Congress has just five days (and really, just three full legislative days) until the start of a two-week spring break, leaving little time to put the finishing touches on a host of unresolved matters and to plan ahead for whatever lawmakers will grapple over once they return.
Bottom line: With votes scheduled this week on how to keep the government funded and how much to pay for government in the future, this is a week to pay for now and plan for later.
Here now is your trusty forecast of what to expect this week on Capitol Hill:
1.) The Budget: In the ultimate sign that “regular order” is back, both chambers plan to pass competing budget measures this week. The GOP-controlled House will approve the budget blueprint produced by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), while the Democratic-controlled Senate is poised to sign off on the budget plan drafted by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.). Budget proposals cannot be filibustered in the Senate, so they should be approved on party-line majority votes. But only after a serious vote-a-rama — the first since 2009 — in which Republicans will force up-or-down votes on a series of amendments on topics that will be politically tricky for Democrats.
House Democrats plan to release their budget proposal this week, a blueprint that Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the committee’s top Democrat, said Sunday would balance the budget by around 2040.
Once the competing proposals are approved, the next most important step is whether Ryan and Murray can come to terms on a conference report. Agreement could yield something along the lines of the “grand bargain” that many in Washington so desperately want. But prolonged debate, disagreement and discord would leave Congress right where it’s been for the last several years — with no budget passed and bad feelings all around.
2.) Continuing resolution: This is the big must-do on the legislative calendar before lawmakers leave for their two-week break. The Senate is expected to approve a short-term spending resolution by Tuesday, a plan generally mirroring the House-approved package passed two weeks ago. As long as the top-line number remains the same — $1.047 trillion, of which sequestration-related cuts drop the sum to $982 billion — any changes should smoothly sail through the House by week’s end. Current federal funding expires on March 27 — five days after Congress leaves town, predicating the need to get the plan passed this week.
3.) St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, papal installations: Per tradition, President Obama and Enda Kenny, the Irish Taoiseach (or prime minister) will attend a luncheon hosted by congressional leaders Tuesday on Capitol Hill. The long-scheduled event kept both Obama and Boehner from traveling Tuesday to Vatican City for the installation mass for Pope Francis. Vice President Biden and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) are leading the official White House delegation, while Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) is leading a 10-member delegation on behalf of Boehner. Forced budget cuts — known as sequestration — are forcing Boehner’s delegation to travel to the mass on commercial aircraft, instead of military planes.
4.) What’s up with immigration?: Working groups in the House and Senate continue working to complete complex proposals to overhaul the nation’s immigration system that could be ready to be introduced shortly after the Easter break.
As The Post’s Rosalind S. Helderman and David Nakamura reported over the weekend, though the bipartisan group of eight senators working on the issue has received the most public attention, there also is progress in the Republican-led House, long seen as the tougher political challenge for any immigration proposal.
The four Republicans involved in an eight-member bipartisan House group briefed Boehner on Friday, informing him that the group is nearing a deal. That followed a meeting between the group’s four Democrats and Pelosi on Thursday.
Perhaps the most important actors to watch are the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and several labor unions, who continue sparring over the contentious issues of a new visa program for foreign workers. Talks on how to resolve disagreements have stalled, according to people involved in the negotiations.
5.) And what about gun control?: The story is much the same here: No significant action expected before Easter. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved four bills last week that are now up for consideration in the Senate, but Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) hasn’t signaled, if, when or how the proposals will be considered. House lawmakers continue reviewing various proposals, with Democrats holding public events almost weekly to keep pressure on Republicans to take up whichever bills pass the Senate.
Watch closely whatever Reid does or says in the coming weeks on this issue — he faces the complicated task of doing something on the issue, but also providing political cover for the dozens of Senate Democrats running for reelection whose fortunes could be challenged by politically tricky votes on gun control.
6.) Any more discussion of gay marriage?: This is the last week Congress is in session before the U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments next week in two cases regarding gay marriage. So will any other lawmakers speak out on the issue before then?
Boehner flatly ruled out changing his position on the issue Sunday, telling ABC’s “This Week” that “I believe that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. It’s — it’s what I grew up with. It’s what I believe. It’s what my church teaches me. And — I can’t imagine that position would ever change.”
Boehner was asked the question in light of the unexpected announcement Friday by Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who has a gay son, that he now supports same-sex marriage. Portman’s decision makes him the highest-ranking Republican and conservative, currently in office to embrace the change. Remember, however, that Portman’s position is nuanced: He wants each of the 50 states to decide “through the democratic process” how to handle gay marriage. In other words, he doesn’t want the courts to rule on the matter. It’s a hedged position that could leave an opening for other Republicans to join him in supporting the change, which remains very unpopular with the conservative base.
This item has been updated since its original posting to include revised costs for the continuing resolution.
Agree or disagree with our list? What else is happening this week? Speak out in the comments section below.
Rosalind S. Helderman and Paul Kane contributed to this report.
Follow Ed O’Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost