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Road Ahead: House Ready for Recess. Senate? Not So Much

Defense authorization, more spending bills among the week's highlights

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy hopes to get the defense authorization wrapped up this week. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy hopes to get the defense authorization wrapped up this week. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

This is the last week the House is in session before members depart for the August recess — expect senators to be grumbling about that.

But the House does have a fairly sizable legislative agenda before heading home through Labor Day. The highlighted legislation includes Republican-led efforts to expand and update health savings accounts and to roll back some of the taxes levied under the 2010 health care law.

The House also needs to pass a short-term flood insurance patch.

And House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy hopes the chamber will adopt the conference report to accompany the fiscal 2019 defense authorization before the week’s end.

“This House is committed to rebuilding our military and ensuring our brave men and women in uniform have the equipment and training they need to successfully carry out their mission,” the California Republican said Thursday on the floor. “I want to thank the Armed Services Committee for their hard work on this bill, especially their chairman, Mac Thornberry, and I look forward to another big bipartisan vote.”

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn told reporters the same day there was a deal in place on legislation designed to overhaul the foreign investment review process, which was added to that chamber’s version of the defense authorization.

Watch: The ‘Hell’ in Helsinki, Fist Bumps and Chickens in Alaska — Congressional Hits and Misses

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A banner session

Speaking of the Senate, Republicans set another new record for the pace of confirming appeals court judges before seeing 9th Circuit nominee Ryan Bounds pulled from the floor and ultimately withdrawn at the last minute Thursday.

Monday evening’s confirmation vote will be far less dramatic. Senators are scheduled to vote on President Donald Trump’s nomination of Robert L. Wilkie to be secretary of Veterans Affairs.

“America’s veterans need and deserve a strong leader who will tackle the VA’s biggest challenges head-on,” Montana Democrat Jon Tester said earlier this month after the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee voted to advance the nomination. “Mr. Wilkie has experience and a commitment to veterans and their families that should serve our men and women in Montana and across our nation.”

Wilkie has proved to be a far more popular choice than the president’s previous ill-fated selection, White House physician Ronny Jackson. As ranking member of the VA panel, Tester helped sink the Jackson pick, drawing ridicule from Trump.

After that, it’s back to legislating. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has the gears turning to move ahead on what looks likely to become a four-bill package of fiscal 2019 appropriations measures.

The House sent over a combined Financial Services and Interior-Environment bill last week, and the Senate is expected to add Agriculture and Transportation-HUD to the mix.

It’s not clear how much of an amendment process there might be, but members of the Senate Appropriations Committee on both sides of the aisle are eager to get the spending bills across the floor. The Financial Services bill, in particular, is ripe for myriad partisan food fights since it also provides funds for Washington, D.C. — where senators sometimes like to play city councilmen.

Panel highlights

While the clock runs on the floor, the most interesting panel hearings for the week might both be at Senate Commerce subcommittees.

On Tuesday, Sens. Jerry Moran, a Kansas Republican, and Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, will continue their investigation of sexual abuse in Olympic and amateur sports, hearing from former Michigan Gov. John Engler, who is now the interim president at Michigan State University, along with current top officials from USA Gymnastics and the United States Olympic Committee.

The Commerce subcommittee led by Moran and Blumenthal previously ran into a brick wall last month when the former president of USA Gymnastics, Steve Penny, invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

A different Commerce subcommittee is scheduled to hold a hearing the next day on the effort to get people to Mars. That hearing, chaired by Texas Republican Ted Cruz, will look at NASA and private-sector work toward the goal of reaching the red planet.

Off the floor in the House, the main attraction will be the final full committee markup of the House Appropriations panel for the year. Appropriators are scheduled to meet Wednesday morning to consider the fiscal 2019 Homeland Security bill.

The draft bill would provide $5 billion for Trump’s desired increase in security at the border with Mexico, which drew applause from the White House.

“It will enable the construction of over 200 miles of new physical barrier along the Southern border, including associated surveillance technology and access roads. These investments are essential to deterring, preventing, and denying illegal border crossings by would-be illegal immigrants, human traffickers, criminal aliens, child smugglers, and drug dealers,” Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement.

Of course, Democrats such as House Appropriations ranking member Nita M. Lowey of New York, disagree.

“We have a responsibility to spend taxpayer dollars wisely, not waste them on campaign promises the public opposes and would do nothing to make us more secure,” Lowey said.

David Lerman and Mary Ellen McIntire contributed to this report.

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