The big event on Capitol Hill this week is the visit of Pope Francis.  During his visit to the United States, he will travel to three cities: New York, Philadelphia, and Washington.  While in Washington, he will become the first Pope ever to address a joint session of Congress.  His speech will take place on Thursday, and demand for tickets to see the speech in person in the House chamber is reported to exceed demand for any previous event in the chamber.

Because of the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur on Wednesday, the House does not return to session until Thursday’s papal speech.  The House is scheduled to consider 11 bills this week under suspension of the rules.  Ten of these are bills to name post offices or other federal buildings.  The lone bill scheduled to be considered on the House floor under a rule this week is H.R. 348, the RAPID Act, sponsored by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX).  This bill, to which ten amendments have been made in order, is intended to expedite the permitting process for federally funded projects.  Similar legislation has passed the House in prior Congresses but were never considered by the Senate.  This year might be different.  With Republicans controlling the chamber, the Senate included in its version of the highway-funding authorization bill an amendment offered by Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) that also seeks to expedite the permitting process, though in a far less robust manner than the RAPID Act. The Portman-McCaskill language has the support of the White House and the ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, retiring Sen Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who has indicated that the current Senate language is as far as she will go on the matter.  Still, if the House passes the RAPID Act with a bipartisan vote on Friday, it may have leverage to seek some adjustments to the Senate language when the highway bill is resolved between the two chambers.

While the House is not back to work until Thursday, the Senate returns to session on Monday, following its failure last week to break a Democratic filibuster on the resolution to reject the Iran nuclear deal.  When it finished work last week, the Senate had moved to the consideration of a motion to proceed to H.R. 36, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.  The debate is likely an effort to allow senators a chance to vote on abortion-related legislation in advance of the chamber’s consideration of a continuing resolution that does not include language to defund Planned Parenthood, which has been mired in even more controversy than usual due to the surreptitiously recorded videos showing Planned Parenthood employees apparently willing to sell parts from aborted fetuses.  The videos have triggered a firestorm among social conservatives, who have threatened to block congressional passage of a continuing resolution to fund the federal government beyond the end of the fiscal year unless it defunds Planned Parenthood.  It is also likely that the Senate’s consideration of the abortion bill is related to the visit of the Pope, who on a number of issues has taken positions more closely associated with the Democratic Party in U.S. politics.  Abortion remains an issue on which Vatican policy and rhetoric remain more closely aligned with Republican views.  The Senate, however, will certainly not achieve the 60 votes needed to overcome a Democratic filibuster on the motion to proceed to the bill.  Once the motion to proceed is blocked, most likely on Tuesday, the Senate will be out on Wednesday for the Yom Kippur holiday and return to session on Thursday.

After joining House members in the House chamber to hear the Pope’s address, the Senate will return to work.  It is very possible that the Senate will turn its attention to a clean continuing resolution to fund federal government operations into early December in order to allow Congress and the President to work out a bill to fund the government to the end of the fiscal year.  As we have noted in previous columns, the big fight is over Republican demands to increase defense spending and Democratic demands to match that increase with a like increase in funding for domestic programs, with both parties struggling under the funding levels set by the sequester deal of a couple of years ago.  Add to the dispute over funding levels the volatile issue of funding for Planned Parenthood and the way forward is hazardous for Republicans, who remain eager to demonstrate they can govern Congress responsibly.  Republican leaders in both chambers have insisted that there will be no government shut-down this year, and that is likely, as there are enough votes in both chambers to pass a clean continuing resolution.  Nonetheless, by the time next week begins, Congress will have but three days to enact some form of continuing resolution, and the environment is fraught.  Even the papal visit is unlikely bring a sense of good feeling to the Capitol because the speech by the activist Pontiff is likely to be politically charged (last week Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ), who is Catholic, announced he would not attend the Pope’s speech because of his disagreement with Francis on a number of issues), and once the Pope departs the days leading to the September 30 end of the fiscal year will no doubt bring bitter rhetoric and even more bad feelings to Capitol Hill, even though this year a government shutdown does appear unlikely.

There are no House hearings scheduled in Washington this week, although the Judiciary Committee is holding a panel discussion on copyright issues in Nashville on Tuesday.  There are but a few Senate hearings, including a Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the state of the Middle East, a Judiciary Committee hearing on consolidations in the healthcare industry and their impact on consumers, and an Intelligence Committee hearing on cybersecurity issues.  A full list of the abbreviated hearing schedule this week follows.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

House Committees

Copyright Law Review
House Judiciary
Full Committee Panel Discussion
TBA, Nashville, Tenn.

Senate Committees

Middle East Policy
Senate Armed Services
Full Committee Hearing
9:30 a.m., 216 Hart Bldg.

State Department Trafficking Nomination
Senate Foreign Relations
Full Committee Confirmation Hearing
10 a.m., 419 Dirksen Bldg.

Veterans Affairs Issues
Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
Full Committee Hearing
9:30 a.m., 342 Dirksen Bldg.

Examining Consolidation in the Health Insurance Industry and its Impact on Consumers
Senate Judiciary – Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights
Subcommittee Hearing
10 a.m., 226 Dirksen Bldg.

Consumer Product Safety
Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation – Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance and Data Security
Subcommittee Hearing
2:30 p.m., 253 Russell Bldg.

Intelligence Issues
Senate Select Intelligence
Full Committee Closed Briefing
2:30 p.m., 219 Hart Bldg.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015 

Senate Committees

Agency Regulations
Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs – Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management
Subcommittee Hearing
Sept. 23, 11 a.m., 342 Dirksen Bldg.

Thursday, September 24, 2015 

Senate Committees

Intelligence and Cybersecurity Issues
Senate Select Intelligence
Full Committee Hearing
2:30 p.m., 219 Hart Bldg.

Photo of Kaitlyn McClure Kaitlyn McClure

Kaitlyn McClure is a policy advisor in Covington’s Public Policy Practice, leveraging her experience in government and politics to provide strategic advisory services and support to clients with legislative matters before government agencies and Congress.

Before joining the firm, Ms. McClure was the…

Kaitlyn McClure is a policy advisor in Covington’s Public Policy Practice, leveraging her experience in government and politics to provide strategic advisory services and support to clients with legislative matters before government agencies and Congress.

Before joining the firm, Ms. McClure was the Associate Vice President of Client Relations at DDC Advocacy. Prior to working for DDC, Ms. McClure served as the strategy assistant for former presidential candidate Governor Mitt Romney. Her experience also includes working in the U.S. Senate as a legislative assistant for Republican Senators John Hoeven of North Dakota and Judd Gregg of New Hampshire.