Nov. 29 — This year’s legislative session appears to be coming to a quick end, with Republican congressional leaders planning to muscle through a few essential pieces of business by Dec. 9 and then depart until January.
Both House and Senate Republican leaders said they are working with a plan to finish must-pass bills to cover government spending, fund water projects, ensure money for the Pentagon and provide more resources for medical research by that date in order to clear the decks for the 115th Congress that begins Jan. 3.
Other items also could be approved in the final days of the session, such as an Iran sanctions bill and a comprehensive rewrite of energy policy that remains the subject of House-Senate talks, lawmakers said. But many items—and most, if not all, of President Barack Obama’s pending nominations—appear likely to fall off when lawmakers head for the exits in 10 days.
The government-funding bill remains leaders’ top priority as a current stopgap funding federal departments and agencies is due to expire Dec. 9. Minus action on that, funds for the agencies could lapse. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the details of that CR still are the subject of talks with House Republican leaders.
"[T]here’s the question of the continuing resolution, [and] we’re in discussions with the House about that,” McConnell told reporters. “I don’t have anything to announce today on exactly what form that’s going to take, but obviously we’re going to deal with that before we leave here Dec. 9.”
Other lawmakers said the actual target for adjournment is the evening of Dec. 8. In particular, passage of the CR to fund the government a day before the current stopgap lapses is preferred by leaders to head off speculation about a government shutdown, they said.
The plans outlined by Republican leaders call for the House to move first on some of the top priorities. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters that the House is planning to take up both the 21st Century Cures Act and the conference agreement on the Department of Defense authorization bill by week’s end and then have those two items ready for Senate consideration the week of Dec. 5.
McCarthy said the House then will prepare to take up the conference agreement on the Water Resources Development Act rewrite and the CR the week of Dec. 5 and move them quickly over the next few days.
McCarthy suggested the CR will move last in both chambers and told reporters the main hold up at this point is the length of the stopgap.
“I don’t think there’s a big dispute,” McCarthy said. “One’s saying March, and one’s saying May.”
But other lawmakers said there still could be many issues to work out, including what type of supplemental funds the CR carries. Among other things, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said he supported Obama’s recent request for additional money for the Pentagon but warned Democrats not to seek extra domestic spending on the stopgap.
Late in the day, Republicans announced that the final DOD authorization bill that is coming to the House and Senate floors will represent a total of $618.7 billion in spending, including supplemental funds that exceed Obama’s own requests by some $3 billion.
The White House said ensuring adequate funding for the Pentagon remains one of Obama’s top priorities in the final weeks of his term. But press secretary Josh Earnest said the White House is opposed to any new CR that runs into May.
“I think even the secretary of defense can tell you how a CR through March that essentially covers six months of the fiscal year is bad enough, but extending the CR through May and having a CR in place for three quarters of the year would have a really negative impact on the Department of Defense and would undermine some of the important work that’s being done there on a regular basis to protect the country,” the spokesman said.
Other elements of the CR also appeared to be in flux, such as legislative provisions that can’t move on their own. Among other things, the White House still is pushing Congress to attach to the stopgap language to help the Export-Import Bank issue large loans.
The various developments suggest that the Senate is preparing to vote on almost all of the major elements of the lame-duck agenda during the week of Dec. 5.
McConnell said the only major item that may see action before then is the Iran sanctions bill that the House already passed before the Thanksgiving break.
“Iran sanctions, we’ll vote on this week,” McConnell told reporters.
Besides the items McCarthy listed, McConnell said there still is “some hope” that conferees on the energy bill will finalize their talks in time for the Senate and House to also approve that legislation before adjournment. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), McConnell’s top lieutenant, said both chambers also will clear a bill to help crime victims. And others said final action also is possible on a bill to reauthorize intelligence programs.
But Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said for now, the Senate is mostly in a “holding pattern” while waiting for the House to send over the key bills.
“I think they’re trying to get to where everything there is pretty well agreed upon, so it wouldn’t take a lot of time for us to deal with it over here,” said Thune, a member of the Senate Republican leadership team.
To contact the reporter on this story: Nancy Ognanovich in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at pHendrie@bna.com
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