The continuing resolution to keep the government’s lights on next week. It’s hitting some last minute political hurdles related to of all things, the so called Inflation Reduction Act. For details on this and other critical matters in Congress, the Federal Drive with Tom Temin talked to WTOP’s Capitol Hill correspondent Mitchell Miller.
Tom Temin: I guess they’ve promised no, there will not be a shutdown. But there’s still always a little bumps at the end of the road here.
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Mitchell Miller: Right, exactly. Every time that lawmakers are sure that everything’s going to work out, and it’ll be fine several weeks out, you know, something’s going to pop up. And who would have thought it would be permitting on energy projects this time around. Although many may have thought that since Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia is in the thick of everything around the Senate, that it might involve him. And sure enough, it does. So we’ll take a look at this. Stepping back for just a moment, Joe Manchin several months ago, it seems like made a deal with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, essentially a side deal that would allow for his bill, which allows fast tracking of energy projects, including a pipeline in West Virginia to move forward in this legislation. And everything was kind of under the radar for a while. And then other lawmakers started getting wind of this. And before you knew it, there was a lot of opposition, not only from Republicans, but now there have been some Democrats. I spoke with Virginia Democratic Senator Tim Kaine, and while he generally supports most of the legislation and trying to expedite these permits, he really thinks it’s unfair that a pipeline basically could be singled out by Congress and say, “Well, no matter what the court said, and what the permitting process said, Congress is going to say that this is okay”. So he is now against it, along with others like Senator Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side, and then many Republicans are as well. And so if Senate Majority Leader Schumer, as he originally apparently promised Manchin, that he would tack it on to the continuing resolution, that’s just not going to fly at this point. The Republicans, there would have to be at least 10 more -actually more than 10 now, because Democrats oppose this, some of them, to get this moved across. So at some point, Schumer is going to have to figure out, I am going to either cut part of this off from the overall short term spending plan, or I’m going to make a deal with Senator Manchin to take it up separately later, but I just can’t see how it would stay attached to this short term spending plan since no one even Tim Kaine says a pipeline should not end up causing the government to shut down.
Tom Temin: Right. So it’s kind of like that ad that was on TV many years ago. We were kidding you, Joe Manchin.
Mitchell Miller: Sorry about that.
Tom Temin: So the pipe would be sacrificed to the CR and not the other way around.
Mitchell Miller: Most likely, I think, you know, there’s obviously as Senator Kaine pointed out, there’s lots of options that they can move through, but it just doesn’t seem like it’s going to stay attached to it.
Tom Temin: All right. And, well, thank you for that update and keep our fingers crossed. But then there’s a few other things going on. I wanted to ask you about the electronic health record. The Senate Appropriations Committee is getting from VA some signals that are not welcome.
Mitchell Miller: No, this was really a disappointing hearing I think for a lot of senators, because there’s been so much attention in connection with this electronic health record system with the VA and they had deputy VA Secretary Donald Remy, speaking before a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee, and he was pretty blunt and said, he just doesn’t think that is anywhere near ready to be fully rolled out. He says it still needs major improvements. They have to test it, they want to go and see where else it can work right now. And this really upset I think a lot of the lawmakers, among them Senate VA Committee Chairman John Tester, noting that they’ve spent billions of dollars literally on this contract so far, and he just doesn’t feel that they’ve gotten any real return on their investment. So it sounds like they’re going to continue to slowly try to roll this out. But Remy actually said, even though it’s scheduled to try to come on early next year, they may have to even push that back if they don’t feel it’s ready. This is a contract that was supposed to basically overhaul the system for more than 170 VA medical centers nationwide. Right now. It’s only been implemented in a handful of those. So another tough test here for the system.
Tom Temin: We’re speaking with Mitchell Miller, WTOP, Capitol Hill correspondent. And there is also the issue of home rule in DC from Eleanor Holmes Norton. If you like going 36 miles an hour on New York Avenue, or turning right on red, Congress could be your best friend.
