This week: Senate tries to wrap up before brief break

Senators are racing to finish up a slate of legislation before heading out of town for a brief August recess. 

The Senate is poised to wrap up work on two must-pass bills, pass another government funding package, confirm Trump’s 24th appeals court judge and go to conference with the House before leaving Washington for a week.

With the House out of session until September, the Senate is the only chamber in town this week.

Unlike the House, senators are scheduled to leave at the end of the week to take a brief one-week summer recess, Aug. 6-10, after Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) canceled most of the break earlier this year.

{mosads}And for senators hoping that they could end up getting back some of their traditional summer vacation at the end of the month, GOP leadership has a warning: Don’t get your hopes up.

“We’re not taking an August recess this year. We have a lot of work to do and we’re going to work right through the summer,” McConnell told a local Kentucky radio station late last week.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), McConnell’s No. 2, separately told reporters that McConnell is “deadly serious” about keeping the Senate in session throughout August.

Republicans argue the schedule change will let them catch up on confirming President Trump’s nominees and passing smaller government funding packages ahead of the Sept. 30 deadline to avoid the third shutdown of the year. But it also pays political dividends for Republicans by keeping a slate of vulnerable red-state Democrats in Washington during the week and off the campaign trail.


The Senate is poised to wrap up its second government funding package this week.

The House passed its version of the legislation — which includes Financial Services, Interior, Environment and related agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency — earlier this month. The $58.7 billion legislation included language to block D.C. from implementing its own individual mandate on health insurance after 2019.

Senators are adding funding for Agriculture, Transportation and Housing and Urban Development into the bill.

They’re then expected to turn to funding the Pentagon and the Department of Health and Human Services. The two bills are considered a lightning rod for controversial amendments, with Democrats usually skeptical of clearing money for the Defense Department without an equal amount of domestic spending already approved.

But senators are weighing merging the two funding bills into one package on the Senate floor.

“We hope to tie them together, marry them,” said Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “Let’s see how the marriage works.”

Congress has until Oct. 1 to pass all 12 appropriations bills, iron out the differences and send them to the president’s desk for signature.

Flood insurance

The Senate will take up legislation extending funding the National Flood Insurance Program through November before they leave Washington for a week.

The program is currently set to expire at the end of July.

The House passed the short-term extension before leaving for September and the short-term patch gives lawmakers additional time to work out a long-term bill to reform the program that can clear both chambers.

In the wake of significant damage caused by hurricanes and flooding in recent years, the program was in debt by roughly $30 billion as of last fall, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

Conservatives have balked at passing a so-called clean extension of the program because it’s currently in debt.

“After burning the mid-day oil for two and a half a week for a few months, decide together that a dysfunctional program $20 billion in debt is, in fact, perfect. And so we’re planning to rubber stamp a continuation of its dysfunctional status quo,” GOP Sen. Mike Lee (Utah) said from the Senate floor last week.

Lee tried to pass legislation from GOP Sen. John Kennedy (La.) to extend the flood insurance program through January but Lee wanted to add a $2.5 million cap on flood insurance, and Kennedy objected.

Kennedy separately warned that it would be “down-to-the-marrow stupid” to let the program expire.

“I’ve done everything I can to try to convince them, including but not limited to kissing a part of their anatomy. That’s part of my job sometimes up here,” Kennedy told Louisiana reporters last week. “I’m prepared to go over them if I can’t go with them.”

NDAA conference

The Senate is poised to send an annual defense policy bill to Trump’s desk this week.

The bill, the fiscal 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), is named after Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee who was diagnosed last year with brain cancer.

Negotiators rolled out the final version of the bill on Monday, after the House passed its initial version in May and the Senate passed its version in June.

The final version of the bill, which easily cleared the House last week, would authorize about $639 billion for the base budget of the Pentagon and defense programs of the Energy Department. It would also allow for another $69 billion for a war fund known as the Overseas Contingency Operations account.

Negotiators jettisoned Senate-passed language that would have blocked Trump’s deal to revive Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE from the final bill.

The Senate-passed bill would have kept tough penalties slapped on ZTE for violating Iran and North Korea sanctions in place, including blocking it from buying U.S technology.

But that language drew backlash from the White House and Trump’s top allies on Capitol Hill pledged they would water it down during the conference committee

Instead, the final NDAA blocks government agencies or contractors from using ZTE or Huawei technology, but would otherwise let them do business with U.S. companies.


The Senate will keep clearing Trump’s judicial nominations before dispersing back to their home states.

Senators are scheduled to take an initial vote on Britt Grant’s nomination to be a judge for the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday at 5:30 p.m.

If he overcomes Monday’s vote, where he’ll need a simple majority of the Senate, lawmakers could take a final vote on his nomination as soon as Tuesday.

Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, will keep making the rounds on Capitol Hill as he holds one-on-one meetings with senators.

Kavanaugh is poised to have his first known meeting with a Democratic senator on Monday when he sits down with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who is up for reelection in a state Trump carried by more than 40 percentage points in 2016.

Manchin was one of three Democratic senators, along with Sens. Joe Donnelly (Ind.) and Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), who supported Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee.

Democratic senators aren’t able to block Kavanaugh’s nominee on their own after Republicans got rid of the 60-vote procedural hurdle on Supreme Court nominations last year. But Republicans are hoping he’ll pick up at least some Democratic support, which would allow them to call Kavanaugh bipartisan.

Farm bill

Though the vote isn’t formally scheduled yet, senators are expected to vote this week to go to conference on the farm bill.

The lower chamber on June 21 narrowly approved in a 213-211 vote a five-year farm bill that would impose new work requirements on people who receive food stamps. The Senate’s version, which includes language to legalize hemp as an agricultural commodity, easily passed in an 86-11 vote on June 28.

The main sticking point during conference is expected to be on the House’s welfare reform language.

Tags Donald Trump Heidi Heitkamp Joe Donnelly Joe Manchin John Cornyn John Kennedy John McCain Mike Lee Mitch McConnell Richard Shelby

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