Morning Briefing: Votes and Remembrances

It’s shaping up to be a busy but solemn day in the Senate, with votes scheduled on a farm bill and competing student loan proposals before the chamber is reserved for the viewing of the late Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg in the afternoon. In the House, lawmakers will finish work on a homeland security spending bill that boosts funding for Customs and Border Protection and cybersecurity but contains cuts for the Coast Guard, Transportation Security Administration and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Today in the Senate: The chamber votes to limit debate on a farm policy bill (S 954) and holds a cloture vote on motions to proceed to a pair of measures (S 1003, S 953) that would avert a scheduled doubling of student loan interest rates on July 1. After the votes, the chamber resumes consideration of the farm bill. Meets at 9 a. m. with the vote on the farm bill at 10. The Lautenberg memorial events are from 1:45 p. m. to 6, with a public viewing starting at 3:15.

Today in the House: The chamber is expected to pass its version of a fiscal 2014 homeland security appropriations bill (HR 2217). The White House has threatened a veto, stating Congress shouldn’t consider spending bills until the House and Senate agree on a budget framework.

Today at the White House: President Barack Obama unveils an initiative called ConnectED that would provide high-speed Internet and wireless services to 99 percent of American students within five years. Later, he travels to Mooresville, N. C. as part of his campaign-style tour to discuss middle-class jobs and opportunity.

FINAL ACT FOR FARM BILL: Barring a last-minute agreement on amendments, the Senate this morning will vote to limit debate on its five-year farm bill and likely finish the measure on Monday. Action has been slowed by Mary L. Landrieu, D-La. , who’s refusing to allow consideration of Republican amendments until she gets a vote on a proposal to delay new premiums for some flood insurance policies for three years. Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. , and ranking Republican Thad Cochran of Mississippi have also been resisting most amendments that would make significant changes to the bill. The process has blocked votes on price supports in the bill that Midwestern lawmakers oppose. Stabenow doused another flashpoint by assuring Jeff Merkley, D-Ore. , the final bill won’t include language allowing farmers to continue growing biotech crops against a judge’s order. The fiscal 2013 continuing resolution (PL 113-6) authorizes the Agriculture Department to allow the planting and harvesting of genetically modified crops under legal challenge until a court issues a final ruling. We’ll be monitoring the fate of Landrieu’s flood insurance gambit and watching for any deal on amendments that would eliminate the need for the cloture vote and lead to final passage today.

TEST VOTES ON STUDENT LOANS: The partisan gridlock over student loan interest rates will be on display in the Senate today when the chamber votes on competing proposals that would prevent the rates from doubling on July 1. Senators will first hold a cloture vote on a motion to proceed to a bill (S 1003) by Tom Coburn, R-Okla. , that would shift to a market-driven variable interest rate tied to the 10-year Treasury note. They then will vote on limiting debate on a motion to proceed to a Democratic bill (S 953) by Jack Reed of Rhode Island that would extend for two years the current 3. 4 percent fixed interest rate and cover part of the cost by increasing taxes on multinational corporations. Neither motion is expected to get the 60 votes for approval, but CQ reporter Lauren Smith is watching whether the Democratic measure picks up any GOP defectors willing to use tax provisions aimed at companies that shift profits overseas to pay for popular priorities. With Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. , digging in against any compromise involving a market-based rate, it’s increasingly likely that Congress will eventually punt and settle on a short-term extension of the existing rate, as it did last year (PL 112-141). Coburn’s bill tracks with a House Republican measure (HR 1911).

TRADE NOMINEE FACES QUESTIONS: Obama’s nominee for U. S. Trade Representative, Michael Froman, faces tough questions from Republicans about the lack of new free trade agreements negotiated by the administration at his Senate Finance confirmation hearing today. The president’s law school classmate and former Citigroup executive will also be queried about whether to set any future pacts on a “fast track” that would limit debate, ban amendments and guarantee an up-or-down vote in Congress on a signed deal. The White House portrays Froman as a strong negotiator capable of striking a major new trade deal with the European Union while cracking down on unfair trade practices. Froman, currently an assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser for international economics, would succeed Ron Kirk, whom some business groups and lawmakers complained didn’t aggressively pursue trade policies during Obama’s first term.

AMENDMENT TOUCHES NERVE: An amendment to the Senate immigration overhaul (S 744) is reviving thorny discussions about border security that came up during the bill’s three-week markup in the Judiciary Committee. The language by John Cornyn, R-Texas, to be offered during floor debate starting next week, suggests an orchestrated effort on the part of some of the chamber’s Republicans to move the bill to the right, by making the citizenship process for undocumented immigrants contingent on strict new measurements of border security. CQ reporter David Harrison reports that Democrats are expected to oppose the amendment, which would require that federal agents have full control of the entire border and that they apprehend 90 percent of all potential border crossers in all border sectors. The language could still attract support from Marco Rubio, R-Fla. , one of the bill’s drafters, who said earlier this week that the legislation is too weak on border security to pass the Senate and needs to be amended. Meanwhile, a bipartisan House group that’s been working on an immigration bill has one fewer member after Raul R. Labrador, R-Idaho, said Wednesday he was withdrawing due to disagreements over who should have access to subsidized health care.

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— Adriel Bettelheim, Morning Briefing editor, adrielbettelheim@cqrollcall. com, on Twitter @abettel

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