With foreign aid approved, Congress turns to federal agencies

Now with the issue of giving money to U.S. allies in the rear-view mirror, Congress can start work on appropriations for 2025.

Now with the issue of giving money to U.S. allies in the rear-view mirror, Congress can return to the task of dishing out cash to federal agencies, as lawmakers are finally able to start work on appropriations for the 2025 fiscal year. However, there are still some rumblings from with the Republican Party that Speaker Mike Johnson may have to worry about down the line. To get an update from Capitol Hill, Federal News Network’s Eric White talked with Maeve Sheehey, Congressional Reporter with Bloomberg Government on the Federal Drive with Tom Temin.

Interview Transcript 

Eric White Oh, of course. So those appropriations are finally going to start happening after all the squabbling has finished up, and they can finally get back to business. Is that the case?

Maeve Sheehey Well, we’ll definitely be able to start working on them. It’s kind of interesting that we’re talking about 2025 appropriations bills starting right now, because it’s midway through 2024, and we just finished the 2024 funding bills. So, it’s an interesting place for Congress to be in. And you’ll remember that last time Congress tried to get all 12 appropriations bills done didn’t go great. They ended up in too many busses, and there were a lot of fights within the GOP about things like the mifepristone rider, for example, and other kind of social issues that got tacked on. So, there’s really no reason to believe that won’t also happen for 2025 appropriations bills. And given that they run out at the end of September, we’re probably looking at another continuing resolution at some point.

Eric White Yeah. And with these, you know, some lawmakers being up for election, and they want to really highlight those social issues. Are there any sort of ones that you know may be right out in front? Are we going to see another hold up of defense promotions, things of that nature?

Maeve Sheehey There could be for sure. I mean, now that the Ukraine funding has passed, that kind of foreign aid, has a lot of issues within the conference. But now that issue has got away. So, Republicans will need to work on other issues that they want to kind of campaign on. There are some so-called culture wars that could be tacked on, like with LGBTQ rights. With abortion, that’s a big one. But what you’ll see, which is really interesting, is that even while more conservative House lawmakers are trying to get these front and center in appropriations bills, the more moderate Republicans don’t really want that to be part of this because, there are a lot of them are in competitive districts. So, if they want to win to Democrats and win over some independent voters, they probably don’t want abortion to be front and center.

Eric White Yeah. And they those moderate Republicans may have to look to the other side of the aisle again for some help. It’s not going to be the case in making sure that business continues as usual for government agencies.

Maeve Sheehey It certainly could be, to get some sort of continuing resolution done that probably can’t be done with just Republican votes, because you do have this kind of right flank of the Republican Party in the House that is just very conservative and very against continuing resolutions, or CRs as they’re called around here, and they don’t want any stopgap funding. And so, we could be headed for a government shutdown if there can’t be some sort of bipartisan compromise to keep the government open.

Eric White Don’t say government shutdown. I don’t need those hours that much. And I’m sure you don’t either.

Maeve Sheehey No, I mean, we got kind of close to them a few times in the past year. So, in September we might be looking at that again.

Eric White We’re speaking with Mave Sheehy. She is a House reporter for Bloomberg Government, and another program that Congress is going to have to deal with, the Affordable Connectivity Program. You may or may not have heard of it, and it kind of spans all parts of the country as it is. Internet subsidies for low-income households, whether in the city or especially out in rural areas. What can you tell me about what is happening there?

Maeve Sheehey Yes. So, the FCC had requested about $6 billion from for Congress to appropriate so that they could keep this program running. It helps a lot of people. It’s, it reaches about 23 million households across the country. And in some states, like in Louisiana, 1 in 3 households are directly benefited from it basically gives them a discount on their internet. And it’s really popular among providers. If you look at lobbying reports, you’ll see that Verizon, Comcast, AT&T, they all spent money to lobby on this issue in the past quarter because they it benefits them when people can get high speed internet basically. But the funds will run out this week at the end of the month. So, at the end of April is what, the FCC has said. And so, unless Congress can act really quickly, which, as we’ve seen, does not necessarily happen in this Congress, there will be, a lapse. So, a lot of households will be looking at higher internet bills. Some people might not be able to pay their internet bills. And obviously, in this kind of modern era where so many things are virtual, that’s going to be a really big problem for people.

