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.

Populist parties surge in Europe

The “populist” movement that inspired the raise of Trump and Sanders  may be about to surge through Europe. If so, it will change drastically the Continent’s political landscape in ways not seen since  World War II.

It’s already hit the UK in the form of Brexit, killing David Cameron’s pro-EU government in the process.

Croatia, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia, and Greece already have populist, —or “non-mainstream”—parties in power.

Italy is the next flashpoint.

A “No” vote in Italy is virtually assured at this point.

But it won’t be the end of the populist surge. Voters in Europe’s biggest countries could soon throw out their “mainstream” parties in favor of populist, or anti EU Alternatives.

Here’s the rundown…

Austria

Austria is holding a presidential election today. It’s actually a redo of an election held in May, where a populist candidate, Norbert Hofer of the Freedom Party, barely lost.

Austrian courts found irregularities in the results and ordered a prompt new election. But when opinion polls showed the populist candidate in the lead, the government delayed the vote until today. Nevertheless, Mr. Hofer looks set to win the election.

France

France has a presidential election next spring. There’s a chance that Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front party, will do better than many expect. After more than a decade of disappointment under Presidents François Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy, French voters are clamoring for something different.

Spain

Spain recently re-elected incumbent Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. However, Spanish voters fled traditional political parties en- masse for new populist upstarts Podemos and Ciudadanos. So Rajoy was unable to form a majority government.

Rajoy now leads a severely weak minority government. The political power of the Spanish populist parties is only expected to grow.

Germany

Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, embodies the European establishment more than any other politician. Her party suffered a series of stinging defeats in regional elections this year, mostly because of her signature lax immigration policies, which have flooded Germany with migrants.

Merkel’s troubles have only helped the Alternative for Germany, a new populist party surging in popularity. The party could pose a real problem for Merkel in the 2017 federal elections.

The Netherlands

As the Netherlands approaches elections in March, Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom, which advocates leaving the EU, is basically tied in opinion polls with the establishment parties.

As populist parties surge, the entire European Union is looking shakier by the day.

Contenders for U.S. EPA Administrator

President-elect Donald Trump is scheduled to meet today with two possible contenders for U.S. EPA administrator who have called for rollbacks of some of the more contentious environmental rules.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt (R), who’s helping to lead the legal fight against the Obama administration’s climate rule, and former Texas environmental regulator Kathleen Hartnett White — who has called for restraining ” EPA” — are both scheduled to meet with Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence in New York as they continue to announce picks for administration jobs.

Both Pruitt and Hartnett White have been rumored candidates for EPA leadership under Trump. He’s a lawyer who has climbed the political ranks in the Sooner State and recently said he’d consider running for governor in 2018. She’s a public policy expert who served as a Texas environmental regulator and as a special assistant in the White House for first lady Nancy Reagan.

They’d both be expected to reshape the agency by reducing or reshaping regulations.

Many other names have been floated for EPA administrator, including additional state officials and former George W. Bush administration EPA political appointees. Another state attorney general, Patrick Morrisey of West Virginia, has been mentioned for the EPA job.

Trump’s other meetings scheduled for this week include sit-downs with rumored contenders for secretary of State retired Gen. David Petraeus, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). Trump will also meet tomorrow with Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.), according to the transition team.

Trump: Advancing Tax Incentives and Public-Private Partnerships

President Elect Trump has vowed to work with Congress on an ambitious $1 trillion, 10-year proposal staked on tax incentives and private investment to stimulate jobs and rebuild highways, bridges and airports within his first 100 days in office.

To pay for large-scale infrastructure projects, the president-elect is seeking to entice the private sector to get on board with putting up $167 billion of the proposed $1 trillion investment in public-works projects by having the government offer them an 82 percent tax credit.

The plan also relies on increased tax revenues from two revenue streams generated from the new infrastructure projects to offset the tax expenditure: additional wage income from construction workers and contractor profits. Advancing Tax Incentives and Public-Private Partnerships

Trump has vowed to work with Congress on an ambitious $1 trillion, 10-year proposal staked on tax incentives and private investment to stimulate jobs and rebuild highways, bridges and airports within his first 100 days in office.

To pay for large-scale infrastructure projects, the president-elect is seeking to entice the private sector to get on board with putting up $167 billion of the proposed $1 trillion investment in public-works projects by having the government offer them an 82 percent tax credit. The plan also relies on increased tax revenues from two revenue streams generated from the new infrastructure projects to offset the tax expenditure: additional wage income from construction workers and contractor profits.

It is estimated that $300 billion or more in private capital is ready to be deployed for this purpose. This estimated sum exists as investors like pension funds, insurance companies and private equity believe deploying their capital towards infrastructure makes for a sound investment backed by the strength and integrity of local and state governments.

Thus, Trump’s proposal could provide significant and long-awaited opportunities for public-private partnerships, or P3s, to invest in major, high-cost, revenue-supported projects.

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.

Congress: Action avoids shutdown

Congress put together a compromise measure Wednesday that should avoid a government shutdown at the end of the week.

The continuing resolution that passed both chambers of Congress Wednesday would keep the government funded at current levels through Dec. 9 and includes funding to fight the spread of the Zika virus, provides aid to flood-ravaged areas in Maryland and Louisiana, and delivers funds for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and military construction. Senate Democrats had voted down the same measure Tuesday in protest over the exclusion of funding for the Flint water crisis, which House leaders then added to a water projects bill as a satisfactory alternative.

Leaders on both sides of the Senate cast Wednesday’s vote as a necessary compromise to buy lawmakers enough time to negotiate an omnibus appropriations bill to keep the government funded this year.

Although all 12 bills normally used to fund the government have been cleared by the House and Senate Appropriations committees, partisan fights over gun control measures, funding to fight the spread of the Zika virus and protections for LGBT contractors have derailed efforts in both chambers. Several of the bills have passed one or the other chamber, but none have been sent to President Barack Obama’s desk.

Earlier attempts to pass legislation in the Senate funding anti-Zika efforts have been blocked by Democrats who objected to the levels of funding — previous efforts have been either completely or partially offset by cuts elsewhere — or riders reducing funding for Planned Parenthood’s affiliate in Puerto Rico.

Wednesday’s vote also put reauthorization of major programs like the EB-5 visa program back on track.

The last time a series of separate spending bills passed on time was 1996.

Commentary on Debate: How to Fix America’s Infrastructure

Monday night’s presidential debate included some instructive moments even for their repetitiveness; other moments were mere distracting distortions.

We have been writing about the need to upgrade America’s infrastructure it seems almost weekly. But only tangentially was the issue raised during the debate. Donald Trump, among his bill of particulars defining the trouble the Obama administration has ushered in over the past eight years, mentioned the sorry state of U.S. airports and compared them unfavorably to similar facilities in Asia.

“Our airports are like from a third-world country. You land at LaGuardia, you land at Kennedy, you land at LAX, you land at Newark and you come in from Dubai and Qatar and you see these incredible — you come in from China — you see these incredible airports and you land — we’ve become a third-world country,” Trump observed.

As Kim Day, the CEO of Denver International Airport, noted in an Op-Ed forThe Denver Post on the 20th anniversary of the local airport’s opening: “DIA is an economic powerhouse for Colorado, growing its initial annual economic impact of $3.1 billion to an estimated $26.3 billion in 2013. The airport supports nearly 190,000 jobs, and is on track to be even more impactful in the years to come.”

It’s not a perfect picture, of course, as cost overruns for project expansions, including a new train station and a hotel, well illustrate.

Nevertheless, a decision made 27 years ago to spend more than $2 billion on a new airport — the only major new one built in the U.S. since 1974 — has helped diversify Colorado’s economy and spurred broader growth.

