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Legislative / Policy Update

Senate Floor. The Senate convened Monday afternoon and resumed consideration of S. 1, dealing with Middle East policy. This evening there will be a vote on the Majority Leader's amendment expressing the sense of the Senate that withdrawing U.S. forces from Syria or Afghanistan “could put at risk hard-won gains and U.S. national security.” Later in the week, Senators will vote on whether to proceed to a public lands package that includes permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

House Floor. The House has a light schedule this week, with consideration of a number of non-controversial bills.

Committee Action of Note:

  • Feb. 5 – Senate Environment and Public Works Committee vote on Andrew Wheeler to head EPA.
  • Feb. 7 – House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee hearing on proposal to require presidents, vice presidents, and candidates for those offices to disclose their tax returns for the past 10 years.
  • Feb. 7 – Senate Judiciary Committee vote on William Barr to be Attorney General.
  • Feb. 7 – House Transportation Committee hearing on the costs of delayed investment in the nation's infrastructure.
  • Feb. 8 – House Intelligence Committee closed-door hearing to hear from Michael Cohen, President Trump's former personal lawyer.

State of the Union. On Tuesday, President Trump will give his State of the Union address, and the Democratic response will be delivered by the first person who does not currently hold elected office – Stacey Abrams, who lost her race for governor of Georgia.

In a briefing Friday for reporters, a senior Administration official said the President's speech would cover five top-line areas: immigration, “flawed trade deals,” infrastructure, “lowering the cost of health care and prescription drugs,” and national security, including bringing to an end “our endless foreign wars.” The President has hinted he might use the speech to reveal whether he plans to declare a national emergency to build a border wall if there is no agreement with Congress on that issue.

The Washington Post reported on Feb. 1 that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told the President in a private meeting on Jan. 29 that such a declaration could threaten unity in the Republican caucus. McConnell reportedly told the President that Congress could end up passing a resolution disapproving the emergency declaration. If so, the President would have to decide whether to issue his first veto.

Government Funding / Tax Extenders. Whether there will be a funding deal with Congress on border security depends, in large part, on the skills of House and Senate negotiators, who hope to find agreement by this Friday, Feb. 8. The 8th is a soft deadline in order to give time for final passage by Feb. 15, when the current continuing resolution expires. A government funding deal is being eyed by the chairs of the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means Committees as a possible vehicle for a tax extenders package. The package would extend, and in some cases possibly modify, some two dozen tax breaks that expired at the end of 2017. It remains to be seen, though, whether leadership will agree to add any proposals, including the tax extenders, to a funding deal.

FY 2020 Budget. Technically, the President's budget is supposed to be released on the first Monday in February, but this is a deadline that is often missed, and Feb. 4 will come and go this year without an FY 2020 budget proposal from President Trump. It's no surprise that the deadline will be missed given the furlough of many employees who prepare the proposal and the ongoing debate over funding for FY 2019. No date has yet been announced for the release, but there’s talk that it could be the week of March 11.

Meanwhile, House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) said he wants his panel to mark up an FY 2020 budget resolution in time for the full House to consider it in early April. Yarmuth hopes that Congress and the President can agree early this year to a budget deal that would raise the limits currently in place for FY 2020 government spending. Without a deal to increase the caps that were set in place by the 2011 budget agreement, “we'd be stuck with an 11% cut in defense spending and 9% cut in nondefense,” Yarmuth said. “I don’t think either side would want to do that.”

The House budget resolution is an opportunity for Democrats to set forth their spending priorities, and there is no chance that the Republican Senate will agree to those same priorities. Case in point: The House resolution will call for an increase in the corporate tax rate, which was reduced to 21% from 35% by the 2017 tax reform bill. Yarmuth thinks the rate in the resolution could be in the 25% to 28% range. Not only will the Senate not approve a budget resolution with such an increase, but Senate Republicans and President Trump will not approve separate legislation that would be needed to enact an increase in the corporate rate.

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