After three minutes of railing for reauthorizing the government bank that subsidizes the financing of U.S. exports, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer tugged his ear and sheepishly asked the Republican leader who controls the chamber's schedule a simple, innocent question, in part because 20 of his colleagues had heard rumors and prodded him to ask it: Are we getting out of work early?
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who stood at the opposing microphone on the House floor Thursday, smiled and said, "No." Despite the wishes of some members, Congress would indeed stay in, as scheduled, for the last week of July.
A big reason why is that there is still much to do before the bliss of returning home for August recess. Most pressing is passing a major, multi-billion dollar transportation bill to keep funding highway and other construction projects by an end of the month deadline. House and Senate Republican leaders are at odds over how best to fund the Highway Trust Fund that reimburses states, and for how long.
Last week, the House overwhelmingly passed an $8 billion, five-month plan that would give Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan and others enough time to do something big: Tweak the corporate tax structure and pay for a six-year highway bill, an administration-approved idea. The Senate hopes to pass a roughly $80 billion, multiyear bill this week with different pay-fors, much of it a $30 billion restructuring of the federal employee retirement saving plan that will be sure to draw the ire of some Democrats.
The wrinkle in the Senate comes from Ted Cruz and other conservatives, who have threatened to filibuster a reauthorization of the aforementioned Export-Import bank, which hasn't been able to make or back any new loans since the end of June, when its charter expired at the hands of Republicans eager to kill it. Cruz can delay the transportation bill, or the Ex-Im amendment reauthorizing the charter, but will likely be unable to block it, as more than 60 senators supported the bank in a test vote last month. Hoyer said Thursday that the amendment could pass in the House too, with nearly 250 votes, over the objections of McCarthy, Ryan, and other GOP leaders.
The House, meanwhile, remains stuck in the middle of the appropriations cycle, unable to move any more spending measures because of GOP fears that Democrats will continue trying to attach language banning the display of Confederate flags at federal cemeteries.
In the interim, the House will spend this week considering a bill from Rep. David McKinley that would amend the Environmental Protection Agency's rule setting standards for the disposal of coal ash, the toxic byproduct from coal-fired power plants. McKinley has said that the EPA's rule is too strict and that his bill would remove certain EPA requirements while giving states more power. Democrats oppose the bill, saying it would loosen deadlines and enforcement.
The House also will take up a bill from Rep. Mike Pompeo that would prevent states from implementing their own requirements that genetically engineered ingredients be identified on food labels.
This week, Congress will continue to review the landmark nuclear agreement signed by the United States, Iran and five major world powers—China, Russia, Great Britain, France, and Germany. On Thursday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will host Secretary of State John Kerry, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew. The hearing will come just days after the United Nations Security Council votes to approve the agreement—which provides Iran with sanctions relief worth more than $100 billion in return for diminishing its nuclear program for at least 10 years—over the objections of Chairman Bob Corker and ranking Democrat Ben Cardin, who urged the Obama administration to delay the vote until after Congress completes its 60-day review process. In the unlikely event that two-thirds of both chambers decide to then vote and disapprove the agreement, congressional sanctions won't be lifted, leaving an opening for Iran to object and back out of the deal.
The Senate Commerce Committee holds a hearing Wednesday on the nomination of Marie Therese Dominguez to head the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the oft-criticized agency that has been without a permanent head since October.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is wrapping up negotiations on bipartisan energy legislation and preparing to introduce a draft in the coming days, though no date has been set. Once the draft text is introduced, the committee expects to begin the markup process shortly afterward with the goal of reporting the legislation out of committee before the August recess.
National parks will take the spotlight Thursday during a hearing held by the House Natural Resources Committee's subcommittee on federal lands. The panel has billed the meeting as a chance to discuss "new and innovative ideas for the next century of our national parks." The National Park Service has a deferred maintenance backlog of several billion dollars—a shortfall that has sparked debate over how best to shore up funding for the service.
The House Financial Services Committee's subcommittee on monetary policy and trade will hold a hearing on Federal Reserve proposals Wednesday, while its Task Force to Investigate Terrorism Financing will hold a session on the Iran nuclear agreement and its impact on terrorism financing. The Senate Banking Committee will hold hearings on oversight of the Financial Stability Oversight Council's designation process. Created under the Dodd-Frank reform bill, the council has the ability to designate nonbank bodies as systemically important financial institutions that require additional oversight. Companies that have been so designated include AIG and Prudential.
The Alzheimer's Association holds its 2015 International Conference through Thursday. Congressional participants include Sens. Dick Durbin and Susan Collins, and Reps. Tom Cole and Fred Upton.
On Wednesday, the House Ways and Means health subcommittee will hold a hearing on the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, and on Thursday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee will hold a hearing on health information technology, focusing on information blocking and potential solutions.
On Friday, the House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations subcommittee will hold a hearing to examine how state marketplaces under Obamacare are faring.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on broadband investment, the latest in a series of committee meetings probing the effects of the commission's net-neutrality rules. The hearing comes a week after President Obama announced a program that will make affordable Internet access available to hundreds of thousands of low-income families.
On Monday, President Obama will host newly elected Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari at the White House. "The visit will underscore the United States' longstanding friendship with Nigeria, our commitment to strengthening and expanding our partnership with Nigeria's new government, and our support for the Nigerian people following their historic democratic elections and peaceful transfer of power," press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Friday. That afternoon, Obama will speak at a reception for the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Obama will travel to Pittsburgh on Tuesday to address the 116th Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention, then will head to New York City to make his seventh and final appearance on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
On Wednesday, the president will meet with small business owners to discuss the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, which his administration is pushing for. Obama will attend meetings at the White House during the day Thursday, then embark on his six-day trip to Africa that evening. He'll be en route to Nairobi, Kenya most of Friday.
Clare Foran, Eric Garcia, Rebecca Nelson, Caitlin Owens, and Kaveh Waddell contributed to this article