Welcome to the week in Congress that almost wasn't.
With the omnibus spending bill and a major tax deal still up in the air, the House and Senate return to Washington this week, delaying a planned holiday vacation until at least Wednesday, when the current continuing resolution expires.
While leadership sorts out a final deal on an end-of-year spending bill, members will be watching a series of policy riders that could make or break the agreement. Here’s what they’ll be keeping an eye on and how members will fill their final week in Washington this year:
All eyes will be on the final omnibus package to see if Republicans were able to craft a deal to get a long-awaited repeal of the nation’s ban on crude-oil exports into the omnibus funding bill.
Meanwhile, a House Natural Resources subcommittee will literally dig deep into the issue of mining education with a field hearing in an underground classroom in Idaho Springs, Colorado. Members of the Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee will consider the bipartisan Mining Schools Enhancement Act, which looks to boost mining education in the face of a potential worker shortfall in the industry.
It’s crunch time for lawmakers hoping to include at least two Obamacare tax delays in an omnibus or tax-extenders package. Negotiations are still in flux. Yet, there are talks to include a delay of the Cadillac tax and medical-device tax, and these delays could be added to a two-year extender package.
Last week, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady said lawmakers were “strongly considering” adding the tax delays on to the two-year package. Delaying the Cadillac tax, which would be levied on expensive employer-sponsored plans starting in 2018, has wide support in both chambers. A full repeal of the tax on the reconciliation bill soared through the Senate in a 90-to-10 vote earlier this month (and because President Obama is certain to veto the bill repealing major provisions of his signature health law, members are trying to get a delay through during the end-of-the-year blitz).
Additionally, the legislation to renew health care benefits for 9/11 first-responders is caught in the omnibus and tax-extenders debate. Advocates and some lawmakers are pushing hard for the act to be in either one, and House Speaker Paul Ryan has “committed to reauthorize the program, and he will keep his word,” his spokeswoman, AshLee Strong, said in an emailed statement Thursday. “We expect it will be included in one of the year-end legislative items.”
At a Thursday press conference, Sen. Chuck Schumer said where the Zadroga Act fits depends on how the negotiations go. Republicans are looking for pay-fors if the legislation is to be included in the omnibus, the Senate’s No. 3 Democrat said, but if pay-fors can’t be found, then members will push for it to be in the tax-extenders bill.
“Everybody’s for it. It’s going to be included,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in an interview with Politico.
Congressional negotiators are nearing a deal on legislation that aims to bolster the nation’s defenses against hackers. The Senate passed its own cybersecurity bill in October, and the House passed two related bills earlier in the year; the chambers are now trying to agree to one comprehensive piece of legislation. The legislation would encourage companies and the government to share information about cyberattacks, but privacy advocates warn it could funnel sensitive personal information into the hands of the National Security Agency. A House aide said lawmakers have agreed on the main issues and expect a vote before the end of the year.
The Federal Communications Commission will hold its monthly meeting on Thursday, when it will consider a proposal to streamline regulations for satellites and another to scrap certain regulations on local phone companies.
This is getaway week for President Obama. Or at least it will be if Congress and world events cooperate so that on Friday he can head with his family to Hawaii for the holidays. He has a light public schedule before that, with a trip to the Pentagon for a counterterrorism briefing set for Monday. Tuesday, he will attend a naturalization ceremony at the National Archives. On Thursday, there will be another terrorism briefing away from the White House when he goes to the National Counterterrorism Center in McLean. The NCTC is the center for joint operational planning and joint intelligence.