House revives agenda after impeachment storm

House revives agenda after impeachment storm
© Greg Nash

House Democrats are preparing to turn the focus back to their policy agenda now that impeachment has moved over to the Senate. 

After the impeachment process consumed most of the media oxygen for nearly four months in the lower chamber, Democrats are eyeing an ambitious slate of legislation in the coming weeks as the Senate trial of President TrumpDonald John TrumpMichael Flynn transcripts reveal plenty except crime or collusion 50 people arrested in Minneapolis as hundreds more National Guard troops deployed Missouri state lawmaker sparks backlash by tweeting 'looters deserve to be shot' MORE plays out. 

In a sign of how much impeachment is no longer in the hands of the Democratic caucus, most House members won't even be in Washington when the Senate trial begins in earnest this week.

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Most will be back in their districts due to a previously scheduled recess for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, with the exception of the seven House Democrats serving as impeachment managers.

But House members watching the trial from afar will be eyeing legislative action concerning the issues they ran on as they gear up for the 2020 campaign.

Here's what's on the coming agenda so far.

Iran war powers debate

Democrats will resume a debate over President Trump’s policy toward Iran and Congress's role in deciding whether the U.S. should engage in war.

The House passed a resolution earlier this month — largely along party lines — that would direct the president to end military hostilities with Iran unless there is an imminent attack or Congress specifically authorizes it. 

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That came after Trump’s decision to launch a drone strike that killed a top Iranian general, leading Iran to retaliate with missile strikes on two bases in Iraq housing U.S. military personnel. Since then, the Pentagon revealed that nearly a dozen U.S. troops were injured in the base attacks.

House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerOvernight Defense: Democrats expand probe into State IG's firing | House schedules late June votes with defense bill on deck | New Navy secretary sworn in House scheduled to return for votes in late June House pushes back schedule to pass spending bills MORE (D-Md.) announced last week that the House will vote the week of Jan. 27, after the return from recess, on two additional war powers bills sought by progressives. 

The first measure, from Rep. Barbara LeeBarbara Jean LeeHouse Democrats unveil measure to condemn police brutality Police killing in Minneapolis puts new scrutiny on Biden pick Barbara Lee: Congress should focus on eliminating poverty MORE (D-Calif.), would repeal the 2002 authorization of military force for the Iraq war that has been used as legal justification for action against Iran.

Another bill from Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaHillicon Valley: Twitter flags Trump tweet for 'glorifying violence' | Cruz calls for criminal investigation into Twitter over alleged sanctions violations | Senators urge FTC to investigate TikTok child privacy issues Khanna calls for internet 'fairness doctrine' in response to controversial Trump tweets Khanna: Coronavirus has 'accelerated' the need for rural broadband MORE (D-Calif.) would prohibit the use of funds for military action in or against Iran without approval from Congress.

The House previously passed both measures last summer as part of the annual defense authorization bill, but neither provision made it into the final version that Trump signed into law in December.

“Finally Congress will have an opportunity to reassert our voice on military action,” Reps. Mark PocanMark William PocanHouse punts on FISA, votes to begin negotiations with Senate House cancels planned Thursday vote on FISA Pelosi pulls vote on FISA bill after Trump veto threat MORE (D-Wis.) and Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalHouse punts on FISA, votes to begin negotiations with Senate Democrats press OSHA official on issuing an Emergency Temporary Standard House cancels planned Thursday vote on FISA MORE (D-Wash.), the Progressive Caucus co-chairs, said in a statement.

Puerto Rico aid

The House is expected to take up a $3.4 billion emergency supplemental spending bill for Puerto Rico after recent earthquakes damaged buildings and forced thousands to leave their homes. Hoyer confirmed that the House will vote on the legislation when it returns from recess. 

The legislation includes $100 million for educational assistance, $1.3 billion for road repairs and $2 billion for Community Development Block Grant funds for restoring infrastructure and housing.

Passage of the supplemental aid will come after the Trump administration last week ended a months-long hold on $8 billion in Puerto Rico disaster relief, even as the island is still recovering from two devastating hurricanes in 2017.

The Trump administration cited concerns of alleged corruption and mismanagement, but the delay nevertheless angered lawmakers.

