What’s New in Washington

August 2018

G. Hunter Bates, Brian A. Pomper and Hal S. Shapiro, Partners, Akin Gump in Washington, D.C.

While members of Congress traditionally have the month of August off to spend time in their districts and states, August 2018 will unfold a bit differently. The House of Representatives will be out for the full month, but the Senate will not. In June, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R‑KY) announced that he was canceling all but one week of the August recess. The move comes as Leader McConnell seeks to address a host of outstanding issues before the Senate. One key priority agenda item will be appropriations. The Senate already approved a package of spending bills—a “minibus”—for Energy-Water, Legislative Branch and Military Construction-Veterans Affairs, sending the appropriations measures to a conference committee with the House. Last week, the Senate disposed of a second minibus, this one containing appropriations for Interior, Financial Services, Agriculture, and Transportation-Housing and Urban Development. Later in August, the Senate is expected to take up a third minibus package containing appropriations for Defense and Labor-Health and Human Services.

The relative ease with which the minibus packages have passed in the Senate is a credit to the bipartisan agreement by Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-VT) to avoid contentious policy riders being attached to spending measures. This has allowed the Senate to pass seven of the 12 annual appropriations bills with little challenge.

Beyond appropriations, the Senate has quite a few other items that it could address during August. Senators could take action on the Water Resources Development Act reauthorization and/or possibly a package of opioids bills. The Senate also named its conferees to the Farm Bill conference, so work on the final version of the Farm Bill will also be a priority.

In addition to the busy legislative agenda, the Senate will also continue to consider executive and judicial nominations. Chief among these will be the marquee judicial confirmation battle over Judge Brett Kavanaugh to serve as an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court. Nominated by President Trump on July 9, Judge Kavanaugh currently sits on the D.C. Circuit of Appeals. The timing around Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing remains in flux, but Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley announced on August 1 that the hearings are likely to begin in September, with a final vote on confirmation coming in October.

The flurry of activity in the Senate stands in stark contrast to the lack of legislative action that traditionally defines the late summer and fall of an election year. For the Senate, the uptick in activity shows a concerted, cross-party effort to legislate during the coming months and pass bipartisan measures in concert with the House.

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