The House this week will debate a measure authorizing a precedent-setting lawsuit against President Obama, while the Senate takes up historic legislation aimed at overriding a Supreme Court ruling on insurance coverage of contraceptives.
While both bills will spotlight the partisan divide in Congress, the House will take up a bipartisan spending bill that will prevent the nation's federal highway projects from halting due to lack of funding.
Democratic senators, who hold the majority, have decried last month’s high court ruling that closely held companies do not have to pay for all forms of contraception under the Affordable Care Act.
The court ruled 5-4 that requiring such companies to pay for all forms of contraception violated their religious freedom under a 1993 law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
This week, the Senate will debate a measure aimed at abrogating the court's decision. The bill, authored by Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash. and Mark Udall, D-Colo., would mandate companies provide full coverage of contraception under Obamacare with exceptions for religious organizations, notwithstanding the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The bill stands little chance of every becoming law since the House Republican majority won't consider it. But Democrats hope to use the debate to contrast their political views with the GOP ahead of the critical 2014 elections. The floor fight could particularly boost the political fortunes of Udall, the bill's co-author, who is in danger of losing his seat to Republican Rep. Cory Gardner.
“Coloradans understand that women should never have to ask their bosses for a permission slip to access common forms of birth control or other critical health services,” Udall said when he introduced the legislation.
The bill could lose the support of some endangered red state Democrats, however, including Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., who is not a co-sponsor.
In the House, an historic hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday to debate a resolution authorizing the chamber to file a lawsuit in federal court contesting Obama's decision to waive the health care law's employer mandate until 2015. The Rules Committee will hear witness testimony on the matter and will easily pass the measure out of committee thanks to a GOP majority on the panel. Floor consideration is scheduled for Thursday, with passage all but guaranteed.
The House will also consider two spending bills, including a critical measure to provide a short-term extension of the highway trust fund. Federal highway funding is set to run out in August, but it’s likely Congress will clear a bill by then that will provide approximately $11 billion to keep road and bridge work going until next May.
The two chambers have authored similar bills and the House will take up its version this week. The House bill pays for the funding by transferring some money out of the “Leaking Underground Storage Tank Trust Fund,” allowing companies to delay pension contributions, and extending customs user fees.
Passage is not guaranteed, however. Democrats are clamoring for a bill that lasts only until the end of the year so they may have more influence on the outcome if Republicans win the Senate majority. And Republicans could face opposition from their conservative flank over the cost.
Outside conservative groups are opposing the bill, saying it fails to implement spending reforms and does not give states enough power to determine how to spend transportation money.