Along with Jan. 6 hearings, legislation making its way through congress

The House has made some initial progress on 2023 federal spending levels, and various pieces of legislation are expected to make their way through votes on the ...

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A lot of the national spotlight is on Capitol Hill’s public January six hearings, but a fair amount of legislative and budget work is getting done in the House and Senate, too. The House has made some initial progress on 2023 federal spending levels, and various pieces of legislation are expected to make their way through votes on the House and Senate floors in the week ahead.   Loren Duggan, deputy news director at Bloomberg Government, talked with Federal News Network’s Jared Serbu on the Federal Drive with Tom Temin.

Interview transcript:

Jared Serbu: Let’s start with the budget process for fiscal 2023. There was a bit of movement last week in the House. Tell us where we stand on appropriations.

Loren Duggan: So the movement last week was fairly procedural and the House adopted a resolution called a “deeming resolution”. And what this does is allow appropriators to get their work underway. The House, at least Democrats, said that they would move forward with a $1.6 trillion top line for the next fiscal year that begins October 1. They didn’t get in into any details about how to split that up on defense or non-defense. But basically, that top line number is handed to the appropriations committee so they can begin their work. And that’s exactly what they’re doing this week with six subcommittee markups, planned over two days, kicking off a three-week process to try to get all of those bills through the full committee in the subcommittee so that they will be available for floor action as soon as July possibly. So a lot of movement happening in the next few weeks on the spending bills, which they’re going to represent really the House Democratic position on these questions. There have been talks over time between the House and the Senate Republicans and Democrats trying to come to a mutually agreeable top line figure for defense and non-defense. That would have made it a starting point a little more, you know, agreed upon, but at the very least, as Democrats are gonna get this process going, and we’ll see where it leads from there.

Jared Serbu: So it doesn’t really give us a lot of hope that there will be a full up spending bill by the end of this fiscal year, because that’s pretty much what happened last year, wasn’t it? There was a fair amount of movement in the house early on? The Senate appropriations committees or subcommittees didn’t really get a whole lot of stuff done before the start of this fiscal year. And that led us into a very long CR.

Loren Duggan: That’s correct. So the dynamic here is kind of similar to last year, and the lack of a agreement between Republicans and Democrats in the two chambers left us with CRs until about mid-March. And it took them that long to reach that agreement, write the bills, pass them into law, and basically get the funding for the full year enacted as it was by mid-March. Richard Shelby, who’s the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, was already talking to reporters on the Hill last week about a continuing resolution being necessary to fund the government. That, you know, our Jack Fitzpatrick, who has been taking a look at this and waiting for that top line figure and all the work that’s happening this week, heard that from him. And so you know, that already talking about that in June, it seems fairly likely that that might be where we head. Now, there is pressure among appropriators to try to wrap this up during the calendar year at least. And one factor behind that is that Patrick Leahy, who’s the Senate chairman and Richard Shelby, who’s the top Republican, they’re both retiring. And I think they would like to wrap up this process, for one thing to get it done, so it’s not hanging over whoever’s running the committee next year. But also, there are earmarks in there, or there could be earmarks in there, and they’d love to be able to get more of those. Richard Shelby was one of the top recipients in the fiscal ’22 bills. He’s looking for that again in fiscal 2023. So I think that’s one thing that augers towards doing something in the calendar year, even if you don’t get it done by October first, and with members kind of heading out the door then for the election as well.

Jared Serbu: Got it. Okay. And also some movement on the sort of only remaining must-pass piece of legislative measure on the legislative front, which would be the National Defense Authorization Act. Bring us up to speed on where the NDAA stands.

Loren Duggan: Sure, we’ve seen some action in both chambers. This week it shifts to the Senate. Last week, the House Armed Services Committee, it’s seven subcommittees, each marked up their individual portion to forward that up to the full committee. This week, we’re going to have a similar process in the Senate where subcommittees will meet Monday and Tuesday  and send their work to the full Committee, which will work Wednesday, Thursday, and maybe even into Friday, to try to wrap that bill up at the committee level. Most of what the Senate does is behind closed doors, so we won’t necessarily see the final product until they’re done. Maybe there will be some discussions or something like that. But we’ll be waiting toward the end of the week for them to unveil what they are going to put forward as their vision of this. And then the house will be coming back next week, the House Committee will be coming back next week to mark up its version. So by the end of two weeks from now, we should have two versions in hand of the defense authorization bill. One of the big questions there as with appropriations is how much to spend on defense. The Biden administration came in with a number that many Republicans feel was too low, especially in light of all this being talked about with inflation because the buying power of the dollar goes down that makes it harder to plan for defense budgeting and things like that. And even I think there will be pressure to put more money in there to have a pay raise for troops to make sure that their pay raise is keeping pace with inflation. So I’d expect we’d hear a lot about inflation through payments and things like that, as we also just see debate on weapon systems and contracting policy and everything else that goes into that massive bill that they do make a point of passing every year.

Jared Serbu: And I gather, the house is scheduled to consider at least a few pieces of legislation on the floor this week, what’s Bloomberg Government watching there?

Loren Duggan: Well, a couple of things. There’s going to be a financial services package looking at getting banking regulators and others to do more about diversity and inclusion in the banking system, opening up some opportunity for credit unions to expand the areas they serve. Collecting more demographic information, for example, getting banks to, on a voluntary basis, collect sexual orientation and gender identity information. So that’s one of the bills that’s moving there. They’re also looking at a package of bills from both the agriculture and the energy and commerce committee dealing with food and fuel prices. Again, with inflation, very much a theme that they’re trying to address. And then there’s a wildlife bill that’s coming up. So those are some of the big ones. One of the things that’s been pulled out of the larger debate on what to do about competition with China, is an ocean shipping law overhaul. There’s been a couple of versions passed by the House and the Senate. The House has decided to take what the Senate has sent over and go ahead and clear that for President Biden who said he’d sign it. So that would be a big win this week for folks who have wanted to see some of the ways that ocean shipping is regulated to be changed. So that’s one of the big things that will be kind of over the finish line, if you will, provided it gets enough votes when it hits the House floor, and it seems likely it will.

Jared Serbu: And then before we let you go want to mention one big piece of legislation that almost is certainly headed to President Biden’s desk, which is the Pace Act dealing with toxic exposure for veterans. Does that look like it’s a pretty sure thing on the Senate floor this week?

Loren Duggan: There seems to be agreement here. The disagreement so far has been more over the process of debating it, then the policy. There’s wide agreement in both chambers to do something about veterans exposed to toxic burn pits while serving overseas and dealing with some other toxic exposures even going back to Vietnam era, agent orange exposure. So there there may be some procedural steps that have to be taken, but what looks likely is at some point, very soon, we’ll see the Senate pass that bill and send it back over to the House, which had passed a version earlier, but seems willing to accept what the Senate is sending over so that might be another thing over the finish line. It just may take a little longer to run through all the steps that have to get through but that will be a big win for people who have been seeking that including, John Stewart and others who have made a public push to get that legislation enacted.

Jared Serbu: All right, Loren Duggan from Bloomberg Government. Thanks as always for bringing us up to speed.

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