This week: Congress on track to miss Puerto Rico deadline

Congress appears likely to leave town at the end of this week for a recess without taking action to help Puerto Rico with its debt crisis. 

The island territory faces a looming default on May 1. At the rate negotiations are going in the House, Puerto Rico will almost surely have to deal with the missed debt payment without help from Congress.

Despite the imminent default deadline, legislation in the House to create an outside control board to oversee Puerto Rico’s finances remains stalled. The House Natural Resources Committee abruptly called off a markup two weeks ago due to a shaky vote count, and hasn’t rescheduled a new meeting since.

{mosads}Lawmakers have repeatedly missed self-imposed dates for moving legislation to aid Puerto Rico. The House originally set a deadline for the end of March to move legislation, but that didn’t shake out a solution. And now the May 1 deadline is likely to come and go without any bill on President Obama’s desk, let alone a starter vote in the House. 

The Senate outlook is not rosy at the moment, either. Top Senate Republicans and Democrats voiced strong skepticism of the House bill earlier this month. 

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) said in a joint statement with Democratic Sens. Maria Cantwell (Wash.), Charles Schumer (N.Y.), Dick Durbin (Ill.), Bob Menendez (N.J.), Patrick Leahy (Vt.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), and Bill Nelson (Fla.) that the House bill “falls short.” 

The Democrats hinted that the House bill wouldn’t be able to pass the Senate, where Republicans will need six Democrats to overcome any procedural hurdles. 

“We have concerns about whether the debt restructuring process provided for in the bill is workable, and we believe that — despite improvements — the oversight board has excessive powers and an unacceptable appointment structure,” they said. 

Meanwhile, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) told reporters this week that the House bill isn’t “satisfactory.” 

“We’re not going to be able to pass it over here,” the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee said, according to Reuters

While senators from both parties have introduced legislation to try to tackle the growing debt crisis, lawmakers remain divided over giving Puerto Rico access to bankruptcy courts.

Hatch has repeatedly shut down speculation that the Senate’s final bill will allow the territory to declare bankruptcy, even though it is considered key to getting Democratic support for any proposal. 

Both the House and Senate plan to adjourn by Friday for a weeklong recess and won’t be back in session until the week of May 9.

By that point, it’s possible that seeing Puerto Rico default could help spur momentum for the legislation.

Energy appropriations

Senate leadership is hoping to wrap up work on its first appropriations bill of the year before lawmakers leave for the week-long break. 

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said late last week that he hopes senators will be able to get a deal to skip over procedural hurdles and finish the energy and water appropriations bill early this week. 

So far the energy bill has been able to avoid partisan landmines. Democrats blocked a controversial rider from Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) that would have prevented funding the Obama administration’s Clean Water Rule. 

Senators are scheduled to vote on more amendments on Monday and Tuesday, including increasing spending for wind energy and water projects in Nevada. 

Despite the bipartisan support for the bill in the Senate it’s garnered a veto threat from the White House. 

“The bill underfunds critical energy research and development activities and fails to put us on an achievable path toward doubling clean energy research and development by FY 2021,” the Office of Management and Budget said in a statement this week. 

The Senate’s fiscal 2017 bill increases funding by $355 million over 2016 levels. That includes a $1.163 billion increase for the Department of Energy’s defense-related programs but an $808 million decrease for the nondefense portions of the bill. 

If it passes the Senate this week it will still need to be combined with spending legislation from the House, which isn’t able to bring up appropriations bills until May 15 unless it’s able to manage to pass a budget first. 

Fiduciary rule, email privacy

The House is expected to consider a resolution this week to prevent the Labor Department from implementing the so-called fiduciary rule that requires retirement advisers to act in their clients’ best interests.

Republicans argue that the regulation would make retirement investment advice more expensive, while Democrats say it’s essential to protect consumers and prevent conflicts of interest.

The Obama administration finalized the regulation earlier this month despite intense contestations from the financial industry. However, Republicans are unlikely to secure enough support from Democrats to override an expected veto from President Obama.

The House previously passed legislation last fall and in 2013 to delay the rule, but the Obama administration repeatedly dismissed it. 

Also on tap in the House is a measure to require the government to obtain a warrant before forcing technology companies to release consumers’ electronic communications. It eliminates what critics described as a loophole in the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act that allows the government to use a subpoena instead of a warrant to get the emails if they are more than 180 days old.

The legislation, known as the Email Privacy Act, has more than 300 cosponsors and is expected to pass easily.

– Mario Trujillo contributed.

Tags Bill Nelson Bob Menendez Chuck Schumer Dick Durbin Elizabeth Warren Harry Reid John Hoeven Kirsten Gillibrand Lamar Alexander Maria Cantwell Orrin Hatch Patrick Leahy Richard Blumenthal Ron Wyden

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