Spring 2018 Congressional Agenda

Members of Congress return this week from a two-week recess with a full agenda and without much time in which to accomplish their goals before turning their attention fully to the midterm elections. The Senate is scheduled to be in session for 104 days between now and Election Day, and the House, 71. Here is our roundup of issues we think will receive floor time prior to the election:

Expiring Items

  • Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization: FAA received an extension in the omnibus through the end of September, but members of Congress on both sides of the aisle are interested in reauthorizing the FAA before the August recess. The House may vote on a long-term reauthorization the last full week of April. The measure includes a tax title, which may allow it to serve as a vehicle for tax provisions such as extenders, some technical corrections, or new items. Thus, it may become a vehicle for moving other pieces, or those items may weigh down the whole package, resulting in another extension rather than a full reauthorization.
  • National Flood Insurance Program: National flood insurance received an extension in the omnibus, but only through July 31, so Congress will either need to reauthorize the program or grant it another extension before the August recess.
  • Farm Bill: Comprehensive legislation has not yet been introduced, but the current authorization expires September 30. The bill must reauthorize agricultural research, commodity, conservation, farm credit, food and nutrition, rural development, and trade programs. Negotiations in the House have been stalled over Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provisions, but House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX) plans to markup draft text April 18. Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) plans to move a bipartisan Senate draft out of committee this month, and SNAP changes may be a large part of Senate negotiations as well; a markup is not anticipated until May at the earliest.
  • National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA): Congress is working on the annual NDAA, with the House Armed Services Committee to complete its subcommittee markups April 26 and the full committee markup scheduled for May 9. The Senate Armed Services Committee plans to mark up its version the week of May 7, with the subcommittee taking action May 7-8, and the full committee expected to consider the bill May 9, 10, and potentially 11. Chair John McCain (R-AZ), who has been battling brain cancer, could return to the Senate on May 1. The agreement on topline numbers for FY19 may speed up the process, but as in past years, the NDAA is expected to attract numerous, and in some cases controversial, amendments. While both bodies could report their respective bills before the midterms, it remains unclear if conference negotiations will conclude and a final bill will reach the president’s desk before the lame duck.
  • FY19 Appropriations: As FY18 appropriations expire on September 30, Congress will need to pass some legislation to continue to fund the government before the midterms. In an election year, conventional wisdom is that we will most likely see a continuing resolution that punts an omnibus appropriations bill to the lame duck or later. While an agreement has already been reached on lifting Budget Control Act spending caps for FY19, it is possible that any activity on rescissions could ramp up tensions in FY19 appropriations negotiations.

Other Possibilities for the Agenda

  • Dodd-Frank Financial Reform: The Senate passed the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act (S. 2155) in March, and the House may take it up as early as this week. Accepting the Senate bill may be Republicans’ best chance to scale back Dodd-Frank before the midterm elections (and House Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling’s (R-TX) retirement), as Senate Democrats have indicated that any changes would endanger the fragile coalition that made it possible for the measure to pass the Senate earlier this spring. However, tweaking the measure, perhaps by including additional provisions, would placate House conservatives who supported more deregulatory efforts.
  • Opioids Legislation: Congress is hoping to pass legislation to curb opioid overdoses across the country. The House is considering dozens of bills and has a hearing scheduled tomorrow. The Senate released draft legislation last week in advance of a similar hearing, also tomorrow. House Energy and Commerce Chair Greg Walden (R-OR) has set a Memorial Day deadline for passing some legislation, but it remains unclear whether the chamber will pursue a comprehensive package or more scaled back legislation.
  • Coast Guard Reauthorization: Congress will soon debate legislation to reauthorize the Coast Guard’s operations.
  • Water Resources Development Act (WRDA): House and Senate committees are working on the two-year authorization of projects recommended by the Army Corps of Engineers. We expect Congress to pass the biennial WRDA before the end of this session.
  • Net Neutrality: A vote on Senator Ed Markey’s (D-MA) net neutrality Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution is expected sometime before the expedited privilege for a floor vote ends in in mid-June. We are hearing a vote is most likely during the second week in May. Procedurally, the CRA passes on a majority of those present and voting. Currently, all Democrats are planning to support the CRA, along with Senator Susan Collins (R-ME). While Senate action on the CRA is certain, the House CRA is not a privileged matter and does not expire until the end of this Congress. At the moment, it seems unlikely Representative Mike Doyle (R-PA) will secure the 218 signatures needed for a vote on the House floor. It also remains to be seen how Senate action on the CRA may help or hinder the prospects for net neutrality legislation in both the House and Senate.
  • Nominations: Given the recent turnover in the Cabinet, combined with the continued need to complete the nominations process to fill still vacant positions, the Senate will spend a significant amount of time considering nominees.
  • Rescissions: Under the Impoundment Control Act of 1974, President Trump, through the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), can request lawmakers to rescind certain funds from enacted appropriations measures. House Republicans would like the president to cancel $30 to $50 billion of appropriated FY18 funds. The president has 45 calendar days to submit his request. The request would be a privileged matter, similar to a budget measure, subject to a simple majority vote and expedited debate, which prevents a filibuster. While the need for only a majority vote makes a rescission package seem plausible, new Appropriations Committee Chair Richard Shelby (R-AL), in addition to Senators Collins and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), have articulated reservations about a rescission package, indicating it may be difficult for Republican leadership to find the votes for rescissions in the Senate.

There are numerous other measures that will garner some attention over the next few months, such as immigration and border security; infrastructure; privacy and data security; postal reform; and pension reform, but we think these may wait until after the election or later to see real legislative movement. In addition, while the Administration will primarily lead on a host of international issues, Congress will have its role in reacting to a wide range of policies, ranging from trade to the Iran agreement and the situations in Syria and North Korea.