With six months to go until the critical midterm election, Congress will return to work this week with a agenda that steers clear of legislation that might divide the ranks of either party or damage re-election prospects of vulnerable incumbents.
The House agenda for May, authored by the Republican majority, does not include plans to take up either immigration reform or a proposal to replace the new health care law, two major issues that GOP leaders have pledged to take up at some point this year.
Instead, lawmakers will focus on bills that are far less likely to rankle the conference, including a bill to help expand charter schools and legislation to extend a popular tax breaks for businesses. The House also plans to start the appropriations process with votes planned on three fiscal 2015 spending bills.
In a memo to GOP rank and file, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor told lawmakers that the House in the coming weeks will “will build on our work over the last three months,” which included passing legislation to lessen government regulation and undo parts of Obamacare.
The House next month may also vote on holding a former top Internal Revenue Service official in contempt of Congress for refusing to testify about her role in singling out Tea Party groups for extra scrutiny when they applied for tax exempt status.
Cantor said in the memo to lawmakers that evidence indicates ex-IRS administrator Lois Lerner, “played a central role in the illegal targeting of conservative groups by the IRS,” and that the House will vote on contempt charges in May unless Lerner changes her mind and testifies before a House oversight panel about her role.
In the Senate, lawmakers will confirm a round of judges on Monday and prepare to debate a bill to extend business tax breaks while Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid plots his next move on a stalled minimum wage bill.
Reid has postponed wage hike legislation several times due to opposition from a handful of Democrats whose seats are threatened in November.
Most Democrats want to phase in a hike in the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, an increase of nearly 40 percent. But several others, including Sens. Mark Warner, of Virginia; Mary Landrieu, of Louisiana; and Mark Pryor, of Arkansas, do not fully support the proposal, which anchors a Senate Democratic agenda focusing on so-called income inequality.
The Senate in May will have much less difficulty confirming a new Health and Human Services secretary.
Democratic leadership aides tell the Examiner that Sylvia Matthews Burwell, tapped to replace Kathleen Sebelius, will appear at a confirmation hearing as early as the week of May 12. Matthews, who is the director of President Obama's Office of Management and Budget, will testify before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and Senate Finance Committees.
Burwell is all but assured confirmation thanks to new Senate rules that allow lawmakers to clear Obama’s executive and judicial nominees with just 51 votes rather than the traditional 60 votes.
But the GOP will likely use the upcoming hearings to cast an unflattering spotlight on the many flaws in the new health care law and the glitch-filled rollout.
The House agenda this week includes legislation that would eliminate the need to produce more than 300 federal reports that have been deemed wasteful or repetitive. They’ll also take up a bill that would make it easier for the pubic to view government expenditures online. The House will also consider two spending bills, one that would fund military construction and veterans affairs and the other would pay for legislative branch expenses.