All congressional eyes focus on the great question: CR or government shutdown?

Congress is still a couple of weeks away from returning to Washington. Still, pressure is building for members to resolve a difficult budget impasse, as the pro...

Congress is still a couple of weeks away from returning to Washington. Still, pressure is building for members to resolve a difficult budget impasse, as the prospects for a lapse in appropriations also seem to grow. For more,  Federal Drive with Tom Temin spoke with Loren Duggan, Bloomberg Government’s Deputy News Director Loren.

Interview Transcript: 

Tom Temin And absence, I guess, makes their hearts grow fonder. And the debates are in some level continuing here on what they will do about the budget, correct?

Loren Duggan That is correct. I mean, people have spread out around the country, around the world if they’re going on congressional delegations or co-dels. But there are still discussions happening behind the scenes over email or conference calls about what to do with the budget impasse that you mentioned. We have two chambers that are heading in somewhat different directions here. We have the addition of the supplemental funding request that President Biden sent up a couple of weeks ago. And we have the normal give and take that you need to have before the September 30th deadline to act on something that’s all feeding together into this mix right now. So there are questions about what can be done before the October 1st start of fiscal 2024.

Tom Temin And the Senate, if I’m correct, comes back a little bit sooner than the House. But they both kind of have to be here to vote on things. And so there are very few days in the legislative calendar when they do return to get this done.

Loren Duggan That’s correct. We have the Senate coming back right now, September 5th, and then the House September 12th, a week later. So they’ll be back after Labor Day and kick this off. Now, there may be enough House members in town that first week to have discussions with their Senate counterparts. We’ve seen leaders from both chambers talk already about the need for a continuing resolution to keep things funded after September 30th. So we’ve seen those discussions. But you’re right, whatever they come to agreement on, they have to be back here and they have to vote and they have to get it through both chambers, which given the types of opposition they might face, won’t necessarily be a foregone conclusion until they see what they have to vote on.

Tom Temin And there’s some funny math going on in the House because you have one coalition there that is sort of against everything you might say. And they could subtract enough votes out of the Republican bloc that require a certain number of Democrats to agree to something. So there’s almost like three parties in some sense operating in the House.

Loren Duggan That’s right. And we saw that earlier this year on something like the debt limit agreement that Speaker McCarthy reached with President Biden, where they needed Democratic support to get that over the line and a lot of Democratic support. It may be a little easier sell to keep the government running while they continue to have the debates they want to have. But people might want to extract something out of that vote. So, yes, we’ll vote to keep the government open if you give us something. So those are the kind of negotiations that we’ll see go on. A lot of this stems back to the spending caps that were put in place by that debt limit agreement. The House Republicans want to spend less than that. They see that as a ceiling, not a floor. The Senate Democrats and Republicans together have produced bills that would spend up to that. And then they’re talking about spending more through a supplemental. So that’s where this has gotten difficult, is that people think that the deal they negotiated isn’t still in place. But as we saw right after the spending caps were announced, there were talks about, well, we might need a supplemental for Ukraine. And now clearly there are some these four disasters, including the fires in Hawaii, that people are going to have to think how to address when they get back.

Tom Temin We’re speaking with Loren Duggan. He is deputy news director at Bloomberg Government. And the NDAA there was kind of an impasse there, too. Any progress happening in the last couple of weeks? Any private talks or is that going to be last minute also? And as we know, that one, they like to get done in the calendar year, right?

Loren Duggan That’s further along than spending because the House and the Senate have at least both passed their own versions of it that they can take to an eventual conference agreement. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s been some behind the scenes discussions about that. The dynamic in that bill, though, is that the House adopted a number of amendments dealing with social issues, whether it’s DoD’s abortion policy, things about DEI programs, CRT critical race theory being taught in DoD schools. And those are provisions that are absent from the Senate bill. So that’s the reconciliation process that’s going to take a little bit of time between those bills. But the big picture defense authorization number is pretty close. And then I think there’s a deal to be made on the numbers, but then it’s going to come down to what other language rides along for the final version of that. And as you say, that’s not a September 30th problem as much as a December 31st problem, but it is something that lawmakers would like to make progress on and get done if they can.

Tom Temin Because there’s plenty of break time between September 30th and December 31st Thanksgiving and Christmas, etc. So it’s not like there’s loads of time for any of this.

Loren Duggan No, there’s not. And there’s other priorities, too, like an FAA bill and a farm bill reauthorization that they’ll want to do this fall. Plus the other kind of cats and dogs legislation that’s out there that they’re going to have to address, whether it’s deadline driven or just a priority that they like to get accomplished.

Tom Temin Yeah. What’s the issue with FAA authorization? What is holding that up? I don’t think there’s any major policy things that we’re aware of.

Loren Duggan The House is passed the version of that bill pretty bipartisan. And the Senate committee has been stalled for a little bit. There were some disputes about pilot training hours and provisions like that that they were trying to work out behind the scenes. We heard some positive news toward the end of the session before they left for the recess. I could see that maybe getting through the Senate and them picking up and doing that. That may be a provision that needs to be extended as part of a continuing resolution because there are some authorities the FAA needs to have in place that do expire and could have furlough implications just given the way that some of the programs are funded there. So we may still be talking about an extension in September of those programs. But that does seem like if the Senate committee can get moving, there is a deal to be had on that legislation.

Tom Temin Any motion on the Tuberville hold on those military nominations? That seems to be really dug in deep.

Loren Duggan That is dug in deep. And as we saw last week, I think it was the third picture in the wall of Joint Chiefs of Staff personnel that was replaced by a blank frame for now, because there are three members of that that are currently not in place. So there has been a lot of pressure over the recess, both from the president, from the defense secretary and others to try to make progress on this. Where the issue may be is what side jumps first and what sort of agreement can they make because there’s a preservation of the right of any senator to hold up nominations. And Democrats have said they don’t necessarily want to validate that strategy that Tuberville has by trying to force individual votes on all these. So they’re kind of stuck for right now. But this is something I definitely think we’ll be watching in the fall, because there are some key positions that have vacancies right now.

Tom Temin And what about telework? Because Congress is of a mind. I mean, the administration wants people back at work in federal offices. There’s a lot of pushback coming from the unions, which has made a couple of the agencies backed down from plans they already announced. And then the White House chief of staff reinforced the request to get more in-person work, although they didn’t specify full time five days a week for everybody. And your boss of bosses up there at Bloomberg has been urging return to offices generally. So it’s hard to know which way the tide is really going to end up here. And Congress could, if it chose, weigh in here.

Loren Duggan Congress could weigh in through these spending bills. And as you mentioned, Michael Bloomberg, who’s the majority owner of our parent company, wrote a Washington Post op-ed calling for people at the federal government to come back downtown and go to work. They have been working remotely, obviously, but to fill the office space there. So this is a debate going on in businesses and associations across the country. And the federal government is part of this. Like you say, the Congress could weigh in. House Republicans, I think, have had some proposals on this in the past that they’d like to see a return to more in office time. And there’s pressure from the executive branch to do the same. So the tide may be headed toward more in office time for federal workers. But I’m not aware of anything today that they’re looking to stick in a C.R. or something like that. That would be immediate. But I do feel like the pressure is RTO return to office.


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