Now the question is what the lame duck Congress will be able to do

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Whether you think House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is leaving on a wave of glory or on a broomstick, things are shifting in Congress. In the meantime, she’s still speaker for the remainder of the 117th Congress, affectionately known as the lame duck. The Federal Drive with Tom Temin spoke finds out what the lame duck will do,...

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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.

Whether you think House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is leaving on a wave of glory or on a broomstick, things are shifting in Congress. In the meantime, she’s still speaker for the remainder of the 117th Congress, affectionately known as the lame duck. The Federal Drive with Tom Temin spoke finds out what the lame duck will do, as he spoke with WTOP Capitol Hill correspondent Mitchell Miller.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin: She still is the speaker until the end of the calendar year. And so what’s can be expected in the next couple of weeks?

Mitchell Miller: Right, she’ll still be in that top post. And then we’ll see what happens in the new year, we’re already seeing the emergence of the new leaders of the Democratic Party in the House. But for now, the business at hand is really getting everything done in the lame duck. And as you know, we have the federal government scheduled to run out of money as of Dec. 16, so in less than a month, and Democrats are really hoping to pass an omnibus budget bill that would go through the end of the next, through the end of the fiscal year. They don’t want to do this short term spending plan. A lot of Republicans share that view. But then there are a lot of House Republicans that would like to put the brakes on a longer bigger omnibus plan. And they, because they want to basically get their own fingerprints on the budget. And so they would actually prefer a short term measure so that in the start of the new year, they could start making cuts and proposals and trying to slam the brakes on a lot of the spending that they think is out of control. So it’s going to be interesting to see how this has navigated over the next several weeks. But that’s certainly one of the top priorities. And then another one is the NDAA, the National Defense Authorization Act that needs to be passed. And that’s already caused a kerfuffle, between Democrats and Republicans in the House where Republicans, as I alluded to are preparing to take over. There was a comment last week that Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) basically indicated he’d like the defense policy bill to be delayed until next year, as well, again, for some of the reasons I just mentioned. And House Armed Services Committee Chair, Adam Smith (D-Wash.) just wants nothing to do with it. He said that we’ve got to get this passed. This year, as you know, it’s got a long, long history of actually getting passed on time, unlike everything else, six decades, in fact, that the NDAA has always gotten passed. But there is this already this push and pull that you’re seeing early on here, as Republicans are poised to take control of the House.

Tom Temin: Well, given the makeup that they will actually have of the house. And given the fact that the Senate will still be Democratically oriented, again, by a very slim measure, it seems like both sides now can be more effective as roadblocks than as actually creative forces.

Mitchell Miller: Absolutely. And that’s why I think that Kevin McCarthy, and a lot of the House Republicans are starting to send up these flares, indicating that no, it’s not going to be business maybe as usual, or at least under budget reconciliation, where we saw Democrats kind of get everything through just barely, there are going to be a lot of roadblocks. Now, Obviously, the Democrats still have the control right now. And there is a feeling in the Senate as there often is that things are not as hot tempered as they are in the House with Republican senators who really feel like they would like to get some of these long term spending plans through because they know what’s going to happen. They know that their own party is going to be throwing up a lot of these roadblocks in the coming year.

Tom Temin: Yeah, I like the fact that the Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said well, he didn’t mind someone opposing him for the Senate Minority Leader, of course, that Senator’s new office will be upstairs over the Dubliner in a closet. But other than that, otherwise, he never gets even.

Mitchell Miller: Rick Scott (R), actually Florida Senator, Rick Scott.

Tom Temin: Yes. Rick Scott. Right. So we’ll see what kind of drapes he measures. The other issue, of course, is the debt limit. And do we know precisely when that’s going to hit the fan?

Mitchell Miller: Well, this is another familiar theme, we’re getting to Democrats want to get some kind of bipartisan agreement, they would really like to get this somehow resolved right now or within the next few weeks before the end of the year. But Republicans do not want to do that. That’s already getting kind of a cool reception from Republicans. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) had told reporters this week he wants to get this debt ceiling issue resolved, so it doesn’t hang over everybody’s head next year. But Republicans, especially on the House side would really like it hanging over like a sword of Damocles over Congress because they know that they can use that as a cudgel to try to get some of the policy issues changed. And some of the spending priorities changed. So I think that this is probably not going to get resolved before the end of the year. And then potentially in the coming year, as we get this huge clash politically in the House. I think we’re going to see that become a very, very big issue in the new year.

Tom Temin: We’re speaking with Mitchell Miller, Capitol Hill correspondent for WTOP. And there’s a changing dynamic, you know, when the new Congress comes, it’ll be interesting just to consider that Nancy Pelosi will be what in Great Britain they would call a backbencher. But I can almost see the appeal of that after the spotlight she has held. And that’s a tough job either being speaker or minority leader for all those, what is it about 20 years.

