Tomorrow’s vote has a lot of nerves on edge on Capitol Hill

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

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband is recovering. But the attack at the Pelosi home in San Francisco has Congress rattled once again about security. More anxiety comes from the possibility of a party switch in the House or Senate or both. Here with what’s going on, WTOP Capitol Hill correspondent Mitchell Miller talked to the Federal Drive with Tom Temin.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin:  Let’s talk about security because that terrible attack really has people rattled. It’s not even the Capitol building. It’s anywhere in the United States. We keep seeing incidents happening,

Mitchell Miller: Right. This really has everyone’s concern on Capitol Hill and particularly not only here in the Capitol, as you alluded to, but also when members are out campaigning across the country when they’re out in their home districts. Capitol Police have tried to address this in recent years. They’ve actually established field offices in some places across the country, ironically, a field office for Capitol Police in San Francisco where House Speaker Pelosi’s home is located, but there are limitations to what can be done as Capitol Police pointed out they have roughly 1800 video feeds coming into their command center. One of these video feeds apparently captured this break in but because they don’t literally have eyes on every single feed, which they can’t do. There was a slight delay in getting to this. California Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, who heads the House Administration Committee, she fired off a letter to Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger, basically raising questions about how much protection is being done. For those in the line of presidential succession, of course,  Speaker Pelosi is second in line in succession. She has been the target of all kinds of threats, probably more than any other lawmaker in Congress. And basically Lofgren wants to know more about what kind of things are going to be done for not only the members but their family members. And then also more broadly, what are some of the issues that are going to be taken up by Capitol Police in terms of just regular lawmakers who are going back and forth to their districts. Now, obviously, it’s cost prohibitive to have protection for all of these lawmakers, more than 500 of them in the House and Senate. But they do feel that there are some reforms that can still be taken. And Capitol Police are now pushing for more money to take on some of those responsibilities.

Tom Temin: Yes, because the political tone, as you mentioned, I mean, there are candidates that are wearing bulletproof vests. And we’ve seen candidate after candidate both for Congress, and in some of the governor’s races in New York, the candidates were attacked, or their homes were or both, has Manger answered that at all? I mean, I’m probably still trying to figure out what their procedures should be.

Mitchell Miller: Right. They’re doing a lot of things behind the scenes. And they have certainly done things, a lot of things here at the Capitol. But it’s this other issue where the members are really more at risk in their districts, that they’re trying to figure out exactly what is the balance? How much can they do? Now, there have been some things that they’ve done in recent years where they basically loosened up the purse strings, so that some lawmakers should they choose to can actually use some of the money that would go to their offices to actually get security cameras or get additional security for their own protection, and that it really comes down to the lawmaker, it’s up to them. So they’re trying to give the individual lawmakers in their offices a little bit more flexibility as they try to work out these issues.

Tom Temin: All right. Well, that’s another one of a wait and see, I guess, let’s hope nothing else happens between tomorrow and then when the new Congress is seated early next year, and a lot of the polls and the pundits are saying the House could switch from Democratic control to Republican. If that should happen, what would it mean, do you think that would cause some debates that maybe haven’t happened so far?

Mitchell Miller: Well, this is really one of the biggest potential issues is over raising the debt limit. That one is coming back once again. If as expected, the House is overtaken by Republicans and retaken by the Republicans. The House top Republican Kevin McCarthy, who’s likely to become House speaker after Speaker Pelosi. He has hinted he would not be afraid to use a vote on the debt limit to force President Biden to accept deep cuts, and those could include Social Security, Medicare or other areas. Due to concerns about this, Democrats are urging the party’s leaders to use the lame duck session coming up to raise the debt limit. Otherwise, lawmakers say they could be facing a deadline early next year or later next year on this issue. Among the discussions is if the administration could somehow unilaterally raise the debt or eliminate the cap altogether. Republicans, by the way, are facing some external pressure on this issue. Former President Trump has pressed for the GOP to use the debt limit to force cuts. A democratic congressman, Brendan Boyle of Pennsylvania, has called this a loaded gun pointed at the US economy. But Republicans say the spending that has taken place over the last few years just cannot continue. They’re looking for ways to reel it in. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the federal government will run a deficit annually of more than one and a half trillion dollars. So this is one of the big looming issues.

