Congress

Road ahead: All eyes on the budget and debt limit deal, except when Mueller testifies

House to tackle border issues, while Senate will confirm Defense secretary, clear 9/11 compensation bill

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., wants to clear the debt deal this week before the chamber departs for the August recess. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

All eyes this week will be on whether House lawmakers are able to pass a deal to raise the debt limit and set spending levels for the next two years before leaving for the August recess on Friday.

That is except, of course, when former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III seizes all the attention when he testifies before the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said last week she wants to have the debt ceiling and budget caps package on the floor Thursday. 

A budget cap vote would likely split Democrats because the discretionary spending number is expected to be too low and the defense number too high for many progressives.

But Democrats are hoping to show some unity as they take up legislation related to the humanitarian crisis at the southern border. The House is scheduled to vote on a bill by Texas Democrat Veronica Escobar, which would institute accountability standards for the Homeland Security Department and create a DHS ombudsman.

Several House committees reported out legislation last week further dealing with issues at the border, including the treatment of migrant children. The House may take up some of those measures as well.

Another bill coming to the House floor is the Rehabilitation for Multiemployer Pensions Act, also known as the Butch Lewis Act. The measure would rescue failing union pension plans at a cost of $64 billion.

9/11 responder compensation 

In the Senate, leaders have agreed to take up a bill Tuesday that would extend a financial lifeline to thousands of victims suffering health problems from 9/11. The measure would effectively make permanent a special compensation fund for first-responders and other victims of the 2001 terrorist attacks, while providing however much money is needed to pay all eligible claims.

The bill sailed through the House on July 12 on a 402-12 vote, but has faced resistance in the Senate from fiscal hawks worried about its price tag. However, it is expected to eventually pass and be sent to the president for his signature without any amendments being adopted.

The other key Senate floor action for the week will be confirmations of Mark Esper to be Defense secretary and Stephen M. Dickson to head the Federal Aviation Administration. The Senate will vote Monday at 5:30 p.m. to limit debate on Esper’s nomination, setting up his confirmation for no later than Wednesday.

Both Esper and Dickson are likely to be confirmed given the simple-majority vote requirement for nominations. But Democrats have had real questions about Dickson and the FAA, especially given the ongoing safety concerns about the Boeing 737 MAX-8.

“Dickson’s long career at Delta Air Lines calls into question his ability to put the FAA back in charge of safety. His evasiveness about his record raises significant concerns about his judgement,” Connecticut Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal said in a statement.

Mueller prime time 

Off the floor, the highlight of the week will be Mueller’s testimony Wednesday before the House Judiciary and Intelligence panels.

“The report has brought some clarity and his own public statement brought further clarity. And now when he speaks about it, more people will know what is in the report,” Pelosi told reporters last week.

The California Democrat said her members would approach the hearing with “appropriateness and seriousness of purpose.”

“Let us listen. Let us see where the facts will take us, and let us have this be as dignified as our Constitution would require,” she said. “And then we’ll see what happens after that. We’ll go where the facts will lead us.”

House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler told MSNBC on Thursday that the hearing will help highlight Mueller’s findings for people who have not read the report.  

“The president, the attorney general and the right-wing media have been lying about what was in the Mueller report — no collusion, no obstruction, which was simply not true. We have to show the American people what was there,” the New York Democrat said, citing as examples the 37 indictments and 10 instances of obstruction of justice.

Other hearings

The House will also continue to hold oversight hearings related to migrant detention conditions. The Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee, which oversees the Department of Health and Human Services funding is bringing in Lynn Johnson, the assistant secretary of the Administration for Children and Families, and Jonathan Hayes, director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, on Wednesday to discuss unaccompanied children in their agencies’ care.

Also on Wednesday, the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee will hear from Border Patrol Chief Carla Provost. That panel will also hear from acting Immigrations and Customs Enforcement Director Matthew T. Albence on Thursday.

The House Judiciary Committee will hold an oversight hearing Thursday on migrant family separation and the care given to them while in U.S. Customs and Border Protection custody.

FBI Director Christopher Wray will be visiting the Senate Judiciary Committee for a regular oversight hearing on Tuesday morning. But it is possible the panel’s afternoon subcommittee hearing on antitrust policy will be even more newsworthy.

Both Makan Delrahim, the assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division, and Federal Trade Commission Chairman Joseph Simons are scheduled to testify as a few high-stakes mergers and acquisitions are on the table, including the proposed combination of T-Mobile and Sprint.

A Foreign Relations subcommittee will hold a hearing Wednesday on the efforts to combat Ebola, and the Senate Agriculture Committee has a hearing on Thursday’s schedule that seems sure to attract the attendance of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, a member of the panel.

The hearing will cover the implementation of hemp farming provisions from the 2018 farm bill. Witnesses include a farmer from Kentucky, in addition to representatives from the Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration and the EPA.

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