What's New In Washington (Jul)

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Lawmakers returned from their Independence Day recess prepared for more legislative fireworks over a slew of outstanding agenda items, including a showdown over the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. 

The Senate will continue to move forward on a batch of executive and judicial nominations. The Senate Judiciary Committee will begin its consideration of the Kavanaugh nomination with confirmation hearings coming as early as August and a Senate floor vote as early as September. The chamber is also hoping to consider opioid legislation, as well as the Water Resources Development Act. Senate leaders have also stated that appropriations bills will continue to be a priority.

In the House, leadership is preparing a second “minibus” appropriations package that will include Department of the Interior and Financial Services spending measures. House lawmakers also may consider reauthorization of intelligence programs; action on health insurance premiums (e.g., Health Insurance Tax, Medical Device Tax and Health Savings Accounts); a second turn at tax reform; and a follow-on package of bipartisan financial services reforms that the Senate was unable to carry in its Dodd-Frank reform bill.

The House and Senate also will be working to reconcile differences and finalize three major bills in July: the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA); the Farm Bill and the first mini-bus appropriations bill containing Energy and Water, Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and the Legislative Branch appropriations. Depending on the pace of proceedings, lawmakers could reach a compromise on each of these bills allowing for final passage later in July or early August.

The current short-term extension of the National Flood Insurance Program also expires at the end of July. Last year, the House passed a long-term reauthorization, and the Senate passed another short-term reauthorization as part of its Farm Bill. There will be discussion between the chambers as members work to prevent the program from lapsing by passing a stand-alone measure or as part of a larger package, such as the Farm Bill. 

Finally, trade issues will continue to dominate discussion in Washington as the administration continues to deploy trade remedies and Congress weighs when and whether to respond. Two items in particular are expected to remain a focus of congressional discourse on trade. First, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) is expected to continue pushing his proposal to require congressional approval of the administration’s tariffs. Second, the NDAA contains provisions that would reinstitute a ban on U.S. exports to Chinese telecom giant ZTE unless the administration can certify that the company has not violated the U.S. law for a year. The ZTE language will be a hotly debated item in the NDAA conference that is currently meeting to resolve differences in the House and Senate NDAA bills. 

With a full plate of agenda items highlighted above, Congress will be hard-pressed to address all of its outstanding issues, forcing many of these legislative battles to the lame-duck session following the 2018 midterm election.

Read more at Akin Gump