Hill Outlook: Finishing a Budget, and Fending Off a Gyrocopter
Lawmakers want to finalize a spending blueprint and stiffen the Capitol's defenses.
The Senate's Iran debate will likely make the biggest headlines this week, but Congress will also be preoccupied with finishing a spending blueprint, protecting itself from low-flying aircraft, and a host of other issues large and small.
In the House, it's budget week. Republican leaders have been preparing their members to vote on a budget conference report as early as Wednesday, but heading into the weekend, the text had not yet been released. Though members close to the process were exuding optimism, a few outstanding issues remained unresolved.
Chiefly, House and Senate negotiators must reconcile their differing paths on funding defense. In the long term, they will have to do so in a way that will appease President Obama so he will sign a budget. But in the near term, just to pass both chambers, they will have to find a middle position between fiscal conservatives and defense hawks, the latter of whom held up the process in the House over demands for guaranteed defense money.
How, and indeed whether, the budget will offset spending on the recently passed "doc fix" remains an open question as well. Budget negotiators also are grappling with Changes in Mandatory Program Spending, colloquially called ChIMPS, which allows appropriators to delay mandatory spending and apply the unspent money as budgetary savings. Senate budget leaders want to phase out the program, but House appropriators have warned that doing so right away would scuttle their bill-writing process.
Lawmakers want answers on how exactly a Florida postal carrier landed a gyrocopter on the Capitol's lawn—and on Wednesday, those answers will be given in the public eye at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing.
The 10 a.m. hearing will convene agencies charged with protecting Washington, D.C., and its airspace. A full witness list won't be available until early this week, but possible invitees include the Secret Service, Capitol Police, and the Federal Aviation Administration.
Last week, top members of committees with jurisdiction over Capitol Police and agency oversight received closed-door briefings to question law enforcement on the decisions that allowed 61-year-old Doug Hughes to land his aircraft on the west lawn. After one such briefing, Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz told reporters that "multiple weapons" were targeting the gyrocopter but officials decided not to pull the trigger, the Associated Press reported.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, the Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee chairwoman, was briefed on the incident Thursday afternoon by Capitol Police and afterward said law enforcement had to make the decision quickly. "I think they were assessing—there were tourists there, high school students, kids," she said. "I think the decision that they made took all those factors into account."
House Administration Chairwoman Candice Miller and ranking member Robert Brady had concerns about why the Capitol community wasn't alerted of the incident as it was happening. "It is vital during any emergency that information must be delivered quickly and accurately in order to ensure the safety of the public, staff and Members," the two said in a joint statement.
Capito posed this same question to Capitol Police Chief Kim Dine, and she said police realized quickly there "wasn't a severe threat with him on the grounds."
"By the time the alert would come out, it would come back off. It was that quick—that was my understanding," she said.
Clare Foran, Caitlin Owens, and Dustin Volz contributed to this article.
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