Outlook: Budgets Face Rocky Paths in Both Chambers

The House and Senate want to pass spending blueprints before leaving town for two weeks.

Last week was a rough one for the House and Senate Republican majority, with major legislation crushed or slowed by legislative gridlock. This week promises to be even tougher: Both chambers have to pass a budget.

The House and Senate each hope to pass their spending blueprints by Friday morning before leaving Washington for two weeks. When they return on April 13, leaders hope to have the framework for a conference committee that will quickly pass a compromise budget before the April 15 deadline. (That means some already overworked Budget Committee staffers will be spending the two-week recess drafting up conference language for their bosses to bridge the two-chamber divide.)

The battle lines drawn last week over defense spending will put Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in a tight spot this week.

In the House, Boehner and Majority Whip Steve Scalise are pushing for additional concessions to defense hawks. After failing to add an amendment to bolster funding for Overseas Contingency Operations without offsetting some of the $96 billion price tag, leaders plan to go over Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price's head this week by putting the amendment on the House rule.

Rule votes are typically simple procedural measures that attract near-unanimity from the majority party. But with their confidence in Boehner waning, conservatives are increasingly indicating that they will oppose House rules on bills they find particularly onerous. Given that the OCO funds are not offset and break with the Budget Control Act's caps on defense spending, this could be their opportunity to strike down the rule. That would send Boehner and members of the Rules Committee back to the drawing board.

Meanwhile, the Senate is preparing for a lengthy and likely tense vote-a-rama this week under McConnell's new open-amendment strategy.

The upper chamber will debate the budget bill, which faces similarly strong opposition over defense spending, Monday through Wednesday, setting up an all-night vote session on Thursday. Senators are expected to begin voting on dozens of amendments to the budget bill from both sides of the aisle Thursday afternoon and will likely pass the final legislation late that night or in the early hours of Friday morning.

Senators will consider an amendment from Sens. Kelly Ayotte and Lindsey Graham that would also boost OCO funding to $96 billion—a potential agreement with the House.

As with the Keystone Pipeline bill, Democrats are planning to use the budget plan as a platform to get Republicans on the record on some of their top legislative goals, including raising the minimum wage, improving infrastructure, and approving the president's universal-preschool program. Expect measures on controversial policies targeting Republican members up for reelection in 2016—like climate change—as well.


After pushing back a bill requiring approval of any nuclear deal with Iran from March 25 to April 15, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has a quiet week ahead, focusing on the nominations of ambassadors to Mali, South Sudan, and the Bahamas. But the House Foreign Relations Committee's subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa will move ahead with a hearing on Tuesday on Iran.

General John Allen will testify before the House Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday to discuss America's strategy to combat ISIS. The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold its own hearing Tuesday examining U.S. policy in the Middle East more broadly. And also on Tuesday, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich will testify before the House Homeland Security Committee to discuss "the fight against Islamist extremism at home and abroad."

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee is spending the week focused on the border, with a Tuesday hearing on transnational crime and the drug trade and a Wednesday morning hearing on the influx of Central American migrants to the United States.

Actor Ben Affleck and former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates will also testify before the Senate Appropriations Committee's State and Foreign Operations subcommittee, chaired by Sen. Graham. The Thursday morning hearing is centered on "diplomacy, development, and national security."


After griping that the Environmental Protection Agency hadn't held public-listening sessions on its emission rules for power plants in home states, Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold their own field hearing on the standards in West Virginia. Freshman Sen. Shelley Moore Capito will chair the hearing Monday in her home state and will collect testimony from power producers and from an attorney representing the mine-workers' union.

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water will examine the Energy Department's fiscal 2016 budget request Wednesday. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz will testify. Subcommittee chair Lamar Alexander has long advocated for phasing out renewable tax credits and subsidies in favor of promoting nuclear power, which he's likely to continue pushing throughout the appropriations process.

The Senate Agriculture Committee Tuesday will tackle the EPA's controversial proposal to expand its authority under the Clean Water Act, which Republicans have charged will give EPA too much power and will restrict agriculture and construction development.


Republican lawmakers will continue to push back on the Federal Communications Commission's new net-neutrality regulations in hearings this week. After enduring three hearings last week, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler will appear before the House Appropriations Committee's Financial Services Subcommittee on Tuesday and the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.

The Senate Commerce Committee's Aviation Subcommittee will take a look at drone safety and privacy in a Tuesday afternoon hearing. The event is the latest in a series of congressional hearings probing the implications of a civilian airspace filled with drones after the Federal Aviation Administration proposed safety regulations for commercial drone use in February.


Monday is the fifth anniversary of President Obama signing the Affordable Care Act into law. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell will mark the occasion in Arlington, Virginia, at an event with Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Rep. Don Beyer. They'll use the event to make a fresh pitch for the law's Medicaid expansion.

Tuesday, the Senate HELP Committee holds a hearing on "Continuing America's Leadership: Advancing Research and Development for Patients."

Also on Tuesday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Health Subcommittee holds a hearing on the 340B drug-pricing program. And the Ways and Means Committee's Oversight Subcommittee will hold a hearing on "the use of data to stop Medicare fraud."

Thursday, Energy and Commerce's oversight panel will hold a hearing on the abuse of heroin and prescription drugs.

At some point next week, House leaders are expected to release the second half of their agreement on a permanent "doc fix"—a plan to replace Medicare's payment formula for doctors.

They've released the easy, bipartisan part of the deal—the new formula—but not the hard part: the package of ride-along measures designed to actually get the bill passed. It'll likely include a two-year reauthorization of the Children's Health Insurance Program, for Democrats, as well as cuts in Medicare benefits and provider payments, for Republicans.

Senate leaders have stayed relatively mum on the doc fix, insisting that they'll wait to see what—if anything—the House can pass before staking out positions on the deal. The current doc-fix patch expires during the middle of the congressional recess, on March 31.


President Obama has a varied week ahead of him, mixing health care, the economy, science, and foreign policy. On Monday, he'll attend what has become one of his favorite events, the fifth White House Science Fair, as students show off their award-winning projects. In the afternoon, he will travel to suburban Maryland to talk about foreign investments in the United States. On Tuesday, he will host Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at the White House. On Wednesday, he will talk about health care. On Thursday, he will travel to Birmingham, Alabama, to give a speech on the economy.

Sam Baker, George Condon, Jason Plautz, Brendan Sasso, and Kaveh Waddell contributed to this article