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Congress Struggling to Finish To-Do List Before Summer Break

Action on gun control, Zika, opioids, appropriations remains uncertain

Rep. Charlie Dent is encouraged by the pace of activity on spending bills. (CQ Roll Call)
Rep. Charlie Dent is encouraged by the pace of activity on spending bills. (CQ Roll Call)

With only seven working days left before a seven-week break, the House and Senate may adjourn without taking any meaningful action on gun control, Zika funding, opioid abuse and several outstanding appropriations bills.  

The Senate already held a series of failed votes on gun control and the House has yet to vote on the issue. A Republican counterterrorism bill that includes a provision to halt a gun sale to someone on the terrorist watch list for three days unless the government can produce evidence that the person belongs on the list does not have the support to pass the House. It remains unclear whether it can be tweaked to garner enough support before the summer recess.   

House Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said he expects the bill to be held up for a while. “Lots of folks aren’t going to support it” without changes, he said.  

Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., the author of the gun control provision, said there were a lot of productive conversations Wednesday among Republicans about ways the bill could be improved. “At the end of the day, the goal isn’t to get a unanimous vote on everything, but we’ll see how close we can get,” he said.   

While some conservatives want to strike the gun control provision altogether, others, especially those in swing districts, believe it’s important for the House to do something. Speaker Paul D. Ryan said in a GOP conference meeting Wednesday that some members need to have a vote on the gun control provision, according to Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz.   

“I think there are a lot of members who would like to go on record that they oppose terrorists purchasing fire arms … to vote for something,” Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., said.   

A House-Senate conference committee report on $1.1 billion in partially offset Zika funding failed to pass a procedural hurdle in the Senate amid Democratic opposition. GOP leaders say they plan to bring the measure back up but the plan for winning Democratic support remains unclear since Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said the conference report could not be amended.   

The Kentucky Republican also said that an opioid conference report that lawmakers released Wednesday is not amendable. Democrats have said they will not support the measure since it does not provide funding for the new and expanded opioid abuse prevention and treatment grant programs it authorizes.   

While the measure could pass the House without Democratic support, it’s likely to face more trouble in the Senate. House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton of Michigan, however, said he remains confident it can pass through Congress before they break.   

Meanwhile, both chambers remain behind on passing appropriations measures, falling well behind their goal of passing most if not all of the 12 bills before the summer recess.  

House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., acknowledges the backlog but said at least all 12 bills will be reported out of committee by the end of next week. “The floor schedule is the problem,” he said.   

Senate Democrats on Wednesday complained that Republicans were wasting time voting on immigration measures that the Senate has previously rejected and a genetically modified food labeling bill given the other legislation they need to pass before the break.   

“While we’re gone the mosquitoes aren’t going to wait in terms of spreading this Zika infection, the opioid epidemic will charge forward with more and more lives being lost, and important legislation that we could have taken up will be ignored,” Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., said.   

“Just think of all the things the Senate should be doing,” Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., said at a news conference on the GMO bill. “Apparently consumers’ right to know, your right to know, my right to know, what we’re eating, what we’re feeding our families, is, as far as our leadership is concerned, more threatening to our country than gun violence … more pressing to bringing up criminal justice reform … is more urgent and more time sensitive than national security legislation. Well, come on.”  

House Democrats have also been critical of Republican leaders ability to move legislation.   

“Trying to get even their gun (bill) version on the floor is problematic,” Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, D-Va., said.  

Rep. Danny K. Davis, D-Ill., agreed that Republican leaders will be to blame if the gun, Zika and opioid issues remain unaddressed before the end of next week.   

“It simply means that they don’t have the ability to actually lead and provide solutions to the problems facing the American people,” he said.   

However, many lawmakers are holding out hope for an end to the stalemates.   

“I’m an optimist,” Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., said. “You stop fighting when the bell rings.”  

Bridget Bowman and Rema Rahman contributed to this report. 

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