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.