WASHINGTON – Congress still has some unfinished business before closing shop for the year, even as the focus shifts to the agenda of President-elect Donald Trump and unified Republican control of Congress and the White House in 2017.
Trump’s election will reset the balance of power in Washington, but until noon on Jan. 20, President Barack Obama decides what can become law. Resurgent Republicans will have to decide what legislation to try to wrap up now and what to leave for next year in hopes of getting a better deal with Trump.
Here are the highlights of the agenda of the lame-duck Congress which returns on Monday:
Fighting and dysfunction have stalled 11 of the 12 annual agency spending bills, leaving more than $1 trillion in unfinished budgeting for the Pentagon and domestic agencies unfinished. Republicans are seeking to use gamesmanship to boost Pentagon spending while freezing domestic programs under the terms of last year’s budget pact.
A stopgap spending bill expires Dec. 9. Top GOP leaders, like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., would like to wrap up the bills and not clutter up next year’s agenda, but it’s not clear that House leaders have the stomach for the compromises with Obama it would take to do that. The likely outcome is another short-term funding extension that would punt the bills into next year.
Congress has passed a defence policy bill every year for more than five decades, but this year’s measure is hung up.
House Republicans are seeking to use the must-pass $602 billion defence policy bill to reverse protections imposed against workplace discrimination by Pentagon contractors based on sexual or gender orientation. Another battle is over how much additional money to spend on weapon systems that the Pentagon didn’t request in its budget. The House has proposed $18 billion, arguing the investment is needed to halt a decline in the combat readiness of the U.S. armed forces. But the Senate’s version of the bill didn’t include the spending boost, leading to an impasse.
Another likely measure would renew a decades-old law that allows the United States to hit companies with economic sanctions for doing business with Iran. Congress first passed the Iran Sanctions Act in 1996 and has extended it several times since then. The law is to expire at the end of the year and there is strong bipartisan support for legislation that would extend it by another decade. It’s on the House schedule this week.
MEDICAL RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT
Also on the agenda is bipartisan legislation to speed federal approval of drugs and medical devices and boost biomedical research.
The legislation is intended to streamline how federal regulators assess the safety of new treatments and let them reach markets more quickly. Supporters say that with advances like genetic mapping and biologic medicines produced in living cells, it’s time to speed research and development.
A popular water projects measure — including $220 million to help Flint and other cities repair aging water systems that are poisoned by lead — is in House-Senate talks.
Associated Press writers Richard Lardner and Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.