Eric White Is it more of just a procedural hurdle that this program is facing, or are there some principled stances being taken on as far as, you know, the actual basis of the program?

Maeve Sheehey So if you look at a bill that would extend the program the most, the majority of Congress is signed on. So, a lot of Republicans are in favor of this, especially Republicans in competitive districts who, you know, maybe some of their voters actually benefit from this. But then on the right, the far right of the GOP, you see some people saying that. I want the program to sunset because they see it as kind of corporate welfare. They see it benefiting like Verizon and AT&T and Comcast. And their argument is that if the program is allowed to end, then these companies won’t be getting kind of kickbacks, and they’ll end up passing along lower costs for internet to the consumer. There’s a big divide within the House GOP about that, which is pretty interesting to watch. And Mike Johnson will need to navigate that, because if he does decide to put a bill on the floor, that would extend the program. He’s going to have some people from the right of his party who are not too happy with it.

Eric White Other than, you know, the FCC reporting on what’s going to happen. And has the agency said anything about the potential impact if this does not come to fruition?

Maeve Sheehey The agency is trying really hard to get Congress to extend this. It’s something that they’ve said is really important to closing the digital divide. I mean, we saw after Covid that a lot of people do not have high speed internet or don’t have internet access at all. And so, the FCC has kind of built this as a really important part of the Biden administration’s efforts to get people online so that they can go to work or go to school or go to telehealth appointments or something like that.

Eric White Gotcha. All right. And you had talked about it a little bit there in your previous answer, as far as speaker Mike Johnson having to navigate these tricky waters within his own party. You know, he got past the argument whether or not Israel and Ukraine should receive the funding from the U.S. government, but he may have not come out of that unscathed. What could he be seeing down the line as far as more agitation from within his own party?

Maeve Sheehey Yeah. So, there are three members currently who are advocating for an ouster. They want to force navigate, which you’ll remember is what Matt Gaetz did to Kevin McCarthy is no longer speaker. So, we’ve seen how that goes. But there are three members of the party who are publicly calling for Mike Johnson to be ousted. And if they put that on the floor for a vote, then it will come down to whether Democrats join them or not. Democrats joined to oust McCarthy, but they also had like years of trust issues, whereas with Johnson, he’s more of a blank slate. And some Democrats have said that they’d be willing to save him. You know, if they can move forward as sort of a bipartisan governing coalition as minority Leader Jeffries likes to say. So, if Johnson is bailed out by Democrats, that also puts him in an interesting situation because there are a lot more members in his party who would see that as kind of a betrayal. They don’t want to work across the aisle.

Eric White Yeah. You talked a little bit about how it happened last time for Kevin McCarthy. Could we start to maybe see any rule changes from the next Congress as far as selecting a speaker or having these votes come forward? You know, could we see that you may be required to have more support before even bringing this to the House floor, just because of how this is kind of holding things up now of Congress actually getting anything done.

Maeve Sheehey Absolutely. So last Congress, when Pelosi was speaker, there was a higher threshold for the amount of members who needed to bring this motion to vacate to the floor. And then when Kevin McCarthy was trying to win the speaker vote way back last year, he needed to make some tough deals with hardline conservatives in his party so that they would vote for him. And one of those deals was that just one member could bring the motion to vacate to the floor. And as we’ve seen over the past year, that has caused huge turmoil in the House. So, we have basically a small group of members that could unseat the speaker, theoretically, because there’s such a tight margin in the House. The next Congress. I definitely think that we’ll have at least a very concentrated group of people trying to push for a higher threshold. So just one member could not necessarily derail a party like this. And there was actually some talk a couple of weeks ago where more mainstream members of the Republican Party were saying, hey, maybe we can change this now. And there were maybe like three hours where Johnson seemed to be considering it. And then he very publicly tweeted that they wouldn’t be changing those rules because he said they don’t have a majority of the House that would approve that rules change.

Eric White Yeah, and it’s almost like he’d be getting rid of the rule that is the reason why he’s in that position anyway, right?

Maeve Sheehey Yeah. It would be tough politically for him for sure. And also, might not be workable to actually get across the floor.

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