This week in Congress.

The Senate will consider resolutions of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act (CRA) and confirmation of the president’s appointees to federal agencies. The House will be taking up litigation reform legislation and appropriations legislation to fund the Defense Department through the remainder of fiscal year 2017. The highest profile activity in Congress this week, though, is expected to take place in the House which plans to mark up the legislation to begin to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

The Senate will return on Monday afternoon, when votes are expected on two resolutions of disapproval of federal regulations issued in the final months of the Obama administration under the CRA. The first vote will be on H.J. Res. 37 to disapprove a rule from the Department of Defense, the General Services Administration, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration revising provisions of the Federal Acquisition Regulation to require federal contractors to disclose findings of noncompliance with labor laws. The Senate is then scheduled to vote on the motion to proceed to H.J.Res 44, a resolution of disapproval of the Bureau of Land Management’s Resource Management Planning rule, finalized in December 2016. The regulation establishes the procedures used to prepare, revise or amend land use plans pursuant to the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976, but congressional Republicans, state and local governments, and affected property owners have argued that the new process creates more confusion and greater uncertainty. The White House has announced support for both resolutions of disapproval, indicating the president would sign them into law upon Senate passage (both resolutions have already been approved by the House).

Senate floor activity for the remainder of the week is uncertain. It is possible the majority leader will initiate action on the nomination of Seema Verma to serve as Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The nomination was advanced by the Senate Finance Committee last Thursday on a straight party-line vote.

On the other side of the Capitol, the House will return to legislative business on Tuesday, when members will consider seven bills, including five measures under the jurisdiction of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, under suspension of the rules.

On Wednesday, House members will consider three additional bills under suspension of the rules, all reported by the Natural Resources Committee.

The House will then take up H.R. 1301, the Department of Defense Appropriations Act for FY 2017, subject to a rule. The funding bill would replace the Department of Defense provisions of the current continuing resolution for FY 2017, which is set to expire on April 28, and provide funding through the end of this fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30. The legislation meets the overall defense spending limits set by law for FY 2017, providing $516.1 billion for base budget needs. The bill also provides $61.8 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations funding, which is the level allowed under current law. These amounts are also in line with the National Defense Authorization Act signed into law by President Obama in December. Unlike the Defense Appropriations bill that passed the House on a party-line vote last summer, this version of the defense spending bill maintains statutory budget limits. As a result, it is likely to garner more bipartisan support for House passage in this session of Congress. Press reports indicate the Trump administration is preparing to request an additional $30 billion in supplemental funding for the Department of Defense in FY 2017, largely for readiness spending, but it remains unclear how Congress will respond to any supplemental appropriations request. It also remains unclear how or when Congress will deal with funding for the 10 remaining FY 2017 spending bills before the continuing resolution expires on April 28.

During the remainder of the week, House members will consider three pieces of litigation reform legislation reported out of the House Judiciary Committee. Each will come to the floor under a rule.

On Thursday, the House will take up two of these measures. H.R. 725, the Innocent Party Protection Act, limits the ability of federal courts to remand cases to state court under certain circumstances. Members will also consider H.R. 985, the Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act of 2017. The bill includes language from a previous class action reform proposal, which passed the House in 2016, to prohibit federal courts from certifying any proposed class under Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure unless the party seeking to maintain a class action demonstrates that each member of the proposed class suffered an injury of the same type and scope. This version of the legislation also includes some additional provisions related to class action litigation, including disclosure requirements on third-party litigation financing.

The third litigation reform bill will be considered on Friday. H.R. 720, the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act of 2017, would amend Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to make the imposition of sanctions for violations of the rule mandatory, not discretionary as under current law.

Also this week, House Republican leaders are expected to release their proposal to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.  Once the bill is released, committee action is on tap, with markups this week, and prompt floor action can be expected as early as next week.

With all committees now organized, both chambers are facing busy hearing schedules.


