Ukraine has sped up how Congress is thinking about China

The House of Representatives is taking what amounts to a spring break, but the Senate is in town working on legislation to deal with China and closing in on the...

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The House of Representatives is taking what amounts to a spring break, but the Senate is in town working on legislation to deal with China and closing in on the Supreme Court nomination. The Federal Drive with Tom Temin got a look ahead from Bloomberg Government Deputy News Director Loren Duggan.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin: And Loren, let’s start with the 2023 budget submission. There’s actually action there happening, right?

Loren Duggan: That’s right. Here we go again, right? We just finished the fiscal 2022 law, President Biden signed that last week, there’s a new OMB director officially because Shalanda Young was confirmed to be director after being acting director, and one of her first orders of business is assembling the fiscal ’23 budget that we expect next Monday, March 28. So that will set off a whole other round of budget and appropriations work in Congress, a lot to do here. Oct. 1 is going to come pretty quickly. And so we’ll be tearing into that next week and looking for anything we can get in advance in the next couple of days.

Tom Temin: And I guess in Congress’s eyes, November (whatever it is) is coming even faster than Oct. 1.

Loren Duggan: That deadline might be a bigger one for them than the Oct. 1, one, yes.

Tom Temin: All right. So getting to the week ahead, as you say the House is out. And they are having their conferences and their retreats, the GOP in Florida and where are the Democrats?

Loren Duggan: Well, the Democrats had theirs a couple of weeks ago in Philadelphia. They do them at separate times, which makes it easier for news organizations to cover one than the other. So this week, the Republicans are convening in Florida, where they’ll talk about their strategy for the election, hear from past officials, have some fun, too. You know, they had DJ Jazzy Jeff when they were up in Philadelphia, and as I understand it, they’ll have some band members playing from within their own conference down there. So it’s a good time, get away from Washington and talk about your agenda and probably think about some fundraising too, ahead of, like you say, that November election that’s looming large over everything the next couple of months.

Tom Temin: All right, so the Senate is in town and the China competition bill, I guess that in some sense, takes on new urgency, as we’ve got this weird relationship with China, warning them and hoping at the same time they don’t help out Russia. It’s added a new wrinkle into the whole China kind of gestalt these days.

Loren Duggan: It has and President Biden talked to President Xi [Jinping] last week about what’s going on in Ukraine. But in terms of this legislation, this is a bill that has had different versions come out of the Senate and the House. What they’re trying to do now was set up a conference, the formal negotiation between the House members and Senate members to come to an agreement. There’s a lot in this bill that both parties like but there’s a few things that don’t line up exactly and where some of the fights will be. One of the centerpiece items that does have bipartisan support is $52 billion over several years for chip production here in America. Chips go into everything right, and the shortage of them has caused problems the last couple of years, everything from cars to your smart refrigerators, we need chips, we need to make them here. So President Biden called for this bill in a State of the Union. They have to take some procedural steps in the Senate this week to get to that conference, it may take some time. But this is the next big bill that I see coming because there’s going to be money in here, there’s going to be an opportunity to shore up different agencies, authorized agencies like NSF and NIFT. So there’s a lot in this bill, if they can come to an agreement, that could be a very bipartisan win for members heading into the November elections and something that the president, as I mentioned, very much wants.

Tom Temin: That should be an interesting bill, especially on the semiconductor front, which has been a freewheeling industry up until recent years, and kind of eschewed government subsidies. But now, things have changed and all that overseas production so that would affect a lot of departments, both in the research and engineering end and in the trade. And where do we allocate federal capital end of things.

Loren Duggan: It would, and one of the agencies that’s poised to get a lot of money is the Commerce Department, which would take the lead on some of the funding for the chips and handing that out around the country. So a lot of additional responsibilities for that department. So we’ll be watching that closely as well. There’s also money for the DoD and some of the science agencies around the government. So there is some direct money that comes out for the chips, but then some of it is setting up authorizations for Congress to come back and appropriate in the coming years. So this is a first step not the last step in some of this.

Tom Temin: And none of that chip money is going to the Utz factory in Pennsylvania.

Loren Duggan: Different kind of chip.

