Congressional update from WTOP’s Mitchell Miller

We get the latest about what's going on at Capitol Hill from WTOP's Congressional Correspondent Mitchell Miller.

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We get the latest about what’s going on at Capitol Hill from WTOP’s Congressional Correspondent Mitchell Miller.

Interview transcript:

Jared Serbu: Let’s start with the budget process. It looks like there’s at least a few appropriations hearings scheduled this week. So that’s maybe a sign of progress. But as I looked at the calendar a second ago, it looks like there’s only something like eight or nine work weeks left between now and the end of the fiscal year, so they gotta get going with something soon here, right?

Mitchell Miller: Right. We’re in a familiar position here where Congress is just kind of behind the eight ball. And of course, they’ve created that situation themselves. Lawmakers didn’t pass the fiscal 22 budget, as you know, until just early in this year, and or not too long ago. And so now they started late on the 2023 fiscal budget year. And while we’ve continually heard fairly optimistic things from the Four Corners and the appropriations chairs, they really haven’t shown any major evidence that they’re getting really close to anywhere near the finish line. So while we are having these hearings that are moving forward, and they’re pretty standard, as you know, we’re getting a little bit closer, but it seems to be very incremental at this point, they are not really on track to get anywhere close to getting done. So the famous infamous, I should say a two letters CR looking more and more like they will once again be in Congress’ future with the continuing resolution more than likely later this year.

Jared Serbu: And meanwhile, it’s probably fair to guess that top of mind, maybe election issues such as inflation are going to take up a lot of public time on the Hill. In fact, Janet Yellen, the Treasury Secretary and who is testifying on Tuesday, what are you watching there for that hearing?

Mitchell Miller: Right, this will include testimony from Janet Yellen, who is coming in with after this jobs report that was released last week that the President cited, noting that the unemployment rate for May was only about 3.6%. But inflation, as you point out, still persists. And there’s no doubt that Janet Yellen will get a lot of questions about that. And of course, last week, she surprised some people actually by acknowledging she was wrong when she called inflation transitory last year, and of course, a lot of Republicans jumped on that a lot of critics, including some Democrats have said that the administration has just not been moving fast enough on this issue. Now Yellen has said a reduction in the federal budget deficit could help with inflation. But that’s really only one of many, many things that are happening right now. A lot of congressional Republicans skeptical about the administration’s efforts to address rising prices. The president’s citing some things last week, again, looking at things like reducing drug prices, trying to bring costs down for Americans is how the administration has been trying to frame this. But as you know, as well, Congress really hasn’t done anything in connection with a large legislative package or even more minor packages to address things like rising prices related to prescription drugs or to reducing the cost of daycare because everything got kind of bogged down with the Build Back Better legislation. So all of this could affect budget talks moving forward with many GOP lawmakers, keeping pressure on Democrats to keep spending levels for various federal agencies and programs in check.

Jared Serbu: And I know another one you’ll be watching his Senate Budget Committee hearing on Thursday, where they’re gonna have Social Security officials up to talk about the state of the trust fund, which sounds like it’s in better shape than it had been, right?

Mitchell Miller: Yeah, this is a piece of rare good news, actually, for the Biden administration and the White House, a report coming out from the federal government last week that shows that the strong recovery and this is something that the administration has tried to stress, but it gets caught up underneath inflation, that it is really providing a lot of other benefits to the economy, and one of them is for Social Security. For example, the benefits to be paid out through social security are actually going to last through 2035. That’s a year later than was earlier estimated. The report also says that the government’s disability insurance program will be able to pay for full benefits over the next 75 years. And another piece of good news funding for Medicare Part A could be financed through 2028. That’s two years later than previously projected. So this is due in part to a rise in payroll tax receipts and the income tax on Social Security benefits. But still, the U.S. population continues to age and if Congress does not intervene at some point, benefits could eventually be cut by 20%.

I think what you’re going to hear at this hearing on Thursday with Senate Budget Chair, Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is some of the things that you’ve heard before from him, is that he just does not want to make any cuts at all in Social Security. He says this safety net has to be kept intact for many Americans who simply don’t even have retirement programs of their own independently. So he will push to maintain the level of Social Security. I think he’s also going to stress some of these figures that I just mentioned that Social Security is in good shape. He will also probably renew calls for taxing the wealthy. We’ll see where that goes. Probably not very far, especially in this election year. Taxes, not a real popular topic on the campaign trail.

Jared Serbu: Certainly, one more item I wanted to ask you about is the Postal Service vehicle fleet because I know Postmaster General, Louis DeJoy, has been taking some heat from Capitol Hill on his decision to use mainly gas powered vehicles. What’s the latest there?

Mitchell Miller: Right, he’s been coming under a lot of congressional pressure to do something about this, especially after the Postal Service initially announced that 90% of the trucks that it was going to be purchasing under this new plan would be gas powered. And that drew a lot of criticism from lawmakers who point out that the typical Postal Service truck right now only gets about 8.5 miles to the gallon. So with gas at more than $4.50 a gallon or maybe reduced in some areas. Obviously, that quickly adds up. But DeJoy says this latest consolidation plan that the Postal Service is now putting together could potentially justify buying more electric vehicles, though it’s not clear how many would actually be purchased under this overall consolidation plan. They want to make the routes longer and have more people working on them, they say that will be more efficient. And he basically gave a heads up on all of this to members of Congress, House Oversight and Reform Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) continuing to keep pressure though, on the Postal Service to find out more about how many electric vehicles will actually be purchased. By the way, if you are looking for one of these vehicles, when the mail gets delivered, they will probably come online sometime late next year if everything holds. So you might see an electric Postal Service vehicle on your street sometime in the next year or so.

Jared Serbu: In predominantly in urban areas, I would guess, right?

Mitchell Miller: That is correct. Yes. Because still it’s a task to get to some of those rural areas. And that’s obviously where some of the highest costs for the Postal Service is all have always been. But of course, that’s also why a lot of people, Americans, in polls consistently say that they, the Postal Service is one of the best federal agencies around because it actually does eventually get the mail to everyone all across the country.

Jared Serbu: All right. WTOP’s Mitchell Miller, thanks as always for the look ahead on Capitol Hill. Appreciate it.

Mitchell Miller: You bet.

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