WASHINGTON — Congress is quickening its pace toward adjourning late this week, marching toward a final vote on legislation boosting medical research and speeding drug approvals and readying a separate stopgap spending bill to prevent the government from shutting down this weekend.
The temporary budget bill, scheduled to be unveiled Tuesday, would keep federal agencies functioning into next spring, giving the new Congress and the incoming Trump administration time to approve more than $1 trillion to fund federal agencies through the Sept. 30 end of the current government budget year.
Current spending expires at midnight on Friday. Since the measure is the only absolute must-do bill before Congress adjourns, it’s likely to carry several add-ons, including flood relief, money for overseas military operations, and help for Flint, Mich., to fix its lead-tainted water system.
Other possibilities include language to help speed a congressional waiver required next year to confirm retired Gen. James Mattis as secretary of defense and temporary help to maintain health benefits for retired members of the United Mine Workers. Lawmakers will again deny themselves a cost-of-living pay hike that’s fallen out of favor.
The overall measure would keep the government running through April 28.
The Senate, meanwhile, appears on track Tuesday to pass the $6.3 billion biomedical bill, which includes a $1.8 billion cancer research “moonshot” strongly supported by Vice President Joe Biden, whose son Beau died of the disease, as well as $1 billion over two years to prevent and treat abuse of opioids and other addictive drugs like heroin. The nearly 1,000-page package cleared the House overwhelmingly last week, with strong backing from President Barack Obama. It contains a long-overdue overhaul of federal mental health programs.
Biden presided over the Senate during an 85-13 procedural tally on Monday and a final vote is expected Tuesday despite opposition from liberals like Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who complained that the bill would make it easier for politically well-connected pharmaceutical and medical device industries to win federal approval for their products while raising risks to consumers.
Also Monday, negotiators wrapped up talks on a massive water projects bill that also contains a controversial package of provisions that wades into a complex, longstanding battle over allocating California’s water resources. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein brokered the accord, which, among other steps, aims to offer relief to farmers and farm communities suffering from the state’s longstanding drought.
But California’s other Democratic senator, Barbara Boxer, ripped the accord, charging that it would harm drinking water quality and severely weaken the Endangered Species Act, threatening salmon and other species. Boxer is retiring and vowed to filibuster the legislation as her last major act in office.
The stopgap spending measure is needed because of a deadlock between Republicans controlling Congress and the Obama administration over spending levels for the Pentagon and a number of other issues, including opposition from conservatives to advancing a huge “omnibus” spending package in the post-election lame-duck session.
The incoming Trump administration and House GOP leaders are also hopeful of winning increases to the Pentagon budget for the ongoing fiscal year in the early months of calendar 2017.
For now, the stopgap measure is serving as an engine to tow $170 million to help Flint, Michigan, repair its aging water system to prevent its water from being poisoned with lead. Other items include about $4 billion to help Louisiana and other states rebuild from floods and other natural disasters, and money to partially meet the Obama administration’s $11.6 billion request last month for war-related money.