When was the last time Congress met for four consecutive weeks?

June 3, 2013

Lawmakers begin a rare four-week home stand Monday -- only their second of the year -- and most of the focus is once again expected to be on scandal.


(AP)

Wait a second: This is just the second four-week stretch of the year? Yes, it is indeed.

The last time the House and Senate met for four consecutive weeks without a recess was from Feb. 25 to March 21. Since then, lawmakers have left Washington for extended Easter, May Day and Memorial Day breaks. The next prolonged recess is scheduled for the week of July 4.

(And don’t forget: an official congressional "work week" lasts just four days when lawmakers are here in Washington.)

Now back to the action.

The misdeeds of the Internal Revenue Service will once again be in focus after the agency admitted over the weekend that an upcoming watchdog report details how officials approved an estimated $49 million on at least 220 conferences for employees over a three-year span beginning in fiscal 2010.

The full report is set for release Tuesday and will be the topic of a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing scheduled for Thursday.

Two other hearings are set to examine the fallout from revelations that the IRS inappropriately targeted certain groups seeking tax-exempt status.

On Monday, IRS Acting Commissioner Danny Werfel will make his first public comments as agency boss when he testifies before a House Appropriations subcommittee. On Tuesday, the House Ways and Means Committee plans to hear from representatives of some of the groups wrongly targeted by the IRS's tax-exempt unit.

But as congressional oversight hearings go, it's a forum scheduled to discuss the rise of reported sexual assault in the military that may be most noteworthy this week. The Senate Armed Services Committee has invited 20 witnesses -- yes, 20 -- to testify Tuesday at a hearing designed to review several proposals introduced in recent weeks to address the recent rise in sexual assaults in the military.

The Pentagon reported last month that the number of military personnel victimized by sexual assault and related crimes had surged by about 35 percent over the past two years despite intensive efforts to confront the problem. The news prompted House and Senate leaders to promise that Congress will address the problem in the annual National Defense Authorization Act, which sets Pentagon policy.

At Tuesday's hearing, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will be joined by top brass from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard, the lead judge advocate generals for each of the military services, other senior military leaders and representatives of military legal organizations and groups representing victims of sexual assault. Pay special attention to the record seven women who now sit on the committee and likely will ask some of the most pointed questions.

Not a week goes by without news of a fresh case of reported assault or abuse. On Friday, the U.S. Naval Academy announced that it is investigating allegations that three members of its football team sexually assaulted a female midshipman at an off-campus house last year.

What's going on in the Senate?

Those eagerly anticipating debate on immigration reform will have to wait one more week. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a comprehensive bipartisan bill before the recess, but the Senate first needs to finish up work this week on the Farm Bill.

Debate on the Farm Bill, which sets federal agriculture and food aid policy for the next five years, resumes Monday evening. Senate leaders expect a vote on the full plan by the end of the week.

The bill's supporters note that the measure would slash $24 billion in federal spending by eliminating direct subsidies to farmers, consolidating dozens of Agriculture Department programs and finding ways to reduce waste, fraud and abuse surrounding the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more commonly known as food stamps.

Once the Farm Bill is done, the Senate is expected to spent the balance of June debating immigration.

And what about the House?

The House begins the week with consideration of the Safeguarding America's Pharmaceuticals Act of 2013, a measure that would require the Food and Drug Administration to propose new rules to improve the tracking of prescription drugs. The bill also requires the FDA to come up with plans to establish a new electronic drug-tracking system by 2027. Later in the week lawmakers will begin debating appropriations bills for military construction and veterans programs and the Department of Homeland Security. But debate and passage of these bills is mostly pro-forma, since similar Senate versions aren't expected to be considered this year.

Finally, the House also will vote on a bill that would permit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to issue electronic versions of federal duck stamps, which are used as entrance passes to federal wildlife refuges.

What are YOU hoping Congress will do this week? The comments section awaits your thoughts.

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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