Congress To-Do List: Fund Government Agencies, Zika Virus Battle

Sep 6, 2016
Originally published on September 6, 2016 12:03 pm
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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Let's get a look at what's ahead for Congress. Lawmakers are back in Washington today after a seven-week summer break. And they're scheduled to spend the month of September on what NPR congressional reporter Susan Davis describes as a very short to-do list before Election Day. Good morning.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: What is on the agenda this month on that very short list?

DAVIS: Well there are two things lawmakers have to pass this month and one thing they are trying to avoid. They must pass a funding bill to keep the government running before the end of the month, and they must pass a separate funding bill to combat the spread of the Zika virus. What many lawmakers are trying to avoid is a potential showdown over an impeachment vote for the commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service.

MONTAGNE: Impeachment - let's get to that in just a few moments. First, let's talk about the budget because lost in the hullabaloo around this election is the fact that Congress is hurtling towards the deadline to fund the government. The fiscal year ends September 30, and yet we don't seem to be hearing anything about a government shutdown.

DAVIS: Well, it's an election year, so there's almost no chance there will be a shutdown. That's certainly not the way Republican Party leaders want to go this year. But there is going to be a fight over how long they should fund the government for. Some conservative Republicans want to punt this funding bill into next year. They want to do this because they want to prevent Barack Obama from having any final legislative achievements before he's out of office. Senate Democrats aren't going to let that happen. It's more likely Congress this month will pass a bill to keep the government running until the middle of December, and then they'll come back after the election to fight it out.

MONTAGNE: And Zika funding has been delayed for months. How are they going to resolve that impasse?

DAVIS: There is a $1.1 billion bill on the table, but Democrats oppose it because it excludes Planned Parenthood from the list of providers that are eligible for funding for contraception to help combat the spread of the Zika virus. Democrats want to rework that provision. It's unclear how they're ultimately going to resolve it. But I spoke to aides in both parties who say they are absolutely confident they will work out a deal before the end of the month.

Congress is facing increasing pressure to get it done, which is when it gets things done. The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned lawmakers last week that they're almost out of money. And there's also increasing political pressure to act because one of the states hardest hit by the Zika outbreak is Florida, a critical battleground state.

MONTAGNE: Well, Susan, let's get back to that impeachment fight. You say lawmakers are trying to avoid it.

DAVIS: That's right. So there is a small faction of conservatives in the House who want to vote on an impeachment resolution of the IRS commissioner. His name's John Koskinen. This is part of that ongoing fallout from the 2013 IRS scandal, where the agency was targeting certain political groups, especially conservative groups, who were seeking tax-exempt status. Koskinen wasn't there at the time, but he's made a lot of missteps in his dealings with Congress, and he's really infuriated a lot of conservatives.

But most Republicans are reluctant to have an impeachment fight weeks before an election. And many of them don't believe that Koskinen has met the threshold of committing high crimes and misdemeanors that would trigger impeachment proceedings.

MONTAGNE: Though it does sound like this is getting in the way of maybe more pressing congressional business.

DAVIS: Right. But if conservatives are committed, there is potential for a very dramatic political showdown this month that could tie up September at a time when party leaders were hoping for a quick entry and a clean exit.

MONTAGNE: NPR congressional reporter Susan Davis, thank you.

DAVIS: Thanks, Renee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.