Senate and House Back for Short Session With Major Funding Priorities on the Table

September 8, 2020 Updated: September 8, 2020

Both Congressional chambers have returned to Washington this week, following the August recess. Senate and House lawmakers have about a month to pass legislation to fund the government along with another CCP virus relief package.

The Senate is back in session Tuesday, focused on confirming judges, voting on the next CCP virus relief bill, and heading off a government shutdown with a likely continuing resolution (CR). The House is focused on committee work this week and holding floor action starting next week.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Monday that his priority is to pass another CCP virus relief package. Relief funding negotiations between the White House and Democratic leaders have stalled with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) saying the White House must increase funding for the relief package by $1 trillion before Democrats will continue negotiations.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) told his Democratic colleagues in a letter Thursday said Republicans would be moving in the “wrong direction” if they were to vote on an even smaller version of their $1 trillion CCP virus relief bill.

“Their proposal appears to be completely inadequate and, by every measure, fails to meet the needs of the American people,” Schumer said.

Meanwhile, McConnell criticized Democrats for holding up the negotiations for political gain.

“Working families must not suffer more than necessary because Democrat leaders think citizens’ pain may help their political fortunes,” McConnell said. “Congress can, should, and must do more to help. The Senate will vote and the American people will be watching.”

Secretary of Treasury Stephen Mnuchin told a House committee last week he would not back the Democrats’ $2.2 trillion relief package, even with them coming down from the initial $3.4 trillion ask.

Also, this month, lawmakers are expected to pass a CR, to prevent a pre-election government shutdown, the end date of which has not been agreed upon yet. Mnuchin and Pelosi have an informal agreement to pass a CR which won’t have provisions viewed as politically controversial by either side.

The House is not in session this week but is instead focused on mark-ups or hearings in committee, which allows the lower chamber members to prepare legislation for floor consideration.

The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to markup nine bills Wednesday, including the Trademark Act of 1946, The One-Stop Community Reentry Center Grant Program Act of 2020, and The Justice for Juveniles Act.

Meanwhile, The Energy and Commerce Committee will markup 38 bills. Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) said in a written statement that the legislation to be considered will include bills pertaining to access to mental health, combating the opioid crisis, and improving access to Medicare.

“We will also be marking up legislation that will improve consumer product safety, and critically, fight the growing number of fraud and scams preying on the COVID-19 crisis,” as well as, “legislation to enhance diversity in the broadcast industry for both owners and employees,” and “legislation that will expand access to sustainable energy and reform the Department of Energy’s management and personnel practices,” added Pallone.

Other House business taking place includes the hearing on Wednesday of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis which will be looking at how to ensure “a free, fair, and safe election” during the pandemic.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials is also holding a hearing mid-week, on Amtrak’s business response to the CCP virus pandemic. The hearing comes after the railway giant announced it plans to furlough over 2,000 employees.

Chairman of the subcommittee, Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.), said in a written statement that Amtrak’s decision was, “disappointing and unacceptable,” because Amtrak received $1 billion in pandemic relief for the sole purpose of helping workers.

“Amtrak has had months to come to Congress and request additional funds if money was needed to help keep workers on the payroll. Amtrak workers provide an essential service to travelers and communities,” Lipinski said.

“These workers deserve better from Amtrak leadership,” Lipinski added. “Congress needs to act quickly to prevent furloughs and avoid long-distance service cuts.”

In addition, The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee will hold a legislative hearing Thursday to consider 10 new bills aimed at preventing veteran suicides. According to the committee, among the measures being debated are ones to “expand lethal means safety training, improve diagnosis and treatment for serious mental illness, ensure emergency room personnel institute safety plans and follow-ups for at-risk veterans, streamline VA’s collaboration with outside researchers.”

“After listening to recommendations from mental health experts, veteran stakeholders, and the PREVENTS Task Force, we know what steps we must take to really make a dent in this crisis,” said Chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Mark Takano (D-Calif.) in a written statement.

On Thursday, the Oversight and Reform Committee will debate the administration’s plan to end the census count, which Democrats argue is too soon, and the Financial Services Committee will examine how much of a need there is to provide more pandemic relief funding to states and territories.