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 TrumpConway defends herself against Hatch Act allegations amid threat of subpoena How to defuse Gulf tensions and avoid war with Iran Trump says 'stubborn child' Fed 'blew it' by not cutting rates 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 RoyOversight Republicans: 'Hundreds' of migrants in caravans have criminal histories GOP lawmaker delays House for second week This week: Democrats move funding bills as caps deal remains elusive 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 McConnellBiden, Eastland and rejecting the cult of civility California governor predicts 'xenophobic' GOP will likely be third party in 15 years This week: Congress set for clash on Trump's border request MORE’s (R-Ky.) optimism about a deal earlier last week.

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Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerMcConnell-backed Super PAC says nominating Roy Moore would be 'gift wrapping' seat to Dems McConnell vows to 'vigorously' oppose Moore's Senate bid Pelosi: Trump delay on Harriet Tubman is 'an insult to the hopes of millions' 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 MnuchinThe Hill's Morning Report - Crunch time arrives for 2020 Dems with debates on deck Trump's tax returns — DOJ trying to put off the inevitable? GOP lawmakers want Mulvaney sidelined in budget talks 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 ShelbyThis week: Congress set for clash on Trump's border request Congress unlikely to reach deal on Trump border bill before break GOP lawmakers want Mulvaney sidelined in budget talks 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 GrahamGOP senators divided over approach to election security GOP lawmakers want Mulvaney sidelined in budget talks Trump urged to quickly fill Pentagon post amid Iran tensions MORE (R-S.C.) said Trump should “rise above” and try to cut deals. Sen. John CornynJohn CornynDemocrats give Trump trade chief high marks GOP senators divided over approach to election security GOP lawmakers want Mulvaney sidelined in budget talks 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 ThuneGOP senators divided over approach to election security McSally on Moore running for Senate again: 'This place has enough creepy old men' Hillicon Valley: GOP senator wants one agency to run tech probes | Huawei expects to lose B in sales from US ban | Self-driving car bill faces tough road ahead | Elon Musk tweets that he 'deleted' his Twitter account 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 ErnstGOP frets about Trump's poll numbers GOP senators caught off guard by Shanahan withdrawal Democrats' 2020 Achilles's heel: The Senate MORE (R-Iowa) and Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinYoung activists press for change in 2020 election The Hill's Morning Report — US strikes approved against Iran pulled back Democrats want White House hopefuls to cool it on Biden attacks 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.