Congress has gotten past the foreign aid argument, or at least its leader has

So Speaker Mike Johnson has pushed through some of the foreign aid that many in his own party were against.

So Speaker Mike Johnson has pushed through some of the foreign aid that many in his own party were against. Will it cost him in the long run? Congress is also considering a lot of federal agency budgets, as they hear testimony from their leaders. For an update, Federal News Network’s Eric White talked with WTOP Capitol Hill Correspondent Mitchell Miller on the Federal Drive with Tom Temin. 

Interview Transcript: 

Eric White All right. So yeah, let’s get the lay of the land here of you know, exactly what Speaker Johnson was able to accomplish with a lot of help from the other side of the aisle.

Mitchell Miller Right. This is a very unusual situation, as you well know, for months, House Speaker Johnson really put off this decision that happened over the weekend, trying to figure out a way to walk this political tightrope with his conservative conference and a lot of opposition, frankly, to the aid to Ukraine. Initially, he really barely talked about it at all publicly. And then he really did a 180 last week and talked about it in really more traditional Republican ways. He talked about the fact that he needed that the United States needed to step up to this historic moment, that the U.S. needs to provide more military assistance. He said. He actually went into the briefings and went into the skiff to actually get the intelligence on this, and he encouraged other Republicans to do so, knowing that many would still oppose aid to Ukraine. But many people here in Congress think that this was a real moment, frankly, for House speaker Mike Johnson, that he decided to pull away from all of the indecision that happened over the last few months and just decide to go forward. And as he said, let the chips fall where they may. And he knows that this does not allow him a lot of wiggle room here in the conference, because there is still that sort of Damocles hanging over his head that they could have the motion to vacate and still potentially oust him. But there is also a number of Republicans that just don’t want to bring upon more chaos within the conference.

Eric White Yeah. And the timing of it, not just, you know, the timing overall, the timing of the week that he decided to pull this maneuver, I think that warrants some discussion as well. You know, he knew that he was kind of in between a rock and a hard place. So why not do it on a Friday? Right.

Mitchell Miller Right. So, they decided to bring up all these bills up separately. And that was another big thing for his GOP conference. They do not like these big omnibuses, these big packages coming together. They want to take them discreetly. And that allowed him to get some political room within the Republican conference to allow this to happen. Now, you could argue that, at least from the Senate side, essentially all of this is the same pretty much as the Senate approved a couple of months ago. He did allow several other issues to be brought up in connection with these bills, and I think that allowed him, again, some of this political wiggle room within his conference. But it’s certainly something that the Congress here has been waiting on for months, and it didn’t allow many of them to move forward with a lot of other issues. Now, the Senate will have to figure out exactly how it’s going to navigate all of this.

Eric White Not to stay on this, but just wanted to know if there were any reactions from those within his own party that weren’t going to be happy about this move pretty much either way. Have they been saying anything about that sort of Damocles you talked about?

Mitchell Miller Right. There’s definitely this sector of the Republican Conference, the House Freedom Caucus in particular, that has made it very clear that they were absolutely in opposition to this. But others on the more moderate side of the conference said, look, they are not going to be happy no matter what you do. Speaking to Speaker Johnson. And so, he basically made a political calculation that, all right, I’m going to have to make a break. And he’s been with these conservatives for a long time when he was in the rank and file. But now he’s in a very different position. He has to lead the party, such as it is, even though it only has, as he points out many times, that it has the smallest majority really in modern history. So, these conservatives are going to continue to rail against him. Some of them. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, for example, has basically called him a Democrat and said he’s no better than Nancy Pelosi, the former House speaker. So, there is going to be some angst and turmoil within the Republican Party, to be sure, moving forward.

Eric White Learning about what leadership in Washington is all about right in front of us. We’re speaking with WTOP Capitol Hill correspondent Mitchell Miller, speaking of leadership in Washington. A lot of agency leaders were on the Hill this week discussing some of the budgetary items and what they need going forward. One of them, in particular, the IRS, which is always a contentious fight for dollars with that agency. How did that hearing go right?

