May 13, 2016 at 4:03 pm ET
The Coming Week: Zika Funding to Get Votes, Puerto Rico Bill in Flux
Lawmakers are in for some heavy lifting policy-wise in the coming week. The Zika virus, Puerto Rico’s fiscal woes and the annual defense policy bill are all on tap.
In the Senate, negotiators have decided that a spending package covering transportation, housing and veterans affairs will be the legislative vehicle for a Zika funding bill.
The Zika deal hammered out by Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) would provide the administration with $1.1 billion in emergency funding for Zika-related purposes. Though short of the $1.9 billion that the White House requested, the Senate is expected to adopt the measure as an amendment to the spending bill.
Senators will vote on two other amendments in order to give members from both parties a chance to express their opinions on the issue. The amendments aren’t expected to pass. One is an amendment by Florida’s delegation, Republican Marco Rubio and Democrat Bill Nelson, to fully meet the administration’s $1.9 billion request. Another amendment from Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) would offset Zika funds by finding savings in the Affordable Care Act.
In the House, Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) told reporters Friday that he expects a stand-alone funding bill for Zika on the floor. Unlike the Senate package, Rogers’ spokeswoman said the House GOP proposal would offset the funds partially by tapping unused Ebola accounts. While no specific number has been put forth, the bill will provide less than the $1.1 billion put forward in the Senate package.
Once again, one of the biggest questions leading into the week is what will happen to a House-crafted bill to relieve Puerto Rico’s massive debt burden.
Negotiators have been working on an agreement for weeks, but persistent sticking points have continued to stall a vote in the House Natural Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over the island. Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) said Friday that his goal of holding a Wednesday committee vote on the bill is still on track. But he cautioned that the session could be delayed if members need more time to study the proposal.
Puerto Rico faces its next major debt payment on July 1, which gives lawmakers roughly a month and a half to shepherd legislation through the chamber. It’s unclear how much support the measure will draw from within the House GOP conference in the face of an onslaught of negative advertising characterizing the measure as a “bailout.” House Democrats also have been less than pleased with previous versions that contain provisions they deem distasteful, such as one that would allow Puerto Rico’s governor to lower the minimum wage below the federal level.
Otherwise, the major item on the House floor this week is the annual National Defense Authorization Act, which sets policy in the nation’s armed services for the year to come. Expect a marathon of amendment votes, including a vote to remove a provision that would require women to register with the Selective Service.
The Senate, meanwhile, is working on two appropriations bills at once. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has opted to merge the transportation and housing appropriations bill with the military construction and veterans affairs spending bill to speed both measures through the chamber. It’s on this bill that senators hope to attach a Zika aid package.
After ushering that joint spending bill through the chamber, McConnell aims to turn to the Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act. He hopes to complete work on the defense policy bill by the Memorial Day break, setting the stage for, in theory, speedy consideration of the Department of Defense spending bill thereafter.
The Senate is set to return to work on Monday, with a vote at 5:30 p.m. to confirm Paula Xinis as a U.S. District Judge for the District of Maryland. The House will return for their evening votes on Monday.
International environmental agreements are on tap on a couple fronts in the coming week.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy travels to Japan to participate in a G7 Environment Ministers’ Meeting in Toyama on Sunday and Monday. She will then go to Minimata on Tuesday to show support for the Minimata Convention on Mercury, which the U.S. signed in 2013.
The United Nations will also hold its first formal climate meeting after the Paris agreement, meeting in Bonn, Germany, on Monday through May 26.
In Congress, the House Oversight Committee will hold a Wednesday hearing on “employee misconduct” at the EPA.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold two hearings on Tuesday. One will hear testimony on five bills relating to water infrastructure, and another will cover advanced nuclear technologies. On Thursday, the committee will hold a hearing on Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s five-year leasing plan.
