What (if anything) is Congress doing this week?

March 4, 2013

A statue of George Washington, silhouetted against the U.S. Capitol Rotunda. (Manuel Balce Ceneta -- AP)

Two days after a series of federal budget cuts began to take effect, large portions of the federal government will start adjusting this week to working with less while Congress returns and might consider adjusting some of the spending reductions. There's a growing eagerness to move on to other issues -- immigration and gun control, for example -- but the topics of taxes and spending won't disappear anytime soon.

So what is Congress scheduled to tackle this week? Here's a quick review:

1) Sequestration begins. Now what?: As furlough notices go out this week to hundreds of thousands of federal employees, the House plans to vote Thursday on a plan to keep the government running through the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30. Congress is scheduled to leave Washington on March 22 for a two-week Easter recess, so both sides appear focused on striking a deal before then.

Both sides say they're eager to strike a deal and avoid a government shutdown before the current spending agreement expires on March 27. (But after months of wrangling and last-minute deal-making, The Fix uses his Monday column to express a bit of pessimism about those hopes.)

House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he discussed the need to avoid a shutdown with President Obama at a Friday meeting: “The president . . . agreed that we should not have any talk of a government shutdown,” Boehner told NBC. “So I’m hopeful that the House and Senate will be able to work through this.”

Gene B. Sperling, the chairman of Obama’s National Economic Council, told "Meet the Press" that it's likely that the White House and Congress will avoid a shutdown, but that Obama will work to undo its cuts in coming months as part of a broader discussion about continued deficit reduction.

Looking for a primer on continuing resolutions? Here's an "Edsplainer" on the topic:


Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.). (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

2) Which senators strike a bipartisan deal on gun background checks?: The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to begin debating at least four proposals to limit gun violence at what promises to be a marathon-length hearing on Thursday. The docket lists four bills, to expand the nation's background check program, make gun trafficking a federal crime for the first time, give school districts more federal money to revamp school safety plans and to ban military-style assault weapons. Democrats generally support the proposals, while Republicans may propose at least a few amendments and hold together in opposition to the assault weapons ban.

But the big question of the week is whether four senators working on a plan to expand background checks -- Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) -- can strike a deal in time for Thursday's markup. They met late last week before leaving town, but there's still no word on progress.

Either way, Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) hopes to have all the bills voted out of committee in time for the Senate to begin debating them before Easter.

3.) Is John Brennan's CIA nomination in trouble?: Probably not, but Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said again Sunday that they'll hold up a final confirmation vote on Brennan until the White House shares more information on the Sept. 11 attack on a U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya. The Senate Intelligence Committee is scheduled to vote Tuesday to refer Brennan to the full Senate.

"John and I are hell-bent on making sure the American people understand this debacle called Benghazi," Graham said Sunday during a joint appearance with McCain on CBS's "Face the Nation."

Beyond GOP concerns about Benghazi and some liberal Democratic criticism of Brennan's oversight of the Obama administration's drone policy, he appears likely to earn final Senate approval.


Bob Ney leaving federal court after his 2007 sentencing. (Gerald Martineau/The Washington Post)

4.) What, if anything, will Bob Ney's tell-all reveal?: The former Ohio Republican congressman releases a book Tuesday that is expected to share new details about his connections to the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal. Details on the book are scant, but Ney plans to sign complimentary copies of, "Sideswiped: Lessons Learned Courtesy of the Hit Men of Capitol Hill" on Wednesday night at the Monocle restaurant.

Ney has maintained a relatively low profile since serving a 17-month federal prison sentence. In 2010, he spent a period of time living in a $10-a-day rented room at a Buddhist temple in Dharamsala, India, studying meditation with monks and learning the Tibetan language.

What else did we miss? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Follow Ed O'Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost

Ed O’Keefe is a congressional reporter with The Washington Post and covered the 2008 and 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
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