The Coming Week: Senate Prepares to Leave Washington

Cornyn says adjournment Thursday is possible. (Rob Kunzig/Morning Consult)
September 9, 2016 at 2:50 pm ET

Skip to: Energy, Finance, Health, Tech

Lawmakers are barreling toward another recess that could come within a week, if, as Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) puts it, the stars align.

Two things stand in the way of of members returning to their home districts to campaign ahead of the November elections — how to fund the government past Sept. 30, and what to do about the emerging Zika threat.

Senate GOP leaders are mulling adjournment by Thursday or Friday if they can get agreement on a continuing resolution that would fund the government through Dec. 9. That measure would likely include funding for Zika, but that shouldn’t be a problem since the Senate has already passed $1.1 billion for Zika in a bill supported by Democrats.

The House then would need to figure out how to balance Republican opposition to the Senate Zika package, as well as arch-conservatives’ protest about a lame-duck session ensured by a shorter-term spending bill. House Republicans huddled for a lengthy meeting Friday to discuss the issue.

The upshot may be that the House sticks around for at least one more week in September to conduct more business. The likeliest measure would be a vote on a defense spending bill, which House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said is important to many members in the Republican conference.

A vote to impeach Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen could also be on tap. The GOP conference will meet to discuss how to move forward on an impeachment resolution from Rep. John Fleming (R-La.). The House is also expected to vote on blocking the transfer of prisoners from Guantanamo Bay into the next presidency.

But when it comes to government spending, House Republicans already appear to be bracing for the possibility that they will have to accept the Senate’s shorter-term spending plan. Members of the House Freedom Caucus have warned that the House will need to rely on Democrats to pass it.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hold another hearing related to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while serving as secretary of State. The hearing will look into the preservation of the State Department’s records.

The Senate, meanwhile, is on track to pass the Water Resources and Development Act, which includes $220 million in funding for the lead water crisis in Flint, Mich. Democrats agreed not to hold up the legislation to argue for a vote on Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court, which Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) threatened last month.

McConnell filed a procedural motion on the water resources bill on Thursday, setting up a Monday afternoon vote that, once cleared, would allow the bill to pass later in the week.  The House will begin legislative work at 2 p.m. Monday.

HEALTH

Republicans, particularly in the Senate, will continue their push to keep rising premiums and limited exchange participation at the front of voters’ minds. It’s undetermined whether a bill introduced by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) will get a floor vote.

McCain’s bill would repeal the individual mandate in places where people have less than two insurers to choose from on exchanges, but whether it sees floor time depends on how fast the Senate can put together a spending measure. If the chamber has time to kill, the McCain bill could see a vote.

On Thursday, the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations will hold a hearing on the state of insurance markets. Insurer pullouts and rate increases will surely be discussed.

In the House, the Energy and Commerce Committee will also hammer home the theme that Obamacare is failing in a hearing on Wednesday. The hearing will by held jointly by the health and oversight subcommittees.

The Ways and Means health care subcommittee will hold a hearing on Wednesday on using technology and innovation to improve health care.

Caitlin Owens

ENERGY

Behind-the-scenes talks on an wide-ranging energy bill will continue, even though its strongest supporters are well aware that they are unlikely to make much progress before the election. The conferees met last week to discuss the remaining sticking points between the House and Senate versions, which are disagreements about the Land and Water Conservation Fund and wildfire management as well as concern about funding for California’s drought and basic energy infrastructure.

On Tuesday, the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee will hold a business meeting on Rep. Bruce Westerman’s (R-Ark.) bill on wildfires and forest management. The bill aims to end the cycle of federal agencies going over their wildfire-suppression budgets by expediting forest-management projects.

The White House has complained that the bill undermines environmental safeguards stopped short of threatening to veto the bill if it lands on the president’s desk. House Republicans have pushed for the measure to be included in the final conference report reconciling the House and Senate energy bills.

Also on Tuesday, the House Oversight subcommittee on the Department of the Interior will hold a hearing on “21st Century conservation practices.”

The House Science Committee will take on a couple of controversial topics in the coming week. Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) has subpoenaed the attorneys general of New York and Massachusetts, among others, for communications relating to the back-and-forth over how much Exxon Mobil Corp. knew about climate change. He has insisted that he has the authority to do so because of how the state investigations pertain to federally funded scientific studies. The attorneys general disagree.

