Standoff Over Defense Spending Could Seriously Endanger Major Bill
Lawmakers can't agree on how to handle budget caps under sequestration.
Lawmakers return to Washington this week with, to put it charitably, a few loose strings to tie up on the bulk-data-collection provisions of the Patriot Act. Senate GOP leaders have been mulling their options on the Patriot Act, and House members have been wondering if they might be called upon to vote on a revised version of the National Security Agency reform bill they passed a few weeks ago.
It's a wonder members have been able to think about anything else.
In fact, lawmakers have several debates on tap. Staffers on the Armed Services Committee have been prepping for floor consideration of the massive defense bill that passed the committee in May. That measure is the most likely item to hit the Senate floor once the Patriot Act issue is resolved, according to Senate aides.
The defense bill debate will feature a now-familiar argument over removing arbitrary budget caps that nobody likes. The caps have forced GOP committee leaders to use off-budget war-contingency funds to meet the White House's $600 billion budget request for the Pentagon. Democrats oppose the gimmick, and President Obama has threatened to veto the bill over the use of the "slush fund" to work around the budget caps. Democrats argue that Congress should lift the caps for defense and nondefense spending alike. Some longtime defense-budget observers say the standoff could seriously endanger the defense bill for the first time in decades.
Other measures on tap for the Senate in June include a cybersecurity bill that would allow the private sector to share more computer data with the government and offer companies expanded legal liability if they choose to participate. The bill easily passed the Commerce Committee in March, but it still could face privacy questions on the floor.
In the coming weeks, the Senate also could take up a bipartisan education bill that was carefully negotiated by the top two members of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.
The House, meanwhile, is poised to take up two annual appropriations bills—one funding the Transportation and Housing departments and the other funding the Commerce, Justice, and State departments. There are whispers that the transportation funding bill will be delayed because some lawmakers have pledged to use the debate to demand more funding for Amtrak in the wake of last month's derailment outside of Philadelphia. Lawmakers haven't yet figured out how the Amtrak tragedy will be handled in the broader appropriations fight.
This week, the House also will vote on legislation to increase local control of the country's fisheries as part of a reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act.
On Tuesday, the House Transportation Committee will hear testimony from DOT and Amtrak officials about the Philadelphia derailment that killed eight people. National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Chris Hart and Amtrak President Joseph Boardman are among the panelists. Topics of conversation likely to arise are the following: Amtrak's overall funding shortfalls, the pace of implementing Positive Train Control speed mechanisms, and inward-facing cameras.
The Senate Judiciary's oversight subcommittee will hold a hearing Thursday examining the process that led to the Affordable Care Act's subsidy rule, the part of Obamacare challenged by a Supreme Court case that is expected to be announced at the end of the month. Expect a lot of ACA-bashing. Presidential contender Ted Cruz will preside.
On Wednesday, a joint Economic Committee hearing will look at the employment effects of ACA. And on Thursday, the House Energy and Commerce health subcommittee will examine legislation regarding Obamacare's menu-labeling requirements.
President Obama is planning a week in Washington in advance of next weekend's trip to Germany for the G7 Summit.
On Monday, Obama welcomes King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima of the Netherlands to the White House during their visit to the nation's capital. Later in the day, Obama will host 75 participants in the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative. They have recently completed five-week fellowships in the United States to build entrepreneurial skills and professional contacts for when they return to their home countries.
Obama on Tuesday posthumously awards two World War I soldiers with the Medal of Honor. Both men were wounded in France during battles in 1918. Sgt. William Shemin exposed himself to machine gun fire to rescue wounded fellow soldiers. Pvt. Henry Johnson fought off an attacking squad of Germans with his knife, preventing his wounded comrades from being taken prisoner and receiving grave injuries in the process. Shemin was Jewish and Johnson African-American, and it took special acts of Congress in recent years to permit reviews of their cases.
The World Series champion San Francisco Giants visit the White House on Thursday.
On Saturday evening, Obama leaves for the two-day G7 summit in Bavaria. The meeting of the world's largest economic powers is to discuss issues like Ebola and Russia's annexation of Crimea in addition to the health of the global economy.
Read more about Congress' agenda this week on National Journal.
Kaveh Waddell, Caitlin Owens, Jason Plautz, Eric Garcia, and Shirish Date contributed to this article.