Speaking of the House: What’s in store for the 118th Congress?

Besides the tragedy-comedy drama over selection of a House Speaker, there is a rather potent agenda for the 118th Congress. Authorizations. Appropriations are so far off. Debt ceiling. And the gambits Republicans in the house are hoping to launch. To cover it all in 10 minutes, spoke with Federal Drive with Tom Temin Bloomberg Government Deputy News Director Loren Duggan.

Interview transcript:

Loren Duggan
It has been these normally routine steps that often are...

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Besides the tragedy-comedy drama over selection of a House Speaker, there is a rather potent agenda for the 118th Congress. Authorizations. Appropriations are so far off. Debt ceiling. And the gambits Republicans in the house are hoping to launch. To cover it all in 10 minutes, spoke with Federal Drive with Tom Temin Bloomberg Government Deputy News Director Loren Duggan.

Interview transcript:

Loren Duggan
It has been these normally routine steps that often are dispensed with pretty quickly have obviously taken much longer this year to name a speaker and get things going in the House of Representatives. But this is all in service of the New House Republican majority being able to work its will and start working on its agenda, some of which they’re directing, because they’re things they want to pursue. And others are things that because of expirations like Sept. 30, comes every year when it comes to appropriations. But also some key pieces of legislation that expire over the course of the next year or so are going to keep people very busy, along with the Democratic Senate, which came and went pretty quickly last week, doing their introductory stuff and leaving town for a few weeks.

Tom Temin
Right. And one of the concessions that the recalcitrant Republicans wanted doesn’t sound like such a bad idea for for public purpose. And that was the vote on separate 12 appropriations bills, and no more omnibus, and whether that will actually transpire is anyone’s guess at this point. But it might help maybe a little bit toward regular order. Do you think?

Loren Duggan
It could I mean, one of the big themes here has been let’s make things much smaller chunks deal with bite size legislation, the 12 appropriations bills as opposed to the omnibus, if you listened to any of the nominating speeches over the last week or so many people touched on that $1.7 trillion omnibus that was passed at the end of last year, House Republicans very much opposed to that very much opposed to how it came together. They want input in these bills, they want the chance to vote on them as individual things and offer a ton of amendments to them as they move along. So we may see a very different appropriations process than in recent years maybe more similar to things even a decade or more ago where they did spend a lot of time on the House floor debating appropriations bills, offering amendments, sometimes winning votes unexpectedly because you build interesting coalition’s across the two parties, and especially with the controls being so narrow, there might be some really interesting votes on those. So we’ll have to see if that pans out. But certainly the the fans of regular order might be cheering, what could be ahead here and seeing some interesting debates.

Tom Temin
And in just normal government business. This is a year for FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] reauthorization. Will the Southwest Airlines debacle give red meat to some people in Congress here?

Loren Duggan
Absolutely. I mean, it’s something you could point out when you want to talk about the nation’s aviation system. That was a pretty significant issue for a lot of fliers around the country. And members of Congress ultimately represent people who they probably heard from on this issue. We saw Maria Cantwell, who’s the Senate Commerce chairperson, she’s a Democrat from Washington, she’s already said she wants to look into this and hold hearings. And then Rick Larsen, also of Washington, who’s the incoming ranking Leader of the House Transportation Committee has said the same, he wrote a letter. And so we’ve already seen some discussion about Southwest. And that will probably be a theme going into this. There’s a lot that goes into the FAA bill about, you know, airports and airlines and the regulation of thereof. So that’s going to be a marquee bill this year. And southwest certainly will add to that conversation.

Tom Temin
Right. But it looks like the authorization won’t get stuck as it has in prior years, there have been situations where we thought airports would close and construction and modernization of airports facilities more realistically than actual stoppage of FAA operations. But that has happened in recent years.

Loren Duggan
It has and that could happen again, there are a few aspects of FAA operations that are funded through user fees and taxes. And if those laps and ticket taxes aren’t being collected during that period, it can cause some disruption, maybe even some furloughs, you can always extend it. And that’s one of the ways that this has been kept going in the past. So even if they can’t make the Sept. 30 deadline, maybe they can extend operations, but that might dovetail into continuing resolution conversations we may be having around the same time. That could be part of the discussion then if there isn’t progress made by then. So we’ll have to monitor that.

Tom Temin
We’re speaking with Loren Duggan. He’s deputy news director at Bloomberg Government. It’s also a farm bill year, you have pointed out, and there has been some rumblings. Well, the GAO itself, the Government Accountability Office has called out the way that the SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] program has been managed. And there’s been fairly explosive growth there. Could that have an effect on the farm bill that needs to be done?

