GOP ponders how to fill rest of 2018

GOP ponders how to fill rest of 2018
© Greg Nash

Republican leaders are mulling what to do for the rest of the year after passing a $1.3 trillion omnibus spending package. 

Legislative activity will slow down dramatically after the Easter recess as vulnerable incumbents seek to spend more time campaigning ahead of the fall midterm elections.

GOP leaders haven’t said much about what’s next.

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Infrastructure will now take center stage, but there are deep divisions within the party over the scope of the legislation, how much it should cost and how to pay for it.

Senate Energy Committee Chairwoman Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiKavanaugh accuser agrees to testify next week Murkowski says she’ll wait until Ford testifies before making decision on Kavanaugh Alaska gov, lieutenant gov come out against Kavanaugh MORE (R-Alaska) wants it to include energy infrastructure development.

Commerce Committee Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneGoogle says it continues to allow apps to access Gmail user data Fight looms over national privacy law Want to improve health care? Get Americans off of their couches MORE (R-S.D.) wants it to include broadband development in rural areas.

Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofePentagon releases report on sexual assault risk Trump privately calls Mattis ‘Moderate Dog’: report Cruz gets help from Senate GOP in face of serious challenge from O’Rourke MORE (R-Okla.) wants the package to focus on traditional infrastructure projects such as roads and bridges.

And while Republicans agree that the package should be paid for with a mix of public and private financing, there’s no agreement on how much taxpayers should kick in.

Conservatives led by Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsRepublicans threaten to subpoena Nellie Ohr Conservatives left frustrated as Congress passes big spending bills Graham to renew call for second special counsel MORE (R-N.C.), the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, said at the joint Senate–House GOP retreat in West Virginia that the federal government should contribute no more than $200 million.

Other GOP lawmakers argue that Congress needs to spend more money to achieve something close to the $1 trillion package that President TrumpDonald John TrumpSunday shows preview: Trump sells U.N. reorganizing and Kavanaugh allegations dominate Ex-Trump staffer out at CNN amid “false and defamatory accusations” Democrats opposed to Pelosi lack challenger to topple her MORE promised during the 2016 campaign.

If the infrastructure package stalls, GOP leaders are looking at smaller, less-controversial bills.

Reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration and another bill responding to the opioid epidemic, called CARA 2.0 — sponsored by Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanGraham calls handling of Kavanaugh allegations 'a drive-by shooting' 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 (R-Ohio) — are options. Congress passed the first version of the opioids measure, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, in 2016.

Portman also has a bill sponsored with Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineSherrod Brown says he's 'not actively considering' running for president The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — GOP again has momentum on Kavanaugh rollercoaster Poll: Kaine leads GOP challenger by 19 points in Va. Senate race MORE (D-Va.) to expand Pell Grant eligibility to help workers enter short-term training programs for technically demanding jobs.

It has White House support, according to GOP aides.  

Senate committees are due to report legislation addressing water and broadband infrastructure that could become the building blocks for a bigger package later this year.

“There’s going to be a WRDA bill out of the Environment and Public Works Committee. Commerce, I’m sure, will be doing something on broadband,” Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynKey GOP senators appear cool to Kavanaugh accuser's demand Trump, GOP regain edge in Kavanaugh battle GOP mulls having outside counsel question Kavanaugh, Ford MORE (R-Texas) told The Hill, referring to the Water Resources Development Act.  

He noted that the omnibus package included hundreds of millions of dollars for unspecified infrastructure projects.

“You can begin to see how that might come together as a package,” he added.

Two issues that sparked intense debate in Congress in February and March, immigration and gun violence, are not expected to come to the floor anytime soon.

The omnibus included a measure known as the Fix NICS Act designed to improve reporting to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, dimming the chances of a vote on universal background checks, which Democrats are demanding.

“Republicans lobbied hard to get Fix NICS in the budget so that they didn’t have to have an open debate on the Senate floor,” said Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyWant to improve health care? Get Americans off of their couches Situation in Yemen should lead us to return to a constitutional foreign policy Overnight Defense: Biden honors McCain at Phoenix memorial service | US considers sending captured ISIS fighters to Gitmo and Iraq | Senators press Trump on ending Yemen civil war MORE (D-Conn.), an outspoken voice on gun violence.

Legislation to curb the rising costs of insurance premiums, which are expected to rise faster because of the repeal of ObamaCare’s individual mandate, is also in limbo because of a fight over abortion language.

“If it’s not in the omnibus bill, there’s no next step,” said Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderOvernight Health Care: Senators target surprise medical bills | Group looks to allow Medicaid funds for substance abuse programs | FDA launches anti-vaping campaign for teens The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — Kavanaugh confirmation in sudden turmoil Cruz gets help from Senate GOP in face of serious challenge from O’Rourke MORE (R-Tenn.), who is chairman of the Senate Health Committee, shortly before Congress passed the spending bill without the provisions to stabilize insurance markets.   

The most pressing priority after the break will be to confirm Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoSunday shows preview: Trump sells U.N. reorganizing and Kavanaugh allegations dominate Pompeo: 'We've not been successful' in changing US-Russia relations Positive Moon-Kim summit creates a diplomatic opening in North Korea MORE and Gina Haspel, Trump’s picks to head the State Department and CIA, respectively.

Pompeo is likely to have a relatively smooth ride to confirmation, as he received 66 votes to serve as CIA director last year.

Haspel’s prospects are cloudier as senators have questions about her record on using harsh interrogation tactics.

Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainTrump hits McCain on ObamaCare vote GOP, White House start playing midterm blame game Arizona race becomes Senate GOP’s ‘firewall’ MORE (R-Ariz.) last week asked Haspel, now the deputy director of the CIA, to explain her role in the agency’s enhanced interrogation program.

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulConservatives left frustrated as Congress passes big spending bills Senate approves 4B spending bill Some employees' personal data revealed in State Department email breach: report MORE (R-Ky.) has accused her of helping to develop techniques that the federal government now classifies as torture and of destroying video evidence.

Beyond their nominations, there are hundreds of jobs within the administration that still need Senate confirmation.

The Senate has a backlog of 131 nominees, according to the Partnership for Public Service, which tracks the process.

McConnell set up six nominations before the Senate left for the recess. The debate, and running through the procedural clock, could easily eat up weeks of April floor time. 

The Senate could get further bogged down in nomination fights if Trump fires more of his Cabinet, as he’s reportedly been contemplating for weeks.

As the midterm elections near, GOP leaders will look for bills that would help their candidates go on the offensive in September and October.

They are flirting with moving another tax-reform bill and daring vulnerable centrist Democrats to oppose it.

“Can you imagine Democrats voting that down? I mean, how do you explain that one?” Cornyn said. 

On another front, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is gearing up to revive the chamber’s war authorization debate.

Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerPoll: More voters oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination than support it Ford opens door to testifying next week Police arrest nearly two dozen Kavanaugh protesters MORE (R-Tenn.) has scheduled a markup of an authorization for the use of military force for April 19.

But Corker may have difficulty getting floor time for the measure, which divides Republicans. Many in the party don’t want to place limits on Trump’s war powers.