Mitchell Miller IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel, speaking before the Senate Finance Committee, essentially said, you’ve shown me the money and now I’m showing you results. He’s telling lawmakers that he really wants billions of additional dollars to continue this modernization effort within the IRS. Now, of course, there’s been a lot of scary. Republicans as well as some Democrats about what this money would do. But essentially, before the finance Committee, he outlined a variety of factors that show that the money is literally paying off. They are getting more people on the phone to get help. Considerably more. You go back to the pandemic, only about 15% of the callers were getting through. Now it’s close to 90%. And he said that’s made a big difference. And then they’re continuing this modernization effort, with all their old IT issues. And he says if Congress can continue to keep the money flowing, and he says the agency is only requesting basically a flat budget for 2025, just over $12 billion, that that will help the agency considerably. Now, the Biden administration has also called on Congress to reverse the $20 billion that was cut from the IRS in the Inflation Reduction Act. We’ll have to see what happens there. But the IRS did make a pretty strong case last week that a lot of money that is has been approved will also provide more revenue going forward in the years ahead. Obviously, as you alluded to, there’s generally some skepticism about what the IRS can do and not do. But I think this, was a little bit of a victory lap for the IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel.

Eric White A similar tune being sung by David Borkowski, head of the Transportation Security Administration, saying, hey, you know, look what happens when you actually give me the funding I need.

Mitchell Miller Right. As you well know, the TSA has had a lot of issues in connection with morale. And one of the biggest ones, of course, relates to pay. And what Borkowski told the House Appropriations subcommittee last week is that this provision that allows them to essentially get into the system, along with federal workers, before they weren’t allowed to get the type of pay increases that the average federal worker was going to get, because when they established the TSA after nine over 11, they were essentially siloed into a different system. So, it’s been gradually, improved and changed over the years. And essentially what he said is, you know, you give these employees more money, more security, and they are going to stay at the TSA. The TSA, as you’re aware, has had major problems with a lot of people who just leave after a very short time of employment. And he said, what this is allowed the TSA to do is keep people within the agency and actually start to promote them. And he’s just urging Congress, to provide more money and just keep the dollars flowing.

Eric White Speaking of the nation’s airways, the FAA is also in need of a reauthorization. And it actually brings up a concerning point for a local story that I’m sure WTOP is all over regarding Reagan National Airport. What can you tell us about that?

Mitchell Miller This is a really interesting issue. Last week, there was a near miss at Reagan National Airport. Two aircraft, one from JetBlue and one from Southwest Airlines, were basically taxiing down the runway. And you can actually hear the fear in the voice of one of the air traffic controllers telling one of the aircraft to stop. We reported on this, and it has caused a big stir in Congress, because there is this continuing argument about what is going to happen with the number of slots and the additional flights at Reagan National. And there’s been a real fight within Congress once again over this issue. And immediately after this came about, many of the lawmakers from Virginia in particular, including Gerry Connolly in the House and on the Senate side, Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner issued statements saying this is another example of why they do not believe that more flights should be added to Reagan National. They have continually pointed out that Reagan National is perhaps the busiest airport in terms of the amount of air traffic that it gets, just because it just doesn’t have a lot of runway space. And so, the FAA authorization has been stretched out over the last few months. It’s coming up again in May. So, you can bet that this is going to be cited once again, as this argument just goes back and forth over and over again to determine whether or not the Reagan National will get more flights.

Eric White Yeah. And just finishing up here, can we briefly talk about how crucial Reagan National is for the operation of Congress itself? You know, I imagine a lot of representatives needed to get to and fro back and forth between their districts in here.

Mitchell Miller Right. And the real pressure has come from lawmakers, not surprisingly, who are from outside the area, many of them, particularly in the West and the central parts of the country, including Texas. They point out that they have to drive, potentially, and their constituents have to drive hours to get to an airport and then fly to Washington, D.C., for example, if they have to do business here. And they argue that it’s really not adding that much air traffic to the overall operations at Reagan National. But as you’re aware, around here in the delegation of Virginia and Maryland as well as D.C., there has been a real pushback about trying to. Add these flights. Also, the airlines, some of the airlines want to add the flights to. Obviously it creates more revenue. So, we’ll have to see what happens. But I think this is going to be an ongoing struggle.

Copyright © 2024 Federal News Network. All rights reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

Related Stories

    Peter MusurlianDustin Brown

    This career federal-management policy guy, takes over one of the biggest management challenges in government

    Read more