This week: Government funding deadline looms

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Congress could finish its work for the year by the end of this week if all goes to plan. 

A relatively early departure by Dec. 9 would stand in contrast to recent years, when lawmakers toiled over year-end negotiations close to the holidays.

{mosads}With little incentive to negotiate a trillion-dollar spending package with President Obama, Republicans plan to approve a stopgap measure and call a lid on legislative work for 2016.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said “it is our hope” for the House to adjourn for the holidays by Thursday, but cautioned lawmakers could be forced to stay longer.

The House Appropriations Committee is working on a stopgap government spending bill, known as a continuing resolution (CR), that could be released as soon as Monday. That would set a House vote in motion for Wednesday.

Government funding expires on Friday.

The CR could last through May to give the Senate adequate time to confirm President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees, but an expiration date hasn’t been finalized.

Democrats and the Obama administration have panned the decision to punt on appropriations work with a CR, but haven’t indicated they’ll vote against its passage.

“That’s not governing — it’s irresponsible, it’s wasteful and unfair to the American people,” Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters.

Despite criticism from Democrats and a small number of Republicans, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) predicted it will get enough votes to pass, though he warned the consequences of a CR are “devastating.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also hasn’t publicly signed on to the details of the yet-to-be released House plan, but signaled the Senate will take up a short-term spending bill.

“There’s the question of the continuing resolution that we’re in discussions with the House about that,” he told reporters. “And I don’t have anything to announce today about exactly what form that’s gonna take but obviously, we’re gonna deal with that before we leave here on Dec. 9. 

Water resources bill

The House has one other major legislative item on its agenda before it can adjourn for the year: a water infrastructure bill known as the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA).

The measure is expected to include long-awaited assistance for the residents of Flint, Mich. who have been suffering from a contaminated water crisis. Lawmakers agreed in September to include it in the WRDA bill instead of a stopgap spending measure that expires on Friday.

One sticking point in negotiations is language in the bill requiring American iron and steel products to be used in projects assisted by the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund.

Sources familiar with the talks said Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is trying to strip the provision, which would appear at odds with Trump’s pledge to help American manufacturers.

The legislation will head to the Senate for final approval once it passes the House. 

Medical innovation 

The Senate will kick off the week with an initial vote on the 21st Century Cures Act.

McConnell teed up an initial vote for Monday evening on the package of research funding and regulatory reforms. Supporters of the bill will need 60 votes to overcome the procedural hurdle.

The bill sailed through the House on Wednesday by a vote of 392-26.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who helped spearhead the legislation, called the House vote an “unmistakable sign” that the Senate should pass the bill.

“I look forward to a successful vote in the Senate next week, so we can send this legislation to the White House where the president has his pen ready to sign it,” Alexander said.

But the legislation has split the Democratic caucus, drawing increasing backlash from liberals including Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

Warren took to the Senate floor twice last week to decry the bill and sent an email to progressive supporters saying the proposal had been “hijacked by Big Pharma and big Republican donors.”

The legislation seeks to speed up the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of new drugs and bolster medical research. It also ties in bipartisan efforts on mental health, opioid funding and Vice President Biden’s cancer “moonshot.”

But critics argue it’s a giveaway to pharmaceutical companies and does nothing to try to lower drug prices.

Despite the criticism, the bill is expected to pass the Senate and head to the White House, which has already voiced support for the legislation.

Defense policy bill

The Senate needs to clear the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a $619-billion policy bill that easily sailed through the House on Friday.

The bill would authorize a total of $618.7 billion in spending, including roughly $68 billion for a war fund known as the overseas contingency operations (OCO) account.

The final version of the annual measure dropped a slew of controversial provisions, including a requirement for women to register for the draft that was included in the initial Senate version of the bill.

Obama became the first president in decades to back requiring women to register for the selective service, earning him quick backlash from congressional conservatives.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said the White House shouldn’t let “culture wars” slow down the bill.

“Instead of developing a strategy to win the wars we’re in, the outgoing Administration is focused on scoring points in their culture wars,” he said. “It would be wrong and so completely unnecessary to let this new position interfere with the defense bill Congress is about to pass.”

The White House hasn’t said if the president will sign the defense bill, citing concerns earlier this year over a myriad of provisions including restrictions on the transfer of Guantanamo Bay detainees.

“We haven’t seen the text of it, but we’ll obviously review it,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters ahead of the House vote “That may take a little time, but once we’ve reached a conclusion about whether or not the president will sign it, we’ll let you know.”

Melanie Zanona contributed. 

Tags Bernie Sanders Dick Durbin Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Harry Reid Lamar Alexander Mitch McConnell Paul Ryan
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