The most important legislative horse-trading this week will be happening in committee rooms, not on the House or Senate floor.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee will begin debating a major education overhaul this week that might actually thread the needle on rewriting the controversial No Child Left Behind law. And the Foreign Relations Committee will vote on crucial Iran legislation, as lawmakers seek to carve out a role for Congress in ongoing nuclear talks without appearing—as the White House will argue—as if they only want to score political points.
Both committee votes represent some of the biggest substantive debates the Senate could take up all year. Both measures will need bipartisan support to get done, even as passions have run high on both the right and left.
The Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday afternoon will take up Chairman Bob Corker's measure to require congressional review of the administration's Iran nuclear agreement. Knowing that the measure will need bipartisan support if it is going to be taken seriously—and if it is going to eventually gain the 67 votes necessary to overcome a presidential veto—Corker has sought to strike a decidedly different tone than a recent Republican-only letter addressed to Iran's leaders that blatantly attempted to undermine an Iran nuclear agreement.
Despite White House resistance, the bill has the support of two panel Democrats—Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia and outgoing ranking member Robert Menendez of New Jersey. New ranking member Ben Cardin of Maryland and senior panel member Barbara Boxer of California have pushed for additional changes, which could be debated in the form of amendments.
The education bill, meanwhile, will be taken up Tuesday by the HELP Committee. Presidential hopeful Rand Paul is on the panel, and he may want to use the high-profile markup to make a political statement about the intrusion of government. He has called for the total elimination of the Education Department and is a big supporter of school vouchers. Those positions that are far to the right of a compromise measure cooked up by the committee's top Republican and Democrat—Sens. Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray. How the committee responds to protests like that will be an early test of whether the carefully negotiated education package can hold.
The deal that Alexander and Murray have struck on education could be one of the only bills on the Republican agenda this year that President Obama would sign. (Fast track trade authority is the other measure in that category, but Senate talks in that area are stalling.) The education bill has features that both sides dislike, but it would accomplish something everyone wants—the hugely important feat of bringing the U.S. education code in sync with the times. Right now, states are subsisting on Education Department-granted waivers and other administrative work-arounds to the outdated law. Lawmakers from both parties have an incentive to pass a new education law now, if only to guard against what would happen administratively when the next president enters the White House.
The Senate floor schedule, meanwhile, is dominated with unfinished business. Republican leaders will try yet again to get past a 60-vote threshold on a noncontroversial human trafficking bill that has been gummed up by abortion-related language. It is unlikely Republicans will be able to convince Democrats to give in unless the GOP leaders agree to amend the bill. Waiting in the wings is President Obama's Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch, who could finally get a confirmation vote this week. That vote would mark the end of a long wait that has become increasingly irksome to Democrats.
Early in the week, the Senate also will vote on the House-passed "doc fix" bill that would permanently replace the formula for reimbursing doctors who treat Medicare patients. The landmark deal between House Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi—which takes care of a long-simmering flaw in the Medicare reimbursement system—is expected to pass the Senate, even though deficit hawks are trying to figure out if they can still change the package to save money. Several Senate Democrats also aren't happy that the legislation only extends a children's health program for two years. They might make a last run at a four-year reauthorization.
The House is slated to take up a series of tax-related bills in recognition of the April 15 tax filing deadline day—among them, a bill to repeal the estate tax and several aimed at "restoring trust" in the Internal Revenue Service.
House and Senate leaders are still negotiating the final House/Senate budget framework, which will set the stage for a series of appropriations bills later this month.
Republican supporters of the Senate's Iran legislation believe they are close to the 67 votes they'll need to override a presidential veto, which is likely if it passes in its current form. But some of their Democratic allies have gotten cold feet in the past few weeks as the White House and outside Democratic groups have ramped up the pressure to oppose it. Sens. Christopher Coons and Mark Warner, who had been counted among the likely yes votes, now are indicating that they are undecided on the legislation. Coons, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, will be a key vote to watch during the committee vote on Tuesday.
It's unclear when the Iran bill will hit the Senate floor, but this week appears unlikely. Once it does, it appears poised to pass. Eight Democrats, including Kaine and Menendez, plus Independent Sen. Angus King have signed on as co-sponsors, giving Republicans more than the 60 votes they'll need to avoid a filibuster.
