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Legislative / Policy Update

Senate Floor. The Senate convened at 3 p.m. on Monday and is taking up a criminal justice reform bill.

House Floor. The House recessed last Thursday and will not return to session until Wednesday, with first votes scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Last week both the House and Senate gave final approval of a five-year farm bill, sending it to the President for his signature. Both chambers hope to adjourn for the year on Friday, and the PSW Round-Up will also take a break, returning Jan. 7.

Government Funding. Tick tock. Probably the most used phrase these days to describe the government funding situation is, “The clock is ticking with no resolution in sight.” With a Dec. 21 deadline to pass the seven remaining FY 2019 appropriations bills, there has been no movement to resolve the impasse between President Trump and Congressional Democrats over funding for a border wall. Without a resolution, a partial government shutdown would begin Saturday.

Democrats have offered two options: (1) Enact six of the seven bills and provide funding for the Homeland Security Department through a continuing resolution that runs the rest of the fiscal year, until Sept. 30, or (2) enact a year-long continuing resolution for all seven remaining bills. Neither option is currently acceptable to the President. Another option is a short-term continuing resolution. According to Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby, the stopgap bill could run until Dec. 26, Jan. 3, sometime in February, or sometime in May. So far, a short-term bill is also unacceptable to the White House.

Tax Bill. With time running out in this Congress, the odds are against Congressional passage of a tax bill that extends expired tax breaks and makes technical corrections to the 2017 tax bill. Some observers believe there’s an outside chance that Congress could approve tax incentives to encourage retirement savings and a package of IRS reforms, but it’s questionable whether lawmakers will have the time -- or the inclination – to do so this year. The House Rules Committee will meet at 5 p.m. on Dec. 19 to approve a rule allowing for floor consideration of the latest version of Ways and Means Chairman Brady’s tax bill. While that version could pass the House if enough Republicans are in town to support it on a party-line vote, it will not get the necessary 60 votes in the Senate.

Politics / Process

Speaker of the House. It appears that Rep. Nancy Pelosi will have the votes to be elected Speaker of the House on Jan. 3. Pelosi’s path to victory was made much easier on Dec. 12, when she agreed to a term limits plan for the top three Democratic leaders -- Speaker, Majority Leader, and Majority Whip. Under the plan, the three leaders would be limited to three terms, with an additional term possible if supported by two-thirds of the Democratic caucus. Since the three current leaders – Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, and James Clyburn – have already served two terms when Democrats were in the majority from 2007 to 2011, they would be limited to two more terms, providing they have approval for the second from two-thirds of their fellow Democrats.

The term-limits agreement will be voted on by the full Democratic caucus before Feb. 15 and will face opposition, including from Hoyer, who is in line to be Majority Leader. Pelosi, however, has said she will abide by the proposal, regardless of whether it passes the caucus vote, meaning she will have to hand over the gavel no later than 2022. Once Pelosi relinquishes the gavel, Hoyer, 79, and Clyburn, 78, could choose to run to move up the ladder. A behind-the-scenes look at how Pelosi solidified support for her bid to become Speaker can be found in this Dec. 13 Washington Post article.

Senate and House Calendars. The tentative Senate schedule for 2019 can be found here and here. The 2019 House calendar can be found here.

Committee Assignments. On Dec. 13, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer announced the Democratic committee assignments for the 116th Congress.

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