This week: Highways, trade and NSA top agenda

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Congress faces two looming deadlines to renew highway funding and provisions of the Patriot Act before they expire at the end of the month.

The House and Senate are both scheduled to be on recess next week for the Memorial Day holiday, further limiting the time left to extend the expiring programs.

Lawmakers plan to turn to a short-term patch for replenishing the Highway Trust Fund lasting just two months.

{mosads}The extension lasting through the end of July would give Congress extra time to find a way toward a long-term infrastructure bill. But lawmakers have struggled for years with how to fund transportation projects, since the gas tax no longer draws in enough revenue to keep up with current annual spending.

House GOP leaders had previously wanted to extend the funding through the end of the year, but were unable to find the $10 billion necessary for a bill lasting through that timeframe.

Democratic Sens. Tom Carper (Del.) and Barbara Boxer (Calif.) rolled out a two-month extension of the legislation last week. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) placed it on the Senate calendar before adjourning last Thursday, which would allow a vote this week before the full Senate. 

The House is slated to take up a two-month extension bill on Tuesday. Senators could alternatively take up the House measure instead of the Carper-Boxer legislation. 

NSA surveillance

Senators are struggling to find a way forward on a controversial National Security Agency (NSA) program before a June 1 deadline.  

McConnell started fast track procedures on two bills last week: The first would be a “clean” two-month of the expiring provisions of the Patriot Act and the NSA’s bulk collection of phone “metadata.” The second, the House-passed bill known as the USA Freedom Act, would end the program and require the NSA to request phone records from private companies. 

McConnell and other key Republicans, including Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.), favor the “clean” extension, but they’re under pressure from other lawmakers, as well as external groups, to make changes to the program. 

Supporters of the USA Freedom Act in both the House and Senate have vowed to block both a short-term patch and a “clean” extension, as they try to back the Republican leader into a corner on the issue. The House resoundingly passed the measure by a vote of 338-88 last week.


The Senate will move forward on a “fast track” trade bill this week, after overcoming a Democratic filibuster of the bill. 

Under a deal reached by leadership, the Senate took stand-alone votes last week on a customs enforcement bill, as well as a non-controversial measure on sub-Saharan Africa trade preferences, before starting debate on the trade promotion authority (TPA) bill. 

The trade legislation, widely supported by Senate Republicans as well as the Obama administration, will let the president get his trade deals approved by Congress with a simple majority vote. 

McConnell has pledged to finish the legislation before lawmakers leave town at the end of the week for the Memorial Day recess, but Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) cast doubt on the deadline last week. 

“I don’t know,” he said, when asked if thought the Republican leader would be able to keep his pledge. “Many of our members have amendments.”

A Democratic aide told The Hill that McConnell would have to file cloture to end debate on Tuesday if he wants to finish the bill this week. 


The House plans to vote Tuesday on a measure that would provide funding for legislative branch programs, including congressional offices, Capitol Police and the Library of Congress.

It maintains a pay freeze for members of Congress, which has been in place since 2010. The measure also contains a provision directing the Capitol Police not to enforce a rule that prohibits sledding on the Capitol grounds.

Freshman Rep. Rod Blum (R-Iowa) has filed an amendment to prohibit members of Congress from using federal funds to pay for first-class airfare. But the House Rules Committee, which determines how legislation is considered on the floor, has not yet decided if the proposal will get a vote.

The bill will be the third fiscal 2016 appropriations measure to hit the House floor this year. The House passed appropriations for the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and military construction projects, as well as for the Department of Energy and Army Corps of Engineers, last month.


The Senate will convene at 2 p.m. and restart debate of the trade bill. They are expected to vote on an amendment from Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and an amendment from Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) at 5:30 p.m.

Brown’s amendment would increase the amount of funding for the trade adjustment assistance program, while Lankford’s amendment would require the United States to weigh a country’s religious tolerance when negotiating trade deals. 

Meanwhile, the House will convene at noon for morning hour debate and 2 p.m. for legislative business. Votes on a series of noncontroversial bills aimed at assisting veterans will be postponed until 6:30 p.m. The House will also vote to send a bill designed to combat human trafficking to the president’s desk.


The Senate will likely continue work on trade. The chamber will likely recess from 12:30 p.m. to 2:15 p.m. for weekly party policy lunches.

The House will vote on six noncontroversial bills considered under suspension of the rules to promote scientific research. Members will also vote on a two-month extension of the Highway Trust Fund and the Legislative Branch appropriations bill.


The Senate may still be working on trade. Alternatively, senators may turn to the Patriot Act renewal or Highway Trust Fund extension.

The House will vote on a permanent renewal of the research and development tax credit, which expired at the end of last year. In addition, the House will consider a bill authorizing $33 billion over five years for the National Science Foundation and offices in the Department of Energy.


The Senate will try to finish work on trade, the Highway Trust Fund and NSA reform before departing for the weeklong Memorial Day recess.

The House will vote on legislation that would, among other provisions, direct the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to study how to manage space traffic and orbital debris.

– Keith Laing contributed. 

Tags Barbara Boxer Charles Schumer Highway Trust Fund Mitch McConnell National Security Agency Patriot Act Richard Burr Sherrod Brown Tom Carper

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