Budget talks for 2024 are rocking, raising talk of a government you-know-what

Republicans in Congress are arguing amongst themselves over 2024 spending levels, as well as with the Democrats. Now the talk of a lapse in appropriations and a...

Republicans in Congress are arguing amongst themselves over 2024 spending levels, as well as with the Democrats. Now the talk of a lapse in appropriations and a government shutdown are already in the air. Federal Drive with Tom Temin talks about all of that with WTOP Capitol Hill correspondent Mitchell Miller.

Interview Transcript: 

Tom Temin So it sounds like the Republicans, Mitchell, at least some of them want to go below the levels authorized in the debt agreement from a couple weeks ago.

Mitchell Miller Right. So much for that little honeymoon period after the debt ceiling agreement when went through Congress and got the signature of the president. It’s really going to be a rough summer for congressional appropriators. You look just on the Republican side, conservatives pressing to have all the subcommittee set spending at fiscal year 2022 levels, which is below the debt ceiling deal, calling for caps at 2023 levels. Now, House Republicans say that, and particularly those that are pushing for these deeper cuts say there was nothing in the agreement saying that they couldn’t go lower than the caps, and that’s exactly what they’re doing. So they’re really pressing down. Democrats on the other side say this is essentially a deal breaker because of what Republicans are doing. But then within the GOP, you have a disagreement among moderates and conservatives. The conservatives, people like Virginia Republican Bob Good have said they don’t care if there’s a shutdown. They say it’s more important to get a grip on spending and make significant cuts. And then you have moderate Republicans who are saying, wait a second, we do not want to be affiliated with another shutdown. We have seen the political damage that can do to the brand. So there’s a real squabble back and forth within the Republican Party.

Tom Temin And the result might be that they could not even get to a continuing resolution at the deadline potentially.

Mitchell Miller I mean, I think that that is always their escape valve. But the House minority leader, Hakeem Jeffries, he warned of a shutdown. I had asked if he was concerned about that earlier, about a week ago, and he kind of downplayed it. But this past week he was very concerned about it. And then Senate Majority Leader Schumer has indicated that the deeper cuts are just a nonstarter. And this week, the Senate Appropriations Committee is going to begin its work, but it’s going to begin basically in a different universe than from where the conservative Republicans were. So if they can’t even agree on some of these basic levels, they could be in trouble for getting a continuing resolution. Now, some of the appropriators have said they’re going to be able to try to grind through this, but they are certainly off to a rough start.

Tom Temin And what about the defense side of all of this? What’s going on there?

Mitchell Miller Well, that part is a big concern, especially among Republicans in the Senate, about whether or not there’s going to be enough money for what they want to do in defense. And now there is some movement right there. In the last week, the House appropriations bill was moving forward. And in the House Appropriations Committee, they called for a 5.2% increase for all service members. But then there’s really a significant bump in pay for entry level and lower level members of the military, some as high as more than 30%. They really want to raise the rates for E1 through E6 pay grades that have lagged for a long time. And people say that this is hurting recruiting. They’re not getting the type of people that they want to get into the military. They want to get more people into the military, but they have to set aside a lot of money, of course, to do this. About $800 million. And there, again, is a concern if that money is not going to be there, if they keep having these disagreements, it’s going to cause real problems. Now, on that issue, the Republicans do seem to be fairly on the same page that they want to get more money for defense. But of course, that squeezes a lot of other things on the domestic spending side.

Tom Temin Right. And there’s a little side drama going on with Senator Tuberville having to do with promotions for senior military personnel because they are funding service members, making trips to get abortions.

Mitchell Miller Right. And as you know, there are often Senate holds carried out by various senators, but usually they get let go after a relatively short amount of time and they figure out some kind of cooperative agreement on this. But this one, Senator Tuberville of Alabama, has really dug in his heels on this. I was talking with Virginia Senator Tim Kaine about this, who’s a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. And he says Republicans and Democrats are frustrated about this because they’ve tried some various tactics and nothing has seemed to move Tuberville on this. Now, Kaine says the next step might be to try to get a vote on an amendment related to Tuberville proposal in connection with the defense authorization bill. Kaine hopes that will eventually take care of it. But in the meantime, you have more than 200 senior military personnel who are waiting on their promotions in just a few weeks, actually, the Marine Corps commandant, there is supposed to be a changing of the guard ceremony, and they’ve had to kind of fudge the language there because they don’t really know whether a permanent head of the Marine Corps is going to be able to take his place or if it’s going to be kind of in this middle gray area. So. A lot of things happening there. And then with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, there’s some concern about people in that high military brass category that could have to be held up because of this.

