Congress

Road ahead: House tackles first spending package and NDAA endurance contest

House also set to vote on a ‘not quite contempt’ resolution Tuesday

A man stands near the Mountains and Clouds sculpture in the Hart Building atrium on June 4. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The House has blockbuster floor action teed up this week, including votes on the first spending package for fiscal 2020 and a measure that would authorize the Judiciary Committee to pursue civil lawsuits against Attorney General William Barr and other administration officials.

House lawmakers have been warned that late-night votes are on the schedule as they work through floor consideration of a five-bill package that amounts to about $990 billion in discretionary spending for fiscal 2020.

The bundle includes two of the biggest spending bills, Defense and Labor-HHS-Education, which is the vehicle for the package. The others included are the Energy-Water, State-Foreign Operations and Legislative Branch bills.

“This will be the first of several minibuses,” House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said, using the commonly used term for bundled bills.

House Democratic leaders want to pass all their spending measures by the end of June. That would give them time to negotiate with the Senate before the new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1. But those efforts may not be enough to avoid a government shutdown, according to House Minority Whip Steve Scalise.

The House bills, led by Democratic appropriators, will never become law without a bipartisan agreement in both chambers on overall spending limits for the fiscal year ahead, the Louisiana Republican told Hoyer on the chamber floor last week.

“If we want to avoid a shutdown, the best way to do it is to work with both parties,” Scalise said. 

The five-bill spending package goes before the House Rules Committee on Monday evening, when the panel will decide which of the more than 160 amendments submitted by members will be in order for debate by the full House later this week.

Consideration of the five-bill package is expected to spill over into next week. 

One set of amendments that lawmakers will likely be watching closely would continue the pay freeze for members of Congress that has been in place since 2009.

As written, the Legislative Branch title of the package does not include language to ban cost-of-living increases, as it has in recent years. The full House Appropriations Committee will vote Tuesday on the Financial Services measure, which is also silent on the pay freeze issue. 

Not quite contempt

After much talk last week about plans for the House to vote on a contempt resolution, the measure on the agenda regarding the attorney general doesn’t go quite that far.

Democrats last week announced that the full House would vote to hold Barr in contempt of Congress for not complying with a subpoena for the full report on Russian interference in the 2016 election filed by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. The thinking among Democrats is that the vote would be part of the process to file a civil lawsuit.

The Judiciary Committee approved a report last month that made a formal recommendation to the House to hold Barr in contempt.

But the resolution released Thursday by the Rules Committee does not mention contempt for Barr or Don McGahn, the former White House counsel. McGahn has not complied with a subpoena from the House Judiciary panel.

The resolution set for a vote Tuesday would instead authorize the House to petition a federal court to enforce committee requests for testimony and information related to the special counsel’s report. It also includes language specifying that the House general counsel’s office would represent the committee in any related lawsuits. 

The resolution would also give all committees the authority to enforce their subpoenas in civil court, which alleviates the need for the full House to vote on each individual contempt citation going forward. 

Democrats say they need the information from the full Mueller report and documents and testimony related to the investigation to weigh whether impeachment is a valid next step.

House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler has scheduled a hearing Monday afternoon on the special counsel report and obstruction of justice with star witness John Dean, the former White House counsel in the Nixon administration. 

That hearing has raised the hackles of House Judiciary ranking member Doug Collins

“In light of Monday’s hearing entitled, ‘Lessons from the Mueller Report: Presidential Obstruction and Other Crimes,’ I am compelled to remind you— and request you remind the Majority Members of the Committee — the Rules of the House prohibit Members from ‘engag[ing] in personalities’ with Members of Congress, Senators, or the President. This appears to be part of a strategy to turn the Committee’s oversight hearings into a mock-impeachment inquiry rather than a legitimate exercise in congressional oversight,” the Georgia Republican chided Nadler in a letter he sent on Friday. 

Pentagon policy marathon

The big committee news out of the House this week will be the Armed Services Committee’s markup of the fiscal 2020 defense authorization bill Wednesday. The measure will set policy for the Defense Department in the coming year, while Pentagon spending is up for floor action.

The marathon markup will take much longer than an actual marathon, likely not wrapping up until dawn Thursday.

Personnel business

As has become familiar, the official order of business in the Senate is the processing of the president’s nominations. 

On Monday afternoon, the chamber will continue consideration of Ryan Holte’s nomination to be a judge on the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. Senators will later vote on Holte’s nomination as well as Richard Hertling’s to the same court, along with that of Rossie Alston Jr. to be a U.S. district judge for the Eastern District of Virginia.

Senators will also consider a motion to invoke cloture on Sarah Morrison’s nomination to be a U.S. district judge for the Southern District of Ohio.

Niels Lesniewski, Todd Ruger, Lindsey McPherson and David Lerman contributed to this report.

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