Continuing the conversation about continuing resolutions, and other happenings on the Hill

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The continuing resolution that Congress is debating is sort of like COVID. You know it’s coming, but how bad will it be? CRs can go for days or they can go for months. Last year’s went nearly halfway through the fiscal year. To find out how this one is shaping up, the Federal Drive with Tom Temin...

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Best listening experience is on Chrome, Firefox or Safari. Subscribe to Federal Drive’s daily audio interviews on Apple Podcasts or PodcastOne.

The continuing resolution that Congress is debating is sort of like COVID. You know it’s coming, but how bad will it be? CRs can go for days or they can go for months. Last year’s went nearly halfway through the fiscal year. To find out how this one is shaping up, the Federal Drive with Tom Temin talked with Loren Duggan, Bloomberg Government deputy news director.

Tom Temin: Loren, they’re going up to the final wire, as they always do. That’s why there are CRs. But what is this one beginning to look like?

Loren Duggan: Well, it’s still a work in progress. We have two weeks here to fund the government before September 30, which is one of the two big dates on the calendar. The other one is November 8, and Election Day. And those two dates are kind of intertwined here. So what they’re trying to figure out is how long the CR will run, what will write along with it. The date, it’s going to run to has kind of been agreed upon, that they’ll take this into December, get past the elections, give themselves time to come back from those and figure out what to do either for the full year or maybe another CR. There’s different preferences there, I’m sure. But what’s really holding it up at this point is what’s going to ride along with it. And key to that is a promise that Joe Manchin, the senator from West Virginia, got in exchange for his vote on the climate tax and health care package that was passed back in August. He got a promise that they would pass a bill dealing with the permitting rules for the federal government. This has become the most attractive vehicle for it. But there’s a lot of give and take and back and forth between the sides on what that language is going to be and can it go in there. And what does that mean for the number of votes you’ll have to actually pass it? And then there’s all sorts of other ride alongs I’m sure we can talk about.

Tom Temin: Yeah, that permitting reform was something that Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, promised to Joe Manchin, but it sounds like Schumer didn’t really have what it takes power-wise, or whatever, to necessarily deliver on it, because Bernie Sanders has come out against it, and some other senators. So it was the word of one, but it may not be something that he can actually deliver.

Loren Duggan: And he’s also said, by the way, that he’s gotten the same promise from Joe Biden, the President, and from Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the House, that this is something that would get done. The problem is you’ve got one math problem: How do you get a majority in the House? How do you get 60 votes in the Senate to pass a continuing resolution by the deadline of September 30? And if you add this provision in, what do you start losing in terms of progressive support for this? So you know, Democrats have no majority technically in the Senate, it’s 50-50, Kamala Harris can come in and break a tie, but she doesn’t have a say in a cloture vote in the House, they have a very narrow majority. So if you need to figure out how much Republican support does this permitting bill get me versus how many do I lose, that’s going to come into it. The other issue is that Republicans aren’t necessarily the biggest fan of the permitting bill that Joe Manchin wants, they might want their own version. So it’s kind of threading the needle between all this is proving to be a challenge. That’s one of the reasons that they didn’t get this done last week, and are coming back this week to work on it.

Tom Temin: Yeah, because there’s a whole presidentially-appointed panel on permitting reform, but I don’t think it has any say over state permitting process. And this bill may or may not have an effect on what states do. And ultimately, they can weigh in on even a project the federal government permits.

Loren Duggan: Right. And there’s a lot of interest in what individual projects will deal with here. And one of them is a project in West Virginia, the mountain valley pipeline, that’s become sort of one of the top items that this bill would potentially affect. So as you know, there’s a lot that goes into this and permitting reform comes up a lot and the processes for pushing projects forward when you talk about a broad infrastructure bill, or you talk about an energy bill, this is often a topic that’s brought up and this is an attempt to move that forward.

Tom Temin: What other riders would be attached or potentially attached to the CR that could either speed it through or get hung up?

