Calendar short as U.S. Congress weighs trade, spying, roads

Reuters News
Posted: May 18, 2015 3:09 PM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - With just five days left before a holiday break, the U.S. Congress on Monday was preparing to deal with urgent decisions on Pacific Rim trade, domestic spying rules and financing road projects. Here are major bills under debate before the 10-day Memorial Day recess:


Congress is weighing whether to give President Barack Obama the "fast track" power he wants to negotiate trade deals, including one with 11 other Pacific Rim countries.

Known as trade promotion authority, or TPA, it would let Obama hammer out the trade pact and then submit it to Congress, which could approve or reject it, but not amend it.

Labor unions and environmentalists oppose TPA. After a struggle last week just to bring it up for debate, the Republican-majority Senate was set to start voting on amendments. Republican leaders said they would have enough votes to approve the bill this week.

An even tougher fight is expected in the House of Representatives. Most Democrats there oppose TPA. Republicans mostly favor it, but some conservative Republicans do not.


The government's road-construction fund will lose spending authority at the end of May and run out of money at the end of July. Congress has been unable to agree on how to replenish it.

Last week, leading House Republicans unveiled an extension of the fund's authority that would go until the end of July.

Some lawmakers want an extension through the end of 2015 or even a long-term six-year infrastructure bill, but these are unlikely to come together this week.


U.S. spy agencies' power to collect Americans' telephone data would be curtailed under legislation approved by the House.

The current Patriot Act program was an outgrowth of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, but portions of that law, including telephone data collection authority, expire on June 1.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and some other Republicans want to extend the act through 2020 with no changes. A showdown awaits, with the outcome unclear.


Congress has approved legislation giving it oversight of a potential deal with Iran on nuclear weapons. Obama is expected to sign it.


The House has passed a $604 billion budget for the Pentagon that aims to improve procurement practices. The White House has threatened a veto, arguing the bill hinges on a budgeting gimmick. It was not clear when the Senate would consider it.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Lisa Von Ahn)