Congress takes a breather with many plates spinning in the air

Congress is on recess this week, as the summer season gets underway. Yet on the House side, appropriations work is well on the way.

Congress is on recess this week, as the summer season gets underway. Yet on the House side, appropriations work is well on the way. And you can expect a floor vote on an equally important bill as soon as next week. For an update, the Federal Drive with Tom Temin spoke with Bloomberg Government Deputy News Director Loren Duggan.

Interview Transcript:  

Loren Duggan This is just the one-week traditional Memorial Day recess. The big activity will be the concert. And then from there on, it’ll just be quiet on the hill as they get ready for what looks to be a very busy June.

Tom Temin Right. And the as we talked about earlier, the appropriations process is kind of under way, at least with the Republican side of the House.

Loren Duggan That’s right. They have begun the process and laid out an ambitious plan to have everything through the House by their August recess. And that is over the next five or so weeks, getting all the bills through committee and then beginning the week of June 3rd, starting on the floor with the Military construction VA bill, which was one of the less controversial, and then barreling through those as well to try and get them all, at least out of the chamber, potentially in the Senate’s hands, and begin the discussion on, you know, how to conference them and come up with a final plan. But as we saw last year, just because you get a bill out of committee doesn’t mean it could get through the floor. Given the tight margins Republicans still have in the House.

Tom Temin Yeah. That’s right. And just a point on that military construction that sounds routine and mundane, but the military has billions and billions and billions in backlog of construction and maintenance and repair of shipyards and so forth. Is that at all reflected, as far as we can tell, that need at this point?

Loren Duggan It’s one of the areas where there’s agreement, I think, to spend a little bit more $18 billion for that. And that covers everything from construction at military facilities here and in places like Guam outside the mainland U.S. and it’s for family housing and also for some other international commitments. So that’s an area where they are spending some money. And then the Veterans Affairs Department, another area where there’s often growth and some of that mandatory spending. And there’s also this where they give a year in advance funding there. But, you know, there’s still room for some disagreement and policy writers, which is, I think, where some of the fights could be even on something like Milken. Yeah.

Tom Temin And there’s also movement on the National Defense Authorization Act for 2025. Again, they do that one before appropriations in general, but there’s already movement there.

Loren Duggan There is the House Committee before leaving for the recess, voted 5701. I think it was to send that out to the full House. And they’re looking for a floor vote on that the week of June 10th. And what we’ll also see the week of June 10th, possibly, is the Senate marking up its bill so that one is moving along? If you’re looking for a theme through all of this, though, it’s, you know, a small increase, at least for defense funding where there seems to be some agreement. What do you do on the non-defense side, and what do you do about policy writers? Because in both of these bills, there’s a lot around eye and what to do with, critical race theory has come up in those bills, both the spending bills and the authorization bills and some of the Pentagon’s policies as well. So, both, you know, both bills are moving, but there’s controversy ahead, potentially.

Tom Temin I guess if they really want to make it up, they could throw in schedule F, which the OPM has a new rule about. But some lawmakers would like to see that in law. But that’s another one of those black and white issues. Republican Democratic issues.

Loren Duggan That’s right. And we might not see action on that, although there’s always an opportunity to offer an amendment on these bills or if, House Republicans want to do a bill or Senate Democrats can get the higher majority, do something they might, but, not aware of anything quite yet. But those things do pop up, as you say.

Tom Temin And what about the farm bill? That’s kind of important and always can be a sticking point each year.

Loren Duggan That is that’s a once every five-year type of bill. The House Agriculture Committee got its version out before leaving for the recess, I think early on the Friday morning. What we’re seeing there is, not a pretty Partizan line, bill. So far. That’s a bill that does unite rural and urban lawmakers just because of the different provisions that are in there, and it covers both crop insurance and nutrition programs and things like that. The cuts that are in there and how you’re going to pay for things are some of the sticking points. Snap, the former food stamp program that’s administered differently now, there are some proposed cuts to that, which could be a sticking point as it moves forward, and we’ll have to see how that gets resolved. It’s one of those things that, Debbie Stabenow in the Senate is the Senate agriculture chair retires after this year, may want to push to get that done while she still has the gavel. But anything that gets through on that is going to have to be bipartisan just because of the split in Congress and the administration.

