For all of the noise, the new Congress is still getting itself organized

Committees are forming, hearing schedules still being worked out. You might say the blob that is the 118th Congress still hasn’t quite jelled. Yet it has plenty to do. To get the latest on what’s happening on Capitol Hill, the Federal Drive with Tom Temin spoke with Loren Duggan, Bloomberg Government deputy news director.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin
We get the rundown from Bloomberg Government Deputy news director, Loren Duggan. Did I put it the...

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Committees are forming, hearing schedules still being worked out. You might say the blob that is the 118th Congress still hasn’t quite jelled. Yet it has plenty to do. To get the latest on what’s happening on Capitol Hill, the Federal Drive with Tom Temin spoke with Loren Duggan, Bloomberg Government deputy news director.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin
We get the rundown from Bloomberg Government Deputy news director, Loren Duggan. Did I put it the right way, Loren. They’ve kind of still getting themselves organized here. We are in late January.

Loren Duggan
Very much so. And it’s a little different on the two chambers. So on the House side, they elected their speaker after that week long process, and they started passing some bills. And they’ve been, at least on the different party sides, looking to name members to committees and starting to form those. So I think we’ll see a lot more activity there this week. The Senate basically came in for one day on Jan. 3, swore in the new members and then left town. So they’re a little bit farther behind in terms of setting up committees and getting things going there. The party control didn’t shift. Democrats had it last year, Democrats have it this year. They do have this now one seat majority, 51-49, if you account for all the Aligned Democrats and independents who align with them. So, we’re gonna see a lot more organizing activity this week that builds off of that. So you’re very much correct. That they’re still coming up to speed to be a fully functioning body, that we’ll expect to see over the next couple of weeks and months as they tackle a lot of important business.

Tom Temin
And what about appointments? Because the Biden administration, I think put in 100 nominations, the moment the Congress was available. Because that’s clearly a priority for the administration.

Loren Duggan
Yeah, that’s right. So anything that wasn’t acted on by the end of the Congress went back. And many of them, like you suggested, came right back from the administration who re-nominated them. So we’re already going to see a vote today. Tonight, there’s a vote on a nominee for the Defense Department to run the environmental and energy programs, things like that. Fairly non-controversial nominee, and they probably do more of those this week, as they stand up the committees. Because you need to have committees in place to have the hearings and get those processes rolling. The judiciary committee is going to be looking at judges, as they have over the last several years, trying to run up the numbers for Biden appointments to the courts.

But we also have a number of key agencies that are lacking a full time head. IRS in Danny Werfel, who I assume will see some action on the Finance Committee. And then one that Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the majority leader has put a top priority is the head of the [Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)]. Especially given the meltdowns that occurred there a couple of weeks ago, and he really wants to see some action their. Nominees can be slowed by the minority party, but really can’t be stopped if the majority can hold together. It only takes 50 votes to cut off debate and to get those through the floor. So it probably will be an efficient factory once it gets going, then we’ll start seeing that. Even as soon as tonight, with some of the less controversial.

Tom Temin
Yeah, we’ll see how fast all the Lucy’s in there can eat the chocolates going by. And they work on the conveyor belt of nominations. But you mentioned two that are super critical. Because the IRS will have submitted a huge spending plan, for the $80 billion extra they expect to get over the next 10 years. And so you kind of need a commissioner to make sure that all happens. And presuming that new commissioner likes the plan that was submitted before he got there. That’s another issue. And with FAA, you even have the airlines now starting to complain about the system is jamming, jamming, jamming. And airlines, I think united had said they can’t fly the schedules they publish. And so that in some way, not so subtly, mitigates on the FAA.

Loren Duggan
Right. So I think the FAA administrator nominee is gonna face a number of tough questions about what happened. And I think there’s disputes over whether he’s the best person to do this. And I think we might hear from Republicans questioning some of his days there. But it is also an FAA reauthorization year, where there’s a pretty major piece of legislation that needs to be written by Sept. 30 or the previous one extended to keep that agency operating. So the FAA is going to be a focus of a lot of activity on both chambers. The House Transportation Committee, and then the Senate Commerce Committee as well. They’ll both be looking at that. Looking at this nomination, and looking at ways to improve the system, especially given those meltdowns. Like you say with the IRS. The House’s first bill that passed after an organized, was one to cancel that $80 billion. Which has been a target from House Republicans and Senate Republicans don’t really like that pool of money either. So I imagine that a lot of the attention in that nomination process will be on the IRS with its additional funding, and how they intend to spend that whether it’s on agents or technology, or whatever that plan will say. So those are two really high profile things with a lot of money at stake already in the pipeline. And in the pipeline that come.

Tom Temin
And the name of that FAA nominee is Phil Washington, he was just nominated In December. We’re speaking with Loren Duggan, deputy news director at Bloomberg Government. And besides the Holman Rule, there is an attempt to raise that ugly head, ugly in the point of view of maybe the federal workforce. Whose salaries can be reduced to $1, if someone doesn’t like something in an appropriations bill. So they’re going to be looking at that. And then also the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is coming up.

