Congress Returns From Recess Facing Dec. 11 Deadline to Avoid a Shutdown

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (center) and Sens. John Thune and John Cornyn hold a news conference on the Paris attacks and refugees. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (center) and Sens. John Thune and John Cornyn hold a news conference on the Paris attacks and refugees. Jacquelyn Martin/AP

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:

EN­ERGY

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.” 

HEALTH CARE

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.”

TECH­NO­LOGY

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. 

WHITE HOUSE

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.

Ben GemanCaitlin Owens and Rebecca Nelson contributed to this article.

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