Congress Will Race This Week to Avoid a Shutdown
Lawmakers will look to pass an omnibus spending bill and push forward on tax extenders, reconciliation and education.
Tis the season—not for the holidays, though those are here too, but for Congress to scramble to finish a handful of big-ticket items before heading home for the year.
So this week will find the two chambers racing to agree on an omnibus spending bill before Friday’s funding deadline, and they’ll also try to finish negotiations on a massive package of tax extensions and complete work on reconciliation legislation and a customs bill. Here’s what else is on tap:
The Senate expects to pass a major education reform bill this week, significantly scaling back the federal government’s role in public schools after George W. Bush signed No Child Left Behind about 13 years ago. The bill—called the Every Student Succeeds Act—keeps the annual, statewide reading and math tests in grades 3 through 8 and maintains that states report the academic performance of low-income and minority students. But it bars federal mandates on teacher evaluations, allows the states greater flexibility in how to assess and fix their schools, and authorizes a preschool competitive grant program.
ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT
While governments gather in Paris for the second week of a United Nations conference to hammer out a global agreement to fight climate change, a different sort of climate debate will take place in the halls of the Senate. Presidential contender and well-known climate-change doubter Ted Cruz will hold a hearing in the Space, Science and Competitiveness subcommittee of the Commerce Committee questioning the role of humans in climate change, with a witness list full of scientists who have questioned the mainstream consensus on the issue.
The House Oversight and Government Reform’s Interior subcommittee holds a hearing Tuesday on a proposed Interior Department rule placing limits on coal producers operating near streams. The stream-protection rule has been criticized by the industry for being too restrictive, but the administration says it will protect drinking water and nearby land.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell will testify at a Wednesday hearing in the House Natural Resources Committee about her agency’s role in the August spill of mining waste in Colorado, which was caused by an EPA-backed team.
On Friday, the Securities and Exchange Commission will unveil draft rules that would force oil and mining companies to disclose payments to foreign governments for projects in their countries. A federal court shot down an earlier version in 2013, and now the big question is whether the revised version will provide exemptions (or loopholes, depending who you ask) that powerful oil companies such as Exxon and Shell have lobbied for.
The long-delayed regulation is required under the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial overhaul law. It’s aimed at increasing transparency in order to combat the “resource curse”—the corruption, conflict, and poverty that often afflict energy-rich nations in Africa and elsewhere. The SEC, which has slow-walked the rule, has promised a federal judge that it would finalize the regulation by June of 2016.
Congress will continue working on a tax-extenders package deal this week, but it’s looking increasingly unlikely that a delay of Obamacare’s Cadillac tax, which is levied on pricey employer-sponsored health insurance plans, will be included.
During Thursday’s nearly seven-hour vote-a-rama on reconciliation legislation, an amendment repealing the Cadillac passed the upper chamber 90-10. Though the majority of senators are now on record supporting a repeal, that doesn’t mean a delay of the tax—which starts in 2018—will be in the package. (The two chambers still have to agree on a final version of the reconciliation bill before it heads to President Obama’s desk for a promised veto.)
“I don’t think the Cadillac tax is going to be part of any of this end-of-the-year negotiation. I think, frankly, it’s pretty good leverage to do some more systemic reforms for the Affordable Care Act,” Majority Whip John Cornyn told reporters last week. “It’s too valuable to be trading off for other smaller, less valuable items here at the end of the year.”
In addition, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee will hold a hearing Tuesday on the nation’s opioid epidemic, the first time that the panel will convene to discuss the topic this Congress. From 1999 to 2013, prescription-painkiller-related deaths quadrupled. Similarly, heroin-related-overdose deaths nearly quadrupled from 2002 to 2013.
Also Tuesday, the House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee will hold its second hearing in a two-part series checking up on the Affordable Care Act’s state insurance marketplaces. Andy Slavitt, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services acting administrator, is scheduled to testify.
On Wednesday, the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee will hold a hearing titled, “Examining Legislation to Improve Health Care and Treatment.”
FBI Director James Comey will testify Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The oversight hearing will likely focus on an array of issues, including the FBI’s counterterrorism efforts, surveillance capabilities, and the debate over encryption technology. Comey has previously warned that encrypted communications could allow terrorists to “go dark” from U.S. surveillance.
The House Oversight Committee will hold a hearing on Wednesday on online gambling. The panel’s chairman, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican, has been a leading critic of online gambling, and the hearing’s title “A Casino in Every Smartphone—Law Enforcement Implications” suggests a hardline approach to the issue. While the Justice Department has allowed states to regulate online gambling in their own borders, Chaffetz has been pushing for a national ban.
The Senate Commerce Committee will vote Wednesday on Jessica Rosenworcel’s nomination to serve another term as a member of the Federal Communications Commission. The committee is also scheduled to consider a bill that would require the FCC to deposit revenue from airwave auctions into the federal treasury.
After two weeks in a row of trips overseas, Obama has a relatively light schedule in Washington this week. He started off his week with remarks at the Kennedy Center Honors reception Sunday at the White House before his prime-time address to the nation on combatting terrorism. On Monday, he’ll have meetings at the White House, and on Tuesday will attend a Democratic National Committee roundtable.
On Wednesday, he’ll deliver remarks at an anniversary event for the 13th Amendment, which formally abolished slavery and was ratified by the states on Dec. 6, 1865. Later that day, he’ll meet with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, and host Hanukkah receptions at the White House. He’ll attend more meetings at the White House on Thursday and Friday.
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