In Congress: Votes on several Cabinet nominees Expected

Today the Senate is scheduled to resume legislative business with an afternoon vote scheduled on the nomination of Rex Tillerson to serve as the Secretary of State under President Trump. On Tuesday, the Senate will take up the nomination of Elaine Chao, wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to serve as the Secretary of Transportation.

Votes on several other Cabinet nominees can be expected throughout the week as the nominations are reported by their respective Senate committees. On Monday, the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee is scheduled to vote on the nomination of Linda McMahon to serve as the Administrator of the Small Business Administration, and the Finance Committee is scheduled to consider the nomination of Steven Mnuchin to be Treasury Secretary. The nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., to serve as attorney general is expected to be considered by the Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. That same day the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources is scheduled to vote on the nominations of Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., to serve as Interior Secretary and former Texas Governor Rick Perry to serve as the Secretary of Energy. The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee plans to meet on Wednesday to consider the nomination of Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., to be Director of the Office of Management and Budget. Also on Wednesday, David Shulkin is scheduled to appear before the Veterans’ Affairs Committee regarding his nomination to head the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Final Week for the 114th Congress.

This is the final week of legislative activity for the 114th Congress, with the House and Senate expected to work through the outstanding items that remain for 2016.

Lawmakers are scheduled to be in session until Dec. 16, but resolution and passage of a spending measure to keep the government funded into 2017, the annual national defense authorization act, and the biomedical innovation bill, among a handful of other final legislative items should be finished this week, enabling members to depart Washington, D.C., at the end of this week.

Negotiations over a continuing resolution have been ongoing and press reports indicate congressional leaders are close to a deal that should be ready for a vote this week. Current government funding expires on Dec. 9. Although initial discussions on the CR were focused on a three-month extension of current spending authority into March 2017, leadership now seems to be agreed on extending that authority into April after acknowledging the reality of the congressional calendar. Both chambers are anticipating an active legislative agenda in the first few months of the 115th Congress, and the Senate will be particularly busy with the confirmation process for appointees to the new administration. Republican leadership recognizes that it would be challenging to add an appropriations deadline to the agenda in the first 100 days of the new session. Legislative text has not yet been released, but House leadership indicated on Friday that the text of the spending bill would be ready to permit a vote this week. Although the funding portion is easily crafted, many funding anomalies and various legislative provisions that can be agreed upon must be crafted, making the final drafting of the CR a laborious and time-consuming task.

In addition to the expected consideration of a CR this week, the Senate is set to take up two additional lame duck priorities. Following the successful passage of both the biomedical innovation bill (H.R. 34, the 21st Century Cures Act) and a $619 billion conference report to the National Defense Authorization Act (S. 2943) through the House of Representatives last week, the Senate is now poised to take action on these measures. Senators are scheduled to return on Monday for a procedural vote on the 21st Century Cures Act, legislation that will invest greater resources in medical innovation and speed up the process by which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves new drugs and devices. The legislation also includes additional provisions to address the opioid epidemic and to bolster the country’s mental health systems. There is widespread, bipartisan support for the measure, and even though several Senate Democrats have criticized the final version of the bill and announced their opposition, the legislation is expected to see Senate approval this week and be signed into law by the president.

Once the 21st Century Cures Act has been dispensed with, the Senate will begin consideration of the conference report to the National Defense Authorization Act, which passed the House last Friday by a vote of 375-34. This legislation provides an additional $8 billion in funding for overseas contingency operations and readiness shortfalls and covers the $5.8 billion supplemental request sent by the president to Congress in November. It also includes a 2.1 percent pay raise for U.S. troops. The funding in the bill is simply an authorization, and defense hawks have been critical of the CR strategy that congressional leaders have been pursuing because a CR will not provide the military with all of the funds authorized by this bill

The House is scheduled to convene again on Monday when it will take up six bills under suspension of the rules, including S. 1635, legislation authorizing the activities of the Department of State for FY 2017.

On Tuesday, members will consider a suspension package consisting of 21 bills, reported out of the Energy and Commerce, the Natural Resources, or the Veterans Affairs Committees.

