To-do list piles up for Congress

Congress's to-do list is getting longer and longer amid high-profile skirmishes between President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Democrats worried by Jeremy Corbyn's UK rise amid anti-Semitism Warren, Buttigieg duke it out in sprint to 2020 MORE and congressional Democrats.

With the first half of 2019 off to a slow legislative start, both chambers are facing a potential logjam of crucial deadlines and competing priorities heading into the back half of the year.

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Lawmakers say they are eager to start moving bills, but deep partisan divisions, and the looming 2020 elections, set the stage for significant political and policy clashes.

Here are the key items to keep an eye on:

Disaster aid

Lawmakers very much wanted to put the fight over a long-stalled aid package in the rearview mirror before Memorial Day. Instead, the bill ran into a snag when Rep. Chip RoyCharles (Chip) Eugene RoyCongressional investigation finds Coast Guard leadership fell short on handling bullying Trump says he will 'temporarily hold off' on declaring Mexican drug cartels as terror organization Trump says he will designate Mexican drug cartels as terror organizations MORE (R-Texas) objected to passing it by unanimous consent on Friday. The legislation includes provisions that benefit Texas, including the disbursement of more than $4 billion in response to Hurricane Harvey.

Roy said he was objecting because he thought lawmakers should have a roll-call vote on the bill and because the measure doesn’t include the administration’s requested $4.5 billion in emergency spending for the U.S.-Mexico border. Trump agreed to drop his request for those funds to be included in the disaster aid bill.

The House will now have to wait until early June to vote on the legislation, which provides a total of $19.1 billion to respond to a recent spate of hurricanes, wildfires and storms, unless they can get Roy to drop his hold on the bill.

Budget caps

Lawmakers are hoping for renewed progress toward reaching a budget caps deal after leadership and top aides appeared to signal they were close to an agreement, only for talks to stall.

Congress left town last week for the Memorial Day recess with the talks largely pushed to the back burner during a high-profile feud on infrastructure and eleventh-hour dealings on disaster aid. The shift was a notable U-turn from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocrats seek leverage for trial Democrats spend big to put Senate in play House Democrats to vote on flavored e-cigarettes ban next year MORE’s (R-Ky.) optimism about a deal earlier last week.

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Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerKrystal Ball: Is this how Bernie Sanders will break the establishment? TikTok chief cancels Capitol Hill meetings, inflaming tensions Overnight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — Deal on surprise medical bills faces obstacles | House GOP unveils rival drug pricing measure ahead of Pelosi vote | Justices to hear case over billions in ObamaCare payments MORE (D-N.Y.) told reporters he expects the discussions will resume after the one-week recess and indicated that Trump should remain on the sidelines.

The talks “hopefully can be productive again if the president doesn't mess around and interfere,” Schumer said.

Congress has until the end of September to get a caps deal to raise the spending levels for defense and nondefense agencies, but appropriators are hoping to get top-line numbers by next month so they can start crafting government funding bills for fiscal 2020.

Without an agreement, across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration will kick in on Oct. 1, the first day of the new fiscal year. Schumer warned that they were far apart on top-line levels for nondefense spending.

Debt ceiling

Tied to the talks about getting a caps deal is how Congress will raise the debt ceiling in order to avoid a default in the fall.

The Treasury Department has been using “extraordinary measures” to extend the government’s borrowing authority since it hit the debt limit in early March. Analysts predict Congress will have to raise the ceiling in September or October, or spark a catastrophic financial crisis. In a potential curveball, Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinTreasury staffer quits after being implicated in college admissions scandal: report China doesn't need World Bank's loans, just as Trump says Trump admin hits Iranian shipping network, airline with new sanctions MORE predicted last week that Congress might have to act by “late summer,” potentially moving up the time frame for getting a deal.

Leadership and White House officials are considering combining the debt ceiling issue with a potential budget caps deal so that Congress can approve both simultaneously.

Government funding

Congress is facing a fall deadline to fund the government and avoid a second shutdown in 2019.

Lawmakers need to pass 12 appropriations bills, either individually or in larger packages, before Oct. 1 to avoid another closure. Congress could also pass a short-term continuing resolution to buy more time and kick the funding deadline closer to the winter holidays.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyOn The Money: Pelosi, Trump tout deal on new NAFTA | McConnell says no trade vote until impeachment trial wraps up | Lawmakers push spending deadline to Thursday Lawmakers push spending deadline to Thursday Doug Loverro's job is to restore American spaceflight to the ISS and the moon MORE (R-Ala.) has been sounding the alarm in the upper chamber, warning amid the stalemate on disaster aid that lawmakers are potentially facing a “bleak winter” filled with funding drama.

