Fiscal Deadlines Dominate Congressional Agenda

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Va., left, accompanied by House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, speaks about the Boston Marathon explosions during a news conference of House Republican Leadership on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, April 16, 2013. 
National Journal
Billy House
Sept. 15, 2013, 8:30 a.m.

The dead­lines have been clear for months. Yet Re­pub­lic­ans and Demo­crats once again are locked in seem­ingly im­mut­able po­s­i­tions over gov­ern­ment spend­ing and the debt ceil­ing, with a par­tial gov­ern­ment shut­down po­ten­tially just weeks away.

The crisis over Syr­ia and its chem­ic­al-weapons use re­mains un­settled. And there are plans this week for law­makers to ad­dress oth­er le­gis­lat­ive is­sues, in­clud­ing House ac­tion on the food stamp por­tion of a five-year farm bill.

But a short-term fund­ing agree­ment must emerge to keep the gov­ern­ment op­er­at­ing bey­ond Sept. 30, and a debt-lim­it deal is needed by mid-Oc­to­ber to avoid the risk of de­fault. Even so, ne­go­ti­ations seem stuck un­til House Re­pub­lic­ans re­solve in­tern­al di­vi­sions over wheth­er these dead­lines should be used as lever­age for re­peal­ing or delay­ing the Af­ford­able Care Act.

Here’s what else Con­gress is up to this week:

  • House Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Eric Can­tor, R-Va., says Re­pub­lic­ans are set to com­plete their cham­ber’s ver­sion of a five-year farm bill reau­thor­iz­a­tion, in a vote on a re­vised ver­sion that con­tains $40 bil­lion in cuts over 10 years to the Sup­ple­ment­al Nu­tri­tion As­sist­ance Pro­gram. That’s roughly twice what was pro­posed in a bill earli­er this year, which was de­feated in a floor vote. House pas­sage will fi­nally en­able a two-cham­ber con­fer­ence; the Sen­ate’s farm bill cuts the food stamp pro­gram by $4.5 bil­lion over 10 years.
  • The Sen­ate will re­turn to the En­ergy Ef­fi­ciency Act sponsored by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Rob Port­man, R-Ohio. De­bate on amend­ments came to a stand­still last week after Sen. Dav­id Vit­ter, R-La., blocked his col­leagues from pro­ceed­ing with an amend­ment re­lat­ing to the Af­ford­able Care Act. Pending amend­ments in­clude one find­ing the Key­stone XL oil pipeline in the na­tion­al in­terest and two oth­ers that cur­tail the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s cli­mate-change reg­u­la­tions.
  • The Sen­ate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee is hold a hear­ing Thursday on the pres­id­ent’s nom­in­a­tion of Car­oline Kennedy to be­come am­bas­sad­or to Ja­pan. In ad­di­tion, the com­mit­tee will con­sider the nom­in­a­tions of Am­bas­sad­or to Egypt Anne Pat­ter­son to be­come as­sist­ant sec­ret­ary of State for Near East­ern Af­fairs and Greg Starr to be­come as­sist­ant sec­ret­ary of State for Dip­lo­mat­ic Se­cur­ity — hot-but­ton posts in the wake of the Benghazi at­tacks.
  • The Sen­ate is to also con­sider two ju­di­cial nom­in­ees, Pa­tri­cia E. Camp­bell-Smith and Elaine D. Ka­plan, for the Court of Fed­er­al Claims. A roll-call vote is ex­pec­ted Monday even­ing.
  • Amid the vig­or­ous res­ist­ance to Obama­care’s im­ple­ment­a­tion, Gary Co­hen, who heads the Cen­ter for Con­sumer In­form­a­tion and In­sur­ance Over­sight at the Cen­ters for Medi­care and Medi­caid Ser­vices, is to testi­fy on Thursday about im­ple­ment­a­tion and read­i­ness be­fore a House En­ergy and Com­merce sub­com­mit­tee.
  • The Sen­ate En­ergy and Nat­ur­al Re­sources Com­mit­tee has set a hear­ing for Tues­day on Obama’s nom­in­ees for three ap­point­ments: Ron­ald Binz as chair­man of the Fed­er­al En­ergy Reg­u­lat­ory Com­mis­sion, Eliza­beth Robin­son to be un­der­sec­ret­ary of En­ergy, and Mi­chael Con­nor to be deputy In­teri­or sec­ret­ary.