Mitchell Miller: That’s right. As you well know, Congress can pretty much take a look at anything that DC passes with its DC Council legislation. So this is renewed effort by DC delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton to give DC a little bit more independence from Congress. Her proposal which she touts is basically expanding home rule the greatest expansion it would be in nearly 50 years since home rule actually came into play in 1973. Among the things that it would do, it would allow DC to prosecute all crimes. Some people wonder, well, how can that be that they can’t prosecute all crimes? It’s because DC has this unique relationship with a U.S. Attorney where some of the cases go back and forth, depending on what the case is. And then it would also allow DC to provide clemency in cases where prosecutors feel that’s necessary. And then I think really what the biggest thing is, is it would lift this review requirement that all DC legislation has, as you know, it has to be looked at by members of Congress before it can be fully implemented. And that has really basically held the hands of DC over the years. This got through the House Oversight and Reform Committee and goes to the House. It’s another attempt, of course, for DC legislation to get through. Often we see this with DC legislation. Of course, they passed the statehood legislation from DC delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton earlier, but as usual, the big roadblock will be the Senate and it just doesn’t seem like it’s going to go anywhere there.
Tom Temin: Kind of makes you wonder if Archduke Franz Joseph had this much trouble with Vienna in the nineteenth century. All right, and union vote for members of Congressional staff. This really seems to be something that’s gaining momentum, the idea of just a better life for Congressional staffers through organizing,
Mitchell Miller: Well, I mean, we’ve heard for years, as you know about grumbling from various staffers who are often very underpaid, overworked, they put in huge long hours. And then of course, the lawmakers to the spoils they go, they get all the attention. And so this has been bubbling up for years now. And the fact that it’s actually come to a really historic union vote. This happened in the office of Michigan congressman Andy Levin, he’s the son of Congressman Sander Levin and the nephew of Carl Levin, so a lot of family history there. They have a long history of working with unions and labor in Michigan. So his office was really the first one, although others have the ability to do this. Theirs was the first one to actually hold this union vote this past week. And so it’s really interesting to see what other offices will do. Now, there is a caveat here that Andy Levin, this being politics in Congress, he was actually defeated in his primary, so he’s only going to be in office through the end of the year. But it is a big event for people that have pushed on this labor side to see whether or not staffers could actually take a vote like this, because they just haven’t been able to do it for years and years.
Tom Temin: That’s an interesting one, because there’s a lot of encouragement by the Biden administration to get more federal people in the executive branch under those federal unions. So it’s kind of a piece here of what’s going on. And finally, we can talk about beer. The weekend is already behind us. But you went to a bipartisan brewery event at Nats Park.
Mitchell Miller: Yes, this was really interesting. This happened. It started five years ago, it was started by Anheuser Busch with some lawmakers. And over the last two years, they’ve required that a Democrat and a Republican come together and actually brew beers together. And it’s a really a fascinating event. There were five pairs of lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats. I spoke at length with Montana Senator Jon Tester, who actually is a farmer and knows a lot about growing what goes into beer. And his bipartisan buddy was South Dakota Senator Mike Rounds, and they came up with a beer called 17 Finger Select, you may wonder about that name. Well, for those who know, John Tester had an accident when he was a kid and got his hand caught in a meat grinder and he lost three of his fingers. He has a very good sense of humor about the whole thing. So believe it or not their beer actually won, and so they both hold up their hands 17 fingers, of course, Mike Rounds has 10 fingers and then seven for John Tester. But on the more serious side, I asked them and other lawmakers about this fact that there just is not any kind of real laid back time that members of both parties hang out together like they used to and to a person, whether Republican or Democrat, all of them really singing the praises of this event saying this is a chance that they can actually start to talk to each other. Obviously, Tester said I love to talk about beer. And he said my beer is so good. You always want more than one. But at any rate, they also all acknowledge that more events of this type need to happen if you’re going to break through any of this gridlock. So maybe it is just a matter of literally sitting down and having a beer with someone.
Tom Temin: Alright. Sudsy way to go there with Congress. Mitchell Miller is Capitol Hill correspondent for WTOP.
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