This Week on the Hill

Efforts to reauthorize the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act shift into high gear this week, as negotiations continue among House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Shuster, House Budget Chairman Kasich, and the House and Senate leadership to find more money for highways and transit beyond the levels prescribed by the budget deal.

If a deal is struck, Shuster plans to move to a full committee markup of his ISTEA package Wednesday. Late last week, Shuster indicated he was moving toward producing a six-year reauthorization plan, after warning that he would pass only a short-term ISTEA bill unless congressional leaders agreed to pump more money into the program. Negotiations last week averted a major clash between Shuster and the GOP leadership over the issue. The current ISTEA program expires Sept. 30.

Appropriations issues will continue to dominate the House and Senate agenda this week as the end of the fiscal year lumbers into view. Both chambers hope to consider a variety of appropriations conference reports.

In the Senate, conference reports for the Legislative Branch, Agriculture, Energy and Water, Foreign Operations and Defense spending bills are expected to be on the floor agenda. The House Tuesday intends to consider the Agriculture appropriations conference report and motions to go to conference on the Labor-HHS and Treasury-Postal appropriations bills. The Commerce-Justice-State spending bill will be on the House floor later in the week, along with the Legislative Branch conference report and any other conference reports that are available.

The Commerce bill could be particularly difficult, as the House GOP leadership's pledge to include a ban on statistical sampling in the census has drawn a presidential veto threat.

The two sides have not been negotiating, although the issue could spur debate on the House floor.

The Commerce package also contains another potentially ticking time bomb for GOP leaders: Some Republican conservatives have vowed to attach an amendment to the bill canceling the controversial congressional pay raise that will take place in FY98 as a cost-of-living increase.

The Republican leadership rushed the Treasury-Postal bill to passage last week before the conservatives could offer an amendment to kill the pay raise.

The House Appropriations Committee will meet Tuesday to discuss revised subcommittee allocations intended to make it easier for conferees to reach agreement on FY98 funding bills.

Also this week, conferees on the Transportation, Energy and Water, Foreign Operations and VA-HUD funding measures are expected to meet.

Though the debate on fast track trade negotiating authority began last week with a flourish, as the White House introduced its legislative proposal, this week promises to be quieter.

Neither the Senate Finance Committee nor the House Ways and Means Committee has anything formally scheduled on the issue.

However, the House Agriculture Committee plans to get into the act with a hearing Tuesday, at which Gus Schumacher of the Agriculture Department and Deputy Trade Representative Jeffrey Lang are scheduled to appear.

Also weighing in will be an assortment of commodity and agricultural groups.

Tobacco, on the other hand, will remain on the front burner, even though President Clinton's statement on the issue last week effectively eliminated any chance of legislative action until next year.

HHS Secretary Donna Shalala, who co-chaired the White House review of the settlement reached in June between the tobacco industry and 40 state attorneys general, will make a solo appearance before the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee Thursday.

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on the settlement's Indian provision Wednesday. And the Senate Democratic task force on the tobacco issue also will meet Wednesday, hearing from labor, asbestos and insurance industry officials.

On another healthcare-related front, the Labor and Human Resources hearing on medical records confidentiality, scheduled for Tuesday, has been indefinitely postponed, as ranking member Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., takes to the floor to debate the FDA reform bill.

A cloture vote on the bill is expected Tuesday, and debate could continue throughout the week, depending on whether Kennedy's concerns can be resolved in negotiations involving Labor and Human Resources Chairman Jeffords and others.

A full Commerce Committee markup of the House FDA bill will be held either this week or next.

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