The House Rules Com­mit­tee also is set to meet Tues­day to sched­ule de­bate and a vote later in the week on the GOP’s “Restor­ing Healthy Forests for Healthy Com­munit­ies Act.” The bill al­lows for cut­ting red tape and re­du­cing lit­ig­a­tion to help re­vive log­ging in na­tion­al forests and re­duce wild­fires. It also is dubbed as a way to help wean counties from fed­er­al funds giv­en to com­munit­ies hit by what has been a severe de­cline in tim­ber re­ceipts from na­tion­al forest­lands.

But some Demo­crats and en­vir­on­ment­al groups de­scribe the bill as a “Tro­jan horse” to in­cent po­ten­tially dam­aging log­ging and graz­ing across vast swaths of pub­lic land, with lim­ited pub­lic in­put and di­min­ished en­vir­on­ment­al pro­tec­tions.


Loom­ing Dead­lines

Even some Re­pub­lic­ans are nervous about their own party’s in­tern­al tur­moil and seem­ingly in­flex­ible po­s­i­tion­ing over how to pro­ceed with ne­go­ti­ations on a short-term spend­ing vehicle to pre­vent a par­tial gov­ern­ment shut­down on Oct. 1, and a debt-ceil­ing agree­ment.

House mem­bers are of­fi­cially sched­uled to be on re­cess next week. But already, Re­pub­lic­an and Demo­crat­ic lead­ers ad­vised rank-and-file col­leagues last week to pre­pare them­selves to be in Wash­ing­ton through the end of the month, as talks between con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­ans and Demo­crats, as well as the White House, move to­ward what amounts to an­oth­er self-cre­ated crisis that could reach a boil­ing point in com­ing days. Law­makers have been dead­locked for months over fed­er­al spend­ing levels, and the House and Sen­ate have not agreed on any of the 12 spend­ing bills for the fisc­al year that be­gins Oct. 1. This lo­g­jam is marked by dis­agree­ments over con­tinu­ation of the auto­mat­ic, across-the-board spend­ing re­duc­tions to do­mest­ic and mil­it­ary pro­grams known as se­quest­ra­tion. That in­cludes wheth­er those sharp cuts should be re­placed, and how to do that: with “smarter” cuts or new rev­en­ues, or some com­bin­a­tion?

Mean­while, Speak­er John Boehner and Re­pub­lic­ans de­mand that any in­crease of the na­tion’s abil­ity to bor­row money must come with ad­ded spend­ing cuts and re­forms. However, the White House and Demo­crats adam­antly re­fuse to ne­go­ti­ate on rais­ing the $16.7 tril­lion debt ceil­ing—which is pro­jec­ted to be hit by Oct. 18—say­ing the na­tion must pay its bills.

Now, with just two weeks to go, any big bar­gain by that time to re­solve all of these is­sues in one pack­age be­fore Oct. 1 is un­likely. Pro­gress even on a short-term, carry-over spend­ing bill known as a con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion—to al­low more time for such ne­go­ti­ations and to avert a gov­ern­ment shut­down in two weeks—has sputtered.

The White House and con­gres­sion­al Demo­crats did open the door last week to some com­prom­ise by not rul­ing out that they might, through mid-Decem­ber, ac­cept keep­ing spend­ing at the cur­rent se­quester-cut levels tem­por­ar­ily. They em­phas­ized that would not hold for any longer-range, om­ni­bus spend­ing pack­age worked out for the rest of the year.

But House con­ser­vat­ives are re­fus­ing to go along, in­sist­ing to Boehner and oth­er House GOP lead­ers that even such a short-term bill must be tied to lan­guage to ac­tu­ally either delay or de­fund Obama­care. And that’s simply something both the White House and con­gres­sion­al Demo­crats say they will not ac­cept—and that if a gov­ern­ment shut­down res­ults, it will be Re­pub­lic­ans’ fault.