On Wednesday, four law professors will testify before the committee on Congress’ “subpoena authority and recourse for failure to comply with lawfully issued subpoenas.”

On Thursday, the committee’s environmental subcommittee will hear testimony from the American Petroleum Institute, the Environmental Defense Fund and others on the Environmental Protection Agency’s methane regulations.

A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee will hold a hearing Thursday on the Department of Energy’s role in the U.S.’s national security.

On Wednesday, a House Natural Resources subcommittee will hold a hearing on committee Chairman Rob Bishop’s (R-Utah) bill on federal lands in Utah, which would create the Bears Ears National Conservation Area.

Jack Fitzpatrick

TECH

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation will hold an oversight hearing Thursday at which all five commissioners on the Federal Communications Commission will be present. Committee members are expected to touch upon several big-ticket items facing the commission over the next three months, including opening the cable set-top box market, broadband privacy, and business data services.

Questions on new set-top box rules, recently unveiled by Chairman Wheeler and scheduled for a final FCC vote on Sept. 29, will likely take up a significant portion of the meeting. Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) said Wheeler does not have the authority impose the new rules. Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.), two other committee members, have praised Wheeler’s new proposal.

The Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Oversight, Agency Action, Federal Rights and Federal Courts will hold a Wednesday hearing about the implications of the Oct. 1 transfer of a federally run internet governance body to an international nonprofit known as ICANN. The panel is being convened by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who vociferously opposes the plan and has introduced legislation that would bar the federal government from transferring its control of domain-name authority without congressional approval.

GOP opposition to the domain-name transfer is intensifying in other parts of Capitol Hill. On Thursday, four Republican committee chairmen wrote a letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, urging them to “reconsider” the ICANN transfer.

The House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet will hold a hearing on oversight of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Tuesday.

A report released by the USPTO inspector general on Aug. 31 found evidence of rampant fraud among patent officers, who allegedly claimed at least $18.3 million worth of unsupported work hours.

In a statement released on the hearing, Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said he was “extremely concerned” by the report, calling the amount of wasted hours “astounding.” Subcommittee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said the report “raises serious questions about the integrity of our patent system.”

The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology will begin a markup on two pieces of legislation on Tuesday. Lawmakers will decide whether to advance an anti-spoofing bill, as well as legislation designed to improve call quality and reliability in rural areas.

The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance, and Data Security will hold a Tuesday hearing examining the growth of “ticket bot” software.

The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence will hold a closed hearing on Wednesday to review the unauthorized disclosures of former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

Brendan Bordelon

FINANCE

The debate over replacing key elements of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act will get one of its most attention-grabbing moments when the Financial Services Committee holds a markup of Chairman Jeb Hensarling’s Financial CHOICE Act, beginning on Tuesday. It could go on for a few days, as Democrats are expected to offer many amendments.

Although a long slog through dilatory amendments to the bill currently looks unlikely, the committee to hold open the possibility of the markup extending beyond its Tuesday start date, which means the vote would likely come later in the week.

Hensarling (R-Texas) waited until Friday afternoon to unveil the final version of his bill. The measure includes language that would exempt banks from regulations if they maintain a 10 percent leverage ratio and restructure the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as a nonpartisan commission subject to the congressional appropriations process.

Democrats on the panel see those provisions as nonstarters, and they see the CHOICE Act itself as a fruitless effort to roll back banking regulations and consumer protections that they consider essential to guarding against the worst effects of the next possible financial crisis.

“The bill is dead on arrival,” Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York, a senior Democrat on the committee, told Morning Consult on Thursday. “There’s no strategy to win in the end on repealing Dodd-Frank, because they could not get it through the Senate and it would be vetoed by the president.”

Maloney said she is weighing whether to offer an amendment at next week’s markup. Democratic efforts to stall a committee vote are not being coordinated, she said. They are the individual decisions of each member.

The language Hensarling introduced also contains some changes from the discussion draft he circulated this summer. Perhaps most notably, the CHOICE Act now contains a section blocking implementation of the Labor Department’s rule aimed at preventing conflicts-of-interest in retirement advice by establishing a fiduciary standard.

Ryan Rainey

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