Having exhausted January 6, the Hill falls nearly silent

What Congress will do about the budget when it comes back from recess after the elections

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With a final paroxysm of the January 6 hearings over, Congress is on an extended recess now. It won’t have to deal with budgetary matters until after the November elections. For what to expect between now and then, the Federal Drive with Tom Temin  turned to Bloomberg Government’s deputy news director, Loren Duggan.

Interview transcript: 

Tom Temin:  Loren, when do they actually come back? Or is this it?

Loren Duggan: They aren’t scheduled to come back until after the election. I mean, obviously, things could change at some point. But for now, Senate back on November 14, House probably the next day on the 15th, the week after the election, where they’ll have one eye on what to do in this lame duck session and also an eye on what to do starting next year when the new Congress meets on January 3, or thereabout. So we probably will have a period of quiet here on Capitol Hill. You mentioned the big hearing last week from the January 6 committee and there were a few other things as well, but for the most part, things have shifted to the campaign trail. And that’s where you would find members of Congress between now and November 8 when the voting stops.

Tom Temin: And so they still do have that NDAA, though, and that will be dealt with then by a lame duck Congress but not the next Congress.

Loren Duggan: That’s correct. The goal there is to wrap up the bill by the end of the calendar year, that’s considered a must pass bill, they passed it for 60-plus years in a row, they’re probably not going to break that streak. No armed services chairman wants to be the person that breaks that one, given how long they’ve done it. The Senate actually came back last week, at least a few members to kick off the formal debate on that piece of legislation, calling up with the House and Senate over then offering their own substitute amendment that has what the Armed Services Committee on the Senate side wants to do, and tacked on a bunch of other provisions that could potentially ride along with an eventual conference vehicle on that or an agreement between the House and the Senate, because that will be one of the two big bills really moving by the end of the year that plus government funding, and those bills will both be attractive vehicles to latch different policies onto because given the amount of time they have, you know, they can’t process too much legislation, given how long things can take. So they’re gonna look for how to package stuff together.

Tom Temin: Yeah, so we might see omnibus looking types of things happening.

Loren Duggan: Well, that is the goal that appropriators have had, they passed a continuing resolution before they left to keep the government funded through December 16, you know, 10 days from Christmas. So they have until then, really to figure out what to do. There has been a push from many Republicans to just extend that CR into next year. In fact, that was some Republicans opening bid, fund the government into next year, let whoever’s in charge, then, of course, they hope it’s them on the Republican side, run the debate next year and figure out how to fund the government. There’s pressure among appropriators to get the job done. Write a bill that funds the entire government through September 30 of next year, have a clean slate ready to go for whomever is in charge of Congress starting next year. So that’s one of the tracks that’s working right now is can they assemble this bill that covers the entire government, deals with the riders, deals with funding levels, that’s been elusive so far to have that agreement between all the sides on how much to spend? We’ll see what happens between now and then.

Tom Temin: Well, if there is a change in the control of either of the chambers, that will be evident after the election, would that help or hurt the chances of getting that budget resolved just after the December 16 cut off for the CR now? That would still be before the new Congress is established in January.

Loren Duggan: I think there will be some tough conversations and some temperature checks when they get back for that first week to figure out what to do if the Republicans win the House, which they’re favored to and a lot of ways the Senate seems still kind of up for grabs, just given the way the races are playing out, you could have a scenario where you’re looking at at least some aspect of divided government going into the next year. Republicans may decide they don’t want to have this hanging over their head and come to some sort of agreement, or they may hold firm and say that they’re not going to agree to that. Where the Republicans have leveraged currently is the Senate where because you need 60 votes to cut off debate and come to a conclusion on this legislation Republicans do have a lot of sway. More than they do in the House where, you know, a majority can do basically whatever it wants in the House, and the Democrats presumably will want to push this through and then give Joe Biden the bill that the Democrats want. So I do think it’s gonna come down to what happens on election day. And if the election goes into overtime in the Senate, which it very well may have a run off as needed in Georgia, then that could be hanging over our head with some question marks.

