The House is out of town this week, but the Senate is here and expected to finish voting on its massive highway bill before moving on to other issues. Here’s an early look of what to expect and watch this week on Capitol Hill:
Afghanistan: Lawmakers expressed condolences and concern on the Sunday morning political talk shows in response to the news that a U.S. soldier allegedly opened fire on Afghan civilians inside homes before turning himself in. There are several Senate Armed Services and Appropriations committee hearings scheduled for this week that could serve as venues for senators to raise further concerns or skepticism about the war. Keep an eye on Marine Gen. John R. Allen, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, who is in Washington this week preparing for congressional testimony and may be called upon to explain the situation to lawmakers in person.
Highway bill: The Senate is expected Tuesday to complete votes on 30 amendments to a two-year, $109 billion deal to fund federal transportation projects and then vote on final passage. It’s expected the House will consider a similar version of the bill in the coming weeks.
Decision day for judges? Once the highway bill is passed, the Senate could go in several directions (including consideration of a jobs bill similar to the one passed last week by the House), but Democrats are hoping to hold confirmation votes for as many as 17 judicial nominees. As colleague Al Kamen noted Friday, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) hopes to earn enough Republican support to get the 17 nominees confirmed all at once and if that doesn’t happen, to hold up or down votes on each individual nominee. Keep an eye on Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) — a top critic of President Obama’s January recess appointments — to see whether he stands in the way of the deal. Worth noting: If Reid holds votes on judicial nominees, it’s worth asking what happens to the dozens of senior executive branch nominees still awaiting confirmation votes, including a deputy secretary for the Department of Housing and Urban Development; five people for the Energy Department; a Treasury undersecretary; an undersecretary and various assistant secretaries and ambassadors at the State Department; and several vacant inspector general positions.
Presidential politics: Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) told us last week to expect “at least three” significant congressional endorsements this week for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. With the Alabama and Mississippi primaries scheduled for Tuesday — and most of those states’ lawmakers still neutral — who might get behind Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich or Ron Paul this week? (And will it even matter?)
Fixing Congress: The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee plans to hold a hearing Wednesday to review several pieces of legislation that would change how Congress handles the budgetmaking process, including a proposal known as “No Budget, No Pay.” Sens. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.) and Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) plan to testify.
The Cabinet visits the Capitol: Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III are scheduled to testify Thursday before their respective Senate Appropriations subcommittees regarding their 2013 federal budget requests. Such hearings can generate headlines, so stay tuned.
The revolving door: It keeps spinning — and with House lawmakers back home, will any of them announce plans to retire or run for higher office? For those of you keeping score, Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) announced Saturday that he’s stepping down to focus full time on his run for Washington state governor, just days after Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) and Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) announced their retirements and Rep. Donald M. Payne (D-N.J.) died suddenly after a brief illness. Worth noting: Reid denied on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday that he guaranteed former senator Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.) plum committee assignments and higher seniority in exchange for running again for the Senate, noting that he gave assurances to Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) when he switched parties that didn’t pan out. “I learned my lesson then,” Reid said. “Don’t make any promises.”
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