Loren Duggan
Yeah, this is going to be a bill on the House floor this week. Saying if you want to tap into the Strategic Petroleum and reserve again, you have to come up first, with the plan to increase oil and gas leases. It’s a small bill with one idea kind of. But what the House Republicans are looking to do, is have a pretty open and free ranging debate on that piece of legislation. One of the things that Republicans have said is, that the House was too tightly controlled without opportunities to offer amendments. They’re gonna have a lot of opportunity here to offer amendments on that bill, maybe on the floor for maybe a day or two or three, as we see how this plays out. Probably a lot of pent up interest in actually getting to the floor and offering amendments. You mentioned the Holman Rule, that’s something that’s going to come into play later this year, when they debate the fiscal 2024 appropriations bills. And again, I think there’s gonna be a lot of interest in different Republicans to target different agencies or different agency officials, whose decisions they haven’t liked. The House obviously doesn’t have a say in nominations. People don’t get to vote on that over in the House. But this is a way for them to shine the spotlight on one individual worker or official who they don’t agree with the actions of. So I think that Holman Rule is going to be an interesting aspect of appropriations. Something that the local delegation really pushed against to, they did not want that rule to come back. It’s an old time rule that sort of fell into disuse. And we’re gonna see, I believe used probably a lot over the summer.

Tom Temin
And for a certain element of the Republicans in the House. I just mentioned, it because it would take cycles away from some of the important business that is governmentwide. But the box behind the Corvette, is the best thing since the Hunter in the Corvette.

Loren Duggan
That’s right. I think that investigations that the House Republicans want to launch on, they have another target here. Obviously, with what’s gone on with President Biden and the papers at his house, at the Penn Center here in D.C. and elsewhere. And juxtaposing that with how they think that the raids at Mar-a-Lago went. So, I think that’s going to be a ripe target for them. They created this panel it’s a subcommittee on, as they say, the weaponization of the federal government. That could be a forum for this. James Comer (R-Ky.), who is in charge of the Oversight and Accountability committee, as it’s now known, has a lot of targets, including Hunter Biden and his business dealings. And I’m sure this will come up there as well, because the remit for that committee is so wide. So there are a number of targets we’re going to see here, different panels that have been created. And probably a lot of people call to testify here soon on what’s gone on here.

Tom Temin
Right. And I think they’re also going to have their sights on some of the departments, too. Some of the big agencies, the FBI. Without taking sides here, but there’s been a lot of controversy about some of their activities. With respect to whether they’re political in the investigations they pursue and so on. Whether they treated the Trump paper revelation the same way as the Biden papers revelation. That’s going to take up a lot of cycles.

Loren Duggan
It may indeed take up a lot of cycles with a lot of questions. And maybe FBI Director Wray called up by a number of different panels to answer for that, including the so called weaponization panel. So I think they’re going to have a lot of time up there. [Department of Homeland Security (DHS)] Secretary Mayorkas and policies at the border and things that have gotten there with Title 42. And being on the verge of expiring that not as its wound its way through the courts. He’s going to be in the line of questioning a lot this coming year, with even some people already proposing that he’d be impeached. So I think there’s gonna be a lot here. And the democrats who are on Capitol Hill, are going to have to offer a defense for the administration and fight back. And folks like Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), oversight and accountability and presumably whomever is named on this weaponization of federal government. They’re going to have to make robust defenses and fight back against this. As they have these televised hearings over the next couple of months, and for really the next two years.

Tom Temin
And at some point, they’re going to have to do something about a budget.

Loren Duggan
Right. So the budget has locked in through Sept. 30. And then they’re going to wait for the Biden administration to send up and what they have in their requests. But hanging over that, of course, is the debt ceiling. Which really isn’t about the budget we’re about to spend. But what we’ve locked into place through appropriations bills, mandatory spending and the revenue picture. That’s really the dominant fiscal debate that we’ll be joined soon. Some people don’t want it to be a debate. The White House, the Senate doesn’t really want to negotiate. But Republicans are wanting something in return for raising the debt limit. Whether it’s spending caps or spending cuts or commissions to look at this picture more holistically. That’s really going to be the first debate, because we hit the debt limit last week. We’re operating through extraordinary measures. But at some point we have to do something about this, or else there’s going to be a lot of concern in the markets and elsewhere about what that means.

Tom Temin
Right. And with respect to the 2024 budget, we’ll know more when we see the submission coming from the White House. And that should be another few weeks probably. Well, optimistically another month.

Loren Duggan
Yeah, I would think so. The late enactment of the appropriations bills has probably slowed that down. And then they want to account for the funding that was there before they asked for new funding. And obviously that takes some time, but I’m sure a lot of people are having late nights and weekends at [Office of Management and Budget (OMB)] getting ready for that budget release at some point in the near future.

 

 

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