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Members of Congress know the budget process, their primary mission in life, is a mess. But some efforts are brewing that at least some members hope will get the 2023 budget process under control. The Federal Drive with Tom Temin got the latest now from Bloomberg Government deputy news director Loren Duggan.
Tom Temin: Tell us, Loren, what’s going on here with the kind of four corners effort and there’s some meetings to maybe get some order that did not happen in 2022?
Loren Duggan: That’s right. So the Four Corners of the Big Four, whatever you want to call them are the chair and ranking member of the two Appropriations Committees, House and Senate. So for the House, that’s Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, for the Democrats and Kay Granger of Texas for the Republicans. On the Senate side, it’s Patrick Leahy of Vermont for the Democrats, and Richard Shelby for the Republicans. So they got in a room last week, and tried to begin the process of giving themselves top line numbers to work with for fiscal 2023, both on the defense side and the non-defense side, of course, that gives you the total picture, but some sort of an agreement there on the top line that will allow them to do the work that the committee should spend its time on, which is dividing that money up among 12 appropriations bills, fighting over the individual policy riders and individual amounts of money for different departments, agencies and programs.
So they’re hoping when they can get in a room together again, which may not happen until next week, but that they can keep making progress here, because one of the issues with 2022 is that they didn’t have that agreement until this calendar year, which is why it took until March to get the appropriations process wrapped up almost five and a half months into the year. So they’re trying to make steps here to deal with these 2023 questions, even as they’re still wrestling, of course, with some 22 questions around Ukraine aid and COVID.
Tom Temin: Yes, right. As you point out, the money didn’t actually flow to the agencies and get into the Treasury accounts until pretty much half the fiscal year was over. So they had a six month and is there a first of all, are they trying to, do you have the sense that they’re trying to get a budget enacted onto the president’s desk in time for the actual start of the fiscal year, Oct. 1?
Loren Duggan: I think that’s always the goal when you’re an appropriations leader is to do your work on time. I think they also realize though, that that could be difficult, and they may need to do it. But one of the things that came out of these discussions is that Patrick Leahy, who’s retiring at the end of this year, and the end of the Congress recognizes that he wants to get things done at least so for next year, whoever is in charge of appropriations, whether it’s Democrats or Republicans, they have a clean slate, as he said. And you could see that being easier for whomever, if there’s a change in party control, or if Democrats are still in charge of one in both chambers, it would be easier not to be dealing with this because this would hang over into next year with the new Congress and might take some time to ramp up.
Tom Temin: And there is some sense somewhere in their minds, though, too, that this also hampers the operation of the government for the priorities, they themselves are funding.
Loren Duggan: Absolutely, if you’re operating under a CR for a long period of time, as the agencies were, you can’t start the new programs that you really want. If you want more funding for an account, you can make an adjustment here or there in a CR, but you can’t really get things rolling until the full year appropriations is in place. So to kick that off, especially on things like the defense side, when the Defense Department, the State Department and others are so involved in Ukraine and things like that, that could put some pressure on them to get some aspects of this funding done before Sept. 30. Although, you know, there seems to be kind of a tit for tat, you don’t want to necessarily let defense funding go without non-defense funding, because both are used as leverage by both sides to try and get this kind of whole cake baked. And across the finish line, if you will, if I can mix my metaphors.
Tom Temin: Right. Sure. Well, the cake will spill on the tablecloth at the Four Corners that were meeting over. And the House is out this week. So nothing’s going to happen this week with the Four Corners and that whole idea. But what does happen next to turn that early initial get together into something that the entire Congress can get moving on?
Loren Duggan: Well, I think they just are going to keep at it. And they don’t necessarily have to be in a room to do this. But they seem to like the face to face meeting. These are some old school politicians who have been there for a long time having reached the heights of the Appropriations Committee. So they’ll keep working on it, though, keep trying to do this for the next couple of weeks and see where they can get. We’re also seeing this on some level because aspects of the budget process where Congress used to adopt the budget resolution in both chambers and set these top line numbers has largely fallen into a balance. They haven’t announced plans to do that quite yet to do another budget resolution. So these informal talks are where we are right now. And it’s important to remember that Republicans have leverage in the Senate because it takes 60 votes to pass a spending bill and to cut off debate. So that’s why Republicans really do have a seat at the table here because they need to agree to something to get the votes they need to get this across the line when they eventually do have a spending deal to pass and send to the president.
Tom Temin: We’re speaking with Loren Dugan, deputy news director at Bloomberg Government, and there’s another big bill that’s been morphing and going and pushing and back and forth. And that is what used to be called the China Competition Bill. I think it’s getting a new moniker, correct, in a fresh round of negotiations?
Loren Duggan: Well, I think there’s two different names. There was the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act and the U.S. Competes or America Competes Act. We’ll see what the final name is when it comes out of negotiations. But what we’ve seen over the last few weeks were steps to form a formal House Senate conference to hash out the differences here with members named from both bodies to this collective group that will hash out a final agreement. It’s taken a while to get this over the line in the Senate, though, just because of all the procedural steps. What we’ll see Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, are a lot of votes on something called motions to instruct, which we don’t see very often. But what these are are senators trying to get the body on the record saying should the negotiators should fight to keep this provision or cut this one or, or whatever the case may be. So there’s a lot of sausage making, just to get to this table, where they’ll talk and hash out a final agreement. We’ll be waiting to see how long it takes to come to an agreement on that because it is an important piece of legislation with lots of money for chip manufacturers domestically increased authorizations for science programs and research programs to try and you know, spark innovation and competition among American businesses to compete primarily with China. But, you know, just in general, to make us a more competitive thing internationally.
Tom Temin: And finally, there is the issue of nominations. And since we do have the Senate in session this week, you’re seeing some possible action there.
Loren Duggan: Yes, there’s a couple lined up already. One is for Joshua Frost to be Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in charge of financial markets. So they’ll start off their week debating him. And then there could be another assistant secretary, I think, for HUD (Department of Housing and Urban Development) coming up this week. And then there’s some that are sitting there waiting to be acted on, that couldn’t be voted on last week because of a couple of key absences due to COVID, including the vice president who wasn’t available to break ties if they needed her. So we may see action on some nominees installed, including Lisa Cook for the Federal Reserve. And then there are a couple out there like Cathy Harris to be in both the chairperson and a member of the Merit Systems Protection Board. Cloture was already invoked several weeks ago on that, but they just haven’t gotten around to doing the formal confirmation vote. So we could see a lot of those votes stack up this week and get processed as well, after they deal with those 28 non-binding motions that will take up a lot of time on Tuesday and Wednesday, it sounds like.
Tom Temin: Loren Dugan is deputy news director at Bloomberg Government. As always, thanks so much.