By the rules that guide it, the House of Representatives is usually able to move bills faster than the “cooling saucer” Senate. But with the House beset by divisions in its controlling Republican Party, the Senate has led the effort to craft and pass the legislation that will avert a government shutdown by the end of this month. And it looks like it will do so with time to spare.
Senate leaders and appropriators have spent the weekend trying to tie up the loose ends of a short-term bill that will fund the government to Dec. 9. Leadership aides expect to pass the package this week, potentially allowing vulnerable Republican incumbent senators to go home a week earlier than expected and campaign.
Seven months after the president requested $1.9 billion to fight the spread of the birth defect causing the Zika virus, Democratic and Republican members are still attempting to find a compromise that will cost approximately $1.1 billion. Republicans are expected to drop controversial language that would prevent a small portion of that money from going to Puerto Rico’s Planned Parenthood affiliate.
At least three other sticking points remain. The Obama administration, business groups, Democrats, and Republicans have pushed to allow the Export-Import bank to finance $10 million-plus deals again over the objections of some conservatives and Senate Banking Committee chairman Richard Shelby. The administration has also requested $2.6 billion to help Louisiana after devastating floods; some Republican congressional aides believe that a portion of that funding will get included in a final deal. And there have also been concerns from Sen. Ted Cruz and other conservatives over a U.S. group transferring control over Internet domains to an international body.
As Democratic and Republican negotiators passed paper back and forth last week, the differences were so great that Sen. Dick Durbin told reporters that he doubted the Senate would be able to resolve them by mid-week. But some Republican congressional aides are privately more optimistic.
The House, meanwhile, is waiting to see what the Senate will produce. Although some Republicans want to use the CR as a leverage point to block Syrian refugees, House GOP leaders and much of the conference will likely approve any reasonable package that the Senate sends over. Whether they do so this week or next is yet to be determined.
On the House floor, the focus will turn to Iran. Leaders will bring to the floor legislation that seeks to bring more transparency to the White House’s dealings with Tehran on the heels of news that the Obama administration’s sent $400 million owed in a legal settlement to the Middle Eastern state as part of a prisoner swap. Republicans say it was a ransom payment.
IRS Commissioner John Koskinen will be in the hot seat as well, as he may testify before the House Judiciary Committee about the agency’s alleged targeting of conservative groups. The hearing is part of a deal between Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte and the House Freedom Caucus. Instead of bringing a privileged motion calling for Koskinen’s impeachment, the caucus struck a deal with Goodlatte to hold a hearing on the matter.