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Congress Begins an Appropriations Process It May Not Finish

Plan is already being discussed for a continuing resolution to keep most agencies open until after the Nov. 4 election.

Lawmakers return from their spring break on Monday to a bevy of business, including two fiscal 2015 spending bills in the House as Congress begins the appropriations process.

Yet there is little expectation that the House and Senate will fully hash out and pass all 12 annual spending measures by the Oct. 1 start of the new fiscal year.

With scant desire in an election year to wrestle with some of the thorny issues lurking in those bills, a plan is already being discussed to keep most federal agencies and functions funded via a continuing resolution and to put off tough decisions until after the Nov. 4 election.

The bills to be taken up by the House this week are the noncontroversial Military Construction-Veterans Affairs and Legislative Branch spending measures. Majority Leader Eric Cantor wrote in a memo to fellow Republicans on Friday that the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies bill is also being teed up for action.

Meanwhile, the Senate returns from the break ready to take action on nominees and a minimum-wage bill that Democratic leaders have promised for months they would bring to the floor. But Wednesday's procedural vote is not expected to win the 60 votes needed to advance the bill, which Republicans decry as an election-year measure by Democrats designed to energize their base.

Also on tap in Congress this week:

  • The House will begin its markup on the National Defense Authorization Act. While retiring House Armed Service Committee Chairman Buck McKeon has already announced that he would not include immigration-related policies in the committee's bill, some attempts to attach those could be offered.
  • The Senate will resume session on Monday with a roll-call vote to confirm the nomination of Michelle Friedland to the U.S. Appeals Court for the 9th Circuit.
  • Senate cloture and confirmation votes also are set on nominee David Weil as administrator of the Labor Department's Wage and Hour Division, and a confirmation vote is be held on the nomination of Kathleen O'Regan as assistant secretary for policy development and research at the Housing and Urban Development Department.
  • Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid also has filed cloture on six district court nominations. Those votes are expected on Tuesday, including one on Manish S. Shah to be a district judge for the Northern District of Illinois.
  • The House Rules Committee will meet Monday to set floor procedures for another vote on a bill exempting expatriate health plans from the Affordable Care Act. The bill received majority support in a 257-159 vote in early April, but that was under a procedure usually set aside for noncontroversial measures that requires two-thirds majority support. Having fallen short of that, the bill is being returned to the floor under procedures requiring a simple majority for passage.
  • On Thursday, the Senate Finance Committee will hold a hearing on the administration's trade agenda. Some trade issues lie along a political fault line: Before leaving to be President Obama's ambassador to China, Max Baucus negotiated a deal on trade-promotion authority with his House counterpart. The agreement had buy-in from the White House, but Reid opposes TPA and is blocking the measure from moving out of the chamber.
  • The Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday will hold a hearing on innovation and federal investment, with Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins among those testifying.
  • The Senate Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday will review the Boston Marathon bombing case, more than a year after the attack.
  • The Senate Rules Committee will wade into the political money wars Wednesday with a hearing on the landscape following the McCutcheon Supreme Court case. Since the high court threw out aggregate funding limits in its recent ruling on McCutcheon v. FEC, donors no longer face a cap on their overall giving to candidates and committees.


Spending Bills Hit Floor

The 2015 Legislative Branch appropriations bill to be voted on by the House this week covers such things as funding for members' offices, security, and other support agencies for Congress, along with services for visitors, Capitol operations, and maintenance. The total price tag included for the House and joint operations, excluding Senate-only items, is $3.3 billion.

The legislation also includes a provision to freeze the pay of members, preventing any increases in fiscal 2015. A freeze has been in place since 2010.

The 2015 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs appropriations bill, which contains funding to train and equip troops, provide housing and services to military personnel and their families, help maintain base infrastructure, and fund veterans' benefits and programs, also comes to the House floor.

The legislation provides $71.5 billion in discretionary funding—a cut of $1.8 billion below the fiscal 2014 level. But the committee says it increases funding for veterans' programs by $1.5 billion.

As the House moves forward with its versions of spending bills, Senate appropriators this week have a full hearing schedule, leading up to markups that are expected to begin in late May, according to aides.

Appropriations subcommittees will be reviewing budget requests from the Education Department, the Forest Service, the Army, the National Nuclear Security Administration, and NASA.


Water Regs in Focus

Conservatives on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee plan to put the Environmental Protection Agency in their crosshairs at a field hearing in Altoona, Pa.

The focus is a recent water regulation that Republicans are calling federal overreach and a threat to economic growth.

Back in Washington, House Republicans' attempt to overhaul the nation's chemical-management system is to get its first hearing on Tuesday as the Energy and Commerce Committee considers the Chemicals in Commerce Act. The draft bill, which would reform the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, has not drawn support from Democrats and public health groups, but sponsor John Shimkus of Illinois says he wants to reach a bipartisan agreement before moving the bill if possible.

The House Natural Resources Committee will continue to look at labor issues associated with the oil and gas industry Tuesday with a hearing on opportunities for skilled workers. Among the witnesses will be TV star Mike Rowe, who also heads a foundation to promote skilled labor and trade work.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Thursday will look into the root causes behind a series of propane shortages this winter.


SEC in Spotlight

The House Financial Services Committee will hear from Securities and Exchange Commission Chairwoman Mary Jo White on Tuesday about her agency's agenda, budget, and operations.

Also on Tuesday, the Senate Banking Committee will mark up a bipartisan bill that would establish the Federal Mortgage Insurance Corporation. The Housing Finance Reform and Taxpayer Protection Act also would shutter Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, among other provisions.


A Look at Drug Abuse

The House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee plans to hold a hearing Tuesday on prescription-drug and heroin abuse, with representatives of the Drug Enforcement Administration, the National Institutes of Health, and other agencies scheduled to testify.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will tackle the issue of drug control this week, with testimony from the administrator of the DEA set for Wednesday regarding oversight of the federal agency.

The committee's Health Subcommittee has a hearing set for Thursday on emerging health technologies.


Ukraine and Pentagon Budget

Congress plans to make headway on the National Defense Authorization Act this week and continue to monitor the situation with Russia in the Ukraine.

Two House Armed Services subcommittees mark up their pieces of the defense bill on Wednesday and Thursday. Meanwhile, the Senate Armed Services Committee continues to review the Pentagon's defense budget request, also in preparation for its NDAA action in mid-May.

On Tuesday the SASC hears testimony on the structure of the Air Force, and on Wednesday the committee holds a hearing on reforming the defense acquisition system.

The Senate panel also has two closed hearings scheduled: a subcommittee hearing on counterterrorism policy on Tuesday and a full committee briefing Thursday on the Ukrainian crisis and Russia.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee also examines the Russia situation, holding a joint subcommittee hearing on U.S.-Russia nuclear arms negotiations on the Ukraine and beyond on Tuesday.

In the Senate, the Foreign Relations Committee looks at Afghanistan beyond 2014 on Wednesday.

Also on Wednesday, the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee digs into the problems of overmedication in a hearing on Wednesday.

Michael Catalini, Stacy Kaper, Clare Foran, Shane Goldmacher, and Sophie Novack contributed to this article.

(Image via Orhan Cam/Shutterstock.com)