Political News

Lame-duck Congress works to set stage for President Trump

Posted November 28

FILE - In this Nov. 17, 2016, file photo, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif. speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. The lame-duck Congress is gaveling in for its final work session of 2016, and its last under President Barack Obama, as lawmakers face a Dec. 9 deadline for spending legislation to keep the government running. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, file)

— The lame-duck Congress is gaveling in for its final work session of 2016, and its last under President Barack Obama, as lawmakers face a Dec. 9 deadline for spending legislation to keep the government running.

Republican leaders want to pass a short-term spending bill to extend existing funding levels into next spring, allowing a new President Donald Trump the opportunity to play a bigger role in crafting agency budgets.

Congress is also trying to finalize legislation to address lead-tainted water in Flint, Michigan, and pass a bill to promote medical research and innovation. And House Democrats will be voting in a new leadership team Wednesday after a delay sought by lawmakers angry over Democrats' poor showing in this month's federal elections. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California is expected to prevail over Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio, but she has promised some changes meant to give newer lawmakers a bigger voice in the Democratic caucus, which has been led for years by the same aging lawmakers and committee chairmen.

A number of other odds and ends await action as well. And throughout, GOP leaders in the House and Senate will be working with Trump's transition teams to craft an agenda for next year, when Republicans will control both chambers of Congress and the White House for the first time in a decade.

"We've got a lot to do," Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor Monday.

A look at the legislation awaiting action:

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SPENDING

Work on 11 of the 12 annual agency spending bills has sputtered and a stopgap spending measure is keeping the government running until Dec. 9. Republican leaders have decided to punt the remaining measures into next year, in part because they may have better chances of winning additional Pentagon spending from the incoming Trump administration. Another temporary spending bill is in the works that would keep the government open until the end of March or later.

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FLINT'S WATER

A popular water projects measure — including $220 million to help Flint, Michigan and other cities repair aging water systems that are poisoned by lead — is in House-Senate talks.

McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan have promised that Flint assistance will be approved in the lame-duck session. Michigan lawmakers say they intend to ensure that Ryan and McConnell keep their word.

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CURES ACT

The House plans to vote Wednesday on legislation beefing up brain, cancer and other research at the National Institutes of Health and accelerating the Food and Drug Administration's approval processes for pharmaceuticals and medical devices. A Senate vote could come next week.

The 21st Century Cures Act would provide $6.3 billion over the next decade, including $1 billion for state grants for programs for preventing and treating the abuse of opioids and other addictive drugs. It would also expand government mental health programs.

The measure is supported by pharmaceutical and other medical industry groups. But some consumer advocates say it goes too far in relaxing testing standards, and Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts attacked it Monday as "political cover for huge giveaways to giant drug companies."

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DEFENSE

House and Senate negotiators hope to wrap up the defense policy bill, which Congress has passed every year for more than five decades.

House Republicans are seeking to use the must-pass $602 billion defense policy bill to reverse protections imposed against workplace discrimination by Pentagon contractors based on sexual or gender orientation. Another battle is over how much additional money to spend on weapon systems that the Pentagon didn't request in its budget.

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IRAN SANCTIONS

Congress must act to renew a decades-old law that allows the United States to hit companies with economic sanctions for doing business with Iran. Congress first passed the Iran Sanctions Act in 1996 and has extended it several times since then. The sanctions law, which is separate from the landmark nuclear deal, is to expire at the end of the year and there is strong bipartisan support for legislation that would extend it by another decade.

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COAL MINERS

Lawmakers are pushing a bill to protect health care and pension benefits for about 120,000 retired coal miners and their families. The bill would ensure retired miners receive more than $250 million a year in benefits now at risk amid the coal industry's steep decline.

Several Republican incumbents supported the bill during the fall campaign, including Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, who both won re-election. But McConnell and others are wary of bailing out unionized workers.

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ENERGY BILL

The House and Senate remain far apart as they seek to approve the first major energy bill in nearly a decade. Prospects for completion look dim as senators push provisions opposed in the House. These include speeding exports of liquefied natural gas and long-term authorization for a fund that promotes land and water conservation.

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Associated Press writers Alan Fram, Andrew Taylor, Matthew Daly and Richard Lardner contributed to this report.

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