The House Natural Resources Committee will hold a Tuesday hearing on President Obama’s ocean policies. On Wednesday, a subcommittee will hold a hearing on one bill that would establish a national commission on Native American children and another that would alter boundaries of federal land in Alaska. On Thursday, the committee will hold a hearing on “deficiencies in transparency” at the Department of the Interior.
The House Science Committee will hold a hearing on the next steps to traveling to Mars on Wednesday, hearing testimony from representatives from NASA, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, technology firm Orbital ATK, as well as Andy Weir, author of “The Martian.”
On Tuesday, a House Agriculture subcommittee will hold a hearing on environmental regulations’ effect on “the farm economy.”
The Senate, after several weeks of negotiations, has yet to reach a deal on funding for the National Institutes of Health, a key ingredient for advancing a medical innovation bill on the Senate floor.
In the House, the Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing Tuesday on the Obama administration’s proposed rule to change the way Medicare reimburses doctors for the drugs they administer. The purpose of the proposal is to address rising prescription drug prices. The rule has been controversial in Washington, with lawmakers from both parties and several industry groups opposing it.
On Tuesday, the Ways and Means health subcommittee will hold its second hearing on health taxes. Statements from the panel’s GOP leaders will be important, as they will offer clues to the forthcoming House Republican health policy blueprint. Republicans told Morning Consult on Thursday that the taxation of employer and individual insurance premiums would be part of that package.
On Wednesday, the Ways and Means human resources subcommittee will hold a hearing on programs that protect children from parental substance abuse.
The Senate will dive into the difficult debate of balancing law enforcement and privacy on a few different fronts. The Senate Judiciary Committee is slated to vote on the Electronic Communications Privacy Act Amendments Act on Thursday. It is the Senate companion measure to the House’s Email Privacy Act, which passed with a unanimous 419-0 vote in late April. Both versions would require law enforcement agencies to get warrants before looking at emails that have been stored for more than 180 days (previously thought to be abandoned).
This bill enjoys strong bipartisan support on the Senate committee. Of its 28 co-sponsors, nine sit on the committee, including Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), former Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah). Among Democrats, committee members Minority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) and Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) are co-sponsors.
The legislation has stalled in the past few years because of opposition from civil law enforcement agencies such as the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Trade Commission. Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has expressed interest in exempting those agencies, but civil liberties advocates and many of the bill’s sponsors oppose that idea.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) also plans to introduce a bill that would reverse the Supreme Court-approved changes to federal criminal procedure. The changes would allow judges to grant warrants for government-run hacking operations in any jurisdiction. Currently, judges can only issue warrants in their own jurisdiction.
Wyden plans to introduce a bill with one GOP co-sponsor, a Wyden spokeswoman said. Reuters reported that Republican will be Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, another staunch privacy advocate who worked with Wyden last year on forcing surveillance changes to the USA Patriot Act.
The Supreme Court approved the changes to Rule 41 of criminal procedure in late April, and Congress now has until Dec. 1 to reverse the changes or make adjustments before they go into effect.
The Senate Finance Committee will hold a hearing on Tuesday on an issue that is at the core of Chairman Orrin Hatch’s plan to address the double taxation of corporate earnings. Hatch is working with House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady on bringing corporate rates down to more closely match the rate of other countries, but he also believes that addressing “corporate integration” in the tax code can provide new incentives for investment.
The House Financial Services Committee has four hearings in various subcommittees slated for the week, including one contentious session on Wednesday to question a proposed rule from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to eliminate arbitration clauses from consumer financial companies. Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) is not fond of the CFPB, which often makes for fireworks in these hearings.
Another contentious hearing is slated for Thursday, when the committee will question whether the Justice Department’s settlements with individual banks does an end-run around the congressional appropriations process.
Tuesday and Wednesday will feature hearings on the Federal Reserve bank and its ability to pay interest on reserve and legislation designed to “enhance capital formation, transparency, and regulatory accountability.”
A Senate Banking Committee subcommittee will hold a hearing on Thursday on improving communities’ and businesses’ access to capital.