Road ahead: House takes up ‘Tiger King’ and marijuana bills while seeking spending deal

The Senate will also continue confirming Trump picks, even though his party lost the White House

The U.S. Capitol is seen from the Washington Monument on Nov. 23, 2020. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
The U.S. Capitol is seen from the Washington Monument on Nov. 23, 2020. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted December 1, 2020 at 5:00am, Updated at 11:21am

Congress is focused this week on negotiating a government funding deal and determining whether bipartisan consensus can be reached to enact any additional COVID-19 relief before year’s end.

Those fiscal negotiations will continue among top appropriators, congressional leaders and their staffs behind the scenes while the House and Senate work through their end-of-session to-do lists on the floor. 

The party margin of the Senate will change, likely by Wednesday. Arizona on Monday certified the victory of Democrat Mark Kelly over Republican Sen. Martha McSally, paving the way for Kelly’s swearing-in.

Meanwhile, the House Democratic Caucus on Thursday will finish selecting its leadership team for the 117th Congress with the election for Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair. Reps. Sean Patrick Maloney of New York and Tony Cárdenas of California are running to lead the campaign arm.

Also on Thursday, the caucus will hold elections for open chairmanships on the Appropriations, Agriculture and Foreign Affairs panels. The Democratic Steering and Policy Committee will meet earlier in the week to hear from the candidates and make its recommendations to the caucus.

The House Republicans’ Steering Committee is meeting Tuesday and Wednesday to hear pitches from candidates hoping to slot into vacant ranking member positions on committees. The Steering panel will make recommendations to the full Republican Conference, which will vote to ratify the recommendations next week.

The main bill on the House floor this week is a measure to decriminalize marijuana and provide a process for expunging marijuana-related convictions. The chamber will also take up several bills under suspension of the rules, including a bill to ban breeding and private ownership of big cats that was featured in the infamous Netflix show “Tiger King.”

The Senate is continuing its push to confirm nominees, and its committees will be busy this week marking up a social media regulation bill and hearing from Trump administration economic officials. 

Deadlines approaching

Congress has until Dec. 11 to pass a bill to fund the government and avoid a shutdown. Appropriators are hoping to reach agreement as soon as this week on an omnibus measure with new fiscal 2021 spending policy to avoid the need for another continuing resolution extending fiscal 2020 provisions. 

The leaders of the House and Senate Appropriations committees reached agreement last week on how to divvy up about $1.4 trillion in discretionary spending for fiscal 2021 that is allowed under a two-year budget deal. Setting spending allocations for the 12 appropriations bills is just the first step in negotiating an omnibus package, and appropriators still have to work through several policy differences between the House and Senate spending bills. 

Lawmakers in both parties also want to pass additional coronavirus relief, especially with several provisions passed earlier this year set to expire at the end of December. 

The two Democratic leaders, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, have so far resisted negotiating anything short of a comprehensive aid deal, but rank-and-file lawmakers’ calls for compromise have gotten louder.

“Let’s make hard compromises that help people now and fight for more next year,” Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., tweeted Monday. 

The House and Senate are also in negotiations to reconcile their different versions of the annual defense authorization bill. Lawmakers want to pass a final version of the fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act this month, but disagreement on how to address language setting up a process for renaming military bases named after Confederate figures, which has prompted veto threats from President Donald Trump, has stymied progress.

House happenings 

The House decided to condense its previously planned five-day workweek into three days this week since the big-ticket, year-end measures are not ready for floor action yet. 

The vote to decriminalize marijuana, expected Friday, comes after Democratic leaders postponed consideration of the measure in September. At the time, some moderate Democrats, particularly ones concerned about winning reelection in November, had rejected the idea of voting on a marijuana measure before additional coronavirus relief.

While some moderates may still hold that concern, Democratic leaders’ decision to bring the bill to the floor signals they are confident it will pass. A few Republicans have said they plan to support it, which provides room for some Democratic defections. 

Support for the measure appears to be boosted by November ballot measures that legalized all marijuana in Arizona, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota and medical marijuana in Mississippi.

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Advocates for the legislation say it would help correct years of policy that resulted in mass criminalization and incarceration that disproportionately affected minority populations. The bill institutes a 5 percent tax on sales to fund things like small-business loans, job training, reentry services, drug and alcohol abuse treatment, and legal aid for the expungement of cannabis cases.

Bills on the House suspension calendar don’t typically get much attention, but one on this week’s list is likely to make headlines. The Big Cat Public Safety Act, scheduled for a vote Thursday, was featured in the Netflix documentary series “Tiger King.” 

Carole Baskin, the owner of Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida, who was featured in the series, has lobbied for passage of legislation for years. Her rescue website says the bill would “address two of the biggest sources of abuse of big cats by ending owning big cats as pets and stopping exploitative roadside zoos from offering cub petting and photo ops.”

House committee highlights include a Financial Services hearing Wednesday with Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on the administration’s pandemic response, and an Oversight and Reform hearing Thursday on ensuring an accurate 2020 census count. 

Senate schedule

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is keeping his chamber occupied confirming judges and other nominees even though the Kentucky Republican’s party lost the White House. 

The chamber is expected to vote this week on confirmation of Taylor McNeel to be a judge for the Southern District of Mississippi after voting to end debate on the nominee Monday. McConnell teed up more nominees to follow McNeel’s confirmation, including well-respected economist Christopher Waller’s nomination to the Federal Reserve Board and several judicial nominees to various U.S. courts.

The Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee will hear from Powell and Mnuchin on Tuesday in its quarterly hearing, which will examine the roughly $2 trillion pandemic aid bill passed earlier this year.

The Judiciary Committee on Thursday is expected to mark up a measure that would regulate how social media companies moderate content on their platforms. The panel is expected to also vote on several judicial nominees who testified earlier in November, including an appeals court replacement for Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s 7th Circuit seat.

The Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee meets Wednesday to consider nominees for NASA, the Department of Commerce and the Federal Communications Commission.

David Lerman, Chris Marquette and Emily Kopp contributed to this report.

Correction: An earlier version of this report misidentified the day the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee would meet to consider nominees.