Congress

Road ahead: Pressure rising for debt limit deal

Lawmakers face deadline on debt even as other priorities come to floor

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and other congressional leaders and the administration only have a few legislative days to strike a deal  on raising the debt limit. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Congress is set to consider several high-profile measures this week, including holding two Cabinet officials in contempt, raising the minimum wage and ratifying tax treaties, but lawmakers will be unable to avoid the contentious issue of raising the federal debt ceiling. 

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have been speaking by phone, trying to reach agreement on avoiding a potentially calamitous debt default.

Late last week, Mnuchin put his request on paper for Congress to act, warning that the Treasury could run out of cash in early September.

“We model various scenarios for our cash projections. Based on updated projections, there is a scenario in which we run out of cash in early September, before Congress reconvenes,” he wrote. “As such, I request that Congress increase the debt ceiling before Congress leaves for summer recess.”

Mnuchin and other administration officials have been pressing congressional leaders for a “clean” debt limit increase before the August recess. But Democrats and many Senate Republicans want to tie it to a deal on discretionary spending caps.

Timing isn’t in their favor. The House is scheduled to leave for recess on July 26; the Senate a week later.

Another testy week

The first partisan fireworks of the week are expected Tuesday, when the House is expected to vote to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt of Congress for defying subpoenas for documents explaining the administration’s rationale for wanting to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

The Justice and Commerce departments have provided the Oversight and Reform Committee with some documents on the citizenship question while withholding others over claims of executive privilege.

President Donald Trump said last week he would drop efforts to include the citizenship question. He instead offered an executive order directing all U.S. agencies to provide the Commerce Department “the maximum assistance permissible, consistent with law, in determining the number of citizens and noncitizens in the country.”

Meanwhile, the House is set to vote on a bill that would nearly double the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour. The federal minimum wage has been set at $7.25 per hour for the past decade, though many states and localities have set their minimum wage above that level.

A Congressional Budget Office report released last week said the bill could cost 1.3 million jobs when fully implemented by 2025, though millions would see higher wages and the number of Americans living in poverty would decrease. The report said wages could rise for as many as 27 million workers. The bill, approved by the House Education and Labor Committee in March, has no GOP co-sponsors.

The House will also consider the fiscal 2020 intelligence authorization bill. 

Off the floor, acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan is set to testify Thursday before the House Oversight panel on family separations at the southern border and administration policy.

“The American people are deeply concerned about the inhumane detention centers at the border and the number of children separated from their families,” Chairman Elijah E. Cummings said in a statement when announcing the hearing. 

McAleenan’s appearance follows two emotionally charged hearings last week on the treatment of migrant children in government custody.

Senate business

While the Senate will keep busy confirming more nominees and adopting resolutions of ratification for long-stalled tax treaties, the biggest news will likely come from a pair of technology-focused hearings on Tuesday.

The Banking Committee is set to hear testimony at 10 a.m. from David Marcus, the head of Facebook’s financial services subsidiary Calibra. Senators will likely want to ask about security and privacy concerns. The hearing was scheduled before the Federal Trade Commission announced on Friday it was fining Facebook $5 billion for its part in the Cambridge Analytica scandal. 

In the afternoon, Texas Republican Ted Cruz has scheduled a hearing of the Constitution Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary panel on allegations of censorship via search engines such as Google.

The Senate Armed Services Committee is also scheduled to hold a confirmation hearing for Mark Esper, the president’s nominee for Defense secretary. Most recently the secretary of the Army and the acting secretary of Defense, Esper is a well-known quantity on Capitol Hill, and the hearing is not likely to get overly contentious.

On the floor, the four treaty documents on which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell moved to limit debate last week are with Spain, Switzerland, Japan and Luxembourg.

Each of the treaties had been approved by the Foreign Relations Committee in previous Congresses, and all concerned are designed to prevent double taxation and catch tax evasion.

Kentucky GOP Sen. Rand Paul has opposed considering the treaties, citing privacy concerns, but they should have the votes to move through.

Peculiar to treaty consideration, the 60-vote threshold to break any potential filibusters can actually be lower than the two-thirds needed for adoption of the resolutions of ratification.

Paul M. Krawzak, Michael Macagnone and John T. Bennett contributed to this report.

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