Congress looks to get back in the swing of things

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Both the House and Senate are in session this week and one can imagine that they’ll be dealing with a lot of topical issues like D.C. statehood and police reform. But amendments and political concerns are likely to hold up budgetary talks for next year. Bloomberg Government Editorial Director Loren Duggan joined Federal Drive with Tom Temin for the latest.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin: And there are so many issues that seem to be piling on driven by societal occurrences. So what what can we expect this week? Let’s talk about some of those current issues, first.

Loren Duggan:  Well, the big issue that will dominate time in both chambers is policing. And we’ve seen Democrats in both chambers introduce a bill and Republicans in both chambers introduced a bill. They take somewhat different paths and touch on a lot of the same issues. But we’re likely to see a bit of divergence this week, even if down the road. We see a coming together on some sort of compromise bill. So the House is going to act Thursday on its plan that went through the judiciary committee last week. And you know, some highlights of this are taking steps to prevent the use of chokeholds, ban so-called no-knock warrants by federal agents and try to get states and localities to stop using that, and ending or overturning qualified immunity, which is the Supreme Court doctrine that prevents police officers from being sued in the line of duty for the most part. That’s on the House side. The Senate takes different approaches: They will allow chokeholds in some cases, they want more reporting on no-knock warrants rather than an outright ban, and they don’t touch on the qualified immunity. So there are some big gaps between the two bills. So one of the big questions we’ll be watching is does the Senate even get to the point where they can take up this bill because in the Senate, you need 60 votes even to get on legislation if there’s a concerted minority effort to block it, and we’ll be watching to see if Democrats allow that vote to move forward to get the bill on the floor and begin debating that piece of legislation. So big action this week on this issue. Nancy Pelosi last week said she envisions going to a conference with the Senate to work out differences. So there’s definitely momentum here to have a debate, try and produce legislation. We’ll have to see if kind of there are lines in the sands or differences that are too big to gap, or gaps are too big to bridge here.

Tom Temin: What’s interesting is what you mentioned briefly is that federal police are involved in this legislation and not just municipal and county police.

Loren Duggan:  Yeah, and one of the challenges here is that the federal government can’t control every aspect of state and local policing either. So a lot of what they do here is conditioned grants from the federal government to states and municipalities on taking certain certain actions. So it’s kind of more of a carrot approach. If you – don’t do X, you’re not going to get the funds or we’re going to begin curtailing those funds. They have much more control over the federal law enforcement agencies which do get involved in policing. And as we saw, even with some of the protests in recent weeks, federal police do get involved in local actions from time to time.

Tom Temin: So it sounds like this could have an effect on the rules and regulations of the Office of Justice Programs, in Justice, which is the Justice Department’s channel for grants to state and local police.

Loren Duggan:  Absolutely. And it could affect funds they already have and both bills are looking at additional grants to try to help with things like body cameras or national registries and information sharing. So the money that’s already going out and the money that may start going out in whatever legislation is finalized here.

Tom Temin: And is the D.C. statehood question taking away from some of the long term standard business like the federal budget?

Loren Duggan:  Well, they’re gonna, you know, keep that debate to one day. So Thursday is the debate on this policing bill in the House. Friday is the D.C. statehood bill. And what Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said in announcing this vote is that recent events have made this even more important to him to get this bill across the finish line in the House. And he’s pointed to the way that D.C. came out under the CARES Act stimulus legislation where it got less money than states and was in a bucket closer to what territories got. And even some of the events around the protests by the White House where national forces were brought in when local officials didn’t want that. He’s pointed to both those as a reason for this bill that he’s wanted for a while and Eleanor Holmes Norton, the delegate from the District of Columbia, that’s one of her main priorities is the statehood bill. She would potentially become a full voting member of the House, D.C. we get two senators. So it’s an important bill to people inside the District. But it’s not something that Republicans have backed. It’s not something the President is behind. So this will be the high watermark for the bill in this Congress. But you know, looking down the road, a Democratic House and Senate and president – maybe there’s a different outcome?

Tom Temin: We’re speaking with Bloomberg, editorial director – here we go again. We’re speaking with Bloomberg government editorial director Loren Duggan. And what about budget talks? What about the NDAA? I guess there is been some movement already on that in one chamber but not the other.

Loren Duggan:  So this week on the NDAA front a House subcommittee will be meeting to mark up their portions of it, to wind up in a eventual full committee markup, I think scheduled for July 1. So we’ll see a lot of issues come up in those subcommittee events, including policing, by the way, because one thing that’s come up in that debate is the transfer of military equipment from defense agencies to state and local police groups, which a lot of people are opposing and looking to curtail. But that bill is moving forward that had been on the Senate’s pre-July 4 agenda for the floor. But with the policing debate, kind of overtaking that we may not see action until after July 4 on that. On the budget front, we had hoped or planned for Senate appropriators to start acting this week. But that was delayed, as you mentioned by some disagreement over what the scope of amendments might be in the debate and committee there. So not sure when they’ll resume or get back to that. Nita Lowey the House Appropriations chairwoman, laid out her ambitious plan to get pretty much all the bills through her committee. From the subcommittee and full committee in a two-week sprint in early July. So by mid-July, we may have a much better picture of what it looks like on fiscal ’21 funding.

Tom Temin: And even though – well, it was outlawed, I guess, a number of years ago – what is the real status of earmarks, those kinds of greasy elements that keep the things moving in the larger gearing sense?

Loren Duggan:  So those still are off the table right now. There was a movement to try and revive them. They’re a tool that leadership likes, because the more individual projects a member has, the more invested they are in each bill. So even if things like a surface transportation infrastructure bill are moving or these appropriations bills, those projects aren’t there. I would expect maybe in the next Congress to have another discussion about that. It’s more of an internal question than anything. And member seem on both sides about this, many people would love to have these prizes to take back home and show their constituents. Others are afraid that it will be denounced as pork or special interest. So, you know, we’ll have to see what happens going into the new Congress on that.

Tom Temin: And how fully are they returning in terms of physical bodies in the Capitol Hill zones?

Loren Duggan:  So we’ve seen a lot of what I would call hybrid activity where even some of the markups last week on the policing bill and the transportation bill – some members were in a committee room, others were not. On Wednesday, when there were two high profile markups, we saw some technical glitches with screens freezing and it was hard to hear sometimes. But for the most part, we’re seeing more and more people come into town. Now the House has this proxy voting system that they created, where not everyone has to be in the chamber for the votes. It’s somewhat controversial. Republicans don’t like it. Even when the president signed a bill recently that had proxy votes even suggested maybe you need to pass this again, just in case. So you know, there is more activity. Capitol Hill is a little bit more alive but it’s not back to normal.

Tom Temin: Loren Duggan is editorial director of Bloomberg Government. As always, thanks so much.

Loren Duggan:  Thank you.

Tom Temin: We’ll post this interview at FederalNewsNetwork.com/FederalDrive. Subscribe to the Federal Drive at Apple Podcasts or Podcastone.