September Showdowns Loom for Congress

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
By Frank Thorp V and Alex Moe

After a mostly quiet month-long August recess back home for members of Congress, September is on track to be anything but as a number of showdowns loom on Capitol Hill.

The House and Senate return with only twelve legislative days scheduled this month.

The first order of business for both chambers will be the controversial nuclear deal with Iran.

Voting on the Iran Nuclear Deal

Throughout August, members have been blasting out statements announcing where they stand on the deal, which was sent to Congress by President Barack Obama back in July.

Proponents note it would force Iran to dismantle most of its nuclear program for at least a decade.

But, critics argue the deal would not prevent that country from actually building a bomb. The deadline for Congress to act is Sept. 17.

A vote on a “resolution of disapproval” regarding the deal will be Congress' first order of business when they return this week. If made into law, it would prohibit the president from waiving or suspending Congressional sanctions put in place against Iran — which would effectively scuttle the deal negotiated by the Obama administration and the governments of five other countries.

But despite opposition from Republicans and a handful of Democrats, it appears the deal will be able to survive. Those who oppose the deal do not have the two-thirds majority needed to override the president’s veto.

A spirited debate is expected in both the House and Senate with the lower chamber likely taking the first vote on a resolution of disapproval by the end of this week.

Democrats in the Senate are working to muster enough votes to prevent the bill from possibly ever even coming to the floor.

In the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell , R-Ky., has said they will hold a rare all-senator debate, where all 100 senators will sit at their desks on the Senate floor and each will have an opportunity to speak.

"I'm going to ask every senator to be at their desk actually listening to what others are saying," Sen. McConnell said in August, "Each senator will get an opportunity to speak and actually be listened to by other senators."

And 2016 presidential politics will be sure to be injected into the debate as well, as four sitting senators are currently running for the White House.

Presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas., has invited a fellow competitor in the 2016 race, business mogul Donald Trump, to participate in a rally to speak out against the Iran nuclear deal on the west lawn of the Capitol on Sept. 9th.

Another Government Shutdown Looming?

September also marks the end of the fiscal year, and Congress must find a way to fund the government before midnight on Oct. 1.

Not a single appropriations bill has passed both chambers this year.

Since it is nearly impossible the House and Senate will each pass twelve appropriations bills in the twelve legislative days scheduled for the month of September, a short-term continuing resolution — which would continue funding —is almost definitely in the works.

A continuing resolution will likely push the funding fight off until the December holiday season.

"It's pretty clear, given the number of days we're going to be here in September that we're going to have to do a (continuing resolution) of some sort," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters in August.

But don’t think a continuing resolution will come easy, or that a government shutdown is out of the question.

While both McConnell and Boehner have pledged not to have a government shutdown, that doesn’t mean their members will fall in line.

Federal funding of Planned Parenthood still looms, and everyone must first come to some type of an agreement on how to handle the fight over funding for the organization.

Just before Congress left for their summer break, several videos surfaced showing Planned Parenthood officials discussing the treatment of fetal tissue from abortions. The organization currently receives hundreds of millions of federal dollars a year for medical services, although none directly earmarked for abortions.

McConnell has conceded that Republicans do not have the votes to strip federal funding from Planned Parenthood as a part of the government funding battle, and hopes to stick to his "no government shutdowns" pledge that he made after the 2014 elections, when Republicans took the majority in the Senate.

"The president's made it very clear he's not going to sign any bill that includes defunding of Planned Parenthood," McConnell said, according the Associate Press, "So that's another issue that awaits a new president, hopefully with a different point of view about Planned Parenthood."

But that's not likely to stop many conservative Republicans, including the vocal Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a 2016 Republican presidential candidate, who have vowed to block any type of spending bill that still includes funding for Planned Parenthood.

This type of back and forth could set up a shutdown scenario for the government.

Pope Francis Makes Historic Visit to Capitol

And in the midst of these heated battles, Pope Francis will address a joint meeting of Congress on Sept. 24 during his three-day trip to Washington — marking the first time a pope has ever addressed the body.

Despite being invited by Speaker Boehner, who is also a Catholic, the big question remains exactly what Francis says during the meeting.

The pope has embraced scientific studies that say climate change is largely man-made, views that differ from many Republicans.

That won’t deter thousands of onlookers to descend on the National Mall hoping to catch a quick glimpse of the pope when he steps out on the Speaker’s Balcony following his remarks to Congress.

Benghazi Committee Prepares to Grill Hillary Clinton

And, don’t think October will get any less hectic.

On Oct. 22, Hillary Clinton, the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, is set to testify before the House Select Committee on Benghazi. This will be a public hearing that will likely address both the attacks in 2012 and her use of a private email server as Secretary of State.

It comes after months of back and forth between the committee and Clinton’s lawyers. Two top Clinton staffers testified in private, transcribed interviews just last week before the committee while an IT staffer from her time at State announced he would plead the fifth. Expect fireworks as Republicans on the committee finally get their chance to question Clinton face-to-face about all of this next month.

Plus, federal funding for highway and transportation projects is due to run dry by the end of October, as well.

While the Senate was able to pass a six-year highway bill before leaving for recess, the House was unable to and pushed the deadline to find a more permanent fix off until the fall. In the House, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., has been tasked with finding a workable solution.