The Coming Week: Now It’s About Flint

(Rob Kunzig/Morning Consult)

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A deal to keep the government funded into December appears to rest on whether money is included to address the lead-contaminated water crisis in Flint, Mich.

A government shutdown is unlikely, but the absence of a deal by the end of the week could keep lawmakers in town longer than they had planned before the election.

That means Congress will still be in session for the start of debate season. On Monday evening, the first of three presidential debates will take place at Hofstra University in New York. Analysts expect the TV audience to be a record high, possibly reaching 100 million households.

Anticipating an insult-fest for the first one-on-one matchup between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, former Sens. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.) and Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) penned an op-ed calling for civility in the debate. Clinton and Trump “have a chance for a reset, to cool the tempers that have driven this hot election,” they wrote.

Once the debate is over, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has teed up a procedural vote on Tuesday on a stopgap spending measure that would keep the government open until Dec. 9.

As of now, the measure likely will come up short of the 60-vote threshold needed to advance unless there are changes. Most Democrats oppose it — Florida’s Bill Nelson is one exception – and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has also said he will vote “no” because the bill lacks a provision that would allow the Export-Import Bank to make large loans.

The spending measure does include bipartisan provisions, however, such as $1.1 billion to address the Zika virus, funding to confront opioid abuse and $500 million to help victims of flooding in Louisiana, West Virginia and Maryland.

Democrats are demanding that Flint receive some money because the flooding issue is included in the bill. It is unfair to include funding for one crisis without addressing another, they argue. Even Nelson says he wants Flint money, but his priority is to get extra Zika money to Florida, which is why he still expects to vote for it.

Democrats appear to have the leverage in the spending fight. With most House Republicans expected to oppose the stopgap measure because of its short duration, GOP leaders will have to rely on Democratic votes to send a bill to President Obama. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Democrats would vote against the measure if it doesn’t address Flint.

A few Republicans have also expressed disappointment with McConnell’s bill.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and some other Republican senators have been pushing for language to prevent the U.S. government from ceding control over an internet domain naming regulatory body. McConnell’s bill does not include the language. Cruz is now urging House Republicans to take up his cause.

House GOP leaders are keeping members busy while they wait for the Senate to pass a continuing resolution.

The House is scheduled to vote on the Water Resources Development Act, a vote that was expected after the election but was expedited in recent days. Key Democrats say they oppose the bill because Republicans stripped a provision about the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund’s spending limit.

The Senate passed its own version of the WRDA bill in a bipartisan vote earlier this month.

Both chambers also are expected to vote to override President Obama’s anticipated veto of legislation that would give family members of 9/11 victims the ability to sue Saudi Arabia.

ENERGY

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments over the Obama administration’s greenhouse gas-cutting Clean Power Plan on Tuesday, offering a preview of a likely argument before the Supreme Court, which has already issued a stay on the rule.

Judge Cornelia Pillard will participate in the hearing, despite earlier expectations that she might recuse herself. With Pillar involved and Judge Merrick Garland sitting out, there will be 10 judges at the hearing, raising the possibility of a 5-5 tie.

With the House vote on the water resources bill on tap, there may be another way to approve money for Flint. The Senate version of WRDA includes Flint money, but the House bill doesn’t.

Some lawmakers had hoped to include Flint funds in a final WRDA conference report. But now, the House bill is losing Democratic support for other reasons. Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, the ranking Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said Thursday he would no longer support the bill because of the removal of a provision authorizing more spending from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund on harbors and ports.

On Thursday, the House Science Committee will hold a hearing on regulations on academic research, including testimony from the director of the Government Accountability Office’s natural resources and environment team.

Jack Fitzpatrick

FINANCE

Debates over political donation disclosure rules at the Securities and Exchange Commission and the functioning of the Export-Import Bank have been a sticking point in the CR discussions. The fight over both provisions ebbed in recent days, but the arguments are a preview of an almost certain fight during the lame-duck session.

Democrats have called for language that would neutralize a prohibition on the SEC’s enforcement of its rule on the disclosure of corporate political donations. McConnell has been steadfast in emphasizing that the Democrats are pushing for a repeal of that language in vain if they truly want a clean continuing resolution.

If that is the case, then the push could be part of a larger effort by Democrats to make sure a similar rider doesn’t make its way into an omnibus spending bill for fiscal year 2017.