House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyJulián Castro launches PAC to support progressive candidates Lawmakers call on VA to remove swastikas from headstones in veterans cemeteries House Democrats object to Trump sending ventilators to Russia MORE (D-N.Y.) said that the supplemental aid for Puerto Rico is needed because “there are still urgent unmet needs on the island that necessitate additional relief.”

Labor union reforms

Democratic leaders are aiming for a vote before President’s Day on Feb. 17 on major legislation to strengthen union bargaining and to enact tougher penalties on employers that retaliate against workers seeking to unionize. 

The bill, called the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, would prohibit employers from making workers attend meetings meant to dissuade them from joining a union; allow the National Labor Relations Board to enact monetary penalties if a worker is wrongfully terminated; and prevent employers from delaying negotiated collective bargaining contracts.

House Democrats across the ideological spectrum wrote in a Jan. 9 letter to Democratic leaders that it was “unfortunate” the bill hadn’t yet been scheduled for a floor vote since the Education and Labor Committee advanced it in the fall.

Hoyer announced the same day that the House would take up the bill in the coming weeks, adding in a tweet that “Democrats are proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with working men and women across the country.”

The bill has three GOP co-sponsors: Reps. Jeff Van DrewJeff Van DrewTrump campaign launches new fundraising program with House Republicans NY, NJ lawmakers call for more aid to help fight coronavirus Campaigns face attack ad dilemma amid coronavirus crisis MORE (N.J.), Brian FitzpatrickBrian K. FitzpatrickGun control group rolls out House endorsements House Democrats make initial ad buys in battleground states Bipartisan Senate group offers new help to state, local governments MORE (Pa.) and Chris SmithChristopher (Chris) Henry SmithNY, NJ lawmakers call for more aid to help fight coronavirus Stranded Americans accuse airlines of price gouging Lawmakers propose waiving travel fees for coronavirus evacuations abroad MORE (N.J.). 

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Infrastructure rollout

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi calls Trump's decision to withdraw US from WHO 'an act of extraordinary senselessness' House Democrats unveil measure to condemn police brutality The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Rep. Khanna says President Trump threatening violence against US citizens; Trump terminating relationship with WHO MORE (D-Calif.) announced at her regular press conference on Thursday that House Democrats will unveil infrastructure legislation next week.

Infrastructure is one of the rare policy areas where Democrats and Trump share mutual interest in pursuing change. But efforts by Democratic leaders last year to engage with Trump failed spectacularly after the president walked out of a May meeting and declared he wouldn’t work with lawmakers while they investigate him.

Pelosi expressed hope that Trump might come around this time, pointing to recent bipartisan agreement on the revamped trade pact with Mexico and Canada.

“We thought we would be able to move in a positive way on this. So far, they have not come on board. However, we’ve decided now we'll just have to go forward and we do believe that now, with the passage of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, that they might be interested in cooperating in other ways,” Pelosi said.

In any case, Democrats want to show that they are making an effort on a popular issue that they campaigned on as they prepare for the November elections.

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“It’s pretty exciting. It is something we talked about during the campaign. It is something that the president talked about as a priority during the campaign,” Pelosi said.

Surprise medical bills

Pelosi also said at her press conference that “when we come back, we'll be addressing [the] surprise billing issue.”

Lawmakers in both parties have been working for months to reach agreement on legislation to prevent people from facing massively expensive medical bills when they unknowingly receive care from an out-of-network doctor.

Two House Democratic committee chairmen — Richard NealRichard Edmund NealHouse Democrats press Treasury on debit cards used for coronavirus relief payments House Democrats' bill would create a second round of direct coronavirus relief payments Lawmakers question why dead people are getting coronavirus checks MORE (Mass.) of Ways and Means and Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.) of Energy and Commerce — are trying to reconcile their competing bipartisan proposals over how to address the issue. 

The main difference between their approaches is how much insurers would pay doctors once patients are no longer on the hook for the surprise medical bills. Neal’s proposal would let an outside arbiter decide, while Pallone’s would establish a rate based on the average payment for the service in a given geographic area.

Lawmakers are aiming to reach consensus by May 22, which is the deadline to renew funding for community health centers and other health care programs.