For obvious reasons, much of the political world’s focus this week will be on the U.S. Supreme Court, which handed down some major rulings yesterday, and will announce the fate of the Affordable Care Act on Thursday.
But on the other side of 1st Street NE in Washington, DC, Congress will have a fairly important week, too. The deeply misguided contempt vote against Attorney General Eric Holder in the House is on top for Thursday – it’ll be overshadowed, to the GOP leadership’s delight, by the Obamacare ruling – but there are also several key bills facing inflexible deadlines.
1. Student loan interest rates: Congress has until June 30 – that’s this Saturday – to act on student loan interest rates, or rates will double for over 7 million students, who’ll face an average of $1,000 in additional debt. The House GOP solution would keep student loan interest rates where they are, but pay for it by cutting access to breast cancer and cervical cancer screenings. Senate Democrats pay for the lower rates by closing a tax loophole that currently allows some very wealthy people to shield some of their earnings from the payroll tax (the S-corp provision).
What’s going to happen? The talk on Capitol Hill is that a compromise is in the works, though the negotiations have mainly been on the Senate side, and there’s no telling what the House might do.
2. Highway bill: The importance of this bill is generally underappreciated. After all, the highway bill is critically important to financing infrastructure projects nationwide, and is usually one of the year’s least-contentious legislative fights. Everyone knows this bill has to pass.
Back in March, the Senate easily approved a bipartisan, two-year, $109 billion highway bill. The package was crafted by one of the chamber’s most liberal members, Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), and one of its most conservative, James Inhoffe (R-Okla.), before passing the chamber on a 74-to-22 vote. But House Republicans rejected it for reasons that have never made much sense, and current highway funding expires at the end of this week. If Congress doesn’t work something out, the economy will take a severe hit at the worst possible time.
What’s going to happen? Relevant leaders returned to the negotiating table late last week, but it’s unclear if any solution will satisfy the House GOP, which has taken a hard line against public investments in infrastructure.
3. Violence Against Women Act: Very different versions of VAWA reauthorization have passed the House and Senate, and progress has “ground to a halt.” Though the Senate version passed with strong, bipartisan support, House Republicans have said they won’t consider it, because it’s too nice to the LGBT community, immigrants, and Native Americans.
Though VAWA’s deadline is more open ended than student loans and the highway bill, there were widespread hopes the reauthorization agreement would come together well in advance of Congress’ summer recess, and at this point, there’s simply no movement at all.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said yesterday that lawmakers should expect to work this weekend unless there’s a sudden burst of legislative progress.