Though his panel hasn’t started voting on appropriations bills, House Democrats are pushing ahead with their own spending plan, setting up a clash with GOP senators and the White House.

Infrastructure

The implosion of Trump’s meeting with top congressional Democrats has thrown a wrench into Congress’s chances of getting a deal on infrastructure.

The setback comes after a low-key April meeting appeared to move both sides closer to an infrastructure deal — a perennial white whale in Washington where both sides say they want an agreement but have never worked out the details.

Some Republicans are already urging Trump back to the negotiating table. Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamInspector general testifies on FBI failures: Five takeaways Horowitz offers troubling picture of FBI's Trump campaign probe Conservatives rip FBI over IG report: 'scathing indictment' MORE (R-S.C.) said Trump should “rise above” and try to cut deals. Sen. John CornynJohn CornynLive coverage: DOJ inspector general testifies on Capitol Hill Hillicon Valley: Apple, Facebook defend encryption during Senate grilling | Tech legal shield makes it into trade deal | Impeachment controversy over phone records heats up | TikTok chief cancels Capitol Hill meetings Apple, Facebook defend encryption during Senate grilling MORE (R-Texas) separately told reporters that Trump and lawmakers should focus on trying to “make progress.”

But getting a deal was already an uphill challenge amid steep disagreements about how to pay for the hefty $2 trillion price tag agreed to by Democrats and Trump last month. Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneRepublicans consider skipping witnesses in Trump impeachment trial McConnell: Senate impeachment trial will begin in January McConnell: Senate will not take up new NAFTA deal this year MORE (R-S.D.) said that while there was “a lot of happy talk” on the topic, he was “a skeptic that a big infrastructure bill can get done.”

One potential pathway for a smaller infrastructure package could be a five-year highway bill that was passed in 2015 and is set to expire next year, forcing Congress to either reauthorize it or pass a short-term patch.

Surveillance

Congress is facing a potential end-of-the-year surveillance fight with three provisions in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act set to expire in mid-December.

The sunset provisions include a controversial records program, known as Section 215, that gathered metadata on domestic text messages and phone calls. The Wall Street Journal reported last month that the National Security Agency is recommending an end to the program, though the final decision rests with the White House.

Two other provisions — one authorizing “roving” wiretaps, the other on lone wolf surveillance authority — are also set to expire.

Violence Against Women Act

A reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is in limbo after expiring in February.

The House passed a five-year reauthorization of the law in April that expanded rights for transgender individuals. It also included new restrictions on gun purchases by closing the so-called boyfriend loophole, which expands gun prohibitions to dating partners convicted on abuse or stalking charges.

But the House bill drew pushback from most Republicans, as well as the National Rifle Association, a powerful force with the GOP caucus, warning it would score how lawmakers voted on the bill.

The Senate is not expected to take up the House-passed VAWA. Instead, Sens. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstDemocrats spend big to put Senate in play Houston police chief excoriates McConnell, Cornyn and Cruz on gun violence GOP senators unveil bill to expand 'opportunity zone' reporting requirements MORE (R-Iowa) and Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinSenate confirms Trump's 50th circuit judge, despite 'not qualified' rating Inspector general testifies on FBI failures: Five takeaways Pelosi endorses Christy Smith in bid to replace Katie Hill MORE (D-Calif.) have been tapped to draft legislation.

Defense authorization

An annual staple of Congress’s to-do list is the National Defense Authorization Act, which outlines broad policy and funding levels for the Pentagon.

Lawmakers started work on the mammoth defense bill last week, when the Senate Armed Services Committee passed its $750 billion measure. The legislation from the GOP-controlled panel doesn’t include Trump’s plan to skirt the budget caps by placing $100 billion in a war fund, but it does authorize money for Space Force and sign off on backfilling military construct money that was diverted for the wall.

The Senate’s bill will need to be worked out with House Democrats, who are starting their committee work early next month.

Flood insurance

The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is now beholden to the stalled disaster aid bill.

The recovery aid package, already passed by the Senate, includes a provision that would extend the insurance program until Sept. 30. The House previously approved a similar standalone extension but needs to pass the disaster bill for the roughly four-month extension to take effect.

The program, which allows homeowners to buy flood insurance, is set to expire at the end of May.

If lawmakers are able to reauthorize the program through the end of September they are hoping to use the four months to craft a larger deal on the NFIP.