Tom Temin Yeah, sounds like Tuberville has them qby the you-know-whats to see if their hearts and minds do follow.

Mitchell Miller Indeed.

Tom Temin Mitchell Miller is Capitol Hill correspondent for WTOP, and there is news dribbling out agency by agency. But now FEMA on where people work.

Mitchell Miller For FEMA, the latest one to basically set some guidelines coming up about getting people back in the office, what the FEMA administrator, Dan Criswell, has told employees is that they’re looking at a minimum of four days for each two week pay period. And as you know, this is kind of a slow rolling out, agency by agency. We had, just several weeks ago, the VA secretary announcing that employees will have to work a minimum of five days in the two week periods. And this all, of course, comes out after the OPM sent out those guidelines, which some people said sent some mixed signals about what agencies can do. But again, on the congressional side, you’re still getting a push from Republicans to get more people back into the office.

Tom Temin And for those of us in the DMV that use all of our lovely airports, depending on where we’re going, I haven’t flown from, say, Reagan to BWI yet. I think that could be next. What is going on with the flights? I mean, I’ve never understood that whole thing in 50 years of flying.

Mitchell Miller Right. It really it’s kind of confusing. But essentially, if you take the FAA reauthorization legislation, which is now before the Senate Commerce Committee, that is the vehicle, if you will, that many lawmakers will try to add slots or add flights in connection with Reagan National Airport. Now, right now, Delta Airlines wants to get more flights, long haul flights out West and places like Texas. And of course, lawmakers from those areas are supporting that. However, here in the Washington area, because of the noise issues, because of the fact that Reagan National is already a very busy airport, in fact, has the busiest runway in the country, mainly because it’s just that short runway by the Potomac. They, the members of the Virginia and the Maryland congressional delegation, are saying they do not want this increase. They say it’s going to actually add to delays at the airport because you’re going to have more flights. Now, they were supposed to mark up the FAA reauthorization last week, but because this has caused such a kerfuffle, they held off on that. So word is that they’re working on some kind of various compromise amendments that may not lift the number of flights quite as high as some people would like, at least that support it, that it might just be a handful. But it’s going to be interesting to see because there’s certainly a lot of political firepower here in the Washington area that is saying it does not want this kind of an increase. And in fact, the Metropolitan Airports Authority, which of course oversees Dulles and National, is also opposed to this, especially when you consider all the improvements that have been made to Reagan National in recent years. And then the other argument that lawmakers, particularly from Virginia make, is you’ve put billions of dollars in the Silver Line to get people on Metro to get out to Dulles. Why would you try to increase things more at Reagan National when you’ve put this big investment going the other way out west in Virginia?

Tom Temin Well, taking the Silver Line to Dulles, you can read a novel on the way out there.

Mitchell Miller That’s very true.

Tom Temin And you’ll have to buy another one at the airport when you get there. And anything new on the FBI headquarters?

Mitchell Miller Well, the Maryland congressional delegation got together with Governor Wes Moore, and they reiterated last week that they are really pushing hard to get FBI, the FBI headquarters in Prince George’s County. Of course, on the flip side, you have the Virginia delegation. I’ve talked to Senators Warner and Kaine. They still feel confident that Virginia has the the lead, if you will, in trying to get this FBI headquarters relocated from D.C. into Northern Virginia. And part of the reason that it’s bubbled up recently is because an FBI document surfaced that indicated that the FBI essentially had a preference for being closer to its training facility at Quantico. Maryland cried foul and said, hey, you can’t change a criteria in the middle of this. Virginia says, well, this is just another example of why the FBI headquarters should be in Virginia. All of this still being stretched out. This, as you know, has been going on for years. But we are supposedly going to get a decision at some point from the GSA later this year. And that will be huge, of course, for the region.

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