Tom Temin: All right. We are speaking with Loren Duggan, he’s deputy news director of Bloomberg Government. And the hearings for the Supreme Court nominee, there’s been a lot of dancing and parading around and smiling, gripping grins. Now they’re getting down to brass tacks there.

Loren Duggan: Right, this is a week of appearances for the nominee and for the Senate Judiciary Committee where there’s a day, usually where the senators talk two days where they question the nominee and then a fourth day where outside witnesses will come in and offer their perspective. So we’ll see a lot of that this week. Then they’ll try and schedule a committee vote in the coming weeks, keep that momentum going to report her to the floor and then the floor will have to deal with us. So if they keep the momentum going, we could see a vote on a brown Jackson’s nomination pretty quickly. Within a few weeks. If it gets dragged out for some reason, maybe it’ll go later into April or something like that? As we know, the current Justice Stephen Breyer isn’t retiring until basically the end of the term, but this would set up Ketanji Brown Jackson to glide in and take over that seat as soon as he retires. So this is going to be a marquee week for that. Our colleagues at Bloomberg Law, Bloomberg News, who watch the court very closely are all in on this coverage this week. So definitely a big event.

Tom Temin: And Congress has also been, of course, highly interested in the developments of Ukraine, and there was that dramatic speech, wherever that auditorium is that the members were gathered the other day to hear from the Ukrainian president. Any legislation likely to come out there? Because there’s differing opinions on what we should or should not do to aid Ukraine.

Loren Duggan: Well the omnibus spending law that was signed had, I think like $13 billion or something like that for Ukraine. Jon Tester, who’s the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee chair in the Senate, has said he’s not thinking about another package quite yet, but wants to watch how that develops. There was a piece of legislation that the House passed before it left last week, that would change Russia and Belarus’ trade status. They no longer have most favored nation or permanent trade relations. So we could charge them more tariffs, it’s yet another sanction on top of them. That legislation’s sitting with the Senate, it’s not clear if they’re ready to take it up. Majority Leader Schumer said he was interested in doing that. But there are some other ideas out there as well. Maybe those will have an interplay with that bill? But I think the next front is more of this trade status, what to do about something called the Global Magnitsky Act, which gives the president some sanctions over human rights. That law is supposed to sunset. They may extend that and that would give him more authority. And then there’s still the questions of legislation around oil and energy imports from Russia. The President has stopped many of those already. But Congress may want to take their own role there, as they did in the house a couple of weeks ago, passing a bill on that question. And I think the most important thing they’ll be doing is continuing to put pressure on the administration for more aid, more aid, more aid, with some of the money that was already given to the administration to spend there. So maybe more verbal or rhetorical pressure than legislation, but all those things are possible in the coming weeks.

Tom Temin: Yeah, sure because some of the sanctions on oil that could really cut it off, have been delayed, or they’re on hold until the end of June or something, if you look at the websites of the agencies that have that information. And so maybe Congress could force the hand, but it sounds like that’s not something they’re really wanting to do with all that much vigor.

Loren Duggan: They may, I mean, sometimes Congress wants to assert a role, or sometimes they want to make it harder for the administration to take something away. So even the bill on trade status would give Congress a role to stop the administration if they could get a veto-proof majority to stop President Biden from lifting that particular penalty on Russia. So Congress likes to assert a role on foreign policy, and the administration likes to push back that’s probably a 223-year history in our constitution of that push and pull. But that will continue to be a dynamic here as well.

Tom Temin: And the president is going to take what could be a fateful trip overseas to Europe as this war drags on, and all eyes are over there.

Loren Duggan: Absolutely, meeting with the allies, he’s obviously been working the phones, having video conferences with allies around the world. He’s talked to President [Volodymyr] Zelenskyy many times and President Zelenskyy has talked to other legislators as well, the Canadian Parliament, the UK Parliament. So I guess video technology has changed the way we conduct wars and conduct diplomacy but face-to-face talks, I guess they’re still indispensable. And so Biden will be meeting with his allies overseas on that.

Tom Temin: Yeah, the best thing since the hotline. Is there still a hotline? I don’t think that exists anymore. Something we can both look up respectively here. Loren Duggan is deputy news director of Bloomberg Government. As always, thanks so much.

Loren Duggan: Thank you.

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