Will Congress get a budget deal done with only days before the first shutdown deadline?

Congress will encounter the first of two deadlines for avoiding a partial government shutdown.

The House returns to Washington on Wednesday. The Friday after that, Congress will encounter the first of two deadlines for avoiding a partial government shutdown. All this will be underway, as House leadership seems to be melting away. For an update, the Federal Drive with Tom Temin talked with WTOP Capitol Hill Correspondent Mitchell Miller.

Interview Transcript: 

Tom Temin The House returns to Washington on Wednesday. The Friday after that, this Friday, the first of two deadlines for avoiding a partial government shutdown. This as the ranks of House leadership seem to be melting away. We get an update from WTOP Capitol Hill correspondent Mitchell Miller. Could they have devised a shorter deadline for themselves and coming back?

Mitchell Miller You know, a lot of people are asking that very question, wondering why they took off for close to two weeks and then left themselves with only basically 72 hours to reach this agreement. And yet another avoiding yet another partial government shutdown. And while there has been some activity behind the scenes and the appropriators have been doing things, really people were just kind of scratching their heads at why this scheduling occurred this way, because they’ve really put themselves up against it once again. And a lot of people, both on the Republican and on the Democratic side, are just getting tired of these continuing resolutions. And now the fact that we’re headed into March and soon will actually be heading up right for the State of the Union address by the president, which is actually on March 7th. It’s just amazing that we’re going to be talking about the next fiscal year, while we still haven’t wrapped up the current fiscal year.

Tom Temin And agencies, I think, are starting to speak up a little bit more about the fact that continuing resolutions are not ideal for the planning and execution of vital programs that they’re charged with doing.

Mitchell Miller Right. And one of the big ones that we heard from in this past week was the Pentagon, which sometimes doesn’t really want to weigh in on a lot of these things, but it was pretty clear that they do not want yet another round of continuing resolutions, that they just feel that it just cuts into any kind of planning that military planners can do. One of the comments came from the Pentagon spokeswoman, Sabrina Singh, who says that they just can’t keep operating this way.

Sabrina Singh No amount of money can buy back the time we lose when we are forced to operate under continuing resolutions. If you add up the total time spent under a CR going back to 2011, we’ve spent nearly five years under CRs. That puts our national security at risk and prevents the department from modernizing.

Mitchell Miller And related to that. Military construction funding ends on March 1st, and then the funding for the rest of the Pentagon expires on March 8th. So, a lot of defense planners really upset, frankly, about this, that they are once again trying to move the proverbial aircraft carrier, almost literally, in this case, once again, to try to accommodate the fact that the Congress just can’t reach its deadlines.

Tom Temin You know, the military construction is a big issue because of the just deteriorating condition of so many facilities, and the backlog keeps growing and growing, I guess.

Mitchell Miller Right? I mean, that’s one of the areas that Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, for example, who was on the Senate Armed Services Committee, has worked really hard on the fact that he hears all the time about these deteriorating military facilities for the military men and women. And let’s face it, when you’re trying to recruit people into the various armed services, and then you can’t even provide decent housing for them when they’re under all these challenges and having to move from station to station, it’s really a big concern for a lot of people in the military and among members of Congress.

Tom Temin And speaking of the military, there is the whole Ukraine situation, which is really getting drawn out, dragged out here. What are the prospects? People are really scratching their heads at the United States in some ways, right.

Mitchell Miller This is a situation where people predicted a year ago that there would be some waning support for Ukraine. But I don’t think that a lot of people thought it would come to this head at this point. And we really saw this in the past week, all these forces coming together in the fact that you had the Munich Security Conference, where the lawmakers from the United States were getting an earful from their European colleagues saying, what are you actually going to do? You actually even had European leaders telling them that they were concerned about what kind of maneuvers that were going to happen in the U.S. House. That’s how closely it’s being followed overseas. And right now, it does appear that House speaker Mike Johnson is in a bit of a quandary, as he often is, because of that incredibly tight margin of error that he has. He’s got a hard-core group of people that do not want any aid to Ukraine, and then, in fact, have threatened to kick him out of the speakership if he brings up something on the floor. And then you have a much larger number of people who would like to actually approve aid for Ukraine. And then in the middle of all this, there’s actually a new proposal within the House from a bipartisan proposal that would scale back the amount of aid to Ukraine but make it primarily just military and then a variety of other things. But it would be a smaller package than the $95 billion package that’s already been passed by the Senate. And then, of course, you have a lot of proponents of that package who say, look, the House should just take this up. So right now, it’s a real tough situation. It’ll. Be interesting to see how Mike Johnson, who has kept the door slightly open to approving Ukraine aid, but he clearly would have to have a lot of support from Democrats in the House.

Tom Temin We’re speaking with Mitchell Miller, Capitol Hill correspondent for WTOP, and the back to the office tug of war back and forth keeps going on. Now, the IRS is the latest agency to try to get at least management back. I think they want them three out of the five days. And this is a concern of mostly Republicans also.

Mitchell Miller Right. And it’s again, like you said, this tug of war, they’re trying to get more and more of these people back. Now, of course, as you alluded to, this is only a limited number of Treasury Department and IRS officials basically in management. But it’s again, to try to at least show an example that here are some of the people that are going back. And for the rest of the people, you need to look at this example. As you said, they’re going to be required essentially to be back half of the time during any month. But this does not start until May 5th. So actually, after the latest tax season, but they really want to get a lot of these people back into these offices. And in this in this case, this will affect a lot of people here in the Washington area, including people that have telework agreements, as well as those who are working at IRS headquarters or in New Carrollton at the Federal Building. But it’s, again, it’s this big push. A lot of Republican lawmakers, as you mentioned, are still trying to get more and more people back into the offices. And, of course, not just the Treasury and IRS, but throughout the government to various agencies.

Tom Temin And we were talking about Speaker Johnson and whether he would retain his seat as speaker. The last one, Kevin McCarthy, was not only booted out of the speaker’s job, he left Congress right then and there. Right. And this is happening with a lot of House committee members. And you’ve been tracking the shrinking leadership going on there.

Mitchell Miller Right. It’s really interesting what’s happened. I mean, since Kevin McCarthy has left Congress, dozens of other Republicans as well as Democrats have decided they’ve had enough. And what’s interesting about that is many of the Republicans that are leaving are chairmen of major House committees. They include Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who’s the chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which, as you know, covers a very, very broad breadth of possible topics for investigations and hearings. And then you also had Mark Greene, the chair of the Homeland Security Committee, announcing he’s leaving right after, frankly, the vote related to the impeachment of Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas. And then at the top, you have House speaker Mike Johnson, who is very much in a precarious position. I think it’s fair to say, as members of Congress were leaving for their break, we spoke to a lot of them as they were heading out of the Capitol, and it’s clear that some of them are having buyer’s remorse about kicking out Kevin McCarthy, because for whatever problems that the GOP conference had, he was able, as one lawmaker said, to hold together the conference even with all these differences. Whereas once he left, as this lawmaker said, he essentially allowed it to have a crowbar to wide open, rip open all of these differences within the Republican conference. And we’re going to see more of that this week, because you still have the House Freedom Caucus who just says, we’re not really all that concerned about a government shutdown. And if it shuts down, hey, no big deal. And other parts of the conference who say this is a huge political liability for us, what we’re hearing is that a lot of people just don’t think House speaker Mike Johnson is leading the Republicans and is more kind of a follower in some respects, allowing them to air their grievances. But as much as they moan and groan about the fact that they don’t want to be pulled one way or the other, they do need some kind of leadership.

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