Capitol Hill is a bustling place this week, starting with federal agencies and baby formula

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From infant formula to the devastating war in Ukraine, nothing is to big or small for Congressional attention this week. You can throw veterans and Veterans Affairs into the mix. The Federal Drive with Tom Temin gets the outlook from Bloomberg Government deputy news director Loren Duggan.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin: And it sounds like whatever the blame,...

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Best listening experience is on Chrome, Firefox or Safari. Subscribe to Federal Drive’s daily audio interviews on Apple Podcasts or PodcastOne.

From infant formula to the devastating war in Ukraine, nothing is to big or small for Congressional attention this week. You can throw veterans and Veterans Affairs into the mix. The Federal Drive with Tom Temin gets the outlook from Bloomberg Government deputy news director Loren Duggan.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin: And it sounds like whatever the blame, or cause, or supply chain, this infant formula issue is really getting to Congress, which in turn is looking at what agencies might have a role in either causing it or fixing it.

Loren Duggan: That’s right. This is a problem that’s happening nationwide. And that inevitably filters up to Congress and the lawmakers who hear from each other and hear from their constituents. So what we’ll see this week is a hearing at the House Appropriations Committee where the FDA commissioner is going to testify, obviously, they play a key role in regulating things like baby formula and food in the country. So I’m sure there will be a number of questions for that agency. And it’s the first of many hearings that I think we’re likely to see over the coming weeks. And just, you know, things we’re going to hear from lawmakers who are concerned about this, because it is having a real world impact, as you see pictures of empty shelves, or at least somewhat empty shelves and people looking far and wide to get the particular formula that their baby may need. So this is going to be I think, a lingering issue. Probably one that’s top of mind because it is you know, it has a salience it has I think, an emotional resonance as well, that is something that Congress will continue to pay attention to.

Tom Temin: And veterans once again, occupying some parts of Congress this week.

Loren Duggan: That’s right, the House is out next week for just a committee work weekend, they traditionally take up a slate of bills, to help with things like veterans benefits, you know, whether it’s education or health care, or different things that the VA (Department of Veterans Affairs) provides to people who have served this country and more. There’s a slate of those headed to the House floor this week, mostly will be bipartisan, probably passed with some wide margins bills that have moved through the House Veterans Affairs Committee, and in some cases, even already have Senate companions or have been endorsed by the Senate. So this is a pretty traditional thing to do right around Memorial Day, and they’re continuing that tradition this year.

Tom Temin: All right, and there is some contention over I guess the vote, whatever vote they’re going to have with respect to Roe v. Wade is over. Is Congress further involved at this point, because the Supreme Court is under almost lock and key, certainly they’re surrounded by fencing, and so forth is, aside from the political rhetoric any connection at this point?

Loren Duggan: I think rhetoric will definitely continue; Democrats are going to continue pushing and hoping that maybe there’s a way to persuade their neighbors across the street to not go forward with the draft opinion or maybe try to change things there. It you know, depending on how final that opinion is that was drafted the stage and will probably be released in the final form sometime in the coming months, there could be more action in Congress on this, whether they force people to vote on the same issue over and over again, which is not unprecedented, or look for other ways to go after this, whether it’s other programs to help people around the country that they think would be negatively affected by this ruling. But a lot of this is going to shift to states. And I think that’s where you’re going to see even more legislative action with even some states considering special sessions to come in and perhaps now that Roe v. Wade would be struck down if that draft opinion were to become the law of the land, they would maybe pass some additional legislation in their states. So there will be a lot of talk, I think you’ll have more hearings. And I think you’ll have more votes on this issue in the coming months. It’s not over even once the decision is signed, this is going to remain an issue because I think it’s factoring into people’s thinking about the midterms, and therefore you use what you have in Congress to kind of add to that discussion.

Tom Temin: And all of this takes duty cycle time away from, say, the 2023 budget, which had a little momentum a couple of weeks ago.

Loren Duggan: That’s right, where the Big Four or the Four Corners, if you will, the leaders of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have started their discussions about trying to come to top line spending on the defense and the non-defense side. With that agreement in place, it would make it a lot easier to make progress on appropriations bills and defense authorization as well, always easier when you have a shared number for that. We haven’t heard much about the progress there. A lot of the appropriations time last week was taken up by the Ukraine supplemental. But there’s still work to be done there to try and move forward. There are aspirations to start marking up those appropriations bills in June and start moving them toward the floor, at least on the House side, trying to get some progress going there. So I think those talks aren’t by any means over. I think they might need a little bit of a reboot. But that is still a priority is to make some progress on that. The cabinet officials keep making the rounds on Capitol Hill to defend what they asked for. So that part of the process is going but we’ll see what happens next.

Tom Temin: We’re speaking with Loren Dugan, deputy news director at Bloomberg Government and the Ukraine bill that was stalled by certain language that Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) wanted $40 billion, which from the sound of it could help Ukraine actually nail Russia. And what’s the status of that now?

Loren Duggan: We’ll see a procedural vote tonight in the Senate, trying to push that forward. The hope that Senate Democrats and Republicans as well and for the most part had was that they could come to an agreement to clear this thing last week to push it through quickly get it to President Biden so he could sign it. And this aid could start flowing. Because of the way the Senate works in one senator can hold up unanimous consent, which Senator Rand Paul did. They’re having to go through some hoops to move that forward. They had hoped that he would accept just a vote on the language that he wants to insert some oversight functions into the bill. But he was actually demanded that it be added to the bill. And Republicans and Democrats weren’t willing to agree to that. So we’re sort of in the standstill, we’ll see how quickly the bill can move if tonight’s procedural vote opens the gates to this happening quickly, or if they have to burn up a lot of floor time trying to get that over the line in the coming days.

Tom Temin: And there’s also the possibility of a few appointments coming through in the Senate?

Loren Duggan: Absolutely. As we’ve seen, these can take a while or they can happen pretty quickly, once there’s agreement. Last week was a pretty banner week for some top nominations, including to the Federal Reserve, to the Federal Trade Commission and some other positions like that. We know that this week, there’s already some steps taken to set up some more judicial votes. There’s also the Cathy Ann Harris nomination has sort of been waiting in the wings to be both a member and the chair of the Merit Systems Protection Board. So I would anticipate more action this week on those nominations that kind of fill gaps in the schedule when there’s not a bill moving at any particular time. I think we’ll see more of that both on the floor and then committees that are always looking at these nominations and trying to push them forward as well.

Tom Temin: And this all while they’re not spending time issuing subpoenas to one another, which that’s got to detract from the spirit of civility that used to pervade up there?

Loren Duggan: I think it does, to some extent, but that’s sort of the the whole Jan. 6 committee is looking at a very unusual and perhaps unprecedented event on Capitol Hill and some of the what’s come out of that has been unprecedented as well with contempt citation subpoenas to co-lawmakers and things like that. So it’s a very unusual time a very unusual committee and I think that’s borne out with that.

Tom Temin: All right. Loren Duggan is deputy news director at Bloomberg Government. As always, thanks so much.

Loren Duggan: Thank you.

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