On Wednesday and during the remainder of the week it is possible for the House to take up additional measures under suspension of the rules. Also expected for floor consideration is H.R. 5143, the Transparent Insurance Standards Act of 2016. The legislation would require the Treasury Department and Federal Reserve to provide additional reports to Congress on international negotiations regarding regulatory standards in the insurance industry. Chief sponsor of the bill, Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-Mo., chairman of the House Financial Service Committee’s Housing and Insurance Subcommittee, stated the bill is intended to “increase transparency and strengthen Congress’ role in supervising foreign standards setting organizations.” Consideration of H.R. 5143 will be subject to a rule. Finally, the House will tackle the CR when it becomes available.

114th Congress: Lame Duck.

Following a six-week recess for the campaign season members of the 114th Congress returns this week to begin the lame duck session. It will be a brief return to legislative business, as both chambers are scheduled to adjourn again at the end of the week through the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Although floor activity and hearings are expected on both sides of the Capitol, the focus this week will be on organizational and administrative meetings behind the scenes in preparation for the December work period and in advance of the start of the 115th Congress in January.

Beyond the politics and organizing for next year, the lame duck session will be dominated by two “must-pass” items of legislation: a funding mechanism to keep the government running beyond the current Dec. 9 expiration of the current continuing resolution and the annual defense authorization bill. Legislatively, the House and Senate this week will continue efforts to negotiate a path forward on those two items when Congress returns to complete its work following Thanksgiving.

The primary order of business this week is the election of next year’s leadership teams. No major leadership changes expected for House and Senate Republicans, who maintained the majority in both chambers in the election on Nov. 8. House Republicans are scheduled to hold their leadership vote on Tuesday, while House Democrats will hold their leadership vote on Thursday. Senate Democrats are scheduled to vote on Wednesday for their new party leaders. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has long been the presumed successor to retiring Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., to the post of minority leader. The only unknown among the Democratic conference is whether Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., will challenge current Minority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., for the number two spot in leadership. Press reports indicate Sen. Murray has not publicly disclosed whether she will challenge Sen. Durbin, but reports are that she has been conferring with colleagues on whether she would enjoy their support if she sought the position.

Other than the leadership elections taking place, it is unclear what the Senate will pursue in terms of floor activity this week.

The House is scheduled to return on Monday when it will take up under suspension of the rules eight bills reported out of the Energy and Commerce Committee. Members will meet again on Tuesday to consider four additional bills, reported out of the Foreign Affairs Committee, under suspension of the rules. One of these bills is the Iran Sanctions Extension Act (ISA). The current Iran Sanctions Act, which authorizes sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program and ballistic missile tests, is scheduled to expire at the end of this year. There is considerable support in Congress to maintain the authority for sanctions on Iran. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., is set to introduce the text of a 10-year extension bill this week. It remains to be seen whether the text will be a clean extension of the current law, or if Republicans will attempt to add additional sanctions, which could prompt Democratic opposition and perhaps a veto threat from the president, should any newly added provisions undermine the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear program adopted last year. Ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., indicated earlier this year that the Senate could perhaps pass a clean extension of the sanctions act by unanimous consent, but adding new sanctions would prompt a Democratic filibuster.

On Wednesday, the House is scheduled to begin considering additional legislation regarding Iran, H.R. 5711. This bill would prohibit U.S. financial institutions from facilitating the sale of commercial aircraft to Iran. Introduced by Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Mich., the legislation is aimed at preventing Boeing’s sale of passenger jets to Iran after the company announced in June it had signed an agreement to sell 80 airliners worth $17.6 billion to Iran Air, with deliveries scheduled to begin in 2017. Boeing is also expected to lease a number of 737s to Iran Air. The transaction is permissible following the adoption of the JCPOA and the subsequent easing of sanctions in accordance with that agreement. Many members of Congress remain concerned about American companies conducting business with nations identified by the State Department as sponsors of terrorism. Consideration of H.R. 5711 will be subject to a rule.

No votes are expected in the House on Friday.

How Second Amendment rights may affect the fate of congressional appropriations bill and the funding process?

Forced votes in the U.S. Senate on firearms issues in the wake of the Orlando nightclub massacre may affect the fate of the underlying appropriations bill and the funding process moving forward.

The Senate returns on Monday to resume consideration of H.R. 2578, the vehicle for the Senate Committee-reported FY 2017 Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) Appropriations bill. Votes are scheduled on four amendments related to gun control, two Democratic amendments and two competing Republican amendments. Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, have an amendment pending to increase the availability of records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) and increase resources for the mental health system. A background check amendment proposed by Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., to close the so-called “gun-show loophole” and require background checks for gun purchases online and at gun shows will also receive a vote.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has proposed an amendment to bar the sale of a gun to any individual on the federal terrorist watch list or any individual who has been on such a list in the past five years. A competing amendment offered by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, would give the Justice Department 72 hours to delay the sale of a gun to any suspected terrorist on the watch list, giving the agency an opportunity to seek an ex parte judicial determination that the prospective purchaser poses a credible threat of terrorism, in which case the court could block the gun sale.

Republicans argue that the Democratic proposals go too far in restricting Second Amendment rights, and Democrats criticize the Republican measures as inadequate. The Cornyn and Feinstein amendments were each considered by the Senate last December, following the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California, but both measures failed to achieve the necessary 60 votes for passage. The Feinstein language received 45 votes and the Cornyn proposal had 55 votes in support.

Each of the amendments to be considered on Monday will be subject to the same 60-vote threshold for adoption and each is expected to fail to gain enough support for inclusion in the underlying bill.

However, it is possible Senate Democrats will attempt to filibuster the underlying $56 billion spending bill following these votes. Should they allow a vote on final passage of the CJS appropriations bill this week, it is possible Democrats will continue to force the issue on other appropriations bills considered by the Senate this summer. The fate of the appropriations process, so far successful in the Senate, may hang in the balance.

Several press reports indicate that several other senators are working on a bipartisan proposal to restrict gun sales to suspected terrorists, but a draft has not yet been made available and it is unclear whether such a compromise bill would have enough support to meet the 60-vote threshold that will be required for passage.

Thus the Senate must  overcome the possible derailment of the process from the firearms issues, if it is  to take up  appropriations bills as it aims for the July 15 start of an extended summer recess.

This Week in Congress: Trade, Privacy, Fiscal Year 2017

The Senate will continue working its way through fiscal year 2017 appropriations bills this week, with final consideration of the Energy and Water bill expected on Tuesday. The House will work through a number of legislative items, including several related to trade and business practices. Both chambers are scheduled to adjourn at the end of this week for a one-week district work period.

The Senate is scheduled to return to legislative business on Monday afternoon and resume consideration of the legislative vehicle (H.R. 2028) for the FY 2017 Energy and Water appropriations bill, a $37.5 billion funding measure. A vote is expected Monday evening on an amendment offered by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and votes on at least three other amendments are expected on Tuesday before a vote on final passage. Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., has indicated he expects to wrap up consideration of the bill on Tuesday. Last week, the White House issued a veto threat for the bill, citing “the inclusion of problematic ideological provisions that are beyond the scope of funding legislation,” a reference to policy riders. One of the major concerns behind the veto threat was an amendment offered last week by Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., to prevent the Army Corps of Engineers from using any funds to implement its “Waters of the United States” rule, which extends federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act over a wider range of domestic wetlands and waterways. Sen. Hoeven’s amendment failed, however, to receive the 60 votes that were needed for inclusion in the underlying bill. It is unclear if the White House will maintain its opposition to the Energy and Water bill, but in the wake of the failure of the Hoeven amendment, conservative groups are encouraging senators to oppose the bill. Notwithstanding this source of opposition, the legislation is expected to receive bipartisan support and pass the Senate.

