June 30 — Senate Republican leaders have set the stage for votes on Zika funding, a labeling system for genetically modified foods and other bills when the chamber returns to work July 6.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced June 29 that he plans votes on several items after the July 4 break and before senators leave for the political conventions in the middle of the month. In addition to the $1.1 billion Zika supplemental funding bill and the GMO labeling measure that would preempt state laws, the bills include an extension of Federal Aviation Administration programs, two immigration-related bills and the annual Defense appropriations bill.
The flurry of action on these and some other items is expected to mark the end of the summer work period as McConnell works to clear the decks of a few items by July 15. However, other lawmakers said the Senate could wrap up work before that date.
The Republican convention is the week of July 18.
The Senate is not expected to pass most of the measures on the agenda; the GMO legislation and the FAA extension are now seen as the items most likely to be approved. The two immigration-related items face Democratic opposition, and it remains to be seen whether Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will agree to move on to the Defense appropriations bill. Meanwhile, Reid said Democrats continue to oppose final action on the Zika supplemental due to the inclusion of “poison pill” riders.
McConnell managed to convince sufficient numbers of senators to clear late June 29 a bill (S. 2328) to let Puerto Rico avoid a fiscal crisis on July 1. That measure was signed into law by President Barack Obama on June 30.
On tap when the Senate returns July 6, besides the bills, will be a vote on another of Obama's nominees for the judiciary. McConnell and Reid agreed that the Senate will vote on the nomination of Brian Martinotti to serve as a federal district court judge for the District of New Jersey. However, it isn't clear whether the Senate will vote on the more than two dozen other judges cleared for confirmation votes in the days leading up to the recess.
McConnell also is expected to have the Senate reconsider a failed cloture vote that left the Zika supplemental—attached to the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs appropriations bill (H.R. 2577)—stalled on the floor. Democrats still want Republicans to drop items on reproductive rights, the Clean Water Act and more.
More likely to pass is the bipartisan compromise GMO bill. Before they departed for the July 4 holiday, the Senate approved a motion to advance work on the compromise, now part of an unrelated bill (S. 764). McConnell set up another procedural vote to further advance the measure when lawmakers return.
But McConnell interjected more controversy into the final days when he announced a vote on whether to advance a bill (S. 2193) sponsored by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) requiring five years of jail time for undocumented aliens who are deported and then found back in the U.S.
Meanwhile, McConnell also scheduled a similar vote on a motion to proceed to a bill (S. 3100) sponsored by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) targeting so-called sanctuary cities. The measure would withhold funds from cities that bar local law enforcement officials from cooperating with federal immigration officers.
The developments signal that most of this year's appropriations bills will be on hold and lawmakers will have to pass a new stopgap to fund the government in September. But McConnell did set up a cloture vote on a motion to proceed to the $575 billion Defense appropriations bill (H.R. 5273).
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have a long list of amendments, including one to give $18 billion more to the Pentagon. However, that one is expected to reignite a battle with Democrats, who said it would violate last year's budget deal unless domestic programs are similarly increased.
Aides said the FAA extension may be the last item of business before the Senate wraps up work. The measure is expected to run through the end of 2017 but include some elements of the House and Senate FAA reauthorization bills. The goal, they said, is to have it remain free of controversy so it can move by unanimous consent at the end.
Passage of the measure by both chambers would remove the threat of a funding lapse when a current stopgap expires July 15.
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