Mitchell Miller: As you mentioned in the opening, I mean, she’s either looked at as evil or a great leader over the years. But whatever you think of her politically, she is very, very good at what she does. And that is, you know, herding these cats, which can often be really out of control in the Democratic caucus, getting that progressive wing under control at times, getting the centrists to go along with them. Obviously, a lot of centrist Democrats barely got reelected this year, because they were concerned about what some of the progressives were doing. So what she has been really a master of is getting that unwieldy caucus and making sure that they’re all on the same page. There were times as you know, over the last year, where it looked like things were going to totally full up fall apart for Democrats. And it was largely to the credit of House Speaker Pelosi, that House Democrats were able to get things together to get it through so that the Senate could then get it through budget reconciliation. She has a real command of legislative topics, policy, getting things through committee, she has, of course, been a legislator now for 35 years. So she’ll be moving to the back bench, but you can be sure she is going to be holding out some control from that back area, because she just is not going to relinquish that as we move forward.

Tom Temin: Right. So you’ll have someone inexperienced in the top leadership position as speaker and then you’ll have someone inexperienced as the minority leader, there’ll be new to that leadership position. And so that ability to like you say corral the cats or herd the horses would get everyone to do what she wanted them to do. It’s doubtful that either side is going to have that kind of control over its own, I guess the Democrats call it the caucus, the Republicans call it the conference.

Mitchell Miller: Right. And in the republican conference, Kevin McCarthy has been buffeted by all kinds of political winds over the last couple of years, whether it’s from former President Trump or whether it’s the conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus, they have already made it very clear that they are putting huge demands on him. He was not, he did not get the unanimous acclamation in the election by the House Republicans to become House speaker. So he’s got some work to do before this January vote when the full House will, presumably vote him in. But he’s going to have to make some deals over the next few weeks with these conservatives and try to figure out exactly how he’s going to get the 218 votes that he really needs. And then as you mentioned, on the Democratic side, what we’re likely to see is in the coming weeks, they will have their own election at the end of this month. And Hakeem Jeffries, the congressman from New York, who has been the head of the Democratic Caucus for the last several years, widely considered to be the heir apparent to House Speaker Pelosi, at least as the Democratic leader. So he will at least have the unanimity of the caucus. But again, he doesn’t have any experience as the Democratic leader. So it’ll be interesting to see how he negotiates things. And whether he and McCarthy are up to the moment as we get forward into the new year.

Tom Temin: Yeah, I think there’s that human element that is often misunderstood or misrecognized in the legislative process. Nancy Pelosi has it, Lyndon Johnson had it, Sam Rayburn had it, ability to know what makes people tick and what really motivates an individual congressman or a senator from their own district or state.

Mitchell Miller: That’s a great point because and Nancy Pelosi and the better politicians that are in political leadership know how to move those levers. I mean, it gets down to the the real basic level of knowing your fellow lawmakers and the names of their kids and what’s going on with their families and being able to figure out OK, well, we have a little friendship here. Can you do this for me on this issue, and I can do this for you and this issue, it is all about all these relationships. And you know, because we’re in such a era where everything is so divided, people kind of forget that, that they think it’s going to kind of go on autopilot. But there are so many relationships and things that are going on behind the scenes before anything can actually get to the floor and get to a vote. And that is something that I think the Democratic leadership is going to be missing for a while even though she’s going to be hanging back there in the shadows. It’s a lot different when she’s not actually at the in that position as House speaker.

Tom Temin: And a final question to get back to some practical matters. Gerry Connolly (D) from Virginia wants to look into the Postal Service to see if they’re ready for Christmas. They better get on with that if it’s gonna affect anything this season.

Mitchell Miller: That’s right. We’re moving right into the holiday season with Thanksgiving around the corner and there is been, has been a lot of congressional concern about this issue, especially since the pandemic. As you know, the House Oversight Panel led by Virginia Congressman Gerry Connolly has been very active in this issue and they held a hearing last week Gregory White with the Postal Service told lawmakers the Postal Service is in much better shape than it was over the past two years, when a lot of lawmakers were getting huge complaints from constituents about mail delays, lost mail. And it’s not just like, oh, I didn’t get this card from grandma or something. But we’re talking about really serious issues. Not that that’s not for some people, but about whether or not they’re getting their medical information or their billing or something that they need delivered. And so this has been an issue that lawmakers have really been pushing hard on the Postal Service to make sure that things do get delivered on time now, the Postal Service is hiring about 20,000 seasonal employees, which sounds like a lot, and it is for these holiday operations. But interestingly, that’s actually less than half the number that they had over the last year past. And the reason for that is, the Postal Service says it’s actually gradually hiring more and more part time people into full time positions over the year. So you don’t just get this final push at the end of the year. Now, the United Postmasters of America say the Postal Service still never seems to have enough people. And then there’s always the issues of you know, they’ve ramped up some of the security conditions that that people have to go through to get hired. So it takes longer. And of course, you always have the battle with the private sector about whether people are gonna get jobs there. But overall, I think it is a pretty positive I’ll leave us on a positive note that it looks like the holiday season is going to be pretty good for the Postal Service. At least that’s what they’re pledging.

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