This week: Senate set to pass sweeping opioid package
© Greg Nash

The Senate is poised to take up a bipartisan opioid funding package during a short work week in Washington.

Both chambers are out of session on Monday and Tuesday. Lawmakers, instead, will return to Washington on Wednesday for the abbreviated week, where the Senate generally leaves on Thursday afternoon and the House early Friday.

But before they head back out of town, senators are expected to vote on a package aimed at combating the nation’s opioid epidemic. Passage of the bill would give the Senate a bipartisan win months before the midterm election.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSanders hits Feinstein over Kavanaugh allegations: Now it’s clear why she did nothing for months On The Money: Senate approves 4B spending bill | China imposes new tariffs on billion in US goods | Ross downplays new tariffs: 'Nobody's going to actually notice' McConnell tamps down any talk of Kavanaugh withdrawal MORE (R-Ky.) announced late last week that Democrats had dropped their objections to taking up the legislation.

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“The Senate continues its fight against the opioid epidemic devastating American families,” McConnell said in a tweet on Friday. “I am proud that my CAREER Act is a key part of the Opioid Crisis Response Act 2018. I look forward to its passage next week.”

The legislation, which includes more than 70 proposals from across five Senate committees, focuses on treatment and prevention as well as curbing the flow of illicit substances into the U.S.

It includes the the STOP Act, which was authored by Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and advocated by President Trump on Twitter. The bill would crack down on the shipment of synthetic drugs like fentanyl to drug traffickers in the U.S.

“It’s time for Congress to move. This should be noncontroversial. It’s common sense. We know where these drugs are coming from. We know they’re devastating our communities,” Portman said from the Senate floor late last week.

The legislation had run into a temporary roadblock over a GOP provision, inserted into the bill after it cleared committee, that Democrats said is an earmark for one advocacy group funded by Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

But Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerHouse Dems push to delay Kavanaugh vote for investigation Democrats should end their hypocrisy when it comes to Kavanaugh and the judiciary Celebrities back both Cuomo and Nixon as New Yorkers head to primary vote MORE (D-N.Y.) sounded optimistic about the legislation's chances during a press conference with reporters last week.

“We're making very good progress. I have to give Sen. McConnell credit. This is something we're working very well together on," Schumer said.

The House passed its own opioid legislation in June. Once the Senate passes its legislation, they’ll need to work out the differences between their two bills before they can send the package to Trump’s desk.

Kavanaugh

More senators are expected to come off the fence this week on Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination after the four-day hearing before the Judiciary Committee.

Kavanaugh emerged from the heated grilling before the committee largely unscathed and having avoided landmines that would pose an obvious threat to his support among Republican senators.

Republicans went “nuclear” last year and nixed the 60-vote filibuster on Supreme Court nominees, meaning Kavanaugh only needs a simple majority to be confirmed. Republicans hold a 51-seat majority, though moderate GOP Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGrassley: No reason to delay Kavanaugh hearing Dem senators back Kavanaugh accuser's call for FBI investigation CNN’s Brooke Baldwin on Ford: ‘Mr. President, refer to her by her name’ MORE (Maine) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiProgressive group targets Collins, Murkowski after Kavanaugh allegation Overnight Energy: Trump rolls back methane pollution rule | EPA watchdog to step down | China puts tariffs on US gas GOP can't sweep Kavanaugh bombshell under the rug MORE (Alaska) have yet to announce how they’ll vote.

Democrats tried to grill Kavanaugh on a range of controversial issues, including executive power and abortion. But Kavanaugh frustrated Democrats by largely sidestepping key questions, citing the need to maintain judicial independence and not tip his hand on an issue that could come before the court.

On NPR’s Morning Edition, Sen. Christopher Coons (D-Del.), a member of the panel, characterized Kavanaugh as “quite artful” at avoiding direct answers to his questions.

“I’ve never been part of a Supreme Court nomination hearing like this past week’s. With so much concealment and so many questions about Judge Kavanaugh’s record, this nomination has a cloud over it,” Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinGrassley to administration: You must consult Congress on refugee cap Overnight Health Care: Senators target surprise medical bills | Group looks to allow Medicaid funds for substance abuse programs | FDA launches anti-vaping campaign for teens Bipartisan group wants to lift Medicaid restriction on substance abuse treatment MORE (D-Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat and member of the panel, said in a tweet on Saturday.

But the most explosive fight wasn’t with Kavanaugh but among senators on the Judiciary Committee.

Democratic Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerSenate Dems sue Archives to try to force release of Kavanaugh documents Judd Gregg: The collapse of the Senate Dems engage in last-ditch effort to block Kavanaugh MORE (D-N.J.) sparked a rhetorical firestorm when he released documents from Kavanaugh’s time working as a lawyer for President George W. Bush that had not been cleared for release.

Booker released six sets of documents over two days last week that were marked “committee confidential,” meaning they weren’t supposed to be circulated publicly.

"The public – and the Senators whose responsibility it is to vet this nominee – have the right to know where Judge Kavanaugh stands on important issues of law and justice," Booker said in a statement on Friday evening when he released the latest set of documents.

The move sparked warning from McConnell and Sen. John CornynJohn CornynGOP mulls having outside counsel question Kavanaugh, Ford Blumenthal: Kavanaugh nomination should be withdrawn Cornyn takes on O'Rourke over AR-15s MORE (R-Texas) — the No. 1 and No. 2 Senate Republicans — that Booker could face an investigation from the Senate Ethics Committee.

“Let me just say this: When you break the Senate rules, it’s something the Ethics Committee could take a look at. And that would be up to them to decide. But it’s routinely looked at the Ethics Committee,” McConnell told radio host Hugh Hewitt on Friday.

Kavanaugh’s nomination will be on the Judiciary Committee’s agenda on Thursday, but a vote is expected to be delayed. Nominations are routinely held over under a committee rule that allows any one senator to request a nomination be held over a week.

The move would set up a Judiciary Committee vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination around Sept. 20. With Republicans holding a majority on the panel, Kavanaugh’s nomination is expected to be sent to the floor, where GOP leadership is hoping to confirm him by the end of the month.

Employer Mandate

The House is expected to vote on a measure that would retroactively remover the employer mandate penalties from 2015-2018 put in place under the Affordable Care Act.

Under the legislation, the definition of a full-time employee that falls under the mandate would change from 30 hours to 40 hours. The Cadillac tax would also be delayed until 2023.

"Minibus"

The lower chamber could potentially take up the appropriations legislation some refer to as a "minibus" bill, that is being worked on by a conference committee.

The legislation is expected to be finalized early in the week and would provide funding for the Department of Energy, the Department of Veteran Affairs and fund the legislative branch through 2019.

It would mark the first fiscal 2019 conference report to get voted on by the House.

Congress has until Sept. 30 to pass legislation to avert a government shutdown.

Republican leadership is hoping to get most of the government funded ahead of the deadline but is expected to need a short-term continuing resolution to keep part of the government open past the end of the month.