House's January agenda: 2013 leftovers

The House plans to spend a chunk of January tending to unfinished business from 2013, completing a $1 trillion omnibus spending bill and approving final legislation governing farm programs and water projects.

Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) outlined the lower chamber's agenda for the first few weeks of the year in a memo to lawmakers on Friday that was heavy on the familiar GOP themes of targeting ObamaCare, spending reform and curbing environmental regulations.

The schedule for January is likely to be light on major new proposals as House Republicans prepare for their annual policy retreat at the end of the month at a resort in Cambridge, Md., where they hope to formulate an agenda for the remainder of the 2014 election year.

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“We must, as always, remain focused on our conservative policies that can help grow the economy, lessen the burden of government, and provide opportunity for America's hard working taxpayers,” Cantor wrote in the memo. “Our conservative policies have proven to provide the solutions to the challenges families are facing including increasing economic security and creating more opportunity for advancement.”

Next week, the House GOP will start 2014 by renewing its attack on the new healthcare law; Cantor announced Thursday that he would schedule a vote on legislation to address security concerns with the HealthCare.gov insurance exchange website.

Congress will also have to move relatively quickly on appropriations legislation and the farm bill. House and Senate appropriators are drafting a $1 trillion spending bill for the remainder of the fiscal year that reflects the budget agreement approved in December. That bill — or a short stopgap extension — must pass both chambers by Jan. 15 to keep the government open.

Negotiators are finishing up a five-year farm bill left over from 2013. The most recent extension of current policy expires at the end of the month. Congress also hopes to complete the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, which is in the final stages of bicameral talks.

More contentious issues like immigration reform and the debt limit are likely to have to wait until after the GOP retreat and President Obama’s State of the Union address, which is set for Jan. 28.

“Looking forward, several outstanding issues may be brought to the floor over the next few months, including: the Intelligence authorization, flood insurance, as well as legislation related to trade and immigration,” Cantor wrote. “We can also expect action on the statutory debt ceiling some time during the first part of the year.”

The Treasury Department has said the next debt-limit increase would be needed by March, and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said late last month it would be a topic of discussion at the Republican retreat.

The House will take up regulatory reform measures in a package of bills called the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act, which, according to Cantor, “reforms the EPA's regulatory process to ensure that the federal government reduces the red tape inhibiting job creation and keeps our environment healthy.”

On foreign policy, Cantor said he hoped the House would weigh in on negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program after approving stronger sanctions in 2013.

“It is my hope that the House, in a bipartisan manner, can express our concerns about Iran's aggression and state our position on what a comprehensive settlement of the nuclear issue should look like,” Cantor said.

Cantor’s memo made no mention of a one-time GOP priority, tax reform, nor did it include an update on a top Democratic priority, extending unemployment insurance benefits.