Following the adoption of the Energy and Water bill, which is the first FY 2017 appropriations measure on the Senate floor, the chamber is expected to continue with consideration of one of the three other funding bills that have been reported out of the Senate Appropriations Committee over the past two weeks: the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs appropriations bill; the Commerce, Justice and Science appropriations bill; or the Transportation-Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill. The Military Construction and Veterans Affairs bill is likely next on the Senate agenda, because it was reported out of the Appropriations Committee earlier this month with the Energy and Water Development bill and is considered one of the less controversial of the 12 annual bills.

Press reports indicate that negotiations in the Senate to provide $1 billion in supplemental appropriations to combat the Zika virus in the United States are progressing. Earlier this year, the White House requested $1.8 billion in emergency funding to accelerate the federal response timeline, bolster mosquito control, and support training programs and laboratory capacity to test for the virus. Several congressional Republicans rebuffed this request, suggesting Congress should instead shift unused funds allocated to fight the Ebola virus after that 2014 outbreak in West Africa subsided. Conservatives are also requesting that any allocated funds be offset with cuts elsewhere in the budget. The warmer weather of spring and summer months, and reports of the virus spreading within the U.S., appear to have softened the positions of some Senate Republicans and Appropriations Committee members who are now involved in the funding negotiations, and a bill on that may hit the floor as early as this week. House Republicans are still resisting the request for emergency Zika funds, demanding that the administration provide more specific details on how it plans to spend such funding, although House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., has indicated he expects the House will eventually also pass a Zika-funding measure.

The House of Representatives will return to legislative business on Tuesday, with votes expected on 15 bills under suspension of the rules. Fourteen of these bills cover a variety of topics and come to the floor from the Homeland Security, Oversight and Government Reform; Transportation and Infrastructure; and Financial Services committees. On the 15th, H.R. 1493, the Protect and Preserve Cultural Property Act, the House will vote to approve amendments made to the bill by the Senate; once approved, the bill will head to the president for signature.

On Wednesday, the House will consider an additional four bills under suspension of the rules. Included among these are H.R. 4923, the American Manufacturing Competitiveness Act of 2016, sponsored by Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas. The bill would update and reform the Miscellaneous Tariff Bill (MTB) process by which reductions or temporarily suspensions of tariffs or duties on certain imports are considered. The last MTB expired in 2012, leaving many American manufacturing companies at a disadvantage in the global economy because of the costs related to the importation of covered foreign goods. The bill enjoys broad support among businesses and is expected to pass.

The House will also consider S. 1890, the Defend Trade Secrets Act, under suspension of the rules. This legislation will create a federal civil claim and remedy for trade secret misappropriation. A wide-ranging coalition of companies and businesses supports the passage of this bill, which passed the Senate earlier this month by a vote of 87-0. Once passed by the House, this bill will head to the president, who is expected to sign it.

The Wednesday suspension package also includes H.R. 699, the Email Privacy Act, legislation to update the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act. The bill enjoys more than 300 cosponsors, and a compromise version was favorably reported on a unanimous vote by the Judiciary Committee two weeks ago. The bill is not expected to get Senate consideration this year, but its approval by the House will likely set the stage for a legislative enactment in 2017. Finally on Wednesday, the House will consider H.R. 4240, the No Fly for Foreign Fighters Act. This bill would require an independent review by the Government Accountability Office of the federal government’s terrorist watchlists to determine whether past weaknesses with them have been addressed or whether additional changes are needed.

Following its heavy schedule of suspension bills, the House will consider three more bills, all coming to the floor under rules.

The House will first tackle H.R. 4498, the Helping Angels Lead Our Startups (HALOS) Act, introduced by Small Business Committee Chairman Steve Chabot, R-Ohio. This bill would require the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to revise its general solicitation regulations to provide carveouts for certain activities related to startup investment and financing pitches.

