US House and Senate return from midterm holidays amid low stakes

The 115th Congress is set to resume this week, with a host of consequential issues still to be debated over the next few months. The House was set to have its first session of…

US House and Senate return from midterm holidays amid low stakes

The 115th Congress is set to resume this week, with a host of consequential issues still to be debated over the next few months.

The House was set to have its first session of the new session on Monday, and the Senate, on Tuesday.

Democrats won a majority in the House in midterm elections in spite of the party’s unpopularity and after securing control of the Senate in last week’s elections. But despite the much-improved clout enjoyed by the party in both chambers, Congress’s priorities appear to be set for much lower-profile work.

On Wednesday, the House passed funding for the federal government until 15 February.

The House passed the funding bill after the federal government had been closed for 20 days and hundreds of thousands of federal workers were furloughed or working without pay.

On Thursday, the House and Senate will go into committee. The House foreign affairs committee will hold a hearing on relations with Canada, followed by the Senate foreign relations committee to examine US ties with Afghanistan. The committees are expected to focus on issues that they are able to tackle, and have lower turnout of opposition because of the much-smaller numbers in the two chambers of Congress.

Both committees will also hold hearings on the Iran nuclear deal as the US Senate plans to vote in January on whether to disapprove of the deal, which the majority of Republicans and the new Trump administration are opposed to.

On Thursday, the House and Senate have scheduled two hearings that could be more of a high-profile event, and a chance for Democrats to shine. The Senate judiciary committee will hold a confirmation hearing for secretary of homeland security nominee Kirstjen Nielsen and other cabinet secretaries and homeland security officials at 9am.

At 1pm, the Senate judiciary committee will hold its first hearing into possible constitutional issues raised by impeachment of Robert Mueller as part of an effort from Republican congressman Ron DeSantis. DeSantis is a candidate in next year’s Florida governor’s race.

In both hearings, Democrats plan to push for Russia meddling evidence. Democrats on the Judiciary committee and ranking member Dianne Feinstein wrote to Trump asking for a show of evidence before they started the hearings.

Both hearings will be televised.

Democrats are likely to use their new power to oppose any spending bill. Democrats on Tuesday called on the House to go on a shutdown strike if Congress does not approve a budget by 20 November, the first day of the fiscal year.

The spending bill that the House passes Wednesday will be a stopgap measure; as it stands now, Congress has until 15 February to pass a long-term spending bill that provides for long-term funding for the government.

The Trump administration has warned that it could seek to offset some of the $6.7bn in government-wide spending increases on the table in next week’s budget bill with other cuts.

Some Democrats and fiscal conservatives are pushing to redirect some of the money towards new road, rail and other transportation infrastructure projects.

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