Tom Temin We’re speaking with Lauren Duggan, deputy news director at Bloomberg. Government and technology regulation seems to be the technology’s moving faster than Congress these days with AI coming into this field. And nobody knows what’s going to happen with that in terms of regulation. But yet there is privacy, technology, social media talk. What’s the latest?

Loren Duggan Yeah, there’s been a lot on the Hill. And a couple of weeks ago there was the plan that came out from Chuck Schumer, the majority leader in the Senate, along with, two Republicans, Todd Young and Mike rounds, and that a Democrat, Martin Heinrich, with their framework to try to think about how committee should approach legislation spending. $32 billion a year in nondefense dollars to try and help the whole of government approach to this. And they’re slower there. But what they’re also seeing is states doing a lot on AI, including the Colorado governor, signed a pretty wide-ranging bill that even as he did, he said, I think this goes farther than it needs to, and we should talk about this more. And the federal government needs to get involved here. So, there’s pressure on AI. There’s some deal making on privacy legislation with Republican Cathy McMorris Rodgers in the House. And then, Maria Cantwell, a Democrat in the Senate, coming together on a bill that’s pretty wide ranging as well. And that’s gone through subcommittee in the House. And we’ll see if there’s traction there. So, there’s a lot of pressure to do something here. Technology is in everybody’s lives and there’s a lot of fears and opportunities seen. So, I do think this is one of those bright spots so that people can line up, get together and maybe kit in rooms and talk about how to do this. There is an opportunity. And then one last thing is section 230, which is this tech liability shield. There’s even a bipartisan an agreement among two top house people to maybe sunset that in like a year and a half. And that would force Congress to maybe come back to the table and figure out what to do about the tech liability shield that internet companies have. So, a lot happening there. Our tech reporter is certainly very busy, covering all these things.

Tom Temin That protection then is shield some of the media mediums for what is said by the media that might be using that transmission medium.

Loren Duggan Right. It’s a little bit of protection for them so that if you know somebody goes off on your platform, you’re not necessarily held responsible. But there’s a lot that goes into that and some concerns about how that might be exploited or used. And there’s bipartisan agreement that maybe something needs to be done, but I don’t think it’s clear what that next thing would be yet. But forcing action. As we know, deadlines drive action in Congress. They would create a deadline that would potentially force that action.

Tom Temin And getting back to the AI issue, it’s interesting that they’re talking about some form of regulation of that, even as it is still emerging and still is a potential for trillions of dollars in economic value, if you believe some of the estimates. Whereas for social media, for example, those platforms, some of them were around for 20 years before Congress.

Loren Duggan Noticed, right? Since Congress is often behind and they don’t you know, there’s a lot of people who don’t want to do any harm by putting something in today that restricts future growth or development. But there are concerns about AI, and where there is even consensus around curtailing AI and deepfakes in elections. We’ve seen some talk about that on a bipartisan basis to prevent ads being made that, you know, manipulate the president’s voice or pretend to be Donald Trump or something like that, so that there are these areas of concern, but also they don’t want to stifle opportunity because, like you say, there’s a lot of potential economic impact from AI across industries.

Tom Temin And by the way, to speaker Mike Johnson of the House, looked like he’s pretty much in the job now for a while.

Loren Duggan The and pleasantness around the last Marjorie Taylor Greene effort to oust him, which was killed pretty quickly. There doesn’t seem to be any repeat of that coming. He’s got a new member showing up because Kevin McCarthy’s replacement, Allen California, was elected, will be sworn in. So have one more seat. 218 people on his side. And they’re going to focus on all these issues we just been talking about, at least for now.

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