The House is expected to consider H.J. Res. 88, a disapproval resolution intended to block the U.S. Department of Labor’s controversial “fiduciary” rule. The rule sets new standards for investment advisers with respect to retirement accounts, but Republicans believe the rule is too burdensome and that the costs will ultimately be borne by low- and middle-income Americans, who most need the advice but will be unable to get it.

The House will also vote on H.R. 4901, the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results (SOAR) Reauthorization Act. This legislation provides scholarships to students from low-income families in the District of Columbia to attend the school of their choice, including private or charter schools, and provides money to D.C. charter and public schools to improve educational outcomes.

On the hearing front, both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees are expected to continue their consideration of FY 2017 funding bills this week. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter is scheduled to appear before the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee on Wednesday to discuss the FY 2017 budget request and Department of Defense funding.

Related to defense spending priorities, the full House Armed Services Committee will be holding a markup of its 2017 National Defense Authorization Act for 2017 on Wednesday morning, a $610 billion blueprint for the defense budget for FY 2017, following markups in the committee’s subcommittees last week.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., announced that the committee will be marking up 12 bills, all reported favorably by the Health Subcommittee last week, related to the domestic opioid. The legislation includes measures that range from expanding access to Naloxone (medication that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose) and providing an exemption from civil liability for trained and certified individuals who administer opioid overdose-reversing drugs, to increasing access to medication-assisted treatment. Chairman Upton has said the full House will consider the legislation during the first or second week of May. Likewise, the House Judiciary Committee is expected to mark up its portion of the opioid-response bill on Wednesday as well, though the committee will not formally notice its markup till Monday. The Senate already passed its version of opioid abuse legislation, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), in March. There is wide support in Congress for advancing legislation to counter the opioid abuse epidemic, and if the bills can be conferenced following successful House passage, to resolve differences between them, it may be one of the few bipartisan measures that can pass both chambers during the remainder of this Congress.

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will be marking up its Federal Communications Commission reauthorization bill on Wednesday morning, along with seven other communications bills. The legislation would provide a two-year reauthorization of FCC authority and appropriations and, among other things, reform the agency’s spectrum auction procedure, enhance agency transparency by requiring the FCC to submit various reports and budget estimates to Congress, and require the GAO to provide an analysis of whether the FCC’s current regulatory fee structure correlates to the actual workload of the FCC. Also scheduled for markup is S. 421, Federal Communications Commission Process Reform Act, to reform aspects of the FCC’s rulemaking process.

Tax reform continues to be a matter of congressional focus. The Senate Finance Committee is holding a hearing on Tuesday afternoon on navigating business tax reform, with Thomas Barthold, chief of staff for the Joint Committee on Taxation, scheduled to appear as a witness.

The Finance Committee is also holding a Thursday hearing on mental health issues. Like the opioid abuse crisis, many members are eager to advance legislation to assist with mental health reform, but there remain partisan differences over how to pay for reforms and updates. The Thursday hearing is expected to cover the Medicaid Institutions for Mental Diseases (IMD) Exclusion, which restricts Medicaid reimbursements for care at inpatient mental health treatment centers.

On Wednesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will be reviewing U.S.-China relations, likely driven by China’s recent activities in the South China Sea. Deputy Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken is scheduled to provide testimony before the committee.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee meets Thursday to review the release of criminal aliens by the Department of Homeland Security and the impact on public safety. This hearing follows one held two weeks ago by the House Judiciary Committee on the same topic at which families and survivors of violent attacks by criminal aliens testified.


House Passes Iran Nuclear Deal Review Bill

The US House of Representatives on Thursday passed legislation allowing Congress to review any nuclear agreement reached between the executive branch and Iran, as well as a bill to impose sanctions on any financial institution that does business with terrorist group Hezbollah.

Lawmakers easily agreed to both bills, voting 400-25 in favor of H.R. 1191, the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, and passing H.R. 2297, the Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act, in a 423-0 vote, with House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., describing the Review Act as a way to keep pressure on Iran as nuclear negotiations continue.

