With no time to lose, Congress is functional again, more or less

The House of Representatives has a speaker, for now. That was a heavy lift. What comes next now that Capitol Hill is operational again. For this week’s outlook, the Federal Drive with Tom Temin spoke with Bloomberg Government deputy news director Loren Duggan.

Interview Transcript: 

Loren Duggan Well, a lot of the work that they had hoped to do before the three weeks without a speaker is being resumed now. And the biggest effort is a resumption of debating the fiscal 2024 appropriations bills. This was all precipitated by the bill that kept the government open, with many Republicans unhappy that Kevin McCarthy had come up with a bill that relied on a lot of Democratic support to become law and to keep the government open through November 17th. Now, a good chunk of that time through November 17th was eaten up by this process. But we saw almost immediately they swore in Mike Johnson as the speaker. They did a resolution on Israel, which is something else that had been held up. And then they went right back to one of the spending bills and they passed that before they left town last week. So we have five through the house now, one that was rejected and a plan that’s kind of ambitious to get through the others at least passed House versions of them. Get them over to the Senate and try to get a process going here to get full year appropriations. And now there’s talk again about another C.R. We’ll have to see what happens there. But they got back to business pretty quickly once they could.  

 Tom Temin Therefore, they’re trying to avoid another C.R., if they can, and go not the omnibus route, but the fewer consolidated bills route. Ideally.  

 Loren Duggan The plan that new Speaker Johnson had circulated even before he was Speaker trying to win support from his colleagues was maybe a C.R. into January or maybe April. So, you know, let’s make progress on the regular bills. Let’s not go to the C.R. route quite yet. But he wants to keep that in his back pocket as a way to keep the government open. He may have more leeway to do that just because he’s got almost universal support in the Republican conference. There were no votes against him on the House floor, unlike the other votes we had seen before that. So he might have the ability to do that. Now, he also has to work pretty quickly with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and President Joe Biden, which, you know, one chamber alone, one party alone in this system isn’t going to get everything it wants. But, you know, I think he could buy himself some time, but try to make progress and try to secure some of the wins he wants as a conservative, because that’s kind of how he ran for the job as somebody who wants to see conservative wins in these bills.  

 Tom Temin Right. Maybe that’s one challenge, is President Biden and Chuck Schumer. Maybe the bigger challenge are his own party members, the same group that ousted Kevin McCarthy.  

 Loren Duggan That’s right. The motion to vacate that took out Kevin McCarthy is still there. But of course, his path to the speakership, once he was the nominee, was much smoother than Kevin McCarthy’s was or Steve Scalise, Jim Jordan or Tom Emmer, all of whom faltered after they won their party’s backing. So I think he starts off in a somewhat stronger position, but you have to see how this plays out in the coming weeks.  

 Tom Temin And what about the aid package that the President promised, a request that’s, I guess, in front of Congress now. This as the United States has been carrying out its own strikes against Iran or proxies in Iran over in Syria, that situation is not getting any less complicated either.  

 Loren Duggan It is not. And there’s two packages now to deal with. One is the $106 billion that was requested for Ukraine, Israel, the border and allies in the Indo-Pacific region, among others. And then there’s a $56 billion domestic package to cover disaster aid, child care, other priorities that the administration has and that many Democrats in Congress will go along with. The question on all this is going to be packaging and what can you get through? Democrats have been viewing that $106 billion as one package to deal with maybe a Ukraine plus Israel bill. We already heard last week from Speaker Johnson that he’s looking at bifurcating those. Interestingly, he wasn’t saying no to Ukraine aid, which is something that many Republicans on the House side are leaning towards now. They don’t necessarily want Ukraine aid and he might want some different strictures on that or different reporting requirements. So we’ll see. But he may want two bills. The Senate Democrats may only want one. So we’ll have to see how that plays out. And the domestic spending could be a tough sell because, as you know, even before we got to this point, the domestic spending and the regular appropriations bills, there’s a big gap between what the House and the Senate want. And so that’s just going to complicate that discussion further.  

 Tom Temin We’re speaking with Loren Duggan. He’s deputy news director for Bloomberg Government. So, yeah, plenty to go on here. And they’re not going to recess, correct?  

 Loren Duggan That’s right. These were supposed to be two weeks with less work and now they’re two weeks in session. So they’re not back till Wednesday this week. But they’ll have three days this week, four days next week ahead of the Veteran’s Day holiday.  

 Tom Temin And now that the House is back in business, can action happen on the National Defense Authorization Act? Because that’s another deadline, maybe a deadline beyond the funding shortfall or the C.R. ending, but nevertheless, they want to do that this calendar year.  

 Loren Duggan That’s right. That’s a bill that they’d like to get done. The House had already named its conferees. I believe the Senate still needs to do that. But they can start having informal talks. The dynamic behind that bill has been the top line number. There’s a lot of agreement, You know, maybe there’s some gaps between different weapons systems or programs. They can work that out on that side. But there are riders in the House bill that wouldn’t be palatable to the Senate. So we’ll have to see how the negotiators deal with that when they sit down to talk about it. But you could see a path where that bill could be negotiated before the end of the year, come back to the two chambers, and make it to the president’s desk if they can resolve the gaps that exist between the House and Senate versions. But that one’s pretty far along as these things go.  

 Tom Temin And FAA and the Farm bill, those authorizations, how are they coming along now?  

 Loren Duggan Well, the FAA has an extension through the end of the year that was part of the continuing resolution that was passed in late September. The House has passed a bill. The Senate hasn’t. There’s, you know, always behind the scenes talks. If the Senate were to get something through its chamber, that’s something that could be negotiated and worked out. The farm bill is much further behind. Neither the House or the Senate committee has produced a bill, and there’s already talk about what to do about maybe a year long extension, although that’s tied to September 30th. The way that farm programs work, it tends to be more crop seasons and things like that that are affected. But I would expect a push maybe even around the next continuing resolution if we go that route to tack an extension of that on so that they have until next year to really get going on, that there’s a lot of work to do on that one in particular.  

 Tom Temin And having taken a backseat is the issue of the hold up on nominations for promotion of general officers in the Defense Department, the Tommy Tuberville hold, and then there’s a bunch of other administration appointments that need to be acted on by the Senate. Will we see progress on that?  

 Loren Duggan Yeah, I mean, the Senate has slowly churned through these things. But to your point about Tommy Tuberville holding up the military promotions, they pushed several through last month, and they’re looking at ways to get more through, especially the slots on the Joint Chiefs of Staff that are open. There was talk last week about maybe do we push through a rule change that doesn’t necessarily seem to have gained traction yet, but we’ll see action there. A big nomination maybe this week. Jack Lew to be ambassador to Israel. Obviously a key post with everything going on there. We might see a confirmation vote this week. And then Harry Coker, who was nominated to be the new national cyber director, he’s getting a hearing. So these things are continuing to percolate behind the scenes. But there is still this blockade on a number of nominations that Democrats have to decide how much floor time they want to devote to get over that.  

 Tom Temin It’s all about floor time at this point, correct?  

 Loren Duggan Very much so. And the pipeline is getting pretty pretty blocked up here with everything that’s, you know, on the agenda.  

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