Like the full moon you know will be rising soon, the continuing resolution for the 2021 fiscal year, it starts next week, is finally taking shape in Congress. Sort of a shame because, who wants to repeat 2020? For the week ahead in Congress, Federal Drive with Tom Temin spoke to Bloomberg Government editorial director Loren Duggan.
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Tom Temin: Loren, you getting the idea that even though there might be a new moon, things aren’t so loony right now on Capitol Hill — a little bit of normalcy?
Loren Duggan: Well, I mean, obviously, things are different on Capitol Hill, masks are everywhere and we still have proxy voting on the House floor. But we’re in a somewhat normal September, where we’re having the usual conversations about how to keep the government funded. The parties in the House in the Senate and the leadership are trying to push as much through as they can. So there’s a little bit of normalcy in a very abnormal time.
Tom Temin: So the continuing resolution, which nobody doubted would be the case is starting to take shape. And is there much to be said about it, other than it’s a continuing resolution, which continues the budget shape of the current year?
Loren Duggan: Well, even as we’ve seen a lot of disagreement between the parties and between Congress and the administration on the stimulus package for the coronavirus aid. We’ve seen a lot of comity when it comes to getting some sort of funding mechanism in place. Early on Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury Secretary, Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House had said they wanted to keep the government funded, they wanted a clean CR. And they try to work together to make sure that that happened by keeping as much off of that as they could so it would be clean. That level of cleanliness may be in the eye of the beholder because this vehicle will attract other things. Last week. Steny Hoyer, the majority leader, said he would use it to advance a highway extension to keep surface transportation programs going, to flood insurance extension to ensure that FEMA can keep that program running. But the goal here was to keep a lot of other stuff off of it to ensure that a bill could get through the House this week, and hopefully to the Senate by the end of the week or early next week, to ensure that the President can sign off on this before the October 1 start of the new fiscal year.
Tom Temin: And by the way, you said comity not comedy, correct?
Loren Duggan: Exactly, yes.
Tom Temin: Maybe funny, but they have good relations, at least on that particular front. And there is some routine but not so routine business with respect to nominations and possible confirmations.
Loren Duggan: That’s right. Before leaving for the weekend, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell set up votes this week on three nominees for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. This hasn’t had a full complement of members for a long time. If these three people get over the procedural vote, the cloture vote, which only takes the majority, and then gets that majority to be confirmed, these members would then join the board and there would be all the members there. There are two Republicans up this week and one Democrat, because as other conditions are, there’s bipartisanship built into it. This particular version could last into the next year of if Vice President Biden were to win, this compliment could stay in place even when he takes over with a three to two Republican majority. But that’s something that we’ll see this week. And also more votes on judicial nominations. The Senate has continued churning through those since they got back from the August recess and more of those will be on tap, and that’s obviously been a talking point for the president and for the Senate Majority Leader about their success in confirming people to those positions.
Tom Temin: And also Chad Wolf could get a vote on actually being the confirmed Secretary of Homeland Security. His long tenure as acting has been controversial.
Loren Duggan: It has and the GAO put out a report a while back saying that the circumstances under which he and Ken Cuccinelli, who’s been acting as the deputy, the circumstances they took their positions weren’t perhaps fully legal. There’s been a dispute of that by the administration. But what we’ll see this week is a hearing before the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee for his confirmation to be the full secretary, no longer acting. This comes after he didn’t have here last week before a house committee, even though he was subpoenaed by the chairman Bennie Thompson there. So I’m sure there will be a number of questions brought to him on everything from immigration policy to how he would run the department to perhaps even the circumstances under which he took the acting role. So it could be an interesting heated exchange between him and the members of that committee, which is controlled by Republicans, because it’s on the Senate side. And that vote could come up before the Senate leaves for whenever the October recess kicks off.
Tom Temin: Interesting because the Inspector General at Homeland Security told Congressman Thompson and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, I ain’t getting involved in this spat between you and the committee and the Government Accountability Office and whether or not this is all legal. He says nobody would listen to us anyway is basically what he told them.
Loren Duggan: Right. And even when it came to the subpoena, what the department had said is because Chad Wolf’s nomination is pending before the Senate committee, he wouldn’t appear before other committees. Ken Cuccinelli said he offered and that his offer to come and testify in place was declined. So things get heated even over just appearing on Capitol Hill sometimes.
Tom Temin: And some testimony from Anthony Fauci. And from the other end of the topical spectrum, Jerome Powell of the Fed, let’s talk about that one, because he’s talking about keeping interest rates at zero for the next two or three years, even with what they say is an improving economy. That’s a little controversial.
Loren Duggan: It is and much as our fiscal policy has taken a certain direction during the coronavirus pandemic where we’re spending a lot of money and deficits are adding up this year. There could be a reckoning for that later on. I’m sure he will get a number of questions from the lawmakers he’s appearing before. He does go up fairly often. He also does press conferences when they do rate decision so his voice is very much present. He’s also been an advocate for doing more on the fiscal side passing more stimulus, although he always says that that’s Congress’s job and not his. So could be interesting to hear from him this week. And as you mentioned, Anthony Fauci and Robert Redfield, the CDC director, Steven Hahn, the FDA director, they’ll be up on Capitol Hill as well facing more questions about what the administration is doing. Much has happened last week, I’m sure the vaccine progress will come up, as well as plans for how to distribute that once it’s approved. How to get all the syringes in place. I’m sure there will be a lot about that. Probably more discussion of masks because obviously, when Robert Redfield was testifying last week, those things came up as well. So the coronavirus is certainly ever present in people’s minds and how we’re responding to that health wise and economically. Both of those will definitely be in focus this week.
Tom Temin: Yeah, those gentlemen are like the handmaidens of a bear that’s kind of come to move into your house. It’s great big, giant, hairy, unwanted guests that we can’t seem to get rid of in the form of the pandemic. And what about stimulus bill, I guess maybe what looked like impossible seems to be jelling a little bit.
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Loren Duggan: There was certainly a lot of talk last week, but again, there were were no votes. The kind of thing that was most disruptive perhaps in a good way, if you see it leading to a solution, or if you’re a leader and this wasn’t in the cards for you is a plan that came out from the Problem Solvers Caucus. This is a group of Republicans and Democrats in the House, moderate to some extent, they came out with a $1.5 trillion plan that they thought was a way to perhaps move the discussion forward. We’re in a position where Nancy Pelosi has gone from the $3.4 trillion bill that was passed back in May, to maybe accepting 2.2 trillion. So 1.5 isn’t exactly where she wants to be. But for some Republicans who wanted a much smaller package, like the Senate package that was in the half a trillion dollars or less, depending on how you count the money, the 1.5 would still be too much. Now, on the White House side, the President has said that that might be an amount of money he’s comfortable with. So that’s the kind of direction that may push things forward. There There are still some doubts for people whether this can be done before the election or whether it will go beyond then. Nancy Pelosi has said that even if they wrap up other business, they might come back between now and the election to pass something if there was a deal. So this is still churning in the background as something that many people want to get done. Though there still doesn’t seem to be that path forward quite yet.
Tom Temin: I sometimes wonder what the late Everett Dirksen would have said when told that moderates came up with $1.5 trillion as a compromise.
Loren Duggan: The dollar signs are immense these days, aren’t they?
Tom Temin: They really are. Bloomberg Government editorial director Loren Duggan. As always, thanks so much.
Loren Duggan: Thank you.