Morning Briefing: Pace Intensifies on Big Agenda Items

With two weeks left until the July 4 break, Congress is trying to whittle down its list of big-ticket items. The House this week will attempt to pass a five-year farm bill that contains contentious dairy policies and cuts to food stamps. It will also debate a 20-month abortion ban that will resonate with both parties’ bases and serve as a catalyst for fundraising. Over in the Senate, appropriators will begin shaping their fiscal 2014 spending bills while a group of Republicans tries to strike a compromise on border security that could improve prospects for an overhaul of immigration laws.

Today in the Senate: The chamber resumes debate on a comprehensive immigration bill (S 744) and considers the judicial nominations of Luis Felipe Restrepo for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and Kenneth John Gonzales for the District of New Mexico. Meets at 2 p.m. with votes on the nominations at 5:30 p.m.

Today in the House: The chamber considers six minor bills under suspension that dealwith public lands and monuments. Meets at noon with legislative business starting at 2 p.m. and votes postponed until 6:30 p.m.

Today at the White House: President Barack Obama arrives in Northern Ireland for the G-8 summit. He’ll have meetings with British Prime Minister David Cameron and EU leaders in the afternoon, before the first plenary session. In the evening, his schedule includes a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and a leaders-only working dinner.

FIGHT LOOMS OVER DAIRY PROGRAM: The House is set to take up its five-year farm policy bill (HR 1947) this week with lawmakers divided over language that would pay dairy farmers when their profit margins fall below a determined level for a two month period. The bill would establish a market stabilization program tied to farmers’ margins to discourage an oversupply of milk.

Members, including Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, oppose such supply-management arrangements. And while the bill doesn’t impose quotas, the way in which it blocks full payments for milk produced above a base level upsets cheese-makers and other dairy processors.

CQ reporters Ellyn Ferguson and Philip Brasher are watching if former Agriculture Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., succeeds in getting enough conservative votes to strip the dairy provisions in the bill. He’ll be opposed by Collin C. Peterson of Minnesota, top Democrat on House Agriculture, who’s lined up support from Republicans and most of the chamber’s 201 Democrats by arguing taxpayers shouldn’t be stuck with the cost of dairy insurance when prices fall near or below feed costs.

We’ll also be tracking other anticipated skirmishes, including Democratic efforts to undo the bill’s $20.5 billion cut to food stamps.

ALTERNATE BORDER PLAN ON TAP: Senate Republicans hope to release a compromise amendment on border security this week in a bid to build GOP support for the chamber’s immigration overhaul.

An amendment by John Cornyn, R-Texas, that would require the border be completely sealed as a precondition for granting permanent residency status to undocumented immigrants was rejected last week, leaving Republicans in search of an alternative that would require the government to show results before undocumented immigrants are legalized.

CQ reporter David Harrison writes Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and others helping draft the alternative are trying to win 70 or more Senate votes to give the bill momentum as it moves to the House. For that to happen, they’ll have to tighten language to appeal to conservatives without losing support from the chamber’s Democrats.

The bill currently requires the Department of Homeland Security to prepare a plan to secure the border and apprehend 90 percent of border crossers in three of the nine southern sectors before immigrants living in the country illegally can become legal permanent residents.

HOUSE REPRISES ABORTION DEBATE: The House again dives into abortion politics this week, when Republican leaders try to pass a measure (HR 1797) that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

The bill by Trent Franks, R-Ariz., is in response to the conviction of Philadelphia abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell for killing three infants after they had been born. The language was tweaked to include exceptions for rape and incest after Franks ignited controversy during House Judiciary debate by suggesting that pregnancies arising from rape are rare.

We’ll be watching for any Republican defections; a previous version of the ban in the 112th Congress that would have only applied to the District of Columbia had majority support but failed under suspension of the rules, which requires a two-thirds majority for passage.

SENATE SPENDING ALLOCATIONS DUE: Senate Appropriations will release its fiscal 2014 spending allocations for federal programs on Thursday and open up a new front in the partisan budget wars.

The so-called 302(b) allocations are a prelude to subcommittee markups that will reveal sharp differences between Democratic plans and leaner spending measures that Republicans are advancing in the House. Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., plans to mark up the dozen annual spending bills under the panel’s jurisdiction at a top-line level of $1.058 trillion, a figure that reflects a Democratic bid to replace the sequester ordered by the Budget Control Act (PL 112-25).

GOP appropriators, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., oppose the plan because it violates the roughly $967 billion cap now set by the law. CQ reporter Kerry Young is monitoring how much the disagreement will complicate Mikulski’s bid to get Senate floor time for her bills.

The Senate’s Agriculture spending bill will head to subcommittee markup on Tuesday, before the allocations are released, with the Military Construction-Veterans’ Affairs bill to follow on Thursday. For an overview of CQ’s fiscal 2014 appropriations coverage click here.

CQ’s editors and reporters value your feedback on our news coverage and welcome your questions and comments on the stories we’re covering.

— Adriel Bettelheim, Morning Briefing editor,, on Twitter @abettel

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