Another Week, Another Shutdown Deadline

Snow and ice aren't the only things creating gridlock in Washington. Snow and ice aren't the only things creating gridlock in Washington. Orhan Cam/Shutterstock.com

What a difference a week doesn't make.

On Friday, Congress faced a deadline to fund the Homeland Security Department before midnight. Democrats wanted a clean long-term funding bill, while Republicans wanted to block President Obama's executive action on immigration or—at least—force the Senate to go to conference on a measure that might do so. Neither side could get what it wanted, so they punted for another week.

Which means that this coming Friday, March 6, will present the Hill with the same set of bad choices and another shutdown deadline. The Senate is expected to take a procedural vote Monday on whether to go to conference on the long-term DHS bill, but with Democrats unwilling to provide the necessary votes to get to 60, House GOP leaders will be stuck exactly where they were last week.

At the urging of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Democrats went along with the one-week extension because they believe Speaker John Boehner will put the long-term bill they want on the floor this week. Boehner has said he made no such promise—but that doesn't mean he won't end up doing exactly that by Friday. The question is whether he can do so, thereby averting the shutdown both he and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell want to avoid, without imperiling his speakership.

Appearing on "Face the Nation" Sunday, Boehner didn't tip his hand. "The promise I made to Ms. Pelosi is the same promise I made to Republicans, that we follow regular order," Boehner said.

The second major Hill drama this week isn't something anyone in Congress will vote on, although absences and presences will be noted. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will address a joint session of Congress on Tuesday morning. Several Democrats already have said they would boycott the speech, arguing that Netanyahu's timing is inappropriate during that administration's highly sensitive negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. It doesn't help matters for Democrats that Netanyahu agreed to visit the United States without consulting Obama.

Republicans say it makes no sense not to at least listen to the leader of another country who visits the United States.

Meanwhile, lawmakers on the House floor will vote this week on a pair of bills aimed at the Environmental Protection Agency's scientific process, including one that would bar agency regulations without the public release of scientific data backing them. The White House threatened to veto previous versions, and EPA officials have said the bill could slow the regulatory process and force the disclosure of confidential information from health studies.

The Senate also is moving on to other business. Senate Republicans already have capitulated to a longer-term appropriations bill for DHS. Many of them voted with Democrats on Friday to fund the agency through the end of September. Senators also have reluctantly agreed to go along with the House's stopgap funding plan for DHS to avert a shutdown, which means the fate of the agency is in the House's hands.

A top item on the Senate's agenda this week will feature a predictably partisan fight over union organizing. Senators will vote on a resolution of disapproval on a National Labor Relations Board rule that changes how union elections take place. Sen. Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, calls the  procedures "ambush elections" that require employers to hold elections about union representation before they have time to "figure out what's going on."

The debate will give Republicans and Democrats the opportunity to talk about something the public cares deeply about—employment. Alexander says the rule allows a few workers to quietly organize for months before springing a petition on an employer, who must participate in a hearing eight days after being formally notified of the union activity. That harms workers who won't be able to understand the full implications, he says.

Democrats say the resolution shows Republicans' corporate bias. They maintain that the NRLB rule is a long-overdue modernization of clunky union election processes that allows management to delay organizing campaigns to death.

The Senate also is expected to pass legislation combating human-trafficking, which was approved unanimously by the Judiciary Committee last week. The legislation would provide more services to human-trafficking victims and crack down on the perpetrators.

Keystone will be back, too. The Senate will initiate the procedural process to override Obama's veto of a bill to green-light the Keystone XL pipeline. A final vote to override the veto is expected sometime during the week, which will generate a lot of fodder for campaign ads. But Keystone supporters still have not mustered the requisite 67 votes, and the override appears doomed to fail.

Energy

Will there be more snowballs? EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy will appear before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Wednesday to defend the agency's 2016 budget request to Congress. The budget ask is sure to face scrutiny from committee chair and climate skeptic Republican Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, who hurled a snowball on the Senate floor last week in an attempt to argue that global warming is not real.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell is expected to clash with the Republican chair of the Senate Appropriations Interior Subcommittee, Alaska's Sen. Lisa Murkowski, on Wednesday. Jewell will appear before the panel to defend her department's budget request. Jewell also is slated to appear before the House Natural Resources Committee on Thursday.

The House Oversight Committee also will hold a Wednesday hearing on management reforms to the Chemical Safety Board, which has been dogged by morale problems. The hearing comes a week after the committee released an EPA inspector general's report accusing CSB Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso of using personal email to conduct official business.

Health

All eyes will be on the Supreme Court on Wednesday as justices hear oral arguments in King v. Burwell, the challenge to Obamacare's insurance subsidies. Republicans in Congress are confident that Obama's signature health care law won't survive the challenge, and they are pressing the administration for contingency plans that are not forthcoming. Democrats say they won't even talk about next steps until they see how the high court rules.

The oral arguments could hint as to where the justices are leaning in King v. Burwell, although longtime court watchers say that tends to be a fool's errand. However, people looking for pontifications on the topic can attend the Alliance for Health Reform and the Kaiser Family Foundation's briefing Friday on "The Affordable Care Act: What You Need to Know."

On Thursday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Health Subcommittee holds a hearing on a federal discount program for prescription drugs.

Technology

Four House committees will hold hearings on cybersecurity this week, as Congress continues to look for consensus on how to shore up the nation's digital defenses. The House Homeland Security Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday to examine President Obama's cybersecurity information-sharing proposal. The president unveiled the template earlier this year, but language has drawn scrutiny from privacy advocates who fear it may grant the National Security Agency access to more personal data.

White House

President Obama will spend most of the week at the White House. 

On Monday, he will receive recommendations from the police task force he formed after the Ferguson, Missouri, protests. On Tuesday, his focus shifts to programs that benefit adolescent girls. Joined by First Lady Michelle Obama, he will talk about efforts to keep girls in schools around the world.

For the rest of the week, no public events are on the president's early schedule until Saturday, when he will travel to Selma, Alabama, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery marches led by Martin Luther King Jr. The occasion gives him a chance to talk about the state of voting rights half a century after passage of the Voting Rights Act.

Jason Plautz, Clare Foran, Sam Baker, Dustin Volz , Matt Berman and George E. Condon Jr. contributed to this article.

(Image via Orhan Cam/Shutterstock.com)

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