What Congress will face when it returns from Easter recess

Congress is out on recess now. Still they have got issues to deal with, including some "local" ones, like how to fund the a replacement bridge in Baltimore.

Congress is out on recess now, so some might surmise that nothing too horrible can happen. But, still, they have got issues to deal with, including some “local” ones, like how to fund the a replacement bridge in Baltimore. And, there are some global issues, like aid to Ukraine. For a rundown on all things Congress, the Federal Drive with Tom Temin spoke with Bloomberg Government Deputy News Director Loren Duggan.

Interview Transcript: 

Tom Temin And that seems to be the mode nowadays, even though they’re on recess. The verbal and political action never quite stops, does it?

Loren Duggan It doesn’t. And sometimes it’s issues that are carrying over. And as you noted, now they have a new thing to deal with. With the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in the Baltimore area and the effects that will have on shipping and all sorts of things. So, although it’s a local bridge collapse. It’s definitely something that has a national and global impact business wise, given that things can’t move in and out of that port right now. So, Congress will be continuing to talk about a potential solution to that. And, you know, as they get back a week from now, we’ll see if that’s turned into legislation or how that might proceed.

Tom Temin Yeah, I mean, that was pretty quick for the administration. I think it was to say the government will pay for the new bridge. And that came, as I say, suddenly. But Congress has to agree to that. Correct.

Loren Duggan There’s some money that the Department can send over. I think they sent 60 million over last week that Secretary Pete Buttegieg announced there are some emergency programs and pools of money they can tap into. But the amount of money that it’s going to take for a project like that will most likely require some legislation, as we saw many years ago with the I-35w bridge. When that collapsed in Minnesota, there was a supplemental appropriation for that. So, we might be looking at a similar approach to the bridge in the Baltimore area.

Tom Temin And there will probably be hearings. It keeps saying it collapsed. I keep saying it was knocked over. So, it didn’t just suddenly give up the ghost and plunge itself into the river. But nevertheless, there will be hearings on probably bridge design and whether you can put bumpers to keep ships from banging into the uprights and that kind of thing.

Loren Duggan Right? I mean, there’s a lot of civil engineering groups that talk all the time about the challenges facing U.S. infrastructure. And then you have an incident like this, and everybody focuses on it again. So, I think we’re probably heading to one of those moments where there will be a lot of attention on bridges all across the U.S.. I mean, this is one of thousands of bridges in the country. This one had a unique incident. Happened to it, obviously, but I wouldn’t be shocked if we have a series of hearings, both about bridges in general and this one in specific.

Tom Temin Yeah, it’s been more than 40 years since a ship knocked down a bridge in the United States that was on the West Coast, and there was, of course, aid also Ukraine. This just does not stop buzzing, does it?

Loren Duggan It doesn’t. And, you know, some of what we were looking for is to wrap up the fiscal 2024 regular bills. And we had that right before the recess, down to the wire and maybe even technically over it. With the Senate acting on that Saturday morning to clear the bills. But this will be the top spending question as well on people’s mind when they come back. What to do? The Senate has passed its package. Send it over. There’s been some reluctance to take that up. There is a bipartisan proposal from Brian Fitzpatrick with a mix of Ukraine and Israel, money, and border provisions. So, we’ll see if either of those has traction. There will be growing pressure to do something, but also pressure from within the conference not to do something. As we saw with Marjorie Taylor Greene filing her motion to vacate the speakership after the passage of the spending package there. So, there’s a lot of dynamics that will be buffeting Speaker Johnson as he plots, of course, here. But, you know, there will be calls, certainly, to do something about this in the coming weeks.

Tom Temin Right? He may personally be inclined to want to give aid to Ukraine, but as you say, members of that caucus, including the ones that quick to vacate button, are not. So, he’s still got this political weirdness that he’s in.

Loren Duggan He does have political awareness and kind of a procedural thicket to work through because getting a bill to the floor, you know, we talk about discharge petitions, which is rarely used and rarely successful. You know, he might be looking at other ways to do this. So, we’ll be watching this very closely, because as they get closer to coming back, there will be talk about, so what are we doing when we get here. So, we’ll be monitoring that over the recess.

Tom Temin Yeah. And this as Vlad the Impaler over there in Russia keeps trying to knock down apartment buildings in Ukraine. We’re speaking with Lauren Dugan, deputy news director at Bloomberg Government. There are some issues for the federal government itself, the trial and that Chuck Schumer was talking about that on TV on Friday of DHS Secretary Mayorkas. And that’s going to be a little bit of a circus, maybe when they get back.

Loren Duggan Yeah, that pause button was hit on that after the House adopted their articles of impeachment. There are two of them to get that trial started. What Speaker Johnson said last week was that he’s looking to send those over when they come back around April 10th or 11th May get that going. So, what we’ll see is the House will at least formally bring those over and announce the charges, and the senators will likely be sworn in as jurors. But we’ll see what happens there. If it’s an actual trial, they could maybe even vote on dismissing it. Some Republicans want to go forward with the trial and try to weigh the evidence that’s going to be laid out by the House, so we’ll see something on that in that first comeback week.

Tom Temin That’ll be interesting, because you know what the outcome will be in the Senate because the Democrats are in control of the Senate just as the impeachment votes against President Trump. When the Republicans had the Senate.

Loren Duggan Right. And, you know, I don’t know if we’ll see any Democratic defections on any of those votes. Obviously, we saw one on one of the Trump trials and more than that on the second Trump trial. But this is going to be a largely party line decision anyhow, and it takes two thirds to remove somebody in this process. And it seems extremely unlikely that would be happening.

Tom Temin And a couple of issues just in general government that were left out when they did finally get those appropriations bill for fiscal 2024. There’s a FISA court deadline.

Loren Duggan Expiring provisions of the FISA law, which deals with electronic surveillance. Those lapsed April 19th. And there’s been a lot of difficulty in figuring out a path forward here. And it’s one that, unlike the partisanship we’ve talked about on some of these other issues, there’s sort of a group of Republicans and Democrats on both sides of this issue, more establishment folks and more of the civil libertarians’ side as well and trying to figure out a path forward on that. What to do with warrant requirements could be tricky. The deadline on that is April 19th. We’ll see if they can work out something there, or if, you know, the administration will seek some other options on that. And then there’s the FAA with an early May deadline. That’s the authorization. So, it has its funding, but it also needs authorization law. And they need the tickets and the spending authority from the trust fund in place on that. So, a May 10th deadline of working out that piece of legislation.

Tom Temin Yes. Because the FAA itself is still kind of busy these days. It still has Boeing related issues, among others, that it’s dealing with. And these are long term issues. And I think a few structural problems are possible issues within the FAA itself.

Loren Duggan Yes, definitely. And those matters could be dealt with here. You know, pilot training has been one of the discussion points here. There are grant programs in that legislation, the airport improvement program, and other things like that. And then this could be a place to deal with some Boeing related matters if they wanted to. They made some progress but need to get that bill over the finish line. We’ll see if they can do it.

Tom Temin And then there is the white House 2025 appropriation request, which landed with its usual thud before the break. And then they’ll maybe take that up in some manner.

Loren Duggan Well, they’ll start the process or continue at some of the committees started holding hearings right after that landed on their desk. And we’ll probably see more of the agency and department heads go up and defend what they’ve asked for. The process. Of course, September 30th isn’t that far away. That’s when they need to do something. They’ll probably extend current funding and then deal with this after the election. But they want to make progress on bills at some point this year.

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