DRIVING THE WEEK:
IN THE HOUSE: The House will convene at noon on today and will consider various bills under suspension of the rules, but the focus this week will be on passing FY 2019 appropriations bills to re-open those parts of the government that are shut down. Last week the House passed two spending bills - a continuing resolution through February 8 for the Department of Homeland Security and a package of six appropriations bills to provide funding through the end of the fiscal year on September 30. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell continues to hold firm and will not take up those measures until there is a deal with President Trump on spending for the border wall, so House Speaker Nancy Pelosi plans to begin taking separate votes on the remaining appropriations bills.
The voting will begin on Wednesday when the House will consider the Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill. The bill provides funding for the Treasury Department and the IRS, which would ensure, as Appropriations Chair Nita Lowey (D-NY) put it, “that hardworking Americans can receive their tax refunds on schedule.” In light of the upcoming vote, the Office of Management and Budget said late yesterday afternoon that the IRS will issue tax refunds even if the agency is still subject to a shut down. This is a change in policy, and some are questioning the legal justification for the announcement.
In addition to the Treasury/IRS funding bill, the House plans to vote this week on three other bills – Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies; Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies; and Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies.
As with the first set of House-passed bills, McConnell has no plans to take up these measures in the Senate, but Pelosi sees the votes as messaging points that benefit Democrats and put pressure on Republicans to vote for individual measures funding the National Parks and paying the salaries of TSA officers at airports, among other things. All of the measures are virtually identical to legislation that the Senate approved in December on a 92-6 vote. The only substantive change is that language has been added to ensure that furloughed federal workers receive back pay.
In other action, the House plans to vote Wednesday on the third and last title of the rules package for the 116th Congress. This part of the rules will allow the House to intervene in court cases, including those involving the Affordable Care Act.
IN THE SENATE: The Senate will convene today at 3 pm. At 5:30 pm there will be a vote to end debate on the motion to proceed to consideration of S. 1, which would impose new sanctions on the Syrian government and enhance security cooperation with Israel and Jordan. There is some speculation, however, that even non-controversial and bipartisan bills like the Syrian sanctions bill may not move during the government shutdown. Some Senators may object to cloture with the goal of keeping the focus on the shutdown and the bills the Democratic House has passed to reopen the government.
Trump’s Oval Office speech at 9 pm tonight is likely to focus on the ‘humanitarian and national security’ crisis at the southern border potentially shifting his rhetoric by pressuring Democrats to negotiate given the dangers to our safety and security - and also seeking to regain the upper hand in the debate in the coming days as signs of Republican defections are starting to take root on Capitol Hill. Trump will also visit the U.S.-Mexican border in Texas on Thursday.
President Trump is scheduled to give the State of the Union address on January 29.
TRADE PANEL LEADERSHIP: It looks like Democrats may have to choose between Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) over who will chair the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade. Blumenauer and Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI) both have seniority over Pascrell, but neither opted to serve as ranking member of the trade panel when Democrats were in the minority so the post went to Pascrell.
With Democrats now in the majority, Blumenauer had been advocating for the creation of a new Ways and Means subcommittee, which presumably he would chair, that would focus on funding to improve the nation’s infrastructure. Democratic leadership decided not to create the new panel, and Blumenauer is now said to be eyeing the chairmanship of the Trade Subcommittee. Kind will not challenge Blumenauer, but Pascrell said after the November elections that he would like to continue to lead Democrats on the panel.
A decision on subcommittee chairs can’t be made until the membership of the committee is finalized. First, the leadership has to announce how many Democrats and Republicans will serve on Ways and Means and all other House committees. Once the ratios are determined, the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee will recommend which Democrats will serve on the various panels. Usually, membership of the “A” committees – Appropriations, Energy and Commerce, Financial Services, and Ways and Means – is announced first. Those announcements could come this week or next.