Loren Duggan: Well, some of the things that President Joe Biden asked for a couple of weeks ago in his anomalies list, and his list of needs are still being discussed. A big one is aid for Ukraine, continuing to send money there so that supplies can be bought and to help that country as it continues to push back the Russian invasion. There’s a request for COVID aid and monkeypox aid; that’s gotten a bit of a cooler reception on Capitol Hill than the Ukrainian aid has gotten. And then there’s also other expiring programs that could hitch a ride: A big one are programs that are funded by user fees that the FDA and industry negotiate with each other to fund programs. So the medical device industry, the prescription drug industry, they made these negotiations, they need to just enshrine them into law. And that’s a must-pass bill whenever those fees are running out. That’s the case now. But the question is, do they do it separately with other health provisions that House and Senate members want to make? Or is it something that they put in the CR to get it done, and maybe they lose some of those broader things. There’s also members who want to use this bill to do something on school meals. There are other programs that are expiring, like I said, that could get attached. So this is a pretty attractive vehicle. It’s the one thing that they have to get done. Basically, they have to fund the government by September 30 is the goal or shortly thereafter if it comes to that, so it’s an attractive vehicle for a lot of these things.

Tom Temin: We’re speaking with Loren Duggan, deputy news director at Bloomberg Government. And the number for the continuing resolution, the budget number, that’s not really all that debatable for the most part, because it’s simply what it is they enacted for the current fiscal, correct?

Loren Duggan: That’s right. So you basically pull last year’s appropriations bill into the new year, sometimes with adjustments that are known as anomalies where you might give more for one program and take away from another, often because some programs don’t need as much as they did the year before. And you can use that in other places. But the real issue is you don’t do that, for every account. A budget request, and an appropriations bill every year does a lot of changes throughout the agencies. This really makes just the most important ones that have to be done in the short term to keep things going. But the overall number isn’t really an issue here. That’s what the full year appropriations package, those 12 bills that are stalled right now, are not moving, where they will make those decisions.

Tom Temin: Right. And the other calculus, then is how long the CR will go in the first place. Because we’ve seen inching the needle along day by day, two days, the weekend. And then sometimes I think, I’ve seen full year in my career here of covering this kind of stuff. So do we have a sense of when they want it to end, that is, their deadline for actually passing appropriations bills?

Loren Duggan: It sounds like it’s going to be into December, which makes sense; get past the election, get past Thanksgiving, because they will be in for a couple of days in between Election Day and Thanksgiving, but really use that early December period to figure out what to do. There is pressure to get a full-year deal. Some of that’s coming from Appropriations Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Vice Chair Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the Democrat and Republican in the Senate. It’s they’re last year, they’re both retiring, they would like to get this package done, they would like to get earmarks out of it, which those are back, and that’s pretty attractive. So I could see there being a lot of pressure to get this done before the end of the year so that next year, appropriators have a clean slate. There will be pressure on the other side, though, potentially from Republicans if they pick up one or both chambers to push it into next year and use their leverage with one of those two majorities to try and shape the bills more to their liking. And right now, they’re written all by Democrats, although you do need Republican support to get things through the Senate. But being in control of one of the chambers gives you a lot more say in how the package could be written next year. So I think a lot of this will take until after the election to see if we’ll get that full year bill before December 31. Or if it will maybe take until next year.

Tom Temin: And to use up bandwidth that Congress has, anything else? I mean, the abortion bill from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Nobody wants to have a vote now on it, I don’t think, either Republicans or Democrats. But what about appointments? Will that take up some time in the Senate? And the Electoral Count Act too, that’s kind of looming, also?

Loren Duggan: That is. So on the Senate side, we have some judicial votes locked in for this week. I think there’s a cloture vote tonight on one judge, they’re going to retake a vote that wasn’t successful last week, and keep churning through those. There were a lot of still vacancies in the judiciary that they want to fill while they know they have the majority and can push those through with just 50 votes. There could be a vote on a campaign finance bill that may not be successful, but may be a chance for Democrats to talk about that in the Senate. On the House side, there’s a bill coming from Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and from Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), about changing the Electoral Count Act, which President Trump obviously tried to use some ambiguities in that potentially to overturn and challenge the results of the 2020 election. They’re trying to change some of those rules to prevent that in the future. Whether that language will be tied up and ready to go this week is something else we’ll be watching to see. That’s an issue that could also be dealt with in the lame duck. One thing we don’t expect at this point to move is the NDAA, the Defense Authorization Act. There was some talk about maybe trying to do that in September, but the clock is really working against them. And we also saw that the vote on same sex marriage that some senators wanted to have before the election seems to have slipped to the lame duck as well. So this calculus in the dwindling number of days is kind of shaping the agenda here at this point.

Tom Temin: Loren Duggan is deputy news director at Bloomberg Government as always, thanks so much.

Loren Duggan: Thank you.

 

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