Congress seems to get deeper and deeper into its own maze

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Looking at Capitol Hill this week, you can almost see two Congresses: The one working through ordinary items like confirmation hearings, and the one deeply stalemated over the big questions like how much money to commit to anything? With a view of the week ahead, Bloomberg Government Editorial Director Loren Duggan spoke to Federal Drive with Tom Temin.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin: And Loren, both houses are in so this is one of those old fashioned Washington weeks.

Loren Duggan: Absolutely. You’ve got both chambers in business and a lot happening on the committee side in both the House and the Senate, as members get down to a number of items that they want to tackle as the year gets going here. I mean, we’re, we’re in June about almost five months into the Biden administration with a lot left to do before Sept. 30 when the fiscal year ends, and a number of key programs expire. But there’s still things to do, like put people in places around the government where there’s still some vacancies, a number of them, and also make sure that they’re chipping away at other things that are on their agenda. So no shortage of things to work.

Tom Temin: And it looks like the Office of Personnel Management, one of the key positions, even though it’s a small agency, that’s going to get someone permanently in charge now.

Loren Duggan: That’s right. That’s one of the nominations that Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has teed up for action this week, provided her nomination can get 50 supporters, they can overcome any attempt to filibuster that nomination and then get it to a confirmation vote that seems likely to happen. So that could be confirmed by the end of the week and get down to the important work of government and its workforce, especially as it tackle things like coming back to the office full time and filling up the offices that have been pretty empty for for several months, or almost a year-and-a-half now.

Tom Temin: And what else in the House? I guess the minority – the Majority Whip Steny Hoyer has got a pretty big agenda he’s mapped out.

Loren Duggan: Yeah, he’s laid out what looks to be a pretty busy June, starting this week with a bill around corporate disclosures with environmental, social and governance issues and political donations. And they’re also going to take up a bill this week, that would repeal the 2002 law going way back that had authorized the Iraq war. This has been a priority for many Democrats to get that off the books, because they don’t like some of the other military activities that have been carried out under the umbrella of that resolution that was adopted back in 2002. And coming up later in the month, they’re going to try and get rid of similar Trump administration regulations using the Congressional Review Act that was popular in the Trump years to take on Obama rules. And Democrats in the House and Senate are using that now to take aim at some Trump rules. And then later in the month will be the big marquee vote, I would say, in the House for June. And that’s [an] infrastructure package that has started to come together. Now this one might be a little more routine pieces of what would traditionally be a surface transportation bill. That’s important because those programs do expire on Sept. 30. It may not be the grand sweeping American jobs plan-style package that the president wants. Pete DeFazio, who’s the chairman of the House Transportation Committee, who got that approved last week, really wants to focus on this and sees this as important. But he’s not losing sight of that bigger infrastructure package that continues to be negotiated both inside Congress and with the administration.

Tom Temin: And the president’s regular, so to speak, discretionary 2022 request – that’s almost a backburner at this point.

Loren Duggan: It is but they’ve been chipping away at that too, released in full on May 28. Committees of both the House and the Senate on the authorizing side and the appropriation side, have been bringing people up to Capitol Hill, asking about some of those priorities and trying to come to grips with what to do there because Sept. 30 looms pretty quickly. There still isn’t an agreement yet on how much to spend in total, which makes it hard to figure out how much to spend on each of the 12 spending bills, and then how to spend on each program within those bills. So appropriators on both sides are anxious to get going on this. Patrick Leahy has talked about wanting to have a discussion early, about how much to spend in total to try to make that work easier. He’s talked about maybe having markups in July on some of those appropriations bills. The House has also laid out a schedule similar to that, maybe even starting this month on those markups to start writing those bills. But there’s a lot to do there before Sept. 30. And, of course, that’s when talk of a continuing resolution starts creeping in just because it’ll be hard to process all that.

Tom Temin: We’re speaking with Loren Duggan, editorial director of Bloomberg Government. And we talked about Senator Leahy – what else in the Senate? They’ve got their filibuster debate that they’re talking about and that seems to be the tougher body in terms of dealing with itself.

Loren Duggan: Right. The debate about how to have debates is lingering over many issues. So this week, they are going to chip away at a few more nominations, somebody for the Federal Trade Commission, the OPM person that we mentioned, and then also there could be more nominations that pop up as they’re approved by committee, whether that’s Frank Kendall III at the Air Force or some of the cybersecurity nominations that are getting a vote. I think Wednesday in committee will come out and some of those could be done fairly quickly, even by voice vote or unanimous consent at the end of the day. But looming over everything in the Senate is what to do about some of these big ticket items that Democrats want to move, and how to do it because the rules currently allow a minority – 40 senators, I guess 41 senators really – to block action on a bill because it takes 60 votes to cut off debate. I think the big showdown on that could come later this month with a bill on election procedures and other government issues called the For The People Act. It’s something that many Democrats back but not all of them. And that’s key here, because Joe Manchin has said that he doesn’t intend to vote for the bill as it’s currently written. And he’s also been one reluctant to blow up the rules that allow filibusters or that allow a minority to extend debate endlessly. So we will have to see if there’s a resolution on that. I think we’ll see a lot more talk on that because there is building pressure, including from activists around the country to do something with that bill, to do something with the rules to allow that to go forward.

Tom Temin: Well, a lot on the plate. Loren Duggan is editorial director of Bloomberg Government. As always, thanks so much for the outlook.

Loren Duggan: Thank you.

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