Congress has a busy schedule before each chamber takes a one-week break for Memorial Day recess.
The Senate returns to work on Monday and will vote on legislation to reauthorize the Adam Walsh Act, legislation initially enacted in 2006 to address child sex offenses. The major work of the week on the Senate floor will commence on Tuesday when consideration begins on the annual defense authorization bill. The Senate will aim to complete the bill before departing for the week. Debate on the bill is likely to be less contentious than the House’s consideration of its companion bill. As in the House, the most significant issue will be an effort by Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., to increase the funding level for the military provided in the bill. The House increased the level of authorized funding by raiding the pool of funds designated for support of overseas operations. If adopted, the House approach would lead to a shortfall in operational funds next year, requiring supplemental appropriations from Congress. The Senate does not plan to raid that account. Instead, Chairman McCain is reported to be planning simply to seek to add new funds to the bill. Democrats have contested Republican efforts to add defense funds without adding like amounts to the domestic programs they tend to support. Some Republican deficit hawks likewise oppose additional defense spending. The fact that Chairman McCain did not seek to add his amendment during the committee’s markup of the bill suggests he did not have the votes in his own committee, and he is similarly unlikely to garner sufficient support on the floor for his effort. The Senate bill would also extend the requirement that 18-year-olds register for the draft to women.
Although the defense bill is likely to consume the balance of the week, it is possible the Senate will interrupt its consideration of the bill and move to the compromise chemical-regulation bill, the reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act, prior to the end of the week. Reform of the TSCA has been a lengthy process, and after years of deliberation, a bipartisan and bicameral consensus evolved around a compromise effort. The House will take up the bill this week, and once it does, the Senate could enter into a time agreement allowing for the bill’s consideration there as well. Enactment of the TSCA bill will be another in a series of significant accomplishments for the current Congress, a further indication that the Senate is again fulfilling its legislative role after several years in which it was failing as an institution (although Democrats point to the lack of progress on confirmations to argue that the Senate is still not performing its full set of constitutional responsibilities).
The House too returns to work on Monday with an unusually full schedule of 30 bills to be considered under suspension of the rules. Although on the surface this schedule appears very heavy, a large number of the bills simply name federal facilities, primarily post offices and Department of Veterans Affairs facilities. Among the substantive bills, the House will tackle the annual intelligence authorization bill, as well as bills from the Energy and Commerce Committee and two bills to improve the process by which the federal government disposes of excess property.
After the heavy suspension schedule, the House will turn on Tuesday to a bill to address the Zika virus under a rule. Last week, both chambers passed proposals to provide funding to address the Zika virus, but the Senate did so in the form of an amendment to an appropriations bill; the House did so as a freestanding bill. The Senate will need to take up the House-passed bill, amend it to include the Senate proposal, and request a conference before further progress can be made. In the meantime, the House will take up H.R. 897, the Zika Vector Control Act, introduced by Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio).
After the Zika bill, the House turns to the TSCA reform bill noted above. Following the TSCA legislation, the House plans to take up a bill to clarify the authority of Congress over the District of Columbia. Congress has authority under the Constitution to control the seat of the national government, but it ceded much of that authority when it approved home rule legislation for D.C. in the early 1970s. Recently, D.C. voters approved a charter amendment that purports to allow D.C. to expend its own locally raised funds without congressional approval. A judge of the D.C. Superior Court upheld the proposal, but House Republicans believe the charter amendment is invalid and beyond the ability of D.C. voters to adopt. Last week, the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which oversees D.C. for Congress, reported H.R. 5233 on a party-line vote. The bill would clarify that D.C. must still obtain congressional approval before it may expend funds, even if the funds derive entirely from locally raised revenue. The bill is unlikely to get considered in the Senate, even after it passes the House, as it will.
The House then finishes the week with two energy-related bills. It will take up its version of the Energy and Water Appropriations bill. The Senate passed its version two weeks ago, and the House will aim to complete action on the bill before breaking for Memorial Day. The Energy and Water bill is one of the more popular of appropriations bills, due to the funding contained in it for local projects across the country. In addition to the appropriations bill, the House will also take up its version of the energy bill. The Senate passed a bipartisan energy bill last year. The House will take up the Senate-passed bill but will substitute its own energy-bill text in place of the Senate-approved language. Once it completes consideration of the energy bill, the House plans to move to go to conference with the Senate on the energy legislation, and will likely consider in that context a Democratic motion to instruct conferees. If a conference committee can reach agreement on an energy bill that could pass both chambers, it would be yet another major accomplishment for this Congress, and the Senate, which, despite much maligning in the media has been very productive on a variety of legislative initiatives that have been stalled for many years.
In addition to the floor, the committee schedule is also very busy this week. Among the highest profile items is likely to be the House Natural Resources Committee’s markup on Wednesday of the revised bill to assist Puerto Rico tackle its debt situation. After several weeks of intensive negotiations following the introduction of the first version of the bill, last Thursday evening the House introduced a new version of the bill. The negotiations were led by the speaker’s office and the committee’s chairman, Rob Bishop, R-Utah. The revised bill has garnered cautious support from members on both sides of the aisle. Although there are provisions members of each party dislike, the urgency of the need to help Puerto Rico address its insolvency appears to have brought enough members together to allow the bill to move forward. The first step in the process will be a markup in committee on Wednesday. The full House is likely to turn to the bill when it returns following Memorial Day, and Senate action thereafter prior to the impending July 1 date when Puerto Rico faces a massive debt payment it cannot make, is likely. If Congress succeeds in enacting the bill, it will be a major victory for Speaker Ryan, who staked much on getting a bill done.
Other markups next week will see the Senate Judiciary Committee take up the E-mail Privacy Act on Thursday. The House passed its version of the bill unanimously, but what will happen in the Senate committee is uncertain. The Appropriations Committees in each chamber will be busy this week marking up additional bills for floor consideration. In the Senate, both the relevant subcommittees and the full committee plan to mark up the Defense and Homeland Security bills this week (Tuesday in the subcommittees and Thursday in full committee). On the House side, the full committee plans to mark up the Commerce, Justice, Science and Transportation-Housing and Urban Development bills on Tuesday, and on Wednesday the relevant subcommittees will mark up the Financial Services and Interior bills. Finally, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will mark up pending legislation.
On Tuesday, the House Ways and Means Committee will hold a hearing on welfare reform. Also on Tuesday, the House Judiciary Committee will hold the first hearing it is promising to consider the impeachment of the IRS Commissioner, John Koskinen. Although Speaker Ryan has signaled his opposition to impeachment and senators have dismissed it, House conservatives, led by Freedom Caucus chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, have been pushing for Commissioner Koskinen’s impeachment in the wake of the scandal over allegations of political targeting of conservative nonprofit groups by the IRS. At the initial hearing, the Judiciary Committee expects to hear from members of the Oversight Committee who, along with the Ways and Means Committee, have led the inquiry into political manipulation by the IRS. Other hearings of note this week include a Tuesday Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the U.S.-India relationship; hearings by the Senate Baking and House Foreign Affairs Committees on aspects of the Iran nuclear deal; and a two-day hearing on Wednesday and Thursday by the House Homeland Security Committee into the dramatic airport-screening delays being experienced across the country.