This week: Congress eyes the exits in dash to recess

Congress is poised to leave Washington for almost two months at the end of this week without passing funding to combat the Zika virus or completing work on spending bills to avoid a government shutdown.

Both the House and Senate are slated to adjourn by Friday for the parties' presidential nominating conventions later this month, and won't return into session until after Labor Day.

That means big-ticket items like finding a compromise on Zika funding might have to wait until the fall. Even then, lawmakers will likely have another time crunch when they come back in September since many will be eager to leave Washington as soon as possible to return to the campaign trail.


Public health experts have warned that the mosquitoes carrying Zika will populate over the summer and exacerbate the spread of the virus, which can cause birth defects.

Both sides blame the other for the stalemate over Zika. Democrats oppose language in the $1.1 billion package that blocks funds for Planned Parenthood and weakens Clean Water Act regulations, while Republicans say that lawmakers should pass the measure as-is before it's too late. The House passed the bill late last month but its been stalled by Senate Democrats.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a senior appropriator, said Friday he doubted the GOP's latest version of the Zika funding bill would clear the Senate this week. "I think it'll have to come back to the House," he said, likely after recess. 

Cole dismissed the administration's claims that the response would be hampered if Congress doesn't pass funding before leaving for the summer break. 

"They'll still have the funding, to do whatever they want to do, but we should get this nailed down," he said.

With only a handful of days left, Democrats are threatening to block the Zika money—and the larger spending bill it's attached to—but also any appropriations bill. 

Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidGOP senators confident Trump pick to be confirmed by November Durbin: Democrats can 'slow' Supreme Court confirmation 'perhaps a matter of hours, maybe days at most' Supreme Court fight pushes Senate toward brink MORE (D-Nev.) and Democratic Sens. Chuck SchumerChuck SchumerDemocrats rip Trump for not condemning white supremacists, Proud Boys at debate Warren won't meet with Barrett, calling Trump's nomination an 'illegitimate power grab' Schumer won't meet with Trump's Supreme Court pick MORE (N.Y.) Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinSupreme Court nominee gives no clues in GOP meeting Warren won't meet with Barrett, calling Trump's nomination an 'illegitimate power grab' Conservative group unveils ad accusing liberals of attacking Barrett's faith MORE (Ill.) and Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayPoll finds support for independent arbiters resolving 'surprise' medical bills Senate Democrats introduce legislation to probe politicization of pandemic response Trump health officials grilled over reports of politics in COVID-19 response MORE (D-Wash.) sent a letter to McConnell and Sen. Thad CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranEspy wins Mississippi Senate Democratic primary Bottom Line Mike Espy announces Mississippi Senate bid MORE (R-Miss.), the Appropriations Committee chairman, last week accusing them of trying to break a two-year budget agreement. 

"Without strong, public assurance that you are committed to honoring the core tenets of the bipartisan compromise – including fair funding, parity, and a rejection of poison pill riders – through the completion of the full appropriations process, we will no longer be able to support proceeding to new appropriations bills," they wrote in the letter. 

The senators point to the Zika money, arguing the GOP-supported deal "raises serious questions about how you would conduct a conference between House and Senate bills, and your willingness to reject poison pill riders." 

To drive home their point Democrats blocked the Defense Department appropriations bill late Thursday night. It's the third appropriations bill to be derailed in recent weeks in the Senate. 

McConnell voted against the legislation, which could allow him to bring it up for a second vote before the Senate leaves at the end of the week for the summer recess. 

During a tense exchange between the two Senate leaders late last week, McConnell slammed Democrats as the "dysfunction party." 

"What the Democratic leader is saying is the Republican Senate needs to guarantee what the... House will do as a condition for passing a bill through the Senate," McConnell said. "That's not the way it works." 

Congress is all but certain at this point to turn to yet another stopgap measure to avoid a government shutdown when it returns in September. 

The House is expected to take up a 2017 spending bill for the Interior Department before leaving for recess, but it'll only be the fifth appropriations measure to pass the chamber this year.


The Senate will take a final vote on legislation to combat opioid addiction as Democrats have stopped short of saying they will block it. 

The House overwhelmingly passed the bill in a 407-5 vote, giving the legislation a kick of momentum before it's taken up by the Senate this week.

McConnell used the vote to put pressure on Democrats to support the legislation, saying he hopes the legislation can get to Obama's desk "as soon as possible."

"I hope Senate Democrats join us in this bipartisan effort, just as they did a few months ago. This issue is too important to be caught up now in partisan politics," he said in a statement Friday. 

Democrats had complained that the House-Senate agreement doesn't appropriate new funding to combat presubscription drug and opioid addiction, but stopped short of saying they would stop it from getting the 60 votes it will need to clear the upper chamber. 

"It's a real, real problem. We can't do it on the cheap, and that's what they're trying to do," Reid told reporters, asked where Democrats are on the agreement. "So I'll talk to the senators who have been so heavily involved in this... and we'll make a decision when we have to." 

The White House also stopped short of threatening to veto the legislation, but White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters "if there is a bill that reaches the president’s desk that... doesn't include additional funding, I certainly cannot promise that the president would sign it."

McConnell, however, effectively ruled out attaching additional funding to the compromise once it reaches the Senate.

Noting that Democrats backed the Senate's opioid bill, he warned the "[Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act] bill is a conference report. It's not amendable." 

FAA Authorization

Only one hard-set deadline faces lawmakers at the end of this week: the authorization for Federal Aviation Administration programs expires on Friday. Congress is expected to pass an extension in the coming days lasting through September 2017.

The measure is expected to sail through the House as soon as Monday. But it's facing early signs of trouble in the Senate, where Reid slammed Republicans saying they broke a promise to include renewable energy tax credits in a new aviation bill.

“Instead of working with Democrats to fix these errors by adding a provision to the FAA reauthorization bill, Republicans demanded Democrats accept a pair of anti-environment provisions,” he said in a statement. 

The fight over the credits comes after a tax package last year renewed credits for wind and solar energy while other energy sources—namely geothermal and fuel cells—were left out. 


The House is expected to take up legislation to prohibit the federal government from penalizing healthcare providers that don't offer abortion services.

The measure comes in response to California's decision two years ago to require almost all health plans to cover abortions despite objections from religious organizations. The Department of Health and Human Services upheld California's statute in a ruling last month in a move that enraged conservatives.

A vote on the legislation to counter that ruling this week will serve as a message to the GOP base before the House departs for recess.

"A health care provider’s decision not to participate in an abortion, like Congress’s decision not to fund most abortions, erects no new barrier to those seeking to perform or undergo abortions but leaves each party free to act as he or she wishes," the legislation states. 

"Reaffirming longstanding Federal policy on conscience rights and providing a right of action in cases where it is violated allows longstanding and widely supported Federal laws to work as intended."

Sarah Ferris contributed.