Airports are certainly one area in which we can use an upgrade. We also need more and newer bridges, roads, and tunnels. And we need to upgrade the electrical grid. And we need to improve and update our port facilities.

The problem with the United States’ infrastructure is much broader than failing airports and bridges. The nation’s roads are congested and full of potholes. In 2014, the typical urban commuter spent 42 hours stuck in traffic, up from 20 hours in 1984. Americans consumed over three billion gallons of gas as they sat in grid­lock for almost seven billion hours, at a cost of $160 billion in wasted fuel and time.

Hydration is absolutely essential, and yet we continue to ignore the state of the infrastructure that delivers it to us. In its 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave our “drinking water” assets a “D.”

According to Professor Robert Glennon of the University of Arizona:

Our water infrastructure consists of approximately 54,000 drinking water systems, with more than 700,000 miles of pipes, and 17,000 wastewater treatment plants, with an additional 800,000 miles of pipes. A 2012 report of the American Water Works Association concluded that more than a million miles of these pipes need repair or replacement. That’s why communities across the nation suffer 240,000 water main breaks per year. The major cause of pipe failure is age.

Disease and death follow from poorly conceived and maintained water infrastructure.

The root of the crisis is clear: the United States has underinvested in its infrastructure. The federal gas tax is the main source of federal funding for roads, bridges, and subways. But Washington has not increased that tax, of 18.4 cents per gallon, since 1993; in real terms, its value has thus fallen by over 40 percent. Expert groups such as the American Society of Civil Engineers, business associations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and unions such as the AFL-CIO have all called for trillions of dollars of new investment. But Washington has failed to act.

The problems that plague American infrastructure are deep-seated and complex. Yet there is a way out. Washington and the public must recognize that world-class infrastructure does not come cheap. High-quality infrastructure is vital to global economic competitiveness, and the United States is falling behind. The United States invests less than two percent of its GDP in infrastructure; Europe, by contrast, invests five per­cent. Furthermore, the bureaucratic system that oversees public infrastructure spending has become hopelessly “siloed,” with separate agencies at each level of government dedicated to different modes of transport. Each has its own stakeholders, champions, and opponents. It’s a wasteful, inefficient system. Henry Petroski, a professor of civil engineering and history at Duke University in his book “The Road Taken”, claims reforming it will require several steps.

Firstly, governments should eliminate silos. A unified department should merge the federal highway, transit, aviation, maritime, and railroad administrations; the Army Corps of Engineers, which controls investment in ports; and the Environmental Protection Agency’s water programs, which provide federal funding for sewer systems and drinking water. This unified department of infrastructure should incentivize state and local authorities to make smarter choices with federal funding. For instance, it could coordinate the timing of different projects, such as a sewer-line expansion and a road repair, so that the government has to dig only once. It should also consider instituting a so-called corridor-based approach, similar to the one the United Kingdom uses, in which the government evaluates a set of projects designed to solve a particular problem and chooses the most cost effective among them. For example, to improve the flow of people between Washington, D.C., and New York City, policymakers should compare the costs and benefits of investing in highways, high-speed rail, increased airport capacity, and more efficient freight rail and shipping to decide how best to solve the problem, rather than doling out funds to each of the various transportation agencies without coordination.

The United States has reached a fork in the road. It can let its infrastructure crumble, its bridges collapse, and its roads grow ever more congested. While Government at all levels has a tenuous debt-and-deficit situation, government entities can nevertheless also borrow at historically low rates. It makes sense accordingly to lock in cheap money to pay for infrastructure investments with long economic tails. Finally, policymakers should not fear the private sector. Good ideas frequently come from sources outside the government. Cities and states should allow both the public and the private sectors to submit unsolicited proposals for innovative infrastructure projects. Of course, these projects would have to be rigorously and publicly evaluated. But the fact that private companies are motivated by profit is no reason for the government to ignore them.