The House and Senate are in session this week. Congress will face many issues this week, including the Russia-Ukraine crisis, the retirement of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, negotiations on the Build Back Better (BBB) Act, and federal government funding.
Today, the Senate will vote on the nomination of Bridget Brennan to be U.S. District Judge for the Northern District of Ohio. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) also set up votes on roughly 20 nominees before the Senate left Washington on January 20, including Gabriel Camarillo to be Under Secretary of the Army, Andrew Hunter to be an Assistant Secretary of the Air Force, John Coffey to be General Counsel of the Department of the Navy, Alexandra Baker to be a Deputy Under Secretary of Defense and Reta Jo Lewis to be President of the Export-Import Bank.
The House returns Tuesday and will consider 11 bills under suspension of the rules, including the Senate-passed Promoting Rigorous and Innovative Cost Efficiencies for Federal Procurement and Acquisitions (PRICE) Act of 2021 (S. 583), which directs the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to publish an annual report on projects that have used innovative procurement techniques in an attempt to improve contracting in the federal government. The House will also vote on the America COMPETES Act of 2022 (H.R. 4521), which authorizes $190 billion for U.S. technology and research to compete with China and provides $52 billion to increase U.S. semiconductor production.
As lawmakers continue work in the second session of the 117th Congress, there are several unexpected items that will consume a considerable amount of legislative time. Congress must give attention to the potential Russian invasion of Ukraine, with President Joe Biden announcing Friday that he would be sending up to 8,500 troops to NATO countries in Eastern Europe. A bipartisan group of Senators are currently working on a bill which includes harsher sanctions for Russia. Supreme Court Justice Breyer announced his decision to retire at the end of the Court’s term in late June 2022, presenting the Biden Administration with the opportunity to fill the seat. President Biden has set a deadline for announcing a nominee by the end of February and many names are being bandied about and vetted by the White House. Leader Schumer shared comments on Justice Breyer’s career on the nation’s highest court and then outlined the nomination process, which he hopes to be “a fair process that moves quickly so we can confirm President Biden’s nominee to fill Justice Breyer’s seat as soon as possible.” These unforeseen agenda items are delaying movement on other key Congressional items.
Today, House and Senate leaders will meet again to discuss topline numbers for a spending deal for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2022. If a deal is reached, Congress will likely pass an omnibus package before the Friday, February 18 deadline. The other option remains for Congress to pass another short-term stopgap funding bill to avoid a government shutdown should negotiations fall through. Many believe Congress will have a tough time reaching a deal on an omnibus spending bill. Last week, Senate Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Richard Shelby (R-AL) shared his uncertainty on passing a bill by the deadline. “It’d be hard to get it by the 18th, but if we can make huge progress, we’ll probably get it done soon,” Shelby said before the recess. With less than three weeks to go until the government funding deadline, avoiding a shutdown will be on the top of lawmakers list.
Regarding the President’s social and climate plan, the BBB Act negotiations have shifted to the scope of the package and whether and how it will be broken up into pieces. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who paused negotiations on the bill in late December, called for fellow Democrats to “start from scratch” on the bill. The House-passed version had $1.7 trillion in spending and President Biden is optimistic to pass some of the pieces of the existing package. Some of the provisions with broad support include funding for universal pre-kindergarten and $550 billion in clean energy spending and tax incentives. Questions remain outstanding for Congress’ approach to the BBB Act, including if, when, and how action will take place.
For the remainder of this week, several House committee hearings will be held, including: a Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Highways and Transit hearing on “The Road Ahead for Automated Vehicles” and an Agriculture Committee hearing on “A 2022 Review of Farm Bill Conservation Programs.” The Senate will hold several hearings including: a Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on “Expanding broadband access: Department of Commerce Broadband Programs in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act” and a Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee nomination hearing for Dr. Steven Cliff to be Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Gigi Sohn, to be a Commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, and Alvaro Bedoya, to be a Commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission.