You can add Afghanistan to the list of things pushing Congress towards a continuing resolution

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September promises to be something of a mess on Capitol Hill. Federal agencies and contractors are already figuring Congress won’t pass 2022 appropriations on time, and therefore the government will operate under a continuing resolution. Now, the question of supplemental appropriations will stack the agenda even higher. Federal Drive with Tom Temin got the outlook from Bloomberg Government Editorial Director Loren Duggan.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin: And Loren, let’s start with this week because of the shortened week from Labor Day and then Rosh Hashanah coming seemingly early, not much on the formal agenda?

Loren Duggan: That’s correct. Whereas normally Labor Day is the big kickoff to fall work on Capitol Hill, this week or this month, it’s starting a lot slower, because as you mentioned, Labor Day and Rosh Hashanah. But it won’t be completely quiet on Capitol Hill as lawmakers in the House are continuing to work at the committee level on this massive tax and spending plan that they’re working to pull together to advance many of their social spending priorities that President Biden wants and that many congressional Democrats are hoping they can use the next couple of weeks and months to assemble this package and get it over the finish line.

Tom Temin: But it sounds like for some Democrats and – Joe Manchin of West Virginia has said it explicitly but many others – this big bill is just a mile too far for some of them, possibly.

Loren Duggan: This bill was always going to be a big lift giventhe small majorities that the Democrats have in both the House and the Senate. Obviously the Senate, it’s 50/50, they have to keep every Democrat in line to get any thing over, even using this reconciliation process that can cut Republicans out, basically. But even in the House, they only have a basically a three-vote margin to spare on this piece of legislation, which is where we saw in August, where they came back to pass the first thing the budget resolution to kick this process off. There was the interplay with this bipartisan infrastructure bill that’s also playing out and will continue. Once they come back and start looking at this package on the House floor later this month.

Tom Temin: Well, it’s a good thing Yom Kippur is next week, then they can all atone for their sins they commit this week. But is it safe to say that a lot of backroom kinds of negotiations and buttonholing and so forth – that will be going on right now?

Loren Duggan: That will be going on, and you can see the House proceeding with this because if there’s enough support in the House to get this bill over the line, they might even pass it and send it to the Senate. And that puts extra pressure on Senate Democrats to try to come together and move forward on this package. And just to remind listeners, this could be up to $3.5 trillion in spending. Some of that would be offset through tax increases. But this could touch everything from more child tax credits to climate change programs to a path to citizenship for some immigrants. So this is going to be a lot of Democratic priorities, a lot of spending, some taxes, tax relief for some families and people, but then also increasing taxes in other areas to help pay for this.

Tom Temin: And there’s still the other infrastructure bill yet to pass, too.

Loren Duggan: That’s right, the Senate before it left for its August recess sent this package over to the House, it would increase spending by $550 billion, some of that offset. And that’s – I guess it’s guaranteed at least a consideration before the end of the month. That was the only way that the moderate Democrats in the House, there were nine or 10 of them, who said they wouldn’t move forward on that reconciliation process unless they got a vote written down and kind of scheduled with a calendar date circled. And that’s Sept. 27 is the date where that has to at least come up for debate. And then we’ll see what happens with that vis-à-vis this other package.

Tom Temin: We’re speaking with Bloomberg Government Editorial Director Loren Duggan. And where does all of that leave the regular 2022 appropriations?

Loren Duggan: Well that process has moved along. In the House, they’ve passed nine of the 12 bills, got the other three out of committee as well. The Senate before it left for its August break, did three bills out of committee – they’re waiting for floor action. Where the main stumbling point could be here is they still don’t have a House-Senate agreement on how much to spend in total, at least in a way that has Republican buy-in. Those bills will still have to get over that 60-vote threshold in the Senate. So Republicans have a say. And a complicating factor is now you have the House Armed Services and Senate Armed Services Committee, essentially endorsing more Defense spending than Democrats thought they were going to be working with based off of what President Biden requested. So the gap there and how much to spend on defense could complicate this, especially if there’s pressure to bring down some of the spending that they wanted to do on the domestic side. So as you mentioned at the outset, a continuing resolution is almost guaranteed at this point, given that the House doesn’t even get back to town until Sept. 20 floor votes. So, there’s not going to be a lot of time to really do much other than kick the can into November, December and make sure that the government’s funded while some of these other things are worked through.

Tom Temin: And there’s a little maybe tinge of irony in that they are talking about supplemental appropriations to respond to the horrible disasters that affected – it’s going on in California with the fires and the floods that got the Gulf states, New York, Pennsylvania and New England, some really wreckage stuff going on there. And also for the aftermath of Afghanistan could cost money.

Loren Duggan: That’s right. And we even saw last week, the Louisiana delegation mostly made up of Republicans, one Democrat as well, but they already came out and called for some additional aid for Louisiana. And now the storm obviously has gone through the northeast and caused a lot of damage in New York, New Jersey, obviously going to cost more there. So you can see not just FEMA, which is often what we think of first in disasters, but other programs, everything from community development block grants to Small Business Administration help to whatever you might need in a package like that. So as the disasters mount around the country, that will help, that will increase costs and probably require some sort of action by Congress. If they can get everything together, that could be part of the continuing resolution, or it could be a separate item that gets added to the to-do list.

Tom Temin: Well, an angry Mother Nature is at least bipartisan. And then what about the NDAA? That had a little bit of advancement already.

Loren Duggan: That’s right, the Armed Services Committee on the House side came together, despite the August recess to work for many, many hours in a row to get that bill over its line and the committee at least. And as I mentioned, they again, voted like the Senate Armed Services panel did to increase the top line for their defense authorization by about $25 billion more than what President Biden wanted. So that’s going to again, need to be worked through although making the House and Senate bills closer makes it easier to wrap up that negotiation between the two of them. But there’s a lot of issues at play there, Afghanistan is going to be a big one. Because even at the committee level, they are calling for some investigations about the whole process in Afghanistan over two decades. But specifically what happened in the last few weeks and months as we prepare to leave there. So that’s going to come into the fore there. And there’s also going to be a big debate over what to do about handling sexual assault claims. And with the military justice system, how that’s gonna play out. So that bill is usually a big lift in the House and the Senate floors, they still have to get through that. And then try and come to consensus by the end of the year on that, which is usually the goal. They’ve done that for many decades in a row, they’re not going to try and you know, Miss that deadline again.

Tom Temin: It seems like by taking all of these issues simultaneously, all of the military issues, the relief issues, the infrastructure issues and the regular budget, instead of serially, that it makes the whole thing slow down, doesn’t it?

Loren Duggan: It can, but there are different committees that work on these things in piece meal, so every committee almost is involved in this reconciliation process. But leadership is going to have a hard time here, because they’re the ones trying to cobble together the votes to get these things through. And Nancy Pelosi had a lot of talks in the two days that the House came back in August to get this budget reconciliation process moving and get an infrastructure bill scheduled while also dealing with voting rights because they passed the voting rights bill while they were here in that two-day window. So, a lot to juggle, a lot to do, a lot of pressing deadlines. And then there’s always the unexpected things like a hurricane and a tropical storm cutting through a wide swath of the country.

Tom Temin: And briefly, what about that debt ceiling? They have to formally vote to raise it, and they have not, correct?

Loren Duggan: They have not. And they made it harder, because they could have wrapped this into the reconciliation process but procedurally did not do so. But by October or November, the government’s ability to work within the debt ceiling, which came back into effect in August, won’t be there anymore. So they either need to suspend it for a certain period of time as they’ve done in the past, or raise it and Republicans so far, don’t seem to want to go along with that. And they will have a say in the Senate because that could be a 60-vote item in that chamber.

Tom Temin: Or they could raid the TSP to cover it.

Loren Duggan: Well, they [could] do that but that’s one of the extraordinary measures as they call them. But those can only last for so long.

Tom Temin: Loren Duggan is editorial director of Bloomberg Government. Thanks so much.

Loren Duggan: Thank you.

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