The House and Senate return from recess this week with some pending deadlines and little clarity about the next steps.
On the transportation front, members passed a short-term extension of the highway-funding bill ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday to buy more time for conferees from both chambers to reach an accord on a long-term funding bill. That extension expires Friday, when the House will be out, giving Congress four days to report out and pass a conference deal or push through another short-term bill.
Aside from a Monday vote to confirm a new administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has not announced any other plans for the upper chamber this week, and both chambers will be mulling how to keep the government funded beyond the Dec. 11 expiration of the current continuing resolution.
Here’s what else is on tap:
House Republicans hope to send a message across the Atlantic this week as leaders, including President Obama, gather for make-or-break climate negotiations in Paris. They’re bringing resolutions to the floor that would block major EPA regulations that impose carbon-emissions limits on the nation’s power plants.
The measures have also passed the Senate, but face certain vetoes. Yet Republicans, who oppose the hoped-for global climate accord being negotiated in Paris, hope to sow doubt about whether the U.S. can meet the carbon-cutting pledges it has offered in the multilateral talks, which are designed to reach a final accord.
Across the Capitol, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will gather Tuesday for a hearing about Interior Department offshore-drilling regulations crafted in the wake of the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The hearing will focus heavily on a draft rule floated this year mandating tougher standards for subsea “blowout preventers.”
Reconciliation is still at the top of the Senate’s agenda, and with McConnell’s declaration that a provision stripping funding from Planned Parenthood will remain in the bill, it leaves presidential candidates stuck between a rock and a hard place.
The bill, which passed the House last month, repeals major provisions of Obamacare in addition to defunding Planned Parenthood. Reconciliation is a procedural rule that allows legislation to pass the Senate with only 51 votes and without the threat of a filibuster.
But while the GOP holds 54 seats in the upper chamber, the bill as-is creates problems for those on the campaign trail. Presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, along with Sen. Mike Lee, have pledged to vote against a partial Obamacare repeal, advocating instead for full repeal. But McConnell’s announcement has created a new wrinkle: If the senators vote against the reconciliation bill, they will face the criticism of pro-life groups, and with Cruz and Rubio competing for conservative votes, such criticism would be harmful to either campaign.
Additionally, Republicans might need those votes for the bill to pass. Moderates such as Sens. Mark Kirk, Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, and Kelly Ayotte could struggle to vote against funding for Planned Parenthood, meaning that GOP leadership must pull off a balancing act in order to whip together even the simple majority needed to send the bill to Obama’s desk, where it awaits a certain veto.
Reconciliation, however, comes with a catch. The legislation is subject to a particular set of budget rules, which has already caused hiccups in the Senate. During the bill’s first round with the parliamentarian, its repeal of Obamacare’s individual and employer mandates came into question. Leadership has since been reworking the bill to meet requirements under the Byrd rule, but has not released updated text yet.
They have said the goal is to vote on the bill this week, particularly considering that other deadlines are lined up behind it.
“We’re still trying to get the reconciliation done after Thanksgiving, and then it looks like we’re going to have a highway bill by Dec. 4 now, and then the omnibus by Dec. 11,” said Majority Whip John Cornyn. “But there’s a lot of moving parts. But that, I think, is the general framework.”
Lawyers for the Federal Communications Commission and the telecom industry will face off in federal court Friday over one of the most significant technology-policy initiatives of the Obama administration: net neutrality. A slew of major Internet providers and associations have sued to repeal the FCC regulations, decrying them as an illegal power grab that will strangle their industry with utility-style government controls. The FCC and digital-rights activists argue the rules, which require that all Internet traffic be treated equally, are essential for preserving a free and open Internet.
The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the FCC’s last attempt at net-neutrality regulations last year. But this time, the agency grounded the regulations in a broader legal authority. A three-judge panel of the same court will hear the oral arguments Friday, and the case could ultimately be bound for the Supreme Court.
Elsewhere in tech news, the House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing Tuesday to discuss whether to require police to obtain a warrant before seizing emails and other electronic records. Lawmakers have been trying to strengthen the protections of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, a 1986 law, for years, but the push has been overshadowed by fights over National Security Agency surveillance.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s subcommittee on trade will hold a hearing Tuesday on mobile payment technologies, and the panel’s subcommittee on communications and technology will reconvene a hearing on media ownership regulations Thursday.
President Obama kicks off his week by heading to Paris for the COP21 climate summit, a gathering of hundreds of world leaders to assess the world’s progress on climate change and hammer out an agreement to curb global warming. While there, he’ll meet with various heads of state, along with French President Hollande. On Tuesday, he’ll return to Washington.
On Wednesday, he’ll attend meetings at the White House, and on Thursday, he’ll participate in the National Christmas Tree lighting. He’ll end his week with yet more meetings at the White House.