POLITICS: PennAve

Congress to clear student loan bill, FBI director but not much else before leaving town

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Just a handful of legislative days remain before Congress adjourns until after Labor Day, and while lawmakers are expected to finally clear a bill reducing federal student loan rates after months of partisan feuding, they will leave behind a hefty load of unfinished business that includes immigration reform, a farm bill and a funding bill need to avoid a government shutdown.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said the House will vote “promptly” next week on a bill that would tie student loan interest rates to the financial markets, which will lower the rates at least in the short term. The bill passed the Senate by a wide margin, and President Obama signaled his support for it despite opposition from some Democrats.

Immigration reform, however, which passed the Senate in June, is moving at a much slower pace in the House and no action is expected on it before Congress leaves town.

House leaders will also leave town without considering the food stamp portion of the farm reauthorization bill. Republicans pulled food stamp funding from the legislation earlier this month so they could pass a measure that included only agricultural programs.

Both the House and Senate will adjourn at the end of this week and are not scheduled to return until September 9.

The two chambers will spend much of their pre-recess week debating separate fiscal 2014 bills that would fund transportation, housing and urban development and related agencies.

The House version of that funding bill costs $44 billion, a reduction of $7 billion from last year’s level. Lawmakers eliminated from the bill funding for high-speed rail and reduced spending on community development block grants and some infrastructure projects. The Senate’s version of the bill would cost $54 billion.

In addition to debating the funding measure, lawmakers are expected to offer amendments to it. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., introduced amendments that would prohibit federal funding of union activities and block the  pay to federal employees who are delinquent on their taxes.

The Senate will also vote on a several of President Obama’s nominees, chief among them James Comey, the president’s pick to lead the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Comey is expected to clear the Senate this week, as are five Obama nominees to the National Labor Relations Board.

Republicans agreed to drop their opposition to the NLRB picks after Obama agreed to replace current members Sharon Block and Richard Griffin Jr. ,who were appointed without official confirmation during a Senate recess that Republicans say was not an authentic recess.

The two were replaced with former AFL-CIO lawyer Nancy Schiffer and attorney Kent Hirozawa, who is now the top lawyer to Labor Bureau Chairman Mark Gaston Pearce.

The agreement over the Labor Bureau nominees helped stave off a Senate showdown over Republican use of the filibuster to block presidential nominees. For now, it ends a threat from Democrats to change the Senate rules to reduce from 60 to 51 the number of votes needed to clear executive branch nominees.

In addition to debating its own infrastructure legislation, the House will vote on two bills that Cantor said are “aimed at stopping government abuse and protecting the middle class.” Those include

 Keep the IRS Off Your Health Care Act. Sponsored by Rep. Tom Price, a Republican doctor from Georgia, the bill that would prohibit the Internal Revenue Service from implementing or enforcing any provisions of the president’s health care law.

 The Regulations from the Executive In Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act. Sponsored by Rep. Todd Young, R-Ind., the bill would require congressional approval for executive branch’s regulations with an economic impact of $100 million or more.

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