Even some Re­pub­lic­ans are get­ting nervous over wheth­er their party will end up bear­ing more of the blame for any shut­down, as Boehner and his lieu­ten­ants ap­pear sty­mied by some of their own mem­bers in le­git­im­ately ne­go­ti­at­ing and com­prom­ising with Demo­crats. Wheth­er Boehner will ul­ti­mately have to work in con­junc­tion with Demo­crats to over­ride this in­tern­al GOP strife to se­cure enough votes to avoid a shut­down and debt-ceil­ing crisis—and wheth­er he would even be will­ing to do so—re­mains to be seen.


Shift­ing Fo­cus

The drum­beat of na­tion­al se­cur­ity hear­ings has ebbed now that Con­gress has got­ten a re­prieve from hav­ing to vote on wheth­er to au­thor­ize the use of force in Syr­ia while Wash­ing­ton and the United Na­tions pur­sue dip­lo­mat­ic op­tions to re­move strong­man Bashar al-As­sad’s chem­ic­al weapons.

The House For­eign Af­fairs Com­mit­tee is look­ing in­to oth­er Middle East is­sues, in­clud­ing a Wed­nes­day hear­ing in­to State De­part­ment ac­count­ab­il­ity on last year’s at­tacks on the dip­lo­mat­ic com­pound in Benghazi that killed Am­bas­sad­or Chris Stevens. State’s un­der­sec­ret­ary for man­age­ment, Patrick Kennedy, will testi­fy.

The fol­low­ing day, the Middle East and North Africa Sub­com­mit­tee will hear from State and USAID of­fi­cials on Syr­ia’s refugee crisis.


Par­tis­an Pyro­tech­nics

While the Sen­ate will try again Monday to move for­ward on the bi­par­tis­an en­ergy-ef­fi­ciency le­gis­la­tion that got stuck last week amid fights over Obama­care, oth­er en­ergy and cli­mate-change battles will rage this week off the House and Sen­ate cham­ber floors.

On Tues­day, par­tis­an fire­works might go off at the Sen­ate En­ergy and Nat­ur­al Re­sources Com­mit­tee hear­ing on Obama’s nom­in­a­tions of Binz as chair­man of the Fed­er­al En­ergy Reg­u­lat­ory Com­mis­sion, Robin­son to be un­der­sec­ret­ary of En­ergy, and Con­nor to be deputy sec­ret­ary of In­teri­or.

Typ­ic­ally, the En­ergy Reg­u­lat­ory Com­mis­sion is a low-key, un­der-the-radar af­fair. But Binz—a former chair­man of the Col­or­ado Pub­lic Util­it­ies Com­mis­sion—has drawn out­rage from the coal in­dustry, Re­pub­lic­ans, and The Wall Street Journ­al ed­it­or­i­al board for help­ing to write a state law aimed at shut­ting down coal-fired power plants, and for his up­front philo­sophy of fa­vor­ing re­new­able en­ergy. As the op­pos­i­tion to Binz has in­creased, a group of en­vir­on­ment­al act­iv­ists has hired a Wash­ing­ton PR firm, VennSquared Com­mu­nic­a­tions, to cam­paign for him as he heads in­to what looks like a tough and testy Sen­ate con­firm­a­tion pro­cess.

On Wed­nes­day, the House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee holds what staffers say will be a com­pre­hens­ive probe in­to the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s cli­mate-change agenda. Clashes seem likely to erupt between Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Ed Whit­field of Ken­tucky—a vo­cal skep­tic of the sci­ence of cli­mate change, who called the hear­ing—and the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s wit­nesses—En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency chief Gina Mc­Carthy and En­ergy Sec­ret­ary Ern­est Mon­iz.

The House Rules Com­mit­tee also has an­nounced a hear­ing Tues­day to set de­bate and a vote this week on bi­par­tis­an le­gis­la­tion to stream­line the per­mit­ting pro­cess for metals, such as sil­ver, man­ganese, and tung­sten. Those are used in everything from air­craft, med­ic­al devices, and re­new­able en­ergy. Right now the United States is al­most en­tirely de­pend­ent upon oth­er coun­tries for many of these kinds of metals.


