Once again, Congress kicks the can down the road

That proverbial battered can. Well Congress has once again kicked it down Constitution Avenue. The latest continuing resolution keeps the government going until...

That proverbial battered can. Well Congress has once again kicked it down Constitution Avenue. The latest continuing resolution keeps the government going until March 1 for some agencies and March 8 for others. For what has to happen next, the Federal Drive with Tom Temin spoke with Loren Duggan, Bloomberg Government’s deputy news director.

Interview Transcript: 

Tom Temin  At least they didn’t do it over the weekend. But in the broad daylight of the regular news cycle, what really has to happen now?

Loren Duggan Well, we’re sort of at the same position we’ve been in for months here, where there’s a new deadline putting partial funding into, you know, almost the, what, fifth six month of the year now. So, um, Congress is still working to come to what to spend in total on the 12 different bills. They they’ve kind of come to an agreement and they’re going to stick to it on the overall funding level, but they’re still figuring out what to put in the bills and then write those bills and try to package them together and get them over the line. Um, and, you know, the longer this goes, the more they’ll talk about what else to attach to it. And that’s one of the questions that I think we’ll be looking at when the house comes back into town a week from now, and when the Senate is here this week.

Tom Temin And it looks like probably about half of the Republicans in both houses voted for it.

Loren Duggan That’s right. I think it was almost right down the middle on the house, maybe 107 on one side and 106 on the other. Democrats did a lot of the heavy lifting in both chambers to get this over the line, which is what we expected. They had to get something that had that sort of support, because what we’ve been seeing is House Republicans tanking procedural votes, which you might have needed if it was a more conservative oriented type of continuing resolution. But this was kind of a straight down the middle. Keep things funded where they are. No major changes. A couple of tweaks here and there. But, um, like you said, it’s just delaying this process for a few more weeks to give Congress time to do its work.

Tom Temin So there have been no modifications then to the full year top line numbers that were agreed to a couple of months ago. At this point now.

Loren Duggan Right. The deal that they emerged with, right coming out of the recess, getting into this period where it seemed that maybe Speaker Mike Johnson was wavering a little bit about what he had agreed to, but it seems like they they’re back to agreeing to that. Both the top line number that was written into the debt limit deal last year, and then what’s been referred to as the side deal. This how much you can use to offset spending to reduce the total and what sort of what people might call gimmicks, but other people would call accounting maneuvers. You can use. Um, one of them, of course, is to cancel 20 billion from the IRS this year rather than doing it ten this year. Ten the next. Um, so that deal has been factored into this, but we’re still waiting to see how that will materialize in the actual spending legislation.

Tom Temin And as far as we speak, it looks like Mike Johnson will not be tossed as speaker. But I guess that’s still, given what happened to the last speaker, a possibility. Right?

Loren Duggan It is. It’s always out there. The motion to vacate the call, it only takes one member, which was, um, what happened to Kevin McCarthy when one member, Matt Gaetz, filed it and had enough people on his side to execute that? , the majority in the House is getting slimmer for Republicans. As of yesterday, Mike (Bill) Johnson from Ohio has resigned, um, that we had Kevin McCarthy leave at the end of the year and a vacancy with George Santos being expelled. So, there’s even fewer Republicans now. And, um, you only need a couple now to really side with the Democrats. And you could take a bill, you could take a vote, or you could even vacate the chair if the Democrats went along with it, as they did, last year. So that threat is always hanging over Johnson’s head. And I think his members are willing to use it and talk about it to try and influence the kind of policy decisions he’s making.

Tom Temin All right. We’re speaking with Loren Dugan, deputy news director at Bloomberg Government. And what about the other agreements they had with, well, the other discussions they had with respect to Ukraine and Israel funding aid and also well, in the border and immigration thing, those were kind of tied together and they keep bouncing like billiard balls off the budget talks.