The Federal Register is set to publish net neutrality regulations Monday. The Federal Communications Commission approved the controversial Internet rules in February, but the formal publication will sound the starting gun for an anticipated flurry of lawsuits from the broadband industry. Rep. Doug Collins, a Georgia Republican, is expected to introduce a resolution to block the new regulations once they're published.
The House is preparing to consider a cybersecurity measure that passed the chamber's intelligence panel unanimously last month. In a memo to membership sent last Thursday, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy listed April 21 to April 23 for consideration of information-sharing legislation. The House Homeland Security Committee is expected to introduce and possibly mark up a companion information-sharing bill this week that is intended to be considered in tandem with the legislation that passed the Intelligence Committee.
McCarthy's note also said the House might take up the reauthorization of core provisions of the Patriot Act this month. Those provisions are due to expire June 1 and include the controversial Section 215, which the National Security Agency uses to collect U.S. call data in bulk. The USA Freedom Act, which would end the NSA's bulk phone collection, may be introduced this week, possibly in both chambers.
Two weeks after the White House made an official pledge to cut the country's carbon emissions, Congressional Republicans will wrap that pledge into their larger campaign to block the president's climate regulations. The House Science Committee will hold a hearing asking if the pledge to cut emissions by up to 28 percent by 2030, part of United Nations climate change negotiations, is "scientifically justified or a new tax on Americans." The hearing will be held on Wednesday, April 15 (get it?).
Also Wednesday, House Republicans plan to put Obama's offshore energy plan under a microscope. Drilling for oil and gas in Atlantic waters off the East Coast is likely to emerge as a hot-button topic of debate during a hearing held by the House Natural Resources Committee's Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee.
On Thursday, Senate Republicans are expected to criticize the administration's plan to regulate fracking on public lands. The rule will be subject to scrutiny during a hearing in the Senate energy and natural resources committee public lands, forest and mining subcommittee. The regulatory push has sparked fierce criticism from Republicans who call it the latest example of federal overreach and warn that the rule will stifle energy production.
On Wednesday, the House Financial Services Committee will hold two hearings. One will attract a lot of interest from the financial and business world because it involves the future of the U.S. Export-Import Bank. It will be a joint hearing with the Financial Services Committee's Monetary Policy and Trade Subcommittee and Oversight and Government Reform Committee's Health Care, Benefits and Administrative Rules Subcommittee on efforts to reform the bank. The other hearing will examine burdens to non-depository financial institutions.
Two committees will be looking at home ownership this week. On Thursday, the Financial Services Committee will hold a hearing on the private sector's role in affordable housing. The Senate Banking Committee will hold a hearing on regulatory burdens to obtaining mortgage credit.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Vice President Joe Biden are also slated to speak this week at the Good Jobs Green Jobs conference Monday.
The doc-fix conversations will dominate the health care world this week, but there are other conversations taking place as well. On Tuesday, the Brookings Institution holds a discussion on "Assessing the Affordable Care Act's efficacy, implementation and policy implications five years later."
Two visiting prime ministers are the headliners on President Obama's schedule this week. Iraq's Haider al-Abadi is the first visitor, arriving on Tuesday to talk about everything from the battle against ISIS to the next steps to deepen the U.S.-Iraqi partnership. Then, on Friday, Obama will welcome Italy's Matteo Renzi to the White House. ISIS, Ukraine and trade top the agenda for that session. In between the two meetings, the president hopes to have a little fun Tuesday night when gospel music will be saluted at the latest installment of the "In Performance at the White House" series. Additionally, on Monday, the president will talk with five regional TV anchors at the White House. On Wednesday, he will travel to North Carolina for a speech on the economy. And on Thursday, he will talk about working families and honor the cyclists who participated in the eighth annual Wounded Warrior Project's Soldier Ride to the White House.
CORRECTION: The original version of this article misstated the number of Democrats who are co-sponsors of Sen. Bob Corker's Iran bill.
Caitlin Owens, Clare Foran, Jason Plautz, Dustin Volz, George E. Condon Jr., and Eric Garcia contributed to this article
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