Congress

In Congress, expect renewed battles on refugees, guns, health care

President Barack Obama takes questions in Nashville, Tenn., earlier this year, when where he spoke about the Affordable Care Act. The House of Representatives begins 2016 with another effort to dismantle the health care law.
President Barack Obama takes questions in Nashville, Tenn., earlier this year, when where he spoke about the Affordable Care Act. The House of Representatives begins 2016 with another effort to dismantle the health care law. AP

Congress returned Tuesday to deal with some unfinished business from 2015 and to forge a legislative agenda that could shape the 2016 presidential and congressional elections.

Here’s a look ahead.

Health care

The House of Representatives will vote on a measure this week to repeal the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s legacy accomplishment.

The bill would strip key elements from the ACA, including the individual mandate to have insurance or pay a fine and the employer mandate to offer insurance. The measure also contains a provision to eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood, a goal of conservative Republicans after secretly recorded videos surfaced last year that reportedly showed an employee of the organization discussing the sale of fetal tissue.

This is the health care repeal bill that the Senate passed before adjourning for the holidays. If the bill clears the Republican-controlled House, it would be the first ACA repeal measure to reach Obama’s desk.

Obama would certainly veto it. Still, Republicans view getting it through both chambers of Congress as a symbolic victory they can take on the 2016 campaign trail.

We have seen consistently that an underlying cause of these attacks has been mental illness, and we should look at ways to address this problem.

House Speaker Paul Ryan

Syrian refugees

Republicans intend to battle Obama’s plan to bring 10,000 Syrian refugees to the United States, fearing that the Islamic State and other terrorists could enter the country through the resettlement program.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., placed a House-passed bill on the Senate calendar that would restrict the flow of Syrian and Iraqi refugees. It was written by Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., and House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas.

Especially since the attacks in Paris, the opposition against Obama's plan to keep welcoming Syrian refugees into the U.S. has been growing. This 2-minute video provides a look at the numbers behind the people fleeing the Syrian crisis.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has signaled that the Hudson-McCaul bill isn’t going anywhere in the Senate.

This could present problems for House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. Several conservative Republicans expressed displeasure that the omnibus spending bill didn’t include measures to stall or prevent Obama’s resettlement plan.

Last month, 95 of 246 House Republicans voted against an omnibus government spending bill Congress passed, in part because it didn’t address the Syrian refugee issue.

The Islamic State

While the debate over Syrian and Iraqi refugees rages, Speaker Ryan said he’d like Congress to pass a war powers resolution against ISIS.

“It would be a good symbol of American resolve to . . . go after ISIS, to thoroughly defeat and destroy ISIS,” he said last month.

Depending on how such a resolution is crafted, lawmakers could find a receptive White House. Obama said in a televised speech last month, “If Congress believes, as I do, that we are at war with ISIL (another abbreviation for the Islamic State), it should go ahead and vote to authorize the continued use of military force against these terrorists.”

Gun control

The debate over guns is one of the most contentious issues on Capitol Hill and the campaign trail. Obama and congressional Democrats are arguing for stricter gun-control measures in the aftermath of the terrorist shootings in San Bernardino, California, that killed 14 people.

In an address called "Making America Safer for Our Children," President Obama talked about progress made in 2015, and working on unfinished business in 2016. Among the topics was combating gun violence.

Obama intends to use executive action to place new curbs on guns, reportedly including requiring more gun sellers to conduct background checks on purchasers.

Lawmakers and Republican presidential candidates are already accusing Obama of executive overreach. “Such an expansion of governmental power would represent an abuse of one of the core individual rights protected by our Bill of Rights,” Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., said Monday.

We have tens of thousands of people every single year who are killed by guns. We have suicides that are committed by firearms at a rate that far exceeds other countries.

President Obama

Criminal justice overhaul

Obama wants it, the conservative Koch brothers want it, most of the 2016 presidential contenders want it, and the House and Senate have proposals to do it.

Revamping the nation’s criminal justice system may be one of the few areas where the political parties and differing ideologies find common ground. And it will be difficult.

Senate Democrats have concerns about a House overhaul bill that they contend would make it more difficult to sue corporations. The Senate criminal justice bill made it through the Judiciary Committee in October with provisions that limit mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenders and give judges more leeway in some sentences. Four Republicans on the committee – Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Orrin Hatch of Utah, David Vitter of Louisiana and David Perdue of Georgia – voted against it.

William Douglas: 202-383-6026, @williamgdouglas

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