Congress has passed just one of 12 bills needed to fund the government next fiscal year. When members return early next month, the question of further funding for Ukraine in its war with Russia will enter the funding debate. For what that could mean, Federal Drive with Tom Temin turned to WTOP Capitol Hill Correspondent Mitchell Miller.
Tom Temin And this has been a dot on the horizon that’s rising to a cloud size debate over Ukraine, sounds like Mitchell.
Mitchell Miller Right. And we saw that when the White House released the $40 billion supplemental request last week, which includes $13 billion in defense funds for Ukraine, plus additional billions for a lot of other things related to Ukraine. We knew that this was potentially going to blow up at some point in the coming weeks, months. And right now, we’re already getting a huge amount of pushback from members of House Freedom Caucus, conservative Republicans in the House, who just say they do not want to spend any more money on Ukraine. Now, to put it in perspective, Congress has approved about $113 billion for Ukraine up to this point. And as I think you and I talked about when this all first started, we knew that there was at some point going to be some fatigue, not only with Congress, but with the American public about how long that this could go on. So what now is about to happen is a real showdown over whether or not this funding is going to get approved. House Republicans, as I said, are looking to fight this all the way. But on the other side, the Senate’s top Republican, Mitch McConnell (R-Ala.), has been a consistent supporter of the Ukraine aid. So we’re going to have to see what happens as the House and the Senate eventually come down to this showdown in the coming months.
Tom Temin Well, the math, I guess, matters. If you subtract out the Republicans that don’t want this money and leave the ones that do and add them to the Democrats that do in the House. Could it pass?
Mitchell Miller It could pass and it will have to pass with a lot of Democratic support, as well as probably a lot of support from moderate Republicans. So that could happen. I think what’s going to be interesting is to see how this actually comes together in connection with the overall federal budget and the spending plans over the next several weeks. Right now, there is a lot of talk, as there usually is around this time, about whether or not we’re going to get a continuing resolution. Could this pass if it’s all folded into a stopgap measure, which a lot of House Republicans don’t want, but frankly, they have also acknowledged that may have to happen. So they may try to get on the record saying we are voting against this, but then they will need to get the Democrats support. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) will have to get some kind of support from Democrats if they’re able to get this through.
Tom Temin Yes, because in the absence of a C.R., the only other choice is a partial lapse in appropriations.
Mitchell Miller Right. And really, there’s been a lot of growing talk about whether or not there’s going to be a government shutdown. There are people on the record, Bob Good (R-Va.) among them, who have said he doesn’t care if there is a shutdown. He thinks that the exaggeration of the problems related to a shutdown are, well, he thinks that they’re overexaggerated. He doesn’t think that it could be as much of a problem as not taking a specific position on this. So there are a lot of conservatives in the House that don’t want anything to move forward. And, of course, Kevin McCarthy, the House speaker, can only afford to lose four votes. So this is not just a thing where people are just squawking about things that they’re criticizing. This is something that could really be held up. And if it does get held up, then we’ll have to see what happens after that. But certainly there is a lot of concern right now that there could be a shutdown, at least temporarily.
Tom Temin And the Republicans seemed to have like a big rack full of heavy kettlebells, and they’ve chained one of them to the nominations for general officer promotions in the military, as has been going on and on and on. And now you’re reporting that Chip Roy (R-Texas) has threatened to withhold [Department of Homeland Security (DHS)] funding for his wants.
Mitchell Miller And this goes back to a long time problem that House Republicans just think that the Biden administration has not adequately addressed. And, of course, that is security on the southern border. And last week, Texas Congressman Chip Roy, as you noted, said that he would not allow anyone in his conference, which would be the House Freedom Caucus, to basically go along with anything that would fund the Department of Homeland Security. And, of course, this is also in connection with the grievances that House Republicans have about the DHS secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, who many want to impeach. He has set up a series of conditions that, Chip Roy, that he feels that have to be reached before conservative Republicans will go along with it. And after he made that announcement, roughly about 15 House Republicans said they would join him. So, again, not a situation where it’s just out there people complaining about it. These are actual votes. When you have such a tight majority that the GOP has in the House that they really could make it a difference, and gum things up as we move forward into this period of really critical time for getting the federal budget passed.
Tom Temin Yeah, and if there’s no DHS funding, that means nothing for Transportation Security Administration, which means the airline snafus would end because there would be no airline flights.
Tom Temin We’re speaking with Mitchell Miller. He’s WTOP’s Capitol Hill correspondent. And then closer to the federal bureaucracy there is interesting this bill from Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Delegate Norton from D.C. to get rid of the pay compression or lift the pay ceilings for high level, long serving senior career officials who by statute can’t earn more than political appointees.
Mitchell Miller Exactly. And this was something that she tried to introduce last year and it didn’t quite come together. Of course, a lot of veteran federal workers, their ears perk up when they hear about this because they know about this all too well. She has introduced the federal Employee Pay Compression Relief Act, which, as you noted, would allow many of these people at the G15 level, people who have been in federal government for a long time, to get those pay adjustments that they are really entitled to in her view. But except for this pay cap that’s already in place. Because of course, they can’t exceed the pay rates for political appointees and other people on the executive schedule. So this would allow those people to get that kind of pay hike that a lot of them want. Of course, the White House had proposed a 5.2% federal pay raise for the coming fiscal year. But those people who have been in the government a long, long time, many of them would not get that pay increase. So this is something that Eleanor Holmes Norton is really touting. We’ll see how much support there is. Obviously, again, we have a lot of House Republicans who do not want to spend any additional money. So she’s going to have some work to do to try to get this move forward.
Tom Temin Yeah, sounds like that game they do up on the national scoreboard. Will this sink or float? I guess, and see what happens. And of course, the famous memo now a couple of weeks ago on a Friday afternoon from the White House, from the Oval Office, really from the chief of staff, Jeff Zients (D-DC), about getting people back into the office. What’s the feeling on Capitol Hill about? We know the administration, even though it won’t come out quite explicitly and have it come from President Biden himself, they want people back in the office, in the federal offices. Is Capitol Hill leaning that way too pretty much, do you think?
Mitchell Miller Absolutely, I think so. And a lot of Republicans, of course, don’t want to give any kind of benefit of the doubt to the White House. But on this one, they’re on the same page. They really want, as we’ve talked about over many months, to get a lot of people back into the office. And many Republicans, as well as Democrats, were pleased to see that the Biden administration was in some views finally pushing to get these people back into their offices. Of course, a lot of things, a lot of moving parts here. They want to get more people into their offices by September and October. And as Federal News network has pointed out, it varies from agency to agency. But essentially, for most of them at least, that are moving in this direction, they want to get people back into the offices at least four or five times, in some cases six times over a two week period. We’ll have to see what happens. But I think once Congress gets back, you’re going to continue to see this pressure, whether it’s on the floor or it’s in committee hearings. And we’ve heard a lot from Republicans about this, the need to get people back into the office. I think this is only going to continue once lawmakers return. By the way, when they do return, the Senate doesn’t come back until the Sept. 5, and the House doesn’t come back until the Sept 12. That only leaves the House 12 actual working days to get all these appropriations bills that we were talking about past. So I think we really are headed down the road of probably another stopgap continuing resolution.