This week in Congress: Hill grapples over Keystone XL pipeline

Congress returns to work after a weeklong recess and begins the arduous task of passing annual spending bills to fund all federal agencies in 2013.

Meanwhile, the Senate will focus on legislation to stop rate hikes on subsidized Stafford loans for college students, which are scheduled to double on July 1 from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent.

The Senate will also vote on the nominations of Jacqueline Nguyen to be circuit judge for the Ninth Circuit; Kristine Gerhard Baker to be district judge for the Eastern District of Arkansas; and John Lee to be district judge for the Northern District of Illinois.

Conferees from the House and Senate will hold their first meeting Tuesday to begin hammering out the differences in the highway funding bill before the June deadline – but the sticking point will certainly be language in the House version that bypasses the president to approve the Keystone XL pipeline project.

The Hill reports that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has already made it very clear Senate Democratic conferees will not agree to include that provision in the final measure.

“Personally, I’m not — I’m not one of the conferees — but personally I think Keystone is a program that we’re not going, that I am not going to help in any way I can,” Reid said. “The president feels that way. I do, too.”

Whether the Keystone language makes it will likely come down to final negotiations between Reid and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).

Hearings of note scheduled this week include a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee event titled “A Review of Solutions to Reform, Reorganize, or Retire the General Services Administration (GSA).”

A Science, Space and Technology subcommittee hearing will also examine spending at the National Science Foundation.