This week: Defense, energy bills top agenda

The House will move ahead with its appropriations process this week despite the risk of another culture war erupting on the floor, while the Senate takes up a defense policy bill before leaving for the Memorial Day recess.

The $602 billion defense authorization before the Senate broadly outlines policy for the Pentagon and military branches, including limitations on President Obama’s push to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center and whether women should be required to register for the Selective Service. 

The “must pass” bill attracts hundreds of amendments each year, and lawmakers are expected to battle over a handful of controversial proposals. 

{mosads}Conservative senators are expected to try to remove a provision that would require women to register for the Selective Service, allowing them to be called up if the country returns to a draft. 

While the measure was defeated in the House, opponents could face an uphill battle in the Senate. 

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who chairs the Armed Services Committee, and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) both support the requirement. 

A push to remove the provision was already defeated in committee. A separate bill noting that only Congress can change the Military Selective Service Act, which outlines who is eligible for the draft, has stalled. 

While the bill largely holds the line on current restrictions on Guantanamo Bay detainee transfers, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said earlier this month that he would push for additional measures. 

“I intend to file amendments that… put more safeguards in place to mitigate the threat created by the release of high risk Gitmo detainees,” he said in a statement. 

McCain is also expected to open a spending fight with Democrats, who have said breaking the two-year budget deal is a non-starter for their caucus. 

The Arizona Republican said in a speech at the Brookings Institution on Thursday evening that he would push for at least an additional $17 billion. 

He also sent a “dear colleague” letter ahead of the Senate’s debate, stressing that he believes the current spending caps are undercutting the military. 

“For the sake of the men and women serving in our military, I believe the Senate must make a different choice,” he wrote in the letter. “I am committed to seeking solutions to give our service members the resources, training, and the equipment they need and deserve.” 

The House passed its version of the defense authorization last week.

D.C. budget autonomy

The House is expected to consider legislation that would repeal a referendum approved by District of Columbia voters three years ago that grants the city the ability to spend local tax dollars without approval from Congress. 

A D.C. judge upheld the referendum in a March ruling. But Rep. Mark Meadows’s (R-N.C.) legislation would ensure that the newfound budget autonomy wouldn’t be allowed to go forward.

Under the referendum, D.C.’s budget would still be sent to Congress for a 30-day review. If Congress does not try to change it during that timeframe, the city could proceed as if the budget were automatically approved. 

Supporters of the referendum, including D.C.’s non-voting representative in Congress, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), view it as a step toward statehood.

Meadows, who chairs the House Oversight subcommittee with jurisdiction over D.C., warned during a hearing this month that D.C. government employees could face penalties if the city spends money without congressional approval.

Norton’s office said Friday that she plans to file an amendment that would grant D.C. budget autonomy as an act of Congress. However, GOP leaders might decide against giving her amendment floor consideration. 

Energy, environmental regulations

The House is slated to consider a major compromise bill this week to overhaul chemical safety laws.

Bipartisan lawmakers unveiled the legislation on Friday after nearly a year and a half of negotiations. It would reform the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) after decades of complaints that it’s no longer effective. 

The measure on the House floor this week would grant the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) new authority to test and regulate thousands of chemicals considered potentially harmful. The EPA has only banned six chemicals under the TSCA law.

In addition, the House will take up a bill that failed to pass last week under a fast-track procedure that would prohibit the EPA from requiring permits to spray federally approved pesticides into new bodies of water.

The measure was rebranded as a means to help combat the spread of the Zika virus. But opposition from Democrats prevented it from clearing the two-thirds majority threshold to pass it. This time, Republicans are returning it to the floor under a procedure requiring only a simple majority.

The House is also expected to take the procedural steps necessary this week to go to a conference committee with the Senate on an energy reform bill. If negotiators strike a deal this year, it will be the first energy policy overhaul in nearly a decade.


A bulk of the House’s time in session this week will be spent on consideration of the 2017 spending bill for the Department of Energy and water infrastructure projects.

The $37.4 billion measure is expected to be considered under a freewheeling process that allows lawmakers to offer unlimited numbers of amendments, which could open up the possibility of politically risky votes.

The House considered its first spending bill of the year, for the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, last week using the same procedure. That resulted in Democrats offering two particularly controversial amendments regarding the display of the Confederate flag and prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

The energy spending bill is usually one of the easiest of the 12 annual appropriations to pass. However, a floor fight could erupt again if Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) reprises his amendment from last week to prevent LGBT discrimination. 

GOP leaders held last week’s vote open for seven minutes as they scrambled to convince enough Republicans to change their votes so that Maloney’s measure wouldn’t pass.

– Devin Henry and Timothy Cama contributed.

Tags Jim Inhofe John McCain Mitch McConnell

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