“This legislation [will] ensure that Congress is positioned to effectively and decisively judge and constrain President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, should a bad deal be struck,” Royce said on the House floor Thursday. (Credit AP).

Under the terms of the review bill, first passed by the Senate on May 7 — with senators using an unrelated bill previously passed by the House as a legislative vehicle — Congress would have 30 days to review any deal reached between Iran and the administration regarding Iran’s nuclear program and then pass a resolution either approving or rejecting the deal.

The bill would also require the White House to keep Congress in the loop regarding Iran’s ongoing activities, including regular reports on the country’s support of terrorist groups, among other issues. President Barack Obama would retain veto power over any resolution that Congress reaches.

The legislation had stalled in the Senate amid opposition led by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who had previously stated his opposition to any nuclear deal being reached with Iran. Cotton was the only ‘no’ vote in the 98-1 tally in the Senate.

Cotton had held the legislation up with various proposed amendments that he had been a sponsor of, including a clause requiring Iran to recognize Israel’s right to exist — an amendment that some House lawmakers had also urged their leaders to consider before the bill was brought to the House floor.

Another proposed Cotton amendment would have required that any nuclear deal be considered a treaty, subject to the approval of two-thirds of the Senate, a stance he reiterated following the bill’s passage in the Senate.

The current proposed framework for a nuclear deal with Iran, which involves several other world powers in addition to the U.S., would see Iran heavily reduce the number of centrifuges in use at its nuclear facilities and make other changes to some of those centrifuges, limiting its ability to make weapons-grade nuclear material.

In exchange, some current U.S. and European Union sanctions on the country would be lifted, subject to continued compliance with the deal.

Under the Hezbollah Financing Prevention Act that also passed the House on Thursday, banks and other financial companies that knowingly do business with the Islamist militant and political group — officially considered by the U.S. and several other countries to be a terrorist group — its television station al-Manar TV, or any agent acting on its behalf would be subject to U.S. sanctions, among other provisions.

Although Hezbollah is based in Lebanon, Iran has been a major funding source for the group since its inception in the 1980s, with Royce describing the country as a “radical state sponsor of terrorism” on Thursday.

GOP-controlled Senate is set to start debating Keystone XL pipeline today

The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday advanced a bill that would approve construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, moving the legislation one step closer to the White House and a showdown with President Barack Obama, who has vowed to veto it. As expected, the GOP-controlled House passed the bill that would bypass White House review of the Keystone XL project, by a 266-153 vote. Twenty-eight Democrats joined all but four of the House’s 242 Republicans in voting yes.

Meanwhile, the GOP-controlled Senate is set to start debating a companion bill today- meaning the legislation could hit Obama’s desk as soon as next week. The Senate already has the 60 votes necessary to advance the legislation. However, a White House spokesman said Friday that Obama was sticking to his veto threat first unveiled on Tuesday:

“The president believes the process should unfold at the State Department,” Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz told reporters.

The question then becomes whether the Senate has the 67 votes to override the president.

The Obama administration — specifically, the U.S. Department of State — is taking its time in deciding whether to issue a presidential, cross-border permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, which, if completed, would transport tar sands oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast. The project has become a lightning rod in the debate over U.S. energy and climate policy.

The House vote came hours after the Nebraska Supreme Court upheld the state’s approval of the Keystone XL route through the state, removing a roadblock frequently cited by Obama as part of his hesitation to sign a bill approving the project.

“There has been broad bipartisan support for this project from day one,” House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., said in a statement Friday. “With the Nebraska roadblock cleared, the president has no excuse left to delay this project. It’s time to build, once and for all.”

Those sentiments were echoed by the U.S. oil industry:

“Congress is leading on Keystone XL in a bipartisan fashion proving Washington can get things done, despite obstacles from the executive branch,” American Petroleum Institute President and CEO Jack Gerard said in a statement Friday. “There are no excuses left. The president should join Congress in standing up for American jobs and energy security.”

Meanwhile, environmental groups were confident Obama would stick to his guns and veto the legislation.