Tom Temin: We’re speaking with Loren Duggan, deputy news director of Bloomberg Government. And is it any sort of a wild card of the precarious health of Senator Leahy, who is leaving the Senate anyway, but not until the term is up and the new Senate is seated?

Loren Duggan: Well, a couple of ways. First of all, he is the chairman of the Appropriations Committee. He and Richard Shelby are leading the discussions on that side and, and have worked together traditionally through the years to get things done. So that would be one way if something were to befall him. That would be one major effect. The other would be a vacancy could be filled. But Vermont has a Republican governor and that seat would remain in existence through the end of this Congress. The new person technically wouldn’t take their seat until next year, so we’d have to see what happens there. So very speculative,  given what’s going on but he has a big role to play in the lame duck session given that he is the appropriations chairman, and that’s one of the top jobs.

Tom Temin: Right. And the other issue, I guess, for the new Congress is very often people that are appointed by an administration want to change careers. Again, it’s the second half. So there might be some new appointees coming in. And there are a considerable number of Senate confirmed openings now anyway, carrying over does it look like they’re going to do anything on that when they come back at the end of the year, or will they probably have to wait until the new Senate comes in.

Loren Duggan: One of the few things that did happen last week on the Hill was the Judiciary Committee hearing looking at judges, which is another part of the executive docket that they have to deal with, the judicial picks that Joe Biden sent up and they’re trying to get as many of those through as they can this year. So they’ve been processing them through hearings and markups and things like that, I would say the same is true, if people start rotating out of jobs or filling the vacancies that exist, they’ll try to do as much as they can between now and the end of the year. Again, they may be awaiting those election results, even on the election result in December, if it goes down in Georgia, to figure out if they’ll be in control. But you got to play the cards you have,  andthe cards you have right now is a 50-50 Senate that with the help of the vice president allows you to push nominations through so I’m sure they’ll be keeping an eye on that and trying to get as much done as they can ahead of next year, if they keep the majority that makes that part of the job a little easier. And presumably that will be one of the busy things that the Senate will do is continuing to process these nominees as vacancies open.

Tom Temin: And I guess, you know, they could do what they did, I think for the first year of the Trump administration, on the budget, getting back to the budget is simply the Republicans and the Democrats say to one another, alright, I’ll give you what you want on domestic you give me what I want on military, or civilian versus military. And everybody goes home happy, because it’s done.

Loren Duggan: That could be it. I mean, our budget reporter Jack Fitzpatrick was reporting last week on a longer term budget thing, maybe the third quarter of next year when the debt limit becomes an issue, again, when the government’s borrowing authority runs out. And there could be a lot of pressure around that to demand some spending caps being reimposed or perhaps looking at changes to Social Security and Medicaid or other entitlement programs. So I do think there’s a big budget debate that will occur next year, around raising the debt limit, funding the government, how all these things tie together, and divided government can be an opportunity to have real discussions about that. But there could also be a protracted battle where people are digging in on their position. So I know that that story got a little bit of traction, and there was some response from Democrats about that. We’ll have to see how that plays out going into next year. But it could be a fraught battle, just because the positions are so different between the parties.

Tom Temin: And so far as we know, the pugilistic challenge that Speaker Pelosi wanted to take to the chin of Donald Trump. She hasn’t expressed that for whoever might be the successful speaker should the Republicans take the House?

Loren Duggan: No, not so far. Um, she will have to have a relationship with somebody and they’ll be working together for the rest of the year to figure out you know, she and Kevin McCarthy, the current minority leader, he wants to be speaker he would run for that job and we’ll see how that goes. But it’s a fraught relationship that minority and majority relationship on the Hill

Tom Temin: But so far no fisticuffs, are promised on either side. All right. Loren Duggan is deputy news director of Bloomberg Government.

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