Every week that Congress is in session, The Washington Post's Ed O'Keefe provides a preview of what to expect in the coming days from the House and the Senate:
Congress returns to Washington Monday to continue working on several hot topics, including a potential overhaul of the nation's immigration laws, possible work on revamping the federal tax code and preparation for a series of fiscal deadlines now expected to hit in late September.
Supporters of stricter gun laws also are expected to push the Senate to try again on a bill that failed to advance before the recess. Attempts to push for new gun laws were buoyed last week by activists that confronted Democratic and Republican senators who voted against a series of bipartisan proposals, and by fresh polling that shows drops in approval for some of the senators who blocked the gun bill.
While negotiations continue on those bigger issues, House and Senate floor time will be dominated this week by smaller pocketbook issues. Here's a quick preview:
1.) Taxing the Internet: The Senate plans to pick up where it left off before the recess by resuming debate on the Marketplace Fairness Act, a bill requiring most online retailers to collect state sales tax on goods and services sold.
The plan appears to have enough bipartisan support to pass, but faces opposition from senators from states that don't have a sales tax, including Montana, Oregon and New Hampshire, where the state's two senators, Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), find themselves in rare agreement.
"I think there are two issues, one is the fairness issue. Why should we have to collect a tax when we don’t have to collect a tax for New Hampshire?" Shaheen said in an interview in Concord last week. "But the other is that the Internet is an enterprise, and the concern with what happens to businesses and the incentive to grow and to add jobs and to innovate if they know there’s a ceiling after which they know they’re going to have to collect taxes in a way that puts a real burden on them."
Regardless, Shaheen admitted that the bill is likely to pass the Senate, though its fate in the GOP-controlled House remains uncertain.
Expect a final Senate vote on the plan as early as today. Then, senators are scheduled to pick up debate on a water resources bill that would authorize the completion of several projects designed to divert or re-route main waterways, especially in Midwestern and western states.
2.) Overtime pay or more time off?: If you were a worker paid by the hour, which would you rather receive: wages for overtime hours worked, or the option of turning your overtime into earned time off to use for personal reasons, like caring for a sick parent or attending a child's baseball game?
House Republicans believe that hundreds of thousands of private-sector hourly wage earners would prefer the time off instead of money, so they'll vote this week on the Working Families Flexibility Act, a plan sponsored by Rep. Martha Roby (R-Ala.) that would give private employers the option of offering workers additional time off in lieu of overtime pay. Individual employees would then decide whether they want to be paid or just take the earned time off.
As the mother of two young children, "I understand valuing time over cash payments," Roby said in a recent meeting with reporters.
The bill would make changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act, which has been rarely amended or changed since its passage in 1938.
As The Post's Paul Kane recently noted, Roby's bill is part of an effort by House Republican leaders to rebrand the party by pushing a “making life work” agenda focused less on slashing federal spending and more on kitchen-table issues. The items up for consideration usually have an easy-to-grasp name, such as the Helping Sick Americans Now Act, which lawmakers were supposed to vote on the week before recess, but didn’t due to a lack of sufficient GOP support.
House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said before the recess that the overtime bill will have enough GOP votes to pass. In a recent interview with reporters, he called the proposal "one of the most important" bills his colleagues will vote on this year. He said it is designed to prove to voters that Washington is aware of and concerned about real-world economic problems.
“I hear about the debt and the deficit. I hear about the fights,” McCarthy said in the interview. “And if I’m sitting at home, or if I’m trying to make within my household different things work or go forward, I think, ‘How does it relate to me?’"
The bill is strongly opposed by labor unions, who have warned that some employers might try to coerce workers into taking time off instead of reaping overtime pay. But Republican supporters say that they're merely trying to give employers and workers more flexibility to address modern-day demands.
Later, the House will move to another proposal in line with Cantor and McCarthy's increasingly softer agenda that would bolster federal funding for pediatric research at the National Institutes of Health by ending public funding for presidential candidates and party conventions.
3.) And what about immigration?: Debate on the issue is scheduled to begin again this week as the Senate Judiciary Committee plans to start marking up an 844-page bipartisan proposal.
Potentially complicating attempts to hold together sufficient bipartisan support is Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), who is expected to introduce a proposed amendment called the Uniting American Families Act that would extend the automatic green card privilege granted to heterosexual spouses to the foreign-born partners of American gays, lesbians and bisexuals.
Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), two key members of the bipartisan "Gang of Eight" that drafted the immigration proposal, said over the recess that inclusion of the proposal would likely kill the immigration deal. President Obama signaled his support for Leahy's proposal last week, but quickly added that the plan wouldn't need to be part of any final immigration bill he signs.
Meanwhile, the House Judiciary Committee is expected to begin consideration of two GOP proposals regarding agricultural guest workers and a plan to mandate that all employers use the federal E-Verify system to confirm a job applicant's immigration status. Several other members of both parties in the House and Senate are also expected to introduce other immigration-themed bills in the coming weeks.
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