A closer look at next week… Budget conference, farm bill, ObamaCare

Next week marks the first chance Republicans and Democrats have to work together in the new, collaborative, post-shutdown era on 2014 spending levels and agriculture policy.

The "era" might only last a few weeks. But it's over, House and Senate leaders from both parties will be locked up together in several different rooms, looking to resolve the endless fighting over how much government should spend.

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On Wednesday morning, House and Senate negotiators will meet for the first time on the 2014 budget. The meeting itself is a victory of sorts, although it's already clear that there are no easy ways to reach a deal that makes everyone happy.

Republicans want to ease up on the sequester cuts, and want to offset any increases with cuts to mandatory spending programs. But Democrats are indicating that the only way to cut entitlements is to talk about tax increases, which is a tough pill for the GOP to swallow.

More obstacles will present themselves when negotiators meet Wednesday afternoon on the farm bill. The Senate bill makes $4 billion in cuts to food stamps over ten years, while the House bill makes nearly $40 billion in cuts.

Splitting the difference by cutting food stamps by $22 billion seems unlikely to win the support of either side at this point.

The chances of cooperation will increase on the House floor. Republicans are expected to call up two bills that would tweak the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, each of which have some measure of bipartisan support.

One of these bills would expand the ability of banks to use swaps trades to hedge risk, and the other would limit the ability of the Labor Department to impose new standards for financial advisers.

The House will also take up legislation that would create a task force to look into delays in processing veterans' claims at the Department of Veterans Affairs. The backlog of about 400,000 claims that haven't seen any action for four months or more has outraged members of both parties, and the House should be able to easily pass this bill.

But more fighting awaits in committee hearings next week. The Energy & Commerce and Ways & Means Committees will each hold hearings on the rollout of ObamaCare, which will give the GOP a chance to take shots at top Obama officials for the bungled release of HealthCare.gov.

Some Republicans have called on Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to be fired over the issue.

In the Senate, a subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee will meet to discuss state-level stand your ground laws on Tuesday. Trayvon Martin's mother, Sybrina Fulton, is expected to testify.

Finally, the Senate will welcome its newest member, Cory Booker (D), who won a special election to fill the seat of Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), who died in June. Booker, now the mayor of Newark, will be sworn in Thursday.

Below is a more detailed look at the week ahead:

Monday

The House starts at noon for speeches, and then returns in the afternoon to consider…

H.R. 3304, authorizing and asking the President to award the Medal of Honor to certain veterans,

H.R. 1742, the Vulnerable Veterans Housing Reform Act,

H.R. 2189, establishing a commission or task force to examine the backlog of disability claims at the Department of Veterans Affairs,

H.R. 2481, the Veterans Economic Opportunity Act,

H.R. 1405, requiring the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to include an appeal form in any notice of decision denying a benefit claim, and

H.R. 2011, the Veterans Advisory Committee on Education Improvement Act.

The Senate starts at 2 p.m., and at 4:30 p.m., it will debate the nomination of Richard Griffin to be general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board.

Griffin was recess-appointed to serve as a board member of the NLRB in 2012, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Washington DC Circuit ruled that appointment was unconstitutional. On Monday, the Senate will debate his nomination as general counsel, then vote at 5:30 p.m. on a motion to end debate on the nomination.

The Senate is in for the rest of the week, but with no firm schedule and no plans to take up legislation as of Friday afternoon.

Tuesday

The House meets in the afternoon to consider one of the Dodd-Frank bills, dealing with delaying Labor Department rules on financial advisers:

H.R. 2374, the Retail Investor Protection Act.

Members will also consider a resolution disapproving of President Obama's decision to suspend the debt ceiling. The resolution may well pass, but just like last year, Senate Democrats won't take it up, which means there is no way for the GOP to block Obama's decision.

And, members will consider four suspension bills:

H.R. 2640, the Central Oregon Jobs and Water Security Act,

H.R. 623, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium Land Transfer Act,

H.R. 330, the Distinguished Flying Cross National Memorial Act, and

H.R. 2337, the Lake Hill Administrative Site Affordable Housing Act.

Wednesday

The House meets again in the afternoon to finish up work on any bills that have yet to get a vote, and also to consider:

H.R. 992, the Swaps Regulatory Improvement Act.

Thursday

The Senate is in and will swear in Cory Booker (D-N.J.) as its newest member.

The House is out.

Friday

Both the House and Senate are out.