blog: jamie-dupree

Congress nears a summer break with a lot left undone

Published: Sunday, July 21, 2019 @ 8:03 PM

As lawmakers in the House get ready to leave town at the end of this week for a six week summer break, there are all sorts of unfinished legislative issues bubbling around on Capitol Hill, but most of them seem unlikely to get any kind of final resolution before lawmakers go home for an extended recess.

"We're going to devote the whole month of August to our 'For The People agenda,'” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters last week, giving no hint she was ready to shorten the August Recess to deal with issues like the budget or debt limit.

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On the other side of the coin, some GOP lawmakers were asking for exactly that.

"Congress should not adjourn for August," said freshmen Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX), as GOP lawmakers have demanded action on legislation to end what Republicans argue are loopholes in U.S. immigration law, which they say make it more difficult to deal with the recent surge along the southern border.

Here is a look at what's next in the Congress:

1. A reminder of the legislative schedule. This is not like your work schedule, that's for sure. After this Friday, the House is gone until September 9. That's six work weeks away from Capitol Hill. The Senate will work this week and next week, and then take five weeks away from the Capitol. That means when lawmakers return on September 9, they will have 21 days to come to an agreement to avoid a government shutdown on October 1. As I always tell people about the Congress - you may not want them on the job in the first place - but if they're not having any legislative work days in Washington, D.C., they can't get any work done, period.

2. With no budget deal, government funding bills on hold. While the House has approved 9 of the 12 government spending bills for 2020, the Senate has yet to vote on even one of them, as there's no agreement yet between the White House and Congress how much Uncle Sam should spend in 2020. Talks have been underway involving Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and House Speaker Pelosi, but the magic formula on how much to increase spending next year has not been finalized. Yes - i said, 'on how much to increase spending next year.' There was a report this weekend that the President would seek budget cuts *after* the 2020 elections - but not before. If there's no agreement, it could mean as much as $126 billion in automatic budget cuts, with $71 billion coming from defense, and $55 billion from domestic spending. And yes, those would be 'real' cuts, not reductions in the level of planned increases.

3. In search of a deal on the debt ceiling as well. Along with the budget talks, the White House and Congress are negotiating a deal to raise the nation's debt limit, and avoid a situation where the U.S. defaults on its debts. With the White House now forecasting a deficit in 2019 of more than $1 billion, President Trump turned his fire on the previous administration about the deficit - even though those deficit numbers have increased since the Trump Administration took office. "President Obama, during his eight years, he created - he doubled the debt," Mr. Trump said to reporters in the Oval Office. But what the current President left out about his predecessor is that the yearly deficit has gone up every year since the Trump Administration took over - even with the economy expanding at a more rapid pace. If you look at the White House estimates, President Trump has a chance to end up adding more in deficits than President Obama.

4. House to vote on immigration, but not what Trump wants. On the schedule this week in the House is a bill titled, "Humanitarian Standards for Individuals in Customs and Border Protection Custody Act" - in other words, this is a bill to deal with questions about the care being given to thousands of illegal immigrants who have been taken into custody by the feds in recent months. The 18 page bill deals with medical screening of those detained by the feds, and sets official standards for care when it comes to water, sanitation, hygiene, food, nutrition, and shelter. Not on the floor this week in the House or Senate is a bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security, or any GOP immigration bills. One reminder - while the Republicans and the President have talked a lot about immigration, they don't have an overall immigration plan which would get a majority in either the House or Senate, much like the Republican situation with the Obama health law.

5. Mueller and the Russia investigation take center stage. No one is quite sure what the Wednesday hearings involving former Special Counsel Robert Mueller is going to produce on Wednesday, as he testifies before both the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees. Mueller has made clear he's not going beyond the report that he produced earlier this year - but look for both Democrats and Republicans to try to drag a positive quote for their side out of him during the testimony. Behind the scenes, more and more Democrats are telling reporters that they are for the start of an official impeachment inquiry against the President - but Democratic leaders certainly don't seem to be planning for that. Democrats could use August to do nothing but hold hearings about the President - but instead lawmakers will leave town this Friday for six weeks.

6. Democrats pass big bills - which go nowhere in the Senate. The 2019 change in power in the House has given the Capitol a situation in which the House is approving dozens of bills backed by Democrats, which are then disappearing down a GOP black hole in the Senate. The latest example is the approval last week by the House of an increase in the minimum wage to $15 per hour. While 'Schoolhouse Rock' taught many of us that a bill gets acted on in the House, and then goes through the process in the Senate, that's not really how it works - as the Democrats have approved major legislation on election reforms, the future of illegal immigrant "Dreamers," pay equity, minimum wage, climate change, stiffer rules for gun background checks, and more - but none of those bills are expected to get votes in the GOP-led Senate. Democrats can rightly say they have acted on much of their legislative agenda so far - but it's just Dead on Arrival on the other side of the Capitol.  But as you can see from the next two tweets, the two sides portray what's going on much differently.

7. Maybe we get the "Work! Work! Work! Work!" chant. If the House does leave town on Friday for a six week break, it won't surprise me to see Republicans showcase their frustrations by demanding that the August break be cancelled, in order to have lawmakers stay and work out deals on a host of issues like immigration. Over the years, we've seen this from both parties, where the minority will start the chant of "Work! Work! Work! Work!" on the House floor. We had a scene in 2008 where Republicans went to the floor of the House - even though the microphones and lights were off - and kept assembling on the floor through the recess, to demonstrate a call for action to address high gas prices. The Democrats did the 'work' chant in 2012.  Could it be repeated on immigration in 2019? Stay tuned.

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