Members return to Capitol Hill this week after a one-week break and settle in for three weeks of legislative business before the scheduled Memorial Day recess. A new draft of legislation designed to assist Puerto Rico restructure its debt is likely to be released on Wednesday and potentially marked up by the House Natural Resources Committee next week.
On Wednesday, House members will consider another 11 bills under suspension of the rules related to opioid abuse and recovery assistance. The proposals range from expanding access to Naloxone (medication that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose) and improving care for pregnant and postpartum mothers and infants affected by substance abuse or withdrawal symptoms, to increasing access to medication-assisted treatment and allowing prescriptions for certain controlled substances to be partially filled. The House will also consider H.R. 4641, subject to a rule. This legislation would establish an interagency task force to review, modify and update best practices for pain management and how pain medication is prescribed.
During the remainder of the week, the House is expected to consider H.R. 5046, subject to a rule. H.R. 5046 would authorize annual appropriations to the attorney general to make grants to state, local and tribal governments for programs to combat opioid abuse.
Following the expected passage by the House of these opioid-abuse and recovery-assistance bills, the House plans to request a conference with the Senate to resolve the differences between the House-passed bills and the Senate version, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), which passed in March by a vote of 94-1.
The House Judiciary Committee Executive Overreach Task Force continues its series of hearings on “overreach” by the executive branch this week. A hearing scheduled for Thursday will focus on presidential actions in foreign affairs; two previous hearings focused on executive actions involving domestic affairs.
On Wednesday, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade (CMT) will host a highly anticipated hearing on daily fantasy sports, a multibillion dollar industry whose popularity has surged in recent years. Despite the activity’s very large and growing following (an estimated 60 million online users), public debate over whether fantasy sports activities qualify as gambling has led to increased scrutiny, with several states battling industry leaders FanDuel and DraftKings in court over their legality and others passing legislation to establish regulations and consumer protections. In announcing the CMT Subcommittee hearing, the first congressional hearing on daily fantasy sports, Subcommittee Chairman Michael Burgess, R-Texas, stated that the event will provide “a forum for all stakeholders to discuss the many aspects of this complicated issue” and “consider whether there is a federal role to play” in oversight.
Continuing the recent trend of hearings focused on the U.S. tax code and tax reform, the House Ways and Means Tax Policy Subcommittee is scheduled to meet Thursday to discuss member proposals on how to improve the tax code.
On Wednesday, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee meets to discuss potential reforms to the U.S. Postal Service, an agency that has been plagued with operations issues and financial losses in recent years, largely stemming from the increase in technology and electronic communications.
By its own rules, the House is unable to consider any annual spending bills on the floor prior to May 15, as Congress has not adopted a budget resolution, but this restriction has not stopped the House Appropriations Committee from moving forward with the annual appropriations process. The full committee has already approved its Agriculture, Energy and Water, and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bills for the upcoming fiscal year. The Defense Subcommittee is scheduled to meet Thursday evening to consider its funding bill for FY 2017.
On the committee front this week, the subcommittees of the Senate Armed Services Committee will begin marking up the Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2017. On Monday and Tuesday, each of the six subcommittees will meet to consider its portion of the annual defense spending blueprint. The full committee will meet in closed session to mark up the bill on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The Armed Services Committee is expected to complete its markup this week, allowing for consideration in the full Senate prior to Memorial Day; House action on its version of the bill is also expected this month.
The Senate is still working to find a path forward on the Energy and Water Appropriations measure for fiscal year 2017 and other FY 2017 spending bills, while the House will take up several measures to address opioid abuse and provide addiction-recovery assistance. In the background looms the now-settled selection of Donald Trump as the Republican presidential nominee and a split in Republican ranks over whether to support him, raising questions on the potential impact Trump will have on Senate and House races in November.
The Senate returns to legislative business on Monday and resumes consideration of the legislative vehicle (H.R. 2028) for the FY 2017 Energy and Water appropriations bill, a $37.5 billion funding measure that had previously been viewed as fairly noncontroversial and appeared set for final passage before last week’s recess. The appropriations bill is now held up over an amendment offered by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., that would prevent the administration from spending any funds to purchase heavy water from Iran. Sen. Cotton has been a leading opponent of the president’s deal with Iran. Opponents of the amendment, all likely to be Democrats, argue it would directly and adversely affect the implementation of the president’s nuclear deal with Iran. The amendment has prompted a veto threat over the underlying bill from the administration, and Senate Democrats have called Sen. Cotton’s amendment a “poison pill.” Prior to the recess, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., twice attempted to achieve cloture on the Energy and Water bill, but failed to achieve the necessary 60 votes to limit debate. Democrats fear the amendment will pass and will force some of their members, especially those up for reelection, to cast a difficult vote. Leader McConnell will likely try for a third cloture vote this week, although he has given no indication that an agreement has been reached to move forward.
Should the issue over Sen. Cotton’s amendment be resolved, the Senate expects to complete action on the Energy and Water appropriations bill this week. Leader McConnell previously indicated that the Senate will likely take up the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (T-HUD) funding bill as its second FY 2017 appropriations measure. The legislation, reported unanimously out of the Senate Appropriations Committee in April, provides over $56 billion in funding for the Departments of Transportation, Housing, Urban Development, and other related agencies for the fiscal year that begins on Oct. 1. The Military Construction and Veterans Affairs appropriations bill and the Commerce, Justice and Science appropriations bill have also been reported favorably by the Senate Appropriations Committee and await action by the full Senate. The ability of the Senate to tackle these appropriations bills depends on whether it can find a path forward on the Energy and Water bill. If it cannot, then Leader McConnell’s hopes for completing Senate action on all 12 appropriations bills are likely to collapse amid partisan rancor and recrimination.
If the Senate is unable to move forward on the appropriations front, it is likely to turn its attention to criminal-justice and sentencing-reform legislation. The legislation was favorably reported by the Judiciary Committee several months ago on a 15-5 vote, but the Republicans on the committee split 5-5. Since then, Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has been seeking further compromises to attract more Republican support. Prior to last week’s recess, he announced a compromise agreement that has attracted some additional Republican support, making the bill a realistic candidate for floor consideration if the appropriations process on the floor collapses.
The Senate Judiciary Committee will be considering privacy issues at two hearings this week. The full committee meets on Tuesday to discuss oversight and reauthorization of the FISA Amendments Act, the law governing federal surveillance of electronic communications. The current law, which came to widespread public attention through the Edward Snowden leaks, will expire at the end of next year. Leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees have identified reauthorization as a major priority, though other committees share jurisdiction over the authority and agencies involved. Privacy and civil liberties experts and a representative from cybersecurity industry are scheduled to provide testimony before the committee on Tuesday. The House Judiciary Committee held a closed hearing on the FISA Amendments Act reauthorization in February. The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and Law meets on Wednesday afternoon to examine the Federal Communications Commission’s proposed privacy rules for internet service providers (ISPs). The privacy proposal, adopted by the FCC on March 31, would limit the ability of ISPs to track the web history of subscribers for targeted advertising purposes by allowing subscribers to opt out, or by requiring the ISPs to obtain express consent before using and sharing the customer data with third parties. The FCC is currently accepting public comments on the proposal through May 27. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and Commissioner Ajit Pai are scheduled to testify at the Wednesday hearing, as are Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Edith Ramirez and Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen.