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Road Ahead: The House Is Back, Looking for Deals on Spending and Farm Bill

Lawmakers return with hearings headlined by Supreme Court nomination, social media

Speaker Paul D. Ryan and the rest of the members of the House are returning from August recess. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Speaker Paul D. Ryan and the rest of the members of the House are returning from August recess. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Most of the cameras will be focused on President Donald Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, but he’s far from the only attraction this week on Capitol Hill.

The Senate Judiciary Committee’s week of confirmation hearings with Judge Brett Kavanaugh and outside witnesses kicks off Tuesday morning, but House members are arriving back in Washington, D.C., this week after more than a month back in their districts.

Their Senate counterparts worked through August, though attendance was at times lacking, particularly when the chamber was in session on Mondays.

A total of 35 senators had less-than-perfect participation during the August work period, including a few Republicans, such as Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who had signed on to a letter encouraging Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky to slash the traditional August break, according to a Roll Call analysis. 

Missed Votes-01

Regardless of what’s actually on the floors of the two chambers this week, the work on the real legislative priorities for the coming weeks is underway behind the scenes.

Leaders want to complete as many fiscal 2019 spending bills as possible, hoping to mitigate the size and scope of the continuing resolution that will likely be needed this year.

There is now less than a month to act on legislation to avert a shutdown affecting at least part of the federal government.

By the end of August, the Senate had sent the House three packages of spending bills, comprising roughly 87 percent of appropriated accounts within the federal budget.

Speaker Paul D. Ryan told House Republicans on a conference call last week that the two chambers will be going to conference on the largest package — both Defense and Labor, Health and Human Services and Education are on the agenda — according to AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Republican.

Two other conference committees are planning to meet this week. Farm bill negotiators have scheduled a formal meeting Wednesday in the Senate’s Kennedy Caucus Room, and the appropriators responsible for the first bundle of three fiscal 2019 spending bills hope to meet to finalize a deal.

“Our goal is to have an agreement, so we can have a conference as soon as we get back next week … a formal conference that is for the purpose of considering and hopefully approving the agreement,” Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander said last week. “That would be all three.”

Alexander is chairman of the Energy-Water Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee in the Senate, which is the lead bill in that first package of spending measures.

After breaking a logjam on judicial nominations last week, the Senate is set to confirm eight more of them. And lawmakers are also hoping to get an agreement for floor time for another package of opioid-related legislation.

On the House side, a Wednesday afternoon Energy and Commerce hearing on Twitter’s transparency featuring CEO Jack Dorsey could be the highlight of the week.

Dorsey will be a busy man during his Capitol Hill tour. The Energy and Commerce hearing will come after a morning hearing at the Senate Intelligence Committee on the use of social media platforms by foreign influence entities.

That will be the latest in a series of Intelligence Committee open hearings as part of the still ongoing investigation into Russian efforts to interfere with U.S. elections, and Dorsey will not be alone at the witness table.

Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg is expected to attend. Larry Page, the CEO of Google parent company Alphabet, has also been asked to testify.

And in a sign of how crazy Wednesday might be at the Capitol, the Intelligence Committee won’t meet in the made-for-TV hearing room adjacent to the committee’s space. The Supreme Court confirmation hearing has that booked.

Ryan Kelly, Lindsey McPherson and Jennifer Shutt contributed to this report.

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