Loren Duggan It’s a tale of two chambers in the Senate. You have these talks going on between, um, James Lankford, the Republican from Oklahoma, and Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat. Of course, the cinemas there and other members are involved, too. They’ve been trying to come up with a package of immigration changes, border security provisions that can ride along with that Ukraine aid, as it’s been seen as tied to that. There was a lot of members who were there described as a productive meeting at the white House, where the congressional leaders, um, both the top leaders and then some of the leaders on Ukraine and other issues gathered at the white House. So, um, there had been some optimism of votes this week on some sort of package. We’ll be watching to see if that happens. Um, if we can line up all the support and if members are happy with what emerges. Because the other factor here is Donald Trump, um, who was the president and wants to be president again, hasn’t liked what he’s seen and has made some noises about it, which is, um, I think made some people uncomfortable. And then Mike Johnson has to get something through his conference, and they want a pretty tight version of this, um, like they passed last year. And we’ll have to see what they can and will support if, um, the Senate does emerge with some sort of deal.

Tom Temin Right. And surprisingly, the House is on recess again next week. It seems like they just got back from the holidays.

Loren Duggan Yeah. They had kind of set this schedule up and they had these dates for the CR for January 19th and February 2nd. This would have been a week in between then, even if they had met the January 19th deadline for some things. But, um, we’ll have to, you know, they’ll come back, and they’ll resume their agenda. A lot of these talks that are going on, though, can be handled by people over the phone in terms of agreeing to top line numbers for each of the spending bills and then maybe starting those talks in earnest.

Tom Temin Is there any other business before Congress? I mean, there was always a business before Congress. Even a so-called unproductive Congress has hundreds of bills and anything else we can anticipate being discussed. Nominees.

Loren Duggan Definitely nominees. There some on the floor this week for the Amtrak board of directors and committees are starting to fire up and deal with some of the nominees that were sent back to the white House and returned. Um, we’ll see some votes this week on those, including some for the State Department, the judicial nomination factories churning again at judiciary. , and then there’s this tax deal that was announced last week, bipartisan with the Ways and Means chairman, a Republican from Missouri and the Senate finance chairman, who’s a Democrat from Oregon with a pretty big deal on business tax breaks and the child tax credit. And we’ll see what’s happening with that. And as they try to build support, they’d really like to move that as soon as possible to try and influence this tax filing season. But um, it will remain to be seen where that rides and how it might get through. But that’s something we’ll be watching, especially after the action on that last week in committee.

Tom Temin And I was talking to one of the top whistleblower attorneys recently. And just the other day, Steve Kohn of Kohn Kohn Colapinto, he said, there’s a bunch of bills for whistleblower support that have bipartisan support that have been passed unanimously in one House or the other, one chamber or the other, but they never seem to quite make it into law. There’s a lot of stuff like that that they agree to that seems reasonably routine. Fixing up things and tightening up where policy needs to be tightened up. Why do those things never actually come out and get voted on and by both parties and go to the president? There’s that. Whistleblowers is just one example.

Loren Duggan Sometimes it’s floor time. Can you get these things over the line in the House? In the Senate, the House has mechanisms to deal with things quickly. The Senate, if everyone agrees, they can do it. But some of these bills, if one senator objects, it can be harder to do. And then you look for legislative vehicles. That’s one of the things we talk about a lot, a different bill that has to move, that becomes a place to put your bill, the spending bill coming up whenever it’s ready for March 1st or March 8th, that’ll be an attractive vehicle. NDAA is always a big one. This tax deal could be a vehicle or could itself be looking for one. So, a lot of it is who in leadership you can persuade to move your bill and when and where they might be willing to insert it so that it can get over the line in the finish line. But there are a lot of bills, bipartisan nature, that stall out at some point during the Congress and have to start over in the new one. So that is a fate for a lot of pieces of legislation.

Tom Temin Yeah, because normal people look at this and say, well, the Democrats are okay with it. The Republicans are okay with it. Vote on it. How long does that take? There’s a lot of machinery that people aren’t aware of, I guess.

Loren Duggan Yeah the process takes a while in the Senate. It can take ten, 11 days to move a bill, depending on how many procedural votes you need to take on it, so that that can really slow things down.

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