New obstacles emerge to any hope of Congress getting a budget in time for fiscal 2023

China can't do anything to prevent Congress from passing a budget on time for 2023. But the China competitiveness bill could do just that. With the year-end jus...

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China can’t do anything to prevent Congress from passing a budget on time for 2023. But the China competitiveness bill could do just that. With the year-end just three months away now, legislative arguments over the bill threaten budget talks. For how, the Federal Drive with Tom Temin turns to WTOP Capitol Hill correspondent Mitchell Miller.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin: Mitchell, what is going on with the China bill and the federal budget?

Mitchell Miller: Right, you would think well, what’s this have to do with the final federal budget, but this is a big thunderbolt here that’s entering the budget talks. Late last week. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he does not like the rumblings that Democrats may still come up with a watered down version of Build Back Better. And he’s threatening to hold up the more than $50 billion China Competitiveness Bill, which has been the focus of months of talks in house and senate conference committee. That’s the legislation designed to improve us production of semiconductors streamline production, known as USICA, the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act. And now this warning came afterward that Democrats had actually made some critical progress on the legislation that would cap the price of prescription drugs separately and deal with energy and climate provisions. This is the legislation that West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin has held up with a variety of reservations and warnings that caused McConnell’s ears to pick up and say, wait a second, if you’re going to move ahead with this. I’m going to hold back on the China Competitiveness Bill. Now Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) wants to get a reconciliation bill for a vote later this month. But with this major reservation issued by McConnell, it now really puts a lot of this in doubt for July.

Tom Temin: And the schedule is kind of iffy, because they’re just running out of time.

Mitchell Miller: Yeah, exactly. I mean, we only have a few more weeks, obviously, in July after this recent break for lawmakers, and then we’ll go on recess in August, when they come back from that, of course, we’ll be right in the middle of the midterm election ramp up. So all of this, again, is pointing to another continuing resolution, even though as is often the case, everyone says they don’t want a CR. But that does seem the way we’re heading right now.

Tom Temin: All right. And well, we’ll have to see how it all plays out. Because sometimes these things have a way of having sudden breakthroughs too, because of those warnings issued.

Mitchell Miller: Right. And I should add that there has been actual progress on the House side. Late last week, they approved in the House Appropriations Committee, all 12 spending bills, so they are basically ready to go. Obviously, there’s some differences here and there. But there is something positive to report on that front

Tom Temin: And closer to home, Congress is starting to get annoyed with the Thrift Savings Plan of all things, because of a botched rollout of their updated system by which TSP account holders can access it.

Mitchell Miller: Right. This was the one that everybody thought was going to be new and improved, right when it came out about at the start of June, they had a variety of technical improvements, or at least they were supposed to be improvements, including a mobile app. But almost immediately, as you know, after this was rolled out, members started to say we’re having problems logging into the system. And then when they had more problems with the technical side of things, they would try to make a call and try to get somebody to talk to them and get them through. Well, that of course put more pressure on the system. So the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board has said there has been some improvement in connection with that, they’ve actually staffed up the call centers, they’ve added more than 300 people to help take these calls. They just had a public meeting with an update on all of these issues last week. And while they said there’s been some improvements, and they’ve had a decline in wait times for customers, this still is a huge issue for a lot of lawmakers who are really getting a lot of ear fulls of complaints from their constituents who say, you know, I actually didn’t have problems logging in. And I was actually working pretty good before all of this happened. So I think we’re going to see a lot more heat on this in the weeks and months ahead unless they get things resolved.

Tom Temin: We’re speaking with Mitchell Miller, Capitol Hill correspondent for WTOP. And the IRS is starting to re-interest Congress in the age of inching up that agency’s budget. But then that report came out a couple of weeks ago showing how little progress they’ve made on customer service.

Mitchell Miller:
Right. And this is really frustrating to members of both parties here in Congress. They keep trying to get answers and trying to figure out exactly what can be done to fix this agency. Now, the agency, the IRS, for its part says lawmakers are part of the problem. And going back to the continuing resolution, this report that came out recently from the Electronic Tax Administration Advisory Committee. They basically said to lawmakers look, every time you guys approve a CR, it only creates more problems for the IRS because they can’t continually do long term buyouts for example, for the technical issues that they know that they have to address and this report found that the IRS has actually undergone basically more than 100 CRs over the last two decades. So, but basically what they’re saying is, it’s just too hard to do all this long term planning to get this equipment that they know that they need. So they keep doing these patchwork improvements, trying to get through, you know, around the next corner, but they keep building up. And as we’ve talked about in the past, the IRS still has a long backlog of paperwork that they needed to deal with, it goes all the way back through the pandemic and problems beyond that period. So again, another area where lawmakers are really going to be focusing and trying to find some solutions to this.

Tom Temin: And finally, I wanted to ask you about the Jan. 6 hearings. They went on for quite some time, then there was a surprise extension of them all before the cable television cameras. And they have, at least in sudden, some segments of society been quite gripping. And people are watching. Being up on Capitol Hill, what’s the effect been from what you can see?

Mitchell Miller: Politics aside, and everybody has their own view of these hearings, Republicans obviously, don’t agree with them. Many of them say they’re a sham, Democrats say they’re just trying to get this record put out. But I think what’s most interesting, just in terms of how hearings are held here on Capitol Hill, is this may signal a new type of hearing, at least when we have really, really big issues come along, because instead of doing the typical thing, which would be hold a hearing during the day, and then it goes well into the night. And even if you get the attention of the American people during the day, it tends to wander a lot. All of these hearings have been very tightly produced, they actually brought in network television producers to help to get these hearings to be produced so that they’re easily digestible for the American people. And whatever you think of them, they all are very well produced. They last each about two hours or so. And then they move from one topic to another. And I think what you may find, maybe on a more minor level, again, depending on the issue is this may be something of a template for congressional hearings, at least on as I said, major issues moving forward, because they really do concentrate all the information, they integrate both live testimony with earlier depositions. And I think that, again, whatever you think about these hearings, that has been effective, at least in terms of getting what has happened out from the panel.

Tom Temin: So Marshall McLuhan lives on on Capitol Hill.

Mitchell Miller: That’s right, absolutely.

Tom Temin: Look it up kids. Mitchell Miller is Capitol Hill correspondent for WTOP. Hey, thanks so much.

Mitchell Miller: You bet.

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