Congress' Road to Recess Is Still Blocked Over Highway Funding
The House and Senate need to agree on a highway bill and the fate of the Export-Import Bank before they can leave town for August.
It's still a long road to recess.
The House is expected to adjourn until after Labor Day this week, and the Senate could quickly follow suit if only members could figure out what to do about a highway bill. If only. They must send legislation to the president this week to avoid disrupting distributions to state transportation departments.
Lots of members would also be much happier if the Export-Import Bank charter were reinstated before they go home to face their constituents. But other members are willing to use every tool they can to stop Ex-Im from coming back to life. All told, it will make for an interesting week.
After a rare Sunday Senate vote, the Senate version of the highway bill will likely include an Ex-Im provision. The House version doesn't. That's not the only problem. The House and Senate versions of the highway bill are different in size and scope, and their various champions are still competing for the upper hand. The House bill is a short-term patch until December designed to allow members to come up with a longer-term plan. The Senate bill sets six years of policy and pays for three years of highway authority through a variety of budget and banking tricks that are raising eyebrows among accountants and politicians alike.
House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster says the Senate highway bill actually rolls back some of the reforms he fought for under current law. House GOP leaders aren't too thrilled with the idea of accepting a massive Senate highway bill without the chance to amend it or weigh in.
But Senate leaders are determined to move forward with their own highway and transit measure, waiting for the House to prove they will actually reject it before they start negotiating in earnest. This will all happen two or three days before Highway Trust Fund authority expires on July 31.
Then the House goes home. If senators are still in the mood for legislation—not likely, but possible—there is a possibility that leaders will bring a stalled cybersecurity measure to the floor. GOP leadership has repeatedly said it hopes to vote on the Senate Intelligence Committee's bipartisan information-sharing bill before breaking for the August recess.
The trio of Cabinet officials who stared down Senate naysayers of a proposed Iran nuclear deal last week will return to Capitol Hill Tuesday to conduct the same activity in the House. Secretary of State John Kerry, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew will appear before the House Foreign Affairs Committee to defend the deal struck between Iran, the United States, the United Kingdom, and four other countries to curb Iran's nuclear program.
Things got testy in last week's Senate hearing, with Kerry telling his former colleagues that their desire for a better deal was a "fantasy." The atmosphere isn't likely to be any friendlier in the House, where Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce has said the deal has "several shortcomings" and ranking member Eliot Engel has said he has "serious concerns and questions."
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee kicks off debate on its comprehensive energy package with a pair of markups on Tuesday and Thursday, a process that could bleed over into the following week. The 357-page package is the result of months of bipartisan negotiations on the committee. It contains titles on energy infrastructure, cybersecurity, and efficiency, and it reauthorizes a much-wanted public lands program, but it skirts more controversial issues like offshore energy production and climate change.
The committee is also expected to hold a vote on lifting the decades-old ban on the export of crude oil as early as next week. Committee Chair Lisa Murkowski has introduced legislation that would lift the ban and expand revenue-sharing to Alaska and Atlantic Coast states. A markup of the legislation is slated to start on Tuesday.
Republicans on the House Natural Resources Committee Wednesday will lean on the Endangered Species Act to attack the Environmental Protection Agency's rules on power-plant emissions, arguing that the EPA did not consult with the proper agencies over how the rule would impact species like manatees. Several administration witnesses will testify, but the EPA declined to send a witness.
Three of the five members of the Federal Communications Commission will appear in front of Congress this week, at a pair of hearings focused on the agency's actions. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, a Democrat, and Republican Commissioner Ajit Pai will testify Tuesday in front of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, in the latest in an ongoing series of FCC oversight hearings. On Wednesday, Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel will appear before the Senate Commerce Committee during a hearing on wireless broadband and spectrum policy.
On Tuesday, the House Judiciary Committee will hold a subcommittee hearing on America's growing heroin epidemic. Speakers include officials from the White House and the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The House Education and Workforce Committee will hold a hearing Tuesday to review the policies and priorities of the Department of Health and Human Services, at which HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell will testify.
Also on Tuesday, the Ways and Means Committee will hold a hearing on rural health care disparities created by Medicare regulations.
Off the Hill, National Journal will host a forum Tuesday on the future of Medicare, and on Thursday the Heritage Foundation will hold a discussion on the future of Medicare and Medicaid to mark the programs' 50th anniversaries.
The House Financial Services Committee will hold a hearing Tuesday reviewing the impact of Dodd-Frank at its fifth anniversary. Chairman Jeb Hensarling has been an outspoken critic of the law, so it is likely the hearing will be used as a chance to pick apart things House Republicans don't like. On Tuesday, the Senate Banking Committee will hold a hearing on lifting the crude-oil-export ban, and on Wednesday, the Senate Banking Committee will look at the role of bankruptcy in addressing companies that are "too big to fail."
President Obama continues on his tour through Africa Monday. He'll meet with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, attend a summit meeting with regional leaders, and have dinner at the National Palace.
On Tuesday, he'll participate in a civil-society roundtable and bilateral meeting with the chairwoman of the African Union Commission, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma. He'll start his journey back to Washington on Tuesday.
Eric Garcia, Kaveh Waddell, Dustin Volz, Clare Foran, Rebecca Nelson, and Caitlin Owens contributed to this article.
(Image via Tim Roberts Photography / Shutterstock.com)
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