Pentagon’s Budget, Middle East Summit Add Up to A Big Week in Washington

News

Congress is thinking globally this week.

Fresh off of a Senate victory last week clearing the way for Congress to review a final Iran nuclear deal, lawmakers in both chambers will get to work authorizing the country’s armed forces while the bulk of the week on the Senate floor will be devoted to international trade.

The Senate’s “fast track” measure would give President Obama significant advantage in finalizing a massive trade deal currently under negotiation with 11 Pacific and Asian countries. Because the president is at odds with some two-thirds of his own party on the issue, including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, the floor debate is likely to stretch out for at least a week. Republicans generally favor the deal.

Defense

The biggest issue facing the House this week will be an annual defense authorization bill to authorize funding for the military, including operations in Europe, Iran, and the Middle East. The bill passed the House Armed Services Committee overwhelmingly on a 60-2 vote, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be some significant spats on the House floor. The most closely watched debate will be over use of the Pentagon’s war account to fund its strategic operations. House Democrats and some conservatives don’t believe the “slush fund” should be used for basic military needs, but the Overseas Contingency Operations Fund is seen by defense hawks as a way around the punishing budget caps the Pentagon must comply with as a result of sequestration.

The influence of a freshman Republican who also happens to be a retired Air Force colonel will be of interest in the House defense debate. Rep. Martha McSally of Arizona successfully fought for the survival of an old warplane dubbed the “Warthog” in committee over the objections of the Air Force, which is seeking to retire the plane. Whether her amendment survives on the House floor is a good barometer of how much Congress can overrule the budgetary priorities of the military.

In the Senate, the Armed Services Committee will begin deliberations on its own defense authorization bill with new chairman John McCain at the helm. The bulk of the Senate’s committee debate will be closed to the public, which has irritated journalists and open-government advocates, who note that the House Armed Services Committee markup was open. McCain claims, however, that with just one week to finish the massive bill, it is too difficult to clear everyone out of the room for the classified portions of the debate and then bring them back when those talks are over. The Senate committee’s markups of readiness, emerging threats, and personnel will be open to the public and the press.

Technology

The House this week is expected to easily pass the USAFreedom Act, a bill that would end bulk collections of Americans’ communications records. The vote comes as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell continues to insist that his chamber will not take up such substantive reforms to the National Security Agency’s collection of U.S. call data.

The House vote, which is expected on Wednesday, is the latest step in a long-building standoff between the Senate GOPleadership, which is aggressively pushing a “clean” reauthorization of the Patriot Act’s surveillance authorities that sunset June 1, and the House, which supports rolling them back. Senate Democrats are siding with the House on this one. A federal appeals court ruling last week found that the NSAprogram is illegal, but that has not swayed McConnell. It is unclear whether any legislation can be reconciled between the two chambers. If they are unable to pass anything, three surveillance programs would end.

Two House panels will convene on Wednesday to discuss the future of ICANN, the nonprofit organization in charge of assigning domain names. The House Judiciary Committee hearing will include testimony from stakeholders like Amazon and the App Association, and will focus on problematic domain extensions like “.sucks.” The second hearing, in the House Communications and Technology Subcommittee, will center on the Obama administration’s plan to give up U.S. oversight of ICANN.

Energy

Christy Goldfuss, the managing director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, will face the House Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday to defend her agency’s draft guidance that would require federal departments to consider greenhouse-gas emissions and climate change in their environmental reviews for large projects. Republicans have said the guidance will slow down transportation development, oil and gas exploration, and other large infrastructure projects, and they have called on the administration to withdraw it.

Later on Wednesday, the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research holds a hearing on honeybees. The subcommittee will examine the administration’s efforts to safeguard pollinator health in light of a recent decline in America’s honeybee population.

Under the direction of Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will begin sifting through a raft of bills focused on energy infrastructure that could wind up as part of comprehensive, bipartisan energy legislation that the panel is currently working to advance. During the Thursday hearing, the committee will consider bills to boost distributed energy and upgrade the nation’s aging electric grid.

Finance

The Senate Finance Committee working groups on tax reform are in the midst of gathering and reporting their findings on low-hanging fruit for a possible tax package. “We might be able to do some stuff, whether it’s small-ball stuff or larger, more comprehensive-type reforms,” said committee member John Thune last week.

The House Financial Services Committee will have a hearing Wednesday on financial-data security and computer hackers, and the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations will have a hearing on “Dodd-Frank and Regulatory Overreach.”

Health

On Thursday, the Senate Finance Committee will have a hearing on how Congress can address the challenges faced by Medicare patients with chronic conditions. Witnesses include Dr. Patrick Conway, acting principal deputy administrator and chief medical officer at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and Dr. Mark Miller, the executive director of the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission.

Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee will hold a meeting on the development and licensure of Ebola vaccines. And on Friday, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee will have a markup of pending legislation.

White House

This will be a week of summits for President Obama as he tackles two of the most intractable problems facing the country—poverty, and violence and extremism in the Middle East.

He starts off the week with an event designed to encourage investing in young and women entrepreneurs around the world to take on problems like climate change, poverty and extremism. The meeting will also preview Obama’s trip to Africa this summer for the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Kenya.

On Tuesday, Obama will go to Georgetown University to meet with more than 120 religious leaders for what is called the “Catholic-Evangelical Summit on Overcoming Poverty.” On Wednesday, he will open a two-day summit with leaders from the Persian Gulf. That night, he will host dinner at the White House for the heads of the Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman. On Thursday, the leaders will move their talks to Camp David.

Friday, Obama finishes his week with remarks at the National Peace Officers Memorial Service at the U.S. Capitol.

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