Difficult vote on Syria dodged
It appears that a difficult vote in the House and Senate on the authorization of force in Syria has been at least delayed and members may have dodged the vote all together.
With the administration now working with Russia and the Syrian regime over a plan for Assad to voluntarily surrender the regime's chemical weapons, legislative action no longer appears necessary - and that is good news for President Obama and for members. A vote in the House would certainly have fallen short of the 218 votes necessary to authorize force and a vote in the Senate would be extremely close.
House Republicans split over CR
House Republicans are divided over a Continuing Resolution plan devised by Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA). Cantor's approach would link a resolution de-funding Obamacare (a hot topic with conservatives and Tea Party types) with a CR to keep the government running through mid-December.
If passed by the House, the Senate would have to vote on the healthcare measure before it could act on the spending bill. The CR, however, could still become law even if Senate Democrats were to vote down the de-funding of Obamacare - as they most certainly would.
House conservatives and Tea Party groups have objected to the Cantor approach, saying that such an approach was abandoning the fight to de-fund President Obama's healthcare law.
Current funding for the federal government is set to run out on September 30. Republican leadership can only afford 16 defections on their plan, which would presumably need to be passed without any Democratic votes. This week, Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), a member of the whip team, admitted that they lacked the votes necessary to move forward.
House may cancel September recess
On Thursday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) said the upcoming September recess may be canceled. The House is currently scheduled to be out of session the week of September 23, but Syria and budget issues may force the House to cancel that recess.
Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA) had written a letter to Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) on Monday urging the House remain in session. In his letter Braley said, "Instead of returning home, the U.S. House should be focused on the President's request to authorize military force in Syria, passing a five-year renewal of the Farm Bill, and passing budget bills that keep the federal government working."
A look ahead: Budget and appropriations
As mentioned above, House Republicans remain split over a plan devised by Majority Leader Eric Cantor on a Continuing Resolution that would fund the government through December. Republicans in the Senate are in no better shape - with Tea Party GOPers like Senators Mike Lee (R-UT), Rand Paul (R-KY) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) leading the fight to use a CR to de-fund Obamacare.
The decision to set the funding level for the House’s stop-gap bill at an annual level of $988 billion would be a compromise with the Democratic-led Senate. The GOP-led House had called for a fiscal 2014 budget of $967 billion. The Senate Appropriations Committee has been writing up its spending bills to a topline level of $1.058 trillion for the fiscal year, on the assumption sequestration would be repealed.
The battle over funding the government isn't the only big battle brewing when it comes to budget and appropriations. In mid-October, Congress will have to tackle the issue of raising the debt ceiling again. While the prospects of the U.S. defaulting on its debts seems unthinkable, the two sides have made little headway in efforts to avoid such an outcome. The White House and Senate Democrats continue to say they will not negotiate on the need for a clean debt-limit increase, and they emphasize a need for the country to pay its bills and avoid default. House Speaker John Boehner and other Republicans say they will not raise the debt ceiling without what they view as real cuts in spending.
A look ahead: Energy
Senate consideration of the bipartisan energy-efficiency bill sponsored by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Rob Portman (R-OH), which was expected to be considered as soon as the Senate returned from recess, was pushed back due to debate on Syria.
The bill, dubbed the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act of 2013, was originally slated to be considered by the Senate before the August recess, but a vote on the legislation was delayed until September.
On Tuesday, the issue of Yucca Mountain again reared its head. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairwoman Allison Macfarlane testified before the House Energy panel’s Environment and the Economy Subcommittee.
The hearing comes after an August ruling by a D.C. court that compels the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to complete its review of the Energy Department’s license application for the Yucca Mountain site. House Republicans have been vocal about their desire to use Yucca as the nation’s nuclear-waste repository, while a bipartisan Senate plan seeks to find alternatives to the long-disputed site.
A look ahead: Healthcare
The new health insurance marketplaces created by the Affordable Care Act - also known as Obamacare - are set to open on October 1. As this important date looms, House and Senate Republicans grapple with how best to rollback Obamacare. Tea Party and hard line conservatives are pushing for an effort to de-fund Obamacare, while Republican leadership appears to favor an implementation-delay approach.
The House Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Health took an Affordable Care Act “pulse check” in a Tuesday hearing that focused on “readiness and implementation issues” in the run-up to October 1.
Other things to watch for this fall: Work toward a permanent “doc fix” by changing a flawed Medicare physician-payment formula and tightening oversight of pharmaceutical compounding facilities, which mix drugs. Legislation to address each had momentum going into the August recess; we’ll see what happens now that Congress is back.
A look ahead: Immigration
While supporters of immigration reform continue to talk up the prospects for passage, and even though the August recess was relatively quiet in terms of blow-back from opponents, the reality is that there is almost no chance for immigration reform to pass in this calendar year.
The fall Congressional calendar makes passage all but impossible. Congress must continue to deal with developments in Syria, must deal with a Continuing Resolution to fund the government and must deal with the fight over raising the debt ceiling. By the time the dust settles on those battles, the calendar will come perilously close to the beginning of the 2014 mid-term election season - a point at when major legislation will become all but impossible to pass.
Here’s where things stand: The Senate bill remains just as much of a nonstarter among House Republicans as it was when the upper chamber passed their bill in late June. The House has cleared five immigration bills through committees that deal with border security, agricultural workers, interior enforcement, E-Verify, and high-skilled visas.
Only the border-security bill that came out of the House Homeland Security Committee has had any Democratic support. A bipartisan group of seven lawmakers has yet to release a comprehensive plan they have been working on for years, yet they have little incentive to rush to release their bill in the coming weeks when all it stands to gain is criticism, rather than action.
California 52nd Congressional District: Former San Diego Council member and former Mayoral candidate Carl DeMaio (R-CA) announced that he would not run for Mayor and would instead continue his campaign for Congress.
Idaho 2nd Congressional District: Incumbent Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID) is up with a 60 second radio ad that fires back at Tea Party challenger Bryan Smith. Smith went up with an ad last week.
SenateNew Jersey Special: A new Rutgers-Eagleton poll shows Newark Mayor Cory Booker (D-NJ) holding a wide lead (64% to 29%) over former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan (R-NJ).
A look ahead:
Tuesday, September 17 -- The Congressional Budget Office will hold a media briefing to release its annual Long-Term Budget Outlook at 11:00 a.m. at 483 Ford House Office Building.
Wednesday, September 18 -- The House Judiciary Committee will hold a full committee hearing on Oversight of the Administration's use of FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) Authorities in 2141 Rayburn at a time to be determined.
Wednesday, September 18 -- The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management Subcommittee will hold a hearing on FEMA Reauthorization: Recovering Quicker and Smarter at 10:00 a.m. in 2167 Rayburn.
SenateThe Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing September 17 to consider Ron Binz as a nominee for commissioner of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Washington by the numbers$148 - The amount Anthony Weiner spent per vote he earned in the mayoral race.
“Americans are ill-informed about Syria. In fact, 9 out of 10 people surveyed thought Syria is the female voice in their iPhone.” -- NBC’s Jay Leno
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