This week: Spending bills, VA reform, leadership races

Both the House and Senate will consider fiscal 2015 appropriations bills this week to fund the federal government past Sept. 30.

The House is expected to debate its Defense appropriations bill, which would provide $491 billion in spending for the Pentagon.

ADVERTISEMENT
A provision in the bill would prevent the Defense Department from using any funds to transfer prisoners from the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Debate over the language will come in light of the controversial exchange of five Taliban prisoners for U.S. Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the last prisoner of war in Afghanistan. 

The House has already passed four other fiscal 2015 appropriations bills: Military Construction-Veterans Affairs, Legislative Branch, Commerce-Justice-Science and Transportation-Housing and Urban Development.

Across the Capitol, the Senate will take up appropriations for the first time this year. The chamber will consider a measure that includes funding from three bills for Commerce-Justice-Science, Agriculture and Transportation-Housing and Urban Development. 

The $120 billion package includes some of the least contentious annual appropriations bills. It does not include funding to implement the healthcare law, for instance. Moreover, the committee markup for the Senate 2015 Labor-Health and Human Services appropriations bill was postponed last week with no new date in sight.

Both chambers will have to reconcile their spending bills by the end of September to avoid a government shutdown a month before the midterm elections. Another option would be to pass a short-term bill that would fund the government past the midterms.

VA reform

The House will vote this week on a motion to reconcile separate bills passed by each chamber to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs after several facilities tried to cover up veterans' wait times for medical care. Approval of the measure would allow House and Senate negotiators to iron out differences between the bills into one piece of legislation that each chamber would subsequently pass.

Last week, the House passed legislation that would allow veterans to receive medical care from outside doctors if wait times are excessive or they live more than 40 miles from the nearest VA facility. 

A day later, the Senate passed a measure that would permit veterans to seek care from doctors outside the VA under similar circumstances as the House bill. The legislation, crafted by Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), would further give the VA secretary expanded powers to fire senior executives for poor performance and provide $500 million to hire more doctors and nurses. 

Leadership elections

The climax of the week will be the House GOP leadership elections on Thursday.

House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) will face off against Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) for the majority leader post. 

If McCarthy wins, the competition to replace him as majority whip will be between three GOP contenders: Republican Study Committee Chairman Steve Scalise (La.), Chief Deputy Whip Peter Roskam (Ill.) and Rep. Marlin Stutzman (Ind.). 

The election will take place at 2 p.m. in 1100 Longworth House Office Building. Members will also attend a candidate forum at 8 a.m. Wednesday in the Capitol basement.



Monday

The House will not be in session.

The Senate will convene at 2 p.m. At 5:30 p.m., senators will vote to invoke cloture on the following district court judge nominations:

- Salvador Mendoza, Jr. to be a U.S. district judge for the Eastern District of Washington

- Staci Michelle Yandle to be a U.S. district judge for the Southern District of Illinois

- Darrin P. Gayles to be a U.S. district judge for the Southern District of Florida


Tuesday

The House will vote on a series of bills under suspension of the rules:

- 14 bills to name post offices, Department of Veterans Affairs facilities and a U.S. Forest Service facility.

- H.R. 3998, to authorize the General Services Administrator to convey land in Albuquerque, N.M., to the Amy Biehl High School Foundation.

- H.R. 3786, to authorize the General Services Administrator to convey federal property in Alaska to the municipality of Anchorage, Alaska.

- S. Con. Res. 37, to authorize the use of the Capitol Rotunda for a ceremony to award the Congressional Gold Medal to Israeli President Shimon Peres.

After finishing work on nominations, the Senate will turn to the consolidated 2015 appropriations bill, or "minibus" in Capitol Hill parlance.


Wednesday

The House will begin consideration of the 2015 Defense appropriations bill. It may also vote on a motion to go to conference with the Senate to reconcile each chamber's Department of Veterans Affairs reform measures.

The Senate will continue debating 2015 appropriations.

Thursday

The House will likely complete consideration of the 2015 Defense appropriations bill, while the Senate will do the same for its appropriations measure.

Off the floor, House Republicans will vote for a new majority leader by secret ballot at 2 p.m. in 1100 Longworth. If McCarthy wins, members will then cast votes for a new majority whip.

Friday

The House will vote on a bill, H.R. 4413, to reauthorize the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Last votes are expected no later than 3 p.m.

The Senate is not expected to be in session.