Outlook: Finishing a Budget, and Fending Off a Gyrocopter

Members want to finalize a spending blueprint and stiffen the Capitol's defenses.

The Senate's Iran debate will likely make the biggest headlines this week, but Congress will also be preoccupied with finishing a spending blueprint, protecting itself from low-flying aircraft, and a host of other issues large and small.


In the House, it's budget week. Republican leaders have been preparing their members to vote on a budget conference report as early as Wednesday, but heading into the weekend, the text had not yet been released. Though members close to the process were exuding optimism, a few outstanding issues remained unresolved.

Chiefly, House and Senate negotiators must reconcile their differing paths on funding defense. In the long term, they will have to do so in a way that will appease President Obama so he will sign a budget. But in the near term, just to pass both chambers, they will have to find a middle position between fiscal conservatives and defense hawks, the latter of whom held up the process in the House over demands for guaranteed defense money.

How, and indeed whether, the budget will offset spending on the recently passed "doc fix" remains an open question as well. Budget negotiators also are grappling with Changes in Mandatory Program Spending, colloquially called ChIMPS, which allows appropriators to delay mandatory spending and apply the unspent money as budgetary savings. Senate budget leaders want to phase out the program, but House appropriators have warned that doing so right away would scuttle their bill-writing process.


Lawmakers want answers on how exactly a Florida postal carrier landed a gyrocopter on the Capitol's lawn—and on Wednesday, those answers will be given in the public eye at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing.

The 10 a.m. hearing will convene agencies charged with protecting Washington, D.C., and its airspace. A full witness list won't be available until early this week, but possible invitees include the Secret Service, Capitol Police, and the Federal Aviation Administration.

Last week, top members of committees with jurisdiction over Capitol Police and agency oversight received closed-door briefings to question law enforcement on the decisions that allowed 61-year-old Doug Hughes to land his aircraft on the west lawn. After one such briefing, Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz told reporters that "multiple weapons" were targeting the gyrocopter but officials decided not to pull the trigger, the Associated Press reported.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, the Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee chairwoman, was briefed on the incident Thursday afternoon by Capitol Police and afterward said law enforcement had to make the decision quickly. "I think they were assessing—there were tourists there, high school students, kids," she said. "I think the decision that they made took all those factors into account."

House Administration Chairwoman Candice Miller and ranking member Robert Brady had concerns about why the Capitol community wasn't alerted of the incident as it was happening. "It is vital during any emergency that information must be delivered quickly and accurately in order to ensure the safety of the public, staff and Members," the two said in a joint statement.

Capito posed this same question to Capitol Police Chief Kim Dine, and she said police realized quickly there "wasn't a severe threat with him on the grounds."

"By the time the alert would come out, it would come back off. It was that quick—that was my understanding," she said.


After several delays over the past two weeks, the House Judiciary Committee is finally poised to introduce as soon as Monday night its surveillance-reform bill that would effectively end the National Security Agency's bulk collection of U.S. call records. The bipartisan measure has stalled due in part to negotiations with the House Intelligence Committee, which has succeeded in tacking on some national security provisions unrelated to surveillance. The bill, which could be marked up by the Judiciary panel this week, comes as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is pushing a clean reauthorization of the Patriot Act provisions that the NSA uses to justify its phone-spying program.

The House Energy and Commerce Communications and Technology Subcommittee will hold a hearing Thursday afternoon to discuss three draft bills aimed at improving transparency at the Federal Communications Commission. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and Republican Commissioner Michael O'Rielly are scheduled to testify. Republicans are pressing the FCC to make more of its work public following frustration with how the agency handled its decision to implement strong net-neutrality rules earlier this year.


The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will take a look at the need for increased investment in energy infrastructure during a hearing Tuesday on the administration's recently released Quadrennial Energy Review. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz will testify at the hearing, where he will likely urge lawmakers to set aside billions of dollars for improvements to the electricity grid and natural-gas pipelines.

The House Science Committee continues to examine the Obama administration's proposal to tighten the federal pollution standard for ground-level ozone, or smog. Republicans and industry groups have said the proposal is the most expensive regulation from the administration, and a Wednesday hearing in the Environment Subcommittee will focus on its impact on rural areas.

The House Energy and Commerce Energy and Power Subcommittee on Thursday will propose upgrades to the nation's strategic petroleum reserve and improvements to federal energy efficiency as part of the committee's overall efforts to advance comprehensive energy legislation.


As budget talks continue, lawmakers are still weighing how to include in a conference report a mechanism to smooth passage of an Obamacare repeal. They also must decide whether to offset the cost of the doc-fix and Medicare-reform bill passed last week.

The Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee will have a hearing Wednesday on the King v. Burwell Supreme Court case and on action that Congress can take to protect small businesses and their employees. And on Thursday, the Energy and Commerce Committee will have a hearing on its 21st Century Cures initiative.

Clare Foran, Caitlin Owens, and Dustin Volz contributed to this article