Tom Temin: We’re Speaking with WTOP Capitol Hill correspondent Mitchell Miller, and that whole idea of the entitlements and Social Security, have the Republican spelled out precisely what they would do because often what is taken as a cut is maybe a reduction in future growth gets translated in the mass media as a cut. So do we really know the scope of what they’re proposing?

Mitchell Miller: We don’t really because they’ve come out with very general commitments to reining in inflation, but there’s no specific proposals really related to it. There’s a lot of talk about reeling back spending or making cuts or making maybe some reductions in some areas. Now, Democrats have had really little to say about inflation, because there’s not a lot that they’ve been able to do about it. But they have been warning about the future of Medicare and Social Security, which they know are big potent issues for retirees. They have focused on a proposal that started with Florida Senator Rick Scott, who heads the Republican Senate campaign arm, he made this earlier this year. Essentially, it calls for Congress to reauthorize those two programs every five years. Some have said that could even be reauthorized every year. Now, there’s also discussion about Republicans about raising the age for collecting Social Security benefits from 67 to 70. Also higher premiums for health care coverage. Now, Scott has denied he wants to take away benefits from seniors, obviously, with the election right around the corner. But what many Democrats are warning is that that this could actually have some effect of some kind of reduction in benefits. I was on a call with Virginia democratic representatives, Abigail Spanberger, Elaine Luria and Jennifer Wexton, all of them in tough races trying to get reelected. They were among those making the siren call. And then on the Republican side, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, earlier this year actually criticized Scott’s proposal. So there is some gap between them. I think, basically, McConnell doesn’t want to wade into the political issue right now, and just wants to see if he can get Republicans to retake the Senate. But it is an example of an issue that’s likely to come up more if Republicans can gain control of the House and possibly the Senate.

Tom Temin: Well, they’re looking for any way I guess they can to control the growth in spending in government. And really, the annual appropriations for government agencies hasn’t really grown that much. It’s the entitlements that are runaway if you want to use that term, but that’s where the, that’s where the opportunities are.

Mitchell Miller: Exactly. That’s where the big saving is really going to happen if it is going to happen.

Tom Temin: All right. And that brings up the issue of federal pay. And the President has proposed a pretty good pay increase, I think, 4.6% next year for federal employees, does that look to be in danger at this point?

Mitchell Miller: Right now, it looks like it’s probably going to still get through the National Treasury Employees Union is actually pushing for a higher increase in the coming fiscal year. They’re citing the information from the Federal Salary Council that shows federal salaries continuing to slip against the private sector. But I think there will be a lot of noise about federal pay going up. But I think ultimately, that will probably stay in place. But there will be a huge argument about where it goes moving forward. Federal workers, according to this Federal Salary Council estimate, as you know, the estimate was that they have about 24% less wages than their private sector counterparts. That’s up slightly from 22 and a half percent from the previous year. There’s also as you know, debate on how the pay is calculated. Critics say that if federal benefits are included, that it would actually be much higher for federal workers. But this is going to be a big issue. And some Republicans, particularly more conservative Republicans, particularly if they get elected, they have also indicated that they would not be so hesitant about going into the area of potential government shutdowns and issues like that, to put more pressure on the government to cut back on costs.

Tom Temin: Right. And then there’s the final issue of federal agencies themselves, should the Oversight Committee Chairman change, because of a flip in the House by party, that could really be something that federal agencies would feel because the oversight regime would change?

Mitchell Miller: Right, And there’s definitely going to be a sea change in connection with that. And that could mean a lot of big changes, as you know, in connection with federal agencies and how they’re operated. Many Republicans for years, of course, have been skeptical of places like the Education Department. They all are usually taking out the knives and looking for areas where things can be cut. The Judiciary Committee is likely to be overtaken taken over by Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan, he has identified some basic areas where he thinks that Republicans really need to address cutting federal programs that he thinks that are bloated, making changes to the farm bill, for example. Kentucky Republican James Comer would likely take over the Oversight and Reform Committee. There’s a whole series of things that they would like to do to shift the basic argument over the pay and the not only the pay, but the funding of federal agencies, which they they believe have just grown much too large, although Democrats, on the other hand, say they really haven’t gone up that much that it’s other types of spending that was related to the pandemic and other types of things.

Tom Temin: Well, we’ll know more by tomorrow evening, we hope. Let’s hope it doesn’t take weeks to find out.  Mitchell Miller is Capitol Hill correspondent for WTOP.

Copyright © 2023 Federal News Network. All rights reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

Related Stories