Open­ing En­roll­ment

As some Re­pub­lic­ans con­tin­ue to fo­cus on ways to stop Obama­care’s core pro­vi­sions from go­ing in­to ef­fect, open-en­roll­ment in the health care pro­gram nears, kick­ing off in a mere two weeks from Tues­day.

Oct. 1 marks both the dead­line for reach­ing some agree­ment to con­tin­ue fund­ing gov­ern­ment and the open­ing of the on­line in­sur­ance mar­ket­places un­der the Af­ford­able Care Act. The be­gin­ning of open en­roll­ment will make life more com­plic­ated for mem­bers who would change the health care law, al­though any is­sues with the launch, tech­nic­al or oth­er­wise, will provide fod­der for their cause.

Mean­while, the White House con­tin­ues its push to raise aware­ness of the ACA, as Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sec­ret­ary Kath­leen Se­beli­us spends the be­gin­ning of the week in Flor­ida, a state that has vig­or­ously res­isted the law’s im­ple­ment­a­tion. The non­par­tis­an Con­gres­sion­al Budget Of­fice has es­tim­ated that 7 mil­lion Amer­ic­ans will sign up for in­sur­ance on the ex­changes in 2014.


Spot­light on Syr­ia

Syr­ia re­mains at the top of Pres­id­ent Obama’s agenda this week. But as part of his de­term­in­a­tion to keep a fo­cus on the eco­nomy, on Wed­nes­day morn­ing he will ad­dress the quarterly meet­ing of the Busi­ness Roundtable at the group’s Wash­ing­ton of­fices.

Michael Catalini, George E. Condon, Coral Davenport, Amy Harder, Catherine Hollander and Sara Sorcher contributed contributed to this article.
What We're Following See More »
Warren Goes After Trump Yet Again
7 hours ago

When it comes to name-calling among America's upper echelon of politicians, there may be perhaps no greater spat than the one currently going on between Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Donald Trump. While receiving an award Tuesday night, she continued a months-long feud with the presumptive GOP presidential nominee. Calling him a "small, insecure moneygrubber" who probably doesn't know three things about Dodd-Frank, she said he "will NEVER be president of the United States," according to her prepared remarks."We don't know what Trump pays in taxes because he is the first presidential nominee in 40 years to refuse to disclose his tax returns. Maybe he’s just a lousy businessman who doesn’t want you to find out that he’s worth a lot less money than he claims." It follows a long-line of Warren attacks over Twitter, Facebook and in interviews that Trump is a sexist, racist, narcissistic loser. In reply, Trump has called Warren either "goofy" or "the Indian"—referring to her controversial assertion of her Native American heritage. 

Congress Passes Chemical Regulations Overhaul
10 hours ago

The House on Tuesday voted 403-12 "to pass an overhaul to the nation’s chemical safety standards for the first time in four decades. The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act aims to answer years of complaints that the Environmental Protection Agency lacks the necessary authority to oversee and control the thousands of chemicals being produced and sold in the United States. It also significantly clamps down on states’ authorities, in an effort to stop a nationwide patchwork of chemical laws that industry says is difficult to deal with."

GOP Could Double Number of Early Primaries
10 hours ago

"Leaders of the Republican Party have begun internal deliberations over making fundamental changes to the way its presidential nominees are chosen, a recognition that the chaotic process that played out this year is seriously flawed and helped exacerbate tensions within the party." Among the possible changes: forbidding independent voters to cast ballots in Republican primaries, and "doubling the number of early states to eight."

Kasich Tells His Delegates to Remain Pledged to Him
12 hours ago

Citing the unpredictable nature of this primary season and the possible leverage they could bring at the convention, John Kasich is hanging onto his 161 delegates. "Kasich sent personal letters Monday to Republican officials in the 16 states and the District of Columbia where he won delegates, requesting that they stay bound to him in accordance with party rules."

Sanders Wants a Recount in Kentucky
14 hours ago

Bernie Sanders "signed a letter Tuesday morning requesting a full and complete check and recanvass of the election results in Kentucky ... where he trails Hillary Clinton by less than one-half of 1 percent of the vote. The Sanders campaign said it has asked the Kentucky secretary of state to have election officials review electronic voting machines and absentee ballots from last week's primary in each of the state's 120 counties.