic effort to publicize confidential tax information. Lawmakers examined how they could employ Section 6103 of the tax code to request Trump’s returns from the Treasury Department, likely touching off a long court battle. Subcommittee’s Chairman Rep. John Lewis closed the hearing with a promise that “this is not the end,” though lawmakers haven’t yet announced another hearing on the issue.

That hasn’t stopped progressive groups from pressuring lawmakers to move quickly on the issue. This week, Democratic billionaire Tom Steyer will head to Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal’s home district to hold a town hall Tuesday on requesting the president’s tax returns.

The Ways and Means Select Revenue Subcommittee, formerly the tax-policy subcommittee, is set to hold a hearing Feb. 13 on “how middle-class families are faring in today’s economy.”

On trade, the White House announced Friday that it would send a delegation to China this week to continue talks over the tariff battle between the world’s two largest economies. There is a March 1 deadline in which the administration imposes additional tariffs on Chinese imports. Deputy-level negotiations start Monday, with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin leading the delegation Thursday and Friday.

Friday is also the deadline for legislation funding the federal government. A deal between congressional Democrats and the White House hasn’t surfaced, but some lawmakers such as Sen. Chuck Grassley continue to push to add language renewing a series of expired tax breaks known as extenders. It’s unclear whether that provision will make it in the final product. Senate Majority Whip John Thune has said any funding bill would likely be “narrow.”

TECHNOLOGY

It’s a jam-packed week for tech and cybersecurity policy in Washington, starting with a Tuesday hearing of the House Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on election cybersecurity. The two-panel hearing includes both federal and state officials, a reflection of the ongoing tension between Washington and the states over whether Congress should appropriate funding for cybersecurity upgrades—and crucially, whether those funds should come with strings attached.

Lawmakers will hear from Christopher Krebs, the Homeland Security director for cybersecurity, and Thomas Hicks, the chairman of the Election Assistance Commission. The secretaries of state from California and Alabama will testify in the second panel, along with a cybersecurity expert and a local election official from Illinois.

The Senate Homeland Security Committee also has cybersecurity on the agenda. The committee meets Wednesday to mark up more than a dozen bills, including the Federal Rotational Cyber Workforce Program Act, the DHS Cyber Hunt and Incident Response Teams Act, and the National Cybersecurity Preparedness Consortium Act.

The proposed merger between mobile-communications giants T-Mobile and Sprint is in the crosshairs of House Democrats this week, with two separate committees set to examine its impact to customers and the broader wireless industry.

“We must hold this hearing to examine the effects on important issues like jobs, costs to consumers, competition, and innovation,” wrote House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone and Communications and Technology Chairman Mike Doyle in a joint press release announcing Wednesday’s hearing. The House Judiciary Committee will hold its own hearing on Thursday to address the potential impact the merger could have on competition in the wireless marketplace. Witnesses for either hearing had yet to be announced as of last Friday.

T-Mobile and Sprint are two of the top four wireless carriers in the country, and Democrats in particular have voiced concerns about rising prices caused by increased marketplace consolidation. The Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission both must approve the merger, along with a slate of state competition offices.

The Senate Commerce Committee is taking another crack at infrastructure legislation this Congress, and that will inevitably include debate about federal subsidies to help build out broadband internet to rural and underserved areas. The committee meets Wednesday for a hearing on America’s infrastructure needs, and Matthew Polka, the chief executive of the American Cable Association, is one of several business representatives scheduled to testify.

A perceived lack of diversity in the tech industry has dogged Silicon Valley for years, and the newly minted House Democratic majority is looking to investigate the issue. The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection will hold a hearing on Thursday to examine how a lack of workers of color, women, and older Americans may implicitly bias the algorithms underpinning so much technology. Lawmakers will also discuss what the industry can do to increase diversity in its workforce. Witnesses for the hearing had yet to be announced as of Friday.

When it comes to the possibility of another shutdown, the Federal Communications Commission is taking no chances. Their monthly open meeting was moved to Thursday from next week in order to ensure that commission business will get done regardless of whether Trump and Congress come to an agreement on border-wall funding. Among other items, the commission will consider a proposal to amend its anti-spoofing rules for caller ID in order to include provisions recently passed by Congress.

WHITE HOUSE

Trump begins his week with a return to the campaign trail and one of his trademark rallies in El Paso, Texas, the city whose crime statistics he—inaccurately—cited in the State of the Union address. On Tuesday, he will hold a Cabinet meeting at the White House. On Wednesday, after twice canceling planned trips to Colombia, he will welcome President Iván Duque Márquez to Washington. Venezuela is expected to at the top of their agenda. Later in the day, he will speak to the Major County Sheriffs and Major Cities Chiefs Association joint conference.

Throughout the week, he is expected to hit hard at his demand for border-wall money as congressional negotiators struggle to come up with a compromise before their end-of-the-week deadline.

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