McConnell’s Must-Dos: CR, Cures, Iran Sanctions, DOD Bills

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By Nancy Ognanovich

Nov. 28 — Congressional Republicans are returning to Washington with a long to-do list and little time to get the items across the finish line.

With both the House and Senate now said aiming to wrap up work by Dec. 9, lawmakers said Republicans’ top priority will be to sign off on a new continuing resolution to fund the federal government by that date, the same day a current stopgap is set to expire.

That deadline now also serves as the target for final action on many other bills, such as the annual Department of Defense authorization bill and a rewrite of the Water Resources Development Act, they said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) are officially pushing now for Congress to pass another CR to fund the government into next year instead of trying to finish the fiscal year 2017 appropriations bills. While McConnell didn’t mention the date, House and Senate aides said the CR is likely to run to March 31.

The CR is necessary because Congress passed only one of the 12 annual spending bills for the government’s new fiscal year that began Oct. 1. Minus action by lawmakers, government funds will lapse when a current CR expires Dec. 8. The must-pass CR is expected to be mostly “clean” but still is being viewed as a vehicle for many other must-do bills.

“We’ve got a lot to do, including approving several conference reports as well as funding the government,” McConnell said when the Senate returned from the Thanksgiving break. “It’s good to see the respective committees making important progress on conference reports, the National Defense Authorization Act and the Water Resources Development Act. We’ll work with our counterparts in the House to consider each of those in the coming days and send final bills to the president’s desk for signature.”

CR, NDAA, WRDA

McConnell made his comments on the floor as the Senate returned to work for what appears likely to be no more than a two-week session. Aides said the real likely target to leave for the year is the evening of Dec. 8.

McConnell’s earlier plans to wrap up work on the FY 2017 spending bills in this calendar year ran aground amid requests from President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team to instead do another CR that will run into next year, giving the new president more say over spending priorities. Over the recent break, aides to the House and Senate appropriations panels abandoned work on bills that might have gone into a year-end omnibus and instead have focused on writing a new CR.

But aides said details of that CR won’t likely be seen for days as McConnell and Ryan decide what other legislative items might still have to take a ride on the must-pass spending measure. They predicted the CR won’t be seen until the week of Dec. 5 and then will be pushed through quickly before the deadline a few days later.

McConnell gave no details, but President Barack Obama’s recent request for $11.6 billion in extra supplemental funds for DOD and the State Department is seen as helping lawmakers also finalize a conference agreement on the DOD authorization bill.

Less certain is how lawmakers will wrap up work on the WRDA bill, also the subject of conference talks. Among other things, lawmakers haven’t said if they will include the extra money Ryan promised the Michigan delegation for Flint in the WRDA bill or the CR or whether the measures will be combined.

McConnell also listed other priorities for action over the next two weeks.

“We’ll also take up the 21st Century Cures bill, which includes advancing regenerative medicine,” McConnell said. “Among many other important provisions, sometime soon we’ll also take up the Iran Sanctions Extension Act.”

McConnell even said it’s still possible for House and Senate conferees on a comprehensive energy policy rewrite to finish their talks and bring the measure to the floors of both chambers in the next two weeks.

Intelligence, State Reauthorizations

For its part, the House has already passed its version of the Iran sanctions bill and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said the House may take up both the Defense authorization act and the Cures bill the week of Nov. 28.

McCarthy didn’t include the WRDA conference report on his list of items for the next few days, but he did list the annual Intelligence reauthorization bill as a possibility for floor action in the next few days.

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) emerged from a meeting in McConnell’s office strongly suggesting that many of the items on the to-do list are not likely to see action in the Senate until the week of Dec. 5.

“I think the House will be doing the NDAA and Cures this week and then next week for us,” Cornyn told reporters.

To contact the reporter on this story: Nancy Ognanovich in Washington at nognanov@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at pHendrie@bna.com

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