Loren Duggan
Absolutely. And I think this is an area where the two parties’ philosophies could come into stark relief as they debate this. There’s this longtime marriage between farm subsidies on the one hand and nutrition programs on the other, which form two of the big titles every time they do a farm bill, which is roughly every five years. So the farm subsidies, there’s a lot of support for those around the country even in places that you don’t necessarily think of. And then SNAP is obviously a program that touches a lot of areas as well, we could see debate over the rules that allow you to qualify for SNAP tried to curtail some of the participation in that program are slow the growth of some of those benefits, maybe look at additional ways to manage that. So I think that will come in, there will be a lot of discussion about work requirements and, and other things. So I would expect there to be a healthy and robust debate over that bill may be very different versions coming out of the house in the Senate. And we’ll have to see what that means for wrapping that up as well. Or if we’ll be facing an extension in that land as well. But, one of the one of the dynamics here is Debbie Stabenow, the Senate Agriculture chairwoman already announced last week, but she’s not running for reelection and may free up time, and we’ll see how that factors into the debate as well. But that’s certainly a marquee piece of legislation.

Tom Temin
But with the Congress, the way it is reconciliations is going to be a more problematic process. It sounds like.

Loren Duggan
Absolutely, it’s going to be harder to get these bills looking similar enough to get through both chambers. But, sometimes divided government does produce good legislation as well. So we’ll have to keep an eye on that as the year goes on.

Tom Temin
And getting back to the budget issue of the related issue of the debt ceiling. This is something that is a big concern to at least a large faction of the Republicans. That was one of the reasons they didn’t like McCarthy is the debt ceiling question. And so where could that insert itself into the works?

Loren Duggan
Well, we kind of have a similar makeup that we did back in 2011, where you have a Democratic administration, Democratic Senate, Republican House, that’s what led to the Budget Control Act, which in exchange for increasing the debt ceiling, there was the super committee formed. And that led obviously, to things like sequestration and budget caps, I think we’re going to have a discussion going in later this year, on budget caps, potentially, again, or other ways to curb spending. The debt limit is more about paying for things you’ve already obligated, you’ve said you’re going to spend the money you said this is how much tax we’re going to bring in, and this is what we need to pay those bills. So there’s going to be a lot of talk about that. But even if it’s more about your past obligations, and the debt limit, they are going to want to slow future obligations as well. So I would expect that to be a pretty tough debate over the course of the summer and probably touch on a lot of areas and spending on the mandatory and discretionary side as well, even though those things are technically different. They’re very much related in this year.

Tom Temin
Sure. Yeah, we’ll hear the term 32 trillion quite a bit in the debates that come up.

Loren Duggan
We definitely will.

Tom Temin
And on the Senate side, you know, they have to get back to the business of confirmations. And there’s a couple that are kind of important right now. The president renominated Danny Warfel, to run the IRS and I think he’s fairly non controversial. It’s like your brother in law being nominated to run the IRS. But then there’s also Gigi Sohn who was extremely controversial. Back in the running for FCC [Federal Communications Comission], is this something the Democrats can just have, because they’ve got their 51 people?

Loren Duggan
They do have that one seat difference, this time around, it was 50-50 in the last two years, and now it is 51-49. If you count the three independents who align with the Democrats, that gets them to 51. So they can probably get people out of committees more easily, don’t need Kamala Harris to come up all the time, probably to break some ties. But some of these nominations are still going to be tough, you can’t afford to lose two votes, if that’s going to come up. But some of this was just a they lost time on some nominees wanted to wait till this 51-49 setup. So we’ll see how those go. But a number of people who were sent back to the White House at the end of the Congress were sent right back by the administration as soon as the new Congress met. So, that’s going to be probably the highlight of the Senate over the next year, because it’s the one thing that can do unilaterally without any input from the Republicans on the House side. It’s a lot easier to get them across the line. And one reason why having the majority in the Senate be aligned with a White House is so important. And one of the reasons they wanted to keep their majority so much in the Senate side.

Tom Temin
What about the hold factor that one senator can do,is that still a factor anymore?

Loren Duggan
It is, what the hold really does is slows things down. And floor time is precious in the Senate, if you need to take four days on every nominee, well, that can really slow things up and prevent you from getting to legislation. So there are deals behind the scenes. And on the judicial side, we could see more discussion of blue slips, which allow home state senators to have a say, even if they’re not at the same party, but senators do have a lot of input here and a lot of power to slow things down, even if they can’t stop it in the end. But, nobody wants to work nights and weekends if they can avoid it. And so that’s one of the things that happens when you’re managing the floor.

Tom Temin
And a final quick question. There are committees forming on the Republican side for China. They still want to relitigate some of the COVID era, things that happened through Anthony Fauci and so forth, and then I think the FBI is going to get some scrutiny in the aftermath of Twitter revelations, will this all amount too much and will it chew up cycles they might need for more important things legislatively?

Loren Duggan
Well, I think that for House Republicans like Senate Democrats, they look for things that can accomplish unilaterally and oversight is a big thing there. They can convene hearings, get people to monitor them and write about them. All those things you talked about are true, China competition and the weaponization of federal government, as they put it against American citizens that will look at both the FBI and things like Twitter. So I think we will see a lot of oversight hearings, a lot of high profile discussions in front of the cameras with the bright lights and all that the Congress can convene there. So that will be a major theme for sure on the House Republican side. And that’s one of the reasons they wanted to get a speaker so they could get things going and start those as soon as possible.

 

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