That could also be the case for the Ex-Im language, which would lower the bank’s quorum in order to allow the approval of loan guarantees exceeding $10 million. That rider is not part of the continuing resolution that McConnell introduced on Thursday, meaning that fight also could carry over to the December omnibus talks.

Meanwhile, the aftermath of Wells Fargo & Co.’s consumer fraud case continues to roil the financial services world. After a tense Senate Banking Committee hearing on the issue, the House Financial Services Committee will examine the case Thursday. John Stumpf, the bank’s chief executive, will testify.

Both Republicans and Democrats on the House panel have called for more scrutiny in the case, but they have taken different approaches to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which hit the bank with a record $100 million fine. Democrats have lauded the CFPB as a hero, while Republicans, including Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), say the agency doesn’t deserve credit.

The committee also will hear semi-annual testimony from Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen on Wednesday. The panel also will hold hearings Tuesday on consumer access to banking services and on the Financial Stability Board, and it will weigh the effect of U.S.-EU dialogue on the insurance market on Thursday.

The House Ways and Means Committee will examine enforcement of U.S. trade laws on Tuesday.

After the House Judiciary Committee grilled Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen on Wednesday, questions remain about whether Freedom Caucus hard-liners such as Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) will break from an agreement not to force a floor vote on Koskinen’s impeachment until after the November election. Huelskamp or other members could potentially introduce a privileged resolution to force a vote before then.

Tara Jeffries and Ryan Rainey

HEALTH

As lawmakers continue to negotiate a stopgap spending bill, the health pieces regarding Zika and opioid abuse are not likely to change. But, of course, nothing is set in stone until a deal is reached, so the $1.1 billion for Zika and $37 million for opioids are still technically in flux.

Meanwhile, members will use their final few days of the session to continue seeking a deal on a medical innovation package, known as 21st Century Cures. House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) has hinted that a deal won’t come until after the November election, but it’s unclear what action lawmakers may take before they leave town.

The Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a pair of subcommittee hearings Tuesday. One will be on expanding access to investigational therapies, and the other on bioresearch labs and inactivation of dangerous pathogens.

On Wednesday, the Ways and Means Committee’s Oversight Subcommittee will hold a hearing on how the federal government investigates and prosecutes health care fraud, particularly within Medicare.

Caitlin Owens

TECH

Tech observers’ focus will hone in on the Federal Communications Commission when the agency holds its monthly open meeting on Thursday.

The commission is slated to vote on a controversial item that would impose new rules on the cable set-top box marketplace. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s rule aims to open up the marketplace to allow consumers to watch cable content through free apps, as opposed to through the traditional rented boxes.

Addressing criticisms of his proposed rule, Wheeler previewed the idea of a new copyright licensing body to be overseen by the FCC earlier this month. But that tweak was criticized by industry members, Democrats in Congress, and even a key Democratic commissioner whose vote will be needed for the rule to pass.

“I have some problems with licensing, the FCC getting a little bit too involved in the licensing scheme here,” FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, told the Senate Commerce Committee at an oversight hearing this month. “I just don’t think we have the authority.”

When the FCC convenes on Thursday, all eyes will be on Rosenworcel as both Republican commissioners have indicated they are against the proposal. The rule will need three of five commissioners’ votes for approval.

The commission is also slated to vote on final rule aimed at improving the wireless emergency alert system to improve delivery and content of those alerts. The system came into the spotlight earlier this month after New York City residents received an alert seeking the man behind a series of explosions in the the city and New Jersey.

The agency will also vote on a final rule on foreign broadcast ownership regulations and a proposal seeking to improve diversity in programming.

The Senate Commerce Committee is set to host all three Federal Trade Commission commissioners for an oversight hearing Tuesday. In addition to agency business, the three commissioners will likely answer questions from the committee on the FCC’s proposed internet service provider privacy rules.

At the FCC’s oversight hearing earlier this month, Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) discussed his opposition to the FCC’s proposed privacy rules and cited FTC staff who said the proposal is “not optimal.”

That “is bureaucrat-speak for ‘really bad,’” Thune said.

Criticism of the FCC’s privacy rules center on the idea that the FTC already polices the privacy practices of internet providers and that the FCC’s new and stronger privacy regulations will confuse the private sector and consumers.

Amir Nasr

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