Lawmakers have just three weeks to make progress toward a number of priorities – including a major appropriations lift – before departing for their August recess.
Lawmakers return to Washington this week with a lengthy to-do list to work through before their August recess, headlined by an appropriations fight already off to a rocky start.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer outlined the upper chamber’s priorities in a letter to colleagues Sunday, highlighting about a dozen additional policy items that the chamber’s slim Democratic majority is expected to take on – from lowering prescription drug prices to modernizing federal aviation programs and addressing rail safety.
The New York Democrat acknowledged that the agenda is