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Congress to Return This Week with Opioids, Appropriations on the Agenda

The Senate completed their work for the month of August last Tuesday, confirming seven judicial nominations and agreeing to vote on another eight post-Labor Day. Most senators returned to their home states before coming back to Washington on Friday for services in remembrance of the late Sen. John McCain.

Senate leadership hopes to vote on an opioids package this week, which combines provisions reported out of the three key committees – Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP), Judiciary, and Finance. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced that there are no objections on the Republican side to advancing the legislation. One Democratic holdout, however, remains. There are also several members who object to passing the bill under unanimous consent; they want the opportunity to offer amendments on the floor. The Majority Leader is not expected to allow an open amendment process. Any legislation that passes the Senate will still need to be reconciled with the House package that passed earlier this year, but this is not expected to occur until after the midterm elections. The Senate’s bill is more modest than the House legislation, which made more significant changes to the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

Lawmakers will also be working to iron out the differences between the nine spending bills passed by both the House and Senate before the end of the fiscal year. Although the House is only scheduled to be in session for 11 legislative days before September 30, agreements still remain to be reached on a number of contentious differences between the House and Senate legislation. The Senate’s Labor-Health and Human Services (HHS) appropriations bill would increase spending by $2.2 billion, while the House bill keeps funding at fiscal year (FY) 2018 levels. The House bill would also eliminate funding for teen pregnancy grants and eliminate the Title X family planning program. While lawmakers sought to avoid a debate on immigration, the House legislation would cut HHS’ general administration budget as a penalty for failing to reunify parents and children separated at the border by the given deadline. Additionally, lawmakers must still reach an agreement on how to pay for the $1.7 billion VA MISSION Act included in the Military Construction-Veterans Affairs spending bill. House appropriators cut funds from the Homeland Security spending bill to pay for MISSION, while the Senate did not include an offset. The conference agreement for Energy-Water/Military Construction-Veterans Affairs/Legislative Branch could be taken up as early as this week, and action on the remaining minibuses could occur soon thereafter. Any bills not completed by September 30 would need to be included in a continuing resolution (CR) that would likely last until December. The stopgap spending measure will likely include State-Foreign Operations, Homeland Security, and Commerce-Justice-Science.

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