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In Advance of August Recess, Behind-the-Scenes Battles in the House

Massie is whipping against the Innovation Act. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Massie is whipping against the Innovation Act. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Absent an agreement on the Confederate flag, the House may not tackle any appropriations bills before August, but that — much to the chagrin of many lawmakers — doesn’t mean the House is headed for an early recess.  

Instead, the House will spend much of its time this week on a food-labeling measure, coal-regulation legislation and a number of non-controversial suspension bills — all while the prospect of the Senate sending a long-term highway bill, with an Export-Import Bank extension attached, looms as the next big internecine fight for Republicans in the chamber. Lawmakers will return to the Capitol Tuesday, with the first votes of the week at 6:30 p.m. on three suspension bills: HR 2256, the Veterans Information Modernization Act; HR 237, the FTO Passport Revocation Act of 2015; and HR 1557, the Federal Employee Antidiscrimination Act of 2015.  

At 5 p.m. Tuesday, the Rules Committee will meet on two bills: the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015 and the Improving Coal Combustion Residuals Regulation Act of 2015.  

The food-labeling bill would overrule some states that are moving to implement laws requiring labels on genetically modified foods. Food companies and agriculture groups have spent millions to defeat labeling mandates, which they say stoke consumer fear about biotechnology.  

The bill would designate the Agriculture Department to administer a certification process and national voluntary labeling for non-genetically modified and genetically modified food and ingredients. The non-GMO certification review would be similar to the organic certification program the Agriculture Department currently operates.  

The bill also would codify the Food and Drug Administration’s position that genetically modified foods and ingredients don’t require labeling because they are as safe as those produced through conventional agriculture. About 70 percent to 80 percent of processed foods sold in the United States contain a genetically modified ingredient, usually corn or soybeans.  

It’s unclear how the vote for the bill will break down. The measure passed out of committee on a voice vote with a smattering of nays from Republicans and Democrats.  

In contrast, the coal regulations bill will probably split along more familiar partisan lines, though some Democrats from coal-producing areas may be inclined to support the legislation.  

The bill would set rules governing the management and disposal of coal ash. It also would authorize states to set up permit programs for coal ash, as well as allow the Environmental Protection Agency to offer permits in states that don’t establish their own permit programs.  

Some Democrats contend the bill would undermine tougher coal ash rules the EPA finalized in December, but it should easily pass with near-unanimous Republican support.  

Behind the scenes, House and Senate negotiators are working out the conference report for the fiscal 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, and House GOP leaders are working to shore up support for a patent troll bill, HR 9, that a number of Republicans and Democrats are beginning to rebel against. Similar patent legislation passed the House in 2013 overwhelmingly, but Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., told reporters last week that he’s been whipping against the “Innovation Act” and there’s a growing concern among members that the measure might have gone too far.  

Meanwhile, the Senate is gearing up for a battle over a multi-year highway bill that could very well be the vehicle for a re-authorization of the Export-Import Bank. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said last week he would use “any and all” procedural tools — read: filibuster — to prevent an Ex-Im re-authorization, but the Senate has previously demonstrated there are more than 60 votes for the export credit agency. Still, as the Senate works out that highway bill, leaders in the House will likely be preparing for a similar battle shortly after.  

Ellyn Ferguson and Shawn Zeller contributed to this report.

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