Legislation and Litigation Both on the Agenda in Congress

House Republicans plan to start plotting lawsuit against President Obama on Wednesday.

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 09: House majority leader-elect Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) (C) talks with reporters after the weekly House Republican caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol July 9, 2014 in Washington, DC. The House GOP leadership blamed Senate Democrats for holding up legislation that would create more full-time jobs, they said. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
National Journal
Billy House
July 13, 2014, 4:25 p.m.

The House and Sen­ate this week will take up sev­er­al long-awaited le­gis­lat­ive items, though they will do so amid the cir­cus at­mo­sphere sur­round­ing the House GOP’s buildup to a vote later this month on su­ing Pres­id­ent Obama over his ex­ec­ut­ive ac­tions.

The pub­lic launch of the un­usu­al ef­fort be­gins Wed­nes­day as the House Rules Com­mit­tee hears testi­mony from leg­al ex­perts about the mer­its of such lit­ig­a­tion. Speak­er John Boehner has signaled the House will be su­ing Obama spe­cific­ally for delay­ing en­force­ment of the Af­ford­able Care Act’s em­ploy­er man­date last year, on the grounds that do­ing so without con­gres­sion­al ap­prov­al vi­ol­ated the Con­sti­tu­tion.

Demo­crats are liken­ing the hear­ing to a show tri­al, though both parties have chosen two leg­al wit­nesses to ap­pear. Testi­fy­ing for Re­pub­lic­ans are at­tor­neys Jonath­an Tur­ley and Eliza­beth Price Fo­ley, while Demo­crats have en­lis­ted Wal­ter Del­linger and Si­mon Laz­arus.

Re­pub­lic­ans say they ul­ti­mately plan to bring their res­ol­u­tion au­thor­iz­ing a law­suit to the floor in the last week of Ju­ly — right be­fore mem­bers go on the Au­gust break.

Mean­while, House Ma­jor­ity Lead­er-elect Kev­in Mc­Carthy says the cham­ber’s ap­pro­pri­at­ors will be scru­tin­iz­ing Obama’s re­quest for $3.7 bil­lion to deal with the hu­man­it­ari­an crisis on the U.S-Mex­ico bor­der with the in­flux of il­leg­al cross­ings — but he also said that any bill will not be brought to the floor for a vote this week.

On Wed­nes­day, the Sen­ate Home­land Se­cur­ity and Gov­ern­ment­al Af­fairs Com­mit­tee is hold­ing a hear­ing aimed at ad­dress­ing the “root causes” of the rise in ap­pre­hen­sions at the bor­der. But it also is not clear when a vote will come in the Sen­ate on Obama’s sup­ple­ment­al fund­ing re­quest. Re­pub­lic­ans in both cham­bers have largely panned the re­quest as tan­tamount to a “blank check.”

House Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers do ex­pect a vote this week on the cham­ber’s $10.8 bil­lion ver­sion of a bill to keep the High­way Trust Fund solvent be­fore it runs out of money at the end of sum­mer, po­ten­tially halt­ing road, bridge, and mass-trans­it pro­jects.

The Sen­ate has not yet de­cided when it will take up its bi­par­tis­an ver­sion of such a bill, which was ap­proved last week by the Fin­ance Com­mit­tee. Like the House bill, it would ex­tend the fund through May and in­to a new Con­gress. It brings about the same amount of money to the fund as the House bill through some sim­il­ar fund­ing mech­an­isms, in­clud­ing budget­ing man­euvers tied to pen­sions. But there are dif­fer­ences that would have to be re­solved.

The Sen­ate is ex­pec­ted this week to take up its Ter­ror­ism Risk In­sur­ance Pro­gram Reau­thor­iz­a­tion Act, as the cur­rent act is set to ex­pire Dec. 31. The bill ex­tends the pro­gram, which partly cov­ers the cost of dam­ages from ter­ror­ism, un­til 2021. Sen­at­ors have already drawn up a list of amend­ments, a sign that the bill is likely to pass, though even bi­par­tis­an is­sues have fallen apart on the floor.

Mc­Carthy on Fri­day ad­vised mem­bers that the House may also con­sider the cham­ber’s ver­sion of the in­sur­ance pro­gram reau­thor­iz­a­tion, which has some dif­fer­ences from the Sen­ate bill.

Also, the Su­preme Court’s de­cision in the Hobby Lobby case will con­tin­ue to take much of the spot­light this week, with le­gis­la­tion to re­verse the rul­ing ex­pec­ted to come up in both cham­bers. Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id said the Sen­ate will take up the bill this week. The le­gis­la­tion would be likely to pass in the up­per cham­ber, but not in the House, where a com­pan­ion bill was in­tro­duced.

Here’s some of what else Con­gress is do­ing this week:

BUDGET and FIN­ANCE

Ap­props Slog Con­tin­ues

The House plans to take up its ver­sion of a fisc­al 2015 Fin­an­cial Ser­vices and Gen­er­al Gov­ern­ment spend­ing bill. That would be the sev­enth of 12 an­nu­al spend­ing bills passed in the House.

But in a dis­cus­sion on the House floor Fri­day, Mc­Carthy would not tell Minor­ity Whip Steny Hoy­er wheth­er he ex­pects all 12 bills to be com­pleted by the Oct. 1 start of the new fisc­al year, say­ing only that “I will keep you in­formed.”

Over in the Sen­ate, ap­pro­pri­at­ors will mark up the De­fense spend­ing bill on Tues­day, with a full com­mit­tee markup on Thursday.

So far, however, the Sen­ate has not passed any of the 12 spend­ing bills. The pro­cess has suc­cumbed to par­tis­an wrangling over Sen­ate pro­ced­ure, spe­cific­ally wheth­er amend­ments should be sub­ject to 60-vote or ma­jor­ity thresholds on the floor.

There is widen­ing ac­cept­ance of the no­tion that the budget pro­cess will not be com­pleted on time. Many law­makers be­lieve a num­ber of the ap­pro­pri­ations bills — if not all — will have to be wrapped up in some om­ni­bus or con­tinu­ing-res­ol­u­tion pack­age that will provide on­go­ing fund­ing for gov­ern­ment agen­cies and pro­grams in­to the new fisc­al year — and un­til law­makers re­turn from the Nov. 4 elec­tions.

Bey­ond ap­pro­pri­ations bills, the House this week is to con­sider a pack­age of five tax bills from the Ways and Means Com­mit­tee that are de­pic­ted as meas­ures to foster char­it­able giv­ing.

The five bills that will be in­cluded are the Con­ser­va­tion Ease­ment In­cent­ive Act of 2013; a bill mak­ing a rule al­low­ing cer­tain tax-free dis­tri­bu­tions from in­di­vidu­al re­tire­ment ac­counts for char­it­able pur­poses per­man­ent; a bill to per­man­ently ex­tend and ex­pand the char­it­able de­duc­tion for con­tri­bu­tions of food in­vent­ory; the Char­it­able Giv­ing Ex­ten­sion Act; and a bill modi­fy­ing the tax rate for ex­cise tax on in­vest­ment in­come of private found­a­tions.

DE­FENSE and NA­TION­AL SE­CUR­ITY

Eye on Ir­aq, VA

Mon­it­or­ing the situ­ation in Ir­aq also re­mains a high pri­or­ity. The House For­eign Af­fairs Com­mit­tee holds a hear­ing on the U.S. re­sponse to the ter­ror­ist ad­vance­ment in Ir­aq on Tues­day, fol­lowed by an af­ter­noon joint sub­com­mit­tee hear­ing on the rise of the Is­lam­ic State of Ir­aq and the Le­vant in Ir­aq and bey­ond.

Mean­while, the House and Sen­ate are still try­ing to hash out a com­prom­ise on le­gis­la­tion to re­form the Vet­er­ans Af­fairs De­part­ment and stanch a streak of re­por­ted — and largely pre­vent­able — vet­er­an deaths.

Law­makers have been strug­gling to rein in costs as­so­ci­ated with the le­gis­la­tion. But con­fer­ence com­mit­tee mem­bers got a boost from a re­vised Con­gres­sion­al Budget Of­fice score that brought down the es­tim­ate of the House VA bill to $35 bil­lion over 10 years, from at least $44 bil­lion over five years.

The House and Sen­ate are un­der pres­sure to reach a deal and com­plete the le­gis­la­tion be­fore Con­gress ad­journs for the Au­gust re­cess at the end of the month.

The state of VA health care comes un­der the spot­light with a hear­ing in the Sen­ate Vet­er­ans’ Af­fairs Com­mit­tee on Wed­nes­day.

EN­ERGY and EN­VIR­ON­MENT

EPA Un­der Fire

With the Sen­ate in on Monday but with no votes set, Re­id has teed up the nom­in­a­tions of Nor­man Bay and Cheryl LaFleur to be mem­bers of the Fed­er­al En­ergy Reg­u­lat­ory Com­mis­sion for Tues­day.

Demo­crats have said they’re con­fid­ent they have the votes to move the nom­in­a­tions, but Bay in par­tic­u­lar has sparked some op­pos­i­tion for his role in pro­sec­ut­ing com­pan­ies for al­legedly vi­ol­at­ing fed­er­al rules when he headed FERC’s en­force­ment of­fice.

A week after the full House cleared the spend­ing bill for the En­ergy De­part­ment, the House Ap­pro­pri­ations Com­mit­tee is to take up the In­teri­or and En­vir­on­ment spend­ing bill, which comes equipped with plenty of anti-EPA riders.

Among the more con­tro­ver­sial will be pro­vi­sions block­ing the En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency’s rules lim­it­ing car­bon emis­sions from power plants and a cla­ri­fic­a­tion of the agency’s Clean Wa­ter Act jur­is­dic­tion, both of which were also at­tached to the En­ergy spend­ing bill. Demo­crats, mean­while, are ex­pec­ted to try to re­store some of the $717 mil­lion cut from EPA’s budget and try to fend off some of the at­tacks on the pres­id­ent’s cli­mate plan.

EPA will con­tin­ue to face hos­tile push­back from House con­ser­vat­ives on Tues­day dur­ing a House Trans­port­a­tion and In­fra­struc­ture Wa­ter Re­sources and En­vir­on­ment Sub­com­mit­tee hear­ing to ex­am­ine the agency’s pro­pos­al to cla­ri­fy its jur­is­dic­tion over streams and wet­lands.

On the oth­er side of the Cap­it­ol on Tues­day, the Sen­ate En­ergy and Nat­ur­al Re­sources Com­mit­tee will ex­am­ine the pres­id­ent’s pro­posed Forest Ser­vice budget for fisc­al 2015 and wheth­er it grants suf­fi­cient fund­ing for wild­fire pre­ven­tion and read­i­ness. Fed­er­al funds set aside to fight wild­fires have been stretched thin in re­cent years as fires in­crease in num­ber and sever­ity. The pres­id­ent’s budget re­quest to Con­gress would al­low the Forest Ser­vice to dip in­to dis­aster-re­lief funds to fight the cost­li­est blazes.

A House Sci­ence sub­com­mit­tee will tackle EPA’s sys­tem for test­ing the hu­man health risks of en­vir­on­ment­al con­tam­in­ants on Wed­nes­day. The In­teg­rated Risk In­form­a­tion Sys­tem pro­gram has taken flack for its back­log and lack of trans­par­ency, but EPA’s Ken­neth Olden, who over­sees the Na­tion­al Cen­ter for En­vir­on­ment­al As­sess­ment, will de­fend re­forms made to the IRIS pro­cess last year.

HEALTH CARE

Re­vis­it­ing Hobby Lobby

The Sen­ate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee on Tues­day is to take on the is­sue of re­pro­duct­ive health this week, with a full com­mit­tee hear­ing titled “The Wo­men’s Health Pro­tec­tion Act: Re­mov­ing Bar­ri­ers to Con­sti­tu­tion­ally Pro­tec­ted Re­pro­duct­ive Rights.”

The Sen­ate is also ex­pec­ted to take up a mes­saging bill aimed at rolling back the Su­preme Court’s de­cision in the Hobby Lobby case.

The Pro­tect Wo­men’s Health From Cor­por­ate In­ter­fer­ence Act, sponsored by Demo­crat­ic Sens. Patty Mur­ray of Wash­ing­ton and Mark Ud­all of Col­or­ado, who faces a chal­len­ging op­pon­ent in Rep. Cory Gard­ner, aims to pre­vent em­ploy­ers from re­fus­ing to cov­er health care, in­clud­ing con­tra­cep­tion.

The House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee will hold a hear­ing on prob­lems with the Af­ford­able Care Act’s eli­gib­il­ity veri­fic­a­tion sys­tem on Wed­nes­day. A re­port from the Health and Hu­man Ser­vices De­part­ment’s in­spect­or gen­er­al re­leased at the end of last month found that the fed­er­al mar­ket­place was un­able to re­solve 2.6 mil­lion of the 2.9 mil­lion in­con­sist­en­cies as of the first quarter of 2014, be­cause the eli­gib­il­ity sys­tem from the Cen­ters for Medi­care and Medi­caid Ser­vices was not yet fully op­er­a­tion­al.

En­ergy and Com­merce also has a hear­ing sched­uled Wed­nes­day to look in­to an in­cid­ent at Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion labs last month, when up to 84 em­ploy­ees in At­lanta may have been ex­posed to an­thrax after live samples were un­know­ingly sent from one CDC lab to oth­ers.

CDC re­leased a re­port on the in­cid­ent Fri­day, in which of­fi­cials say that fed­er­al gov­ern­ment labs in At­lanta im­prop­erly sent dan­ger­ous patho­gens to oth­er labs in five dif­fer­ent in­cid­ents over the past 10 years. CDC Dir­ect­or Tom Frieden will testi­fy at the hear­ing Wed­nes­day.

TECH­NO­LOGY

Bot­nets and Copy­rights

The Sen­ate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee on Tues­day is to hold a hear­ing on cy­ber­crim­in­al net­works known as “bot­nets.”

Also on Tues­day, the House Ju­di­ciary Sub­com­mit­tee on In­tel­lec­tu­al Prop­erty and the In­ter­net is to hold a hear­ing ex­amin­ing roy­al­ties and ter­min­a­tion rights on copy­righted ma­ter­i­al as part of a year­long re­view of the copy­right sys­tem.

WHITE HOUSE

Obama in NYC

Obama fo­cuses again this week on fa­mil­i­ar themes: tout­ing eco­nom­ic im­prove­ments on his watch and rais­ing cam­paign cash for Demo­crats.

On Monday he ac­cepts the cre­den­tials of sev­er­al am­bas­sad­ors from oth­er na­tions in the Oval Of­fice. On Tues­day he makes a short trip to McLean, Va., for re­marks on the eco­nomy.

After meet­ings Wed­nes­day at the White House, he heads for New York City on Thursday for a Demo­crat­ic Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee roundtable and fun­draiser.

A side vis­it to Delaware is likely to be ad­ded to Obama’s Thursday sched­ule. He ends the week Fri­day with more meet­ings at the White House.

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