Congress looks to beat the holiday rush

Members of the House and Senate on Monday will be in the same place at the same time, starting the clock on an intense week of necessary action on Capitol Hill.


Rep. Paul Ryan listens to Sen. Patty Murray during a Nov. 13 budget conference meeting on Capitol Hill. The two are tasked with finding a compromise spending plan to fund the government by Friday. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Members of the House and Senate on Monday will be in the same place at the same time, starting the clock on an intense week of necessary action on Capitol Hill.

Friday is the most critical deadline, with Budget Chairs Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Paul Ryan tasked with presenting a compromise spending plan to fund the government and avoid another shutdown.

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Last week, the two met in secret while their staffs prepared for a formal rollout. The Washington Post's Lori Montgomery notes the deal in the works appears to amount to "little more than a cease-fire" between the two parties:

[A]ides said Ryan and Murray are likely to bypass the committee and take the deal, if finalized, straight to the full House and Senate. Congressional leaders hope to finish work quickly and leave town for the holidays as soon as Friday.

Senior aides familiar with the talks say the emerging agreement aims to partially repeal the sequester and raise agency spending to roughly $1.015 trillion in fiscal 2014 and 2015. That would bring agency budgets up to the target already in place for fiscal 2016. To cover the cost, Ryan and Murray are haggling over roughly $65 billion in alternative policies, including cuts to federal worker pensions and higher security fees for the nation's airline passengers.

David Rogers of Politico has more here on the possible pension proposal.

Politico's Burgess Everett and Ginger Gibson have been hearing griping about the private negotiations, and how the closed-door talks are making some lawmakers "antsy" they won't like the final deal:

Despite their worries, there may be little that Senate Republicans and House Democrats can do to stop a budget deal being crafted by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). The House and Senate Budget committee chairmen want to reach a deal before the Dec. 13 deadline, when the House is expected to recess for the year.

In order for a deal to pass, Senate Democrats will need to win over only five Republicans, which aides in both parties predict is a strong possibility. And most House Democrats would likely join Republicans in passing a deal, fearful of being tagged with an obstructionist label often pinned on the GOP.

Due to the nature of one-on-one talks between Ryan and Murray, hundreds of members of Congress have been largely excluded from the information pipeline, including some members of leadership in both parties. Senate Republicans who may staunchly oppose the emerging deal have been loath to criticize the ongoing talks in a show of loyalty to Ryan. They also want to avoid the ugliness of the October shutdown debate, when the GOP was divided hopelessly on strategy for weeks.

CQ Roll Call's Adriel Bettelheim writes in his morning newsletter that Ryan and Murray kept talks up over the weekend in hopes of having something to present to the conference by Tuesday. GOP House leaders are prepared to move a budget agreement this week, he writes, "[b]ut talks are being complicated by Democrats' insistence that an agreement be paired with a $25 billion extension of emergency jobless benefits to the long-term unemployed." The plan allowing people to get up to 47 weeks of additional benefits expires Dec. 28.

Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin said on ABC's "This Week" that Democrats are not showing a "take it or leave it" attitude on extending unemployment funds, but think they are important.

The president made the case for those benefits in his weekly radio address.

"[I]f Members of Congress don't act before they leave on their vacations, 1.3 million Americans will lose this lifeline," Mr. Obama said. "If Congress refuses to act, it won't just hurt families already struggling - it will actually harm our economy. Unemployment insurance is one of the most effective ways there is to boost our economy. When people have money to spend on basic necessities, that means more customers for our businesses and, ultimately, more jobs. And the evidence shows that unemployment insurance doesn't stop people from trying hard to find work."

Watch here or below:

Republicans used their Saturday morning video to keep after the administration on the Affordable Care Act. Rep. Renee Ellmers of North Carolina kept the focus on women, telling stories from her district she said show the Obama administration is hurting families.

"If you want to talk about a war on women, look no further than this health care law," she said.

"These families wouldn't be in this boat if those who wrote the law had listened to hardworking taxpayers instead of relying on insurance companies and big businesses. Even now, these same entities are the ones getting special delays, breaks, and workarounds from the White House," Ellmers said. "We're also going to keep pressing the president to do the right thing. If the president won't scrap this law, isn't it time for him to delay it for all Americans before it does further harm?"

Watch here or below:

In a statement over the weekend, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called the address a "profound insult to the intelligence of women across this country."

Senators return to their chamber after a two-week recess, which began just as Majority Leader Harry Reid muscled through a rules change that will make it easier for President Barack Obama's judicial nominees, top appointments and Cabinet selections to win passage. Reid is expected to set up votes this week on a series of Mr. Obama's picks for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, beginning with confirmation of Patricia Ann Millett Monday evening.

Alan Fram of the Associated Press writes that both sides intend to use the procedure to flex "muscle." He tees up the coming days:

Over the next two weeks, Reid plans to push five more major nominees through the Senate.

They include Janet Yellen to lead the Federal Reserve, Jeh Johnson to head the Department of Homeland Security and Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., to lead the Federal Housing Finance Agency. There are also two more Obama picks for the remaining vacancies on the D.C. court -- attorney Cornelia "Nina" Pillard and U.S. District Judge Robert Wilkins.

There is little doubt all five will be approved. But time-consuming GOP delays are possible, especially against Watt. Some Republicans say he is not qualified to run an agency that oversees federally backed home lenders Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.

Also on the agenda this week is a measure authorizing defense policy. Iran sanctions and new proposals for curbing sexual assault have delayed the process, with lawmakers considering a scaled-back piece of legislation to ensure the bill passes this week.

If members of Congress had hoped to get Mr. Obama's attention on the busy to-do list or other matters Monday and Tuesday during the annual holiday parties at the White House, they are out of luck. The president and First Lady Michelle Obama head Monday to South Africa to attend services for Nelson Mandela. The soirees will continue as planned, with Vice President Joe Biden now tasked with hosting.

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A White House official told reporters the health care focus Monday will be about Medicaid expansion in the states.

The New York Times' Campbell Robertson and Jeremy Peters look at three incumbent Democratic Senators trying to hold off Republicans in the South.

Ryan Lizza writes for the New Yorker about the push on Capitol Hill to rein in the Obama administration's surveillance activities.

The Hill's Kate Tummarello takes a look at technology giants teaming up to try to reform National Security Agency programs.

Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran will seek a seventh term, setting up a primary contest with GOP state Sen. Chris McDaniel, who has support from tea party and other conservative groups. Roll Call's Kyle Trygstad has more on Cochran's tough test.

Politico's James Hohmann attended a gathering of Virginia Republicans over the weekend and found little soul-searching over last month's electoral losses. Hohmann also reports that former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie is weighing a potential challenge to Democratic Sen. Mark Warner in 2014.

Roll Call's Meredith Shiner looks at the prospects for minimum wage legislation on Capitol Hill.

Mr. Obama spoke Saturday to the Saban Forum, saying that his pursuit of a comprehensive diplomatic deal to end Iran's development of a nuclear weapon is as likely to fail as succeed. Still, he defended the move as the best option to protect U.S. and Israeli national security with respect to the issue, Zachary Goldfarb reports for the Washington Post.

The Washington Post had a major report on sugar over the weekend.

In Politico's new magazine, Susan Glasser asks if Hillary Clinton was a good secretary of state, and if that even matters.

Time's Jay Newton-Small sees a shift for Clinton toward wooing young women if she runs in 2016.

The president welcomed this year's Kennedy Center honorees to the White House on Sunday. The recipients include musicians Billy Joel and Carlos Santana, pianist Herbie Hancock, opera singer Martina Arroyo and actress Shirley MacLaine. Stay tuned to the NewsHour this week to see Jeffrey Brown's conversation with Santana.

Mr. Obama made a video for Computer Science Education Week.

Heard on the Hill wonders if perhaps this Christmas card is taking beauty a step too far.

The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza (aka The Fix) awarded Sunny Obama the worst week in Washington. Come on! Throw her a bone.

NEWSHOUR: #notjustaTVshow

Mark Shields and David Brooks spoke Friday with Judy Woodruff about Nelson Mandela's legacy and the president's pledge to make income inequality a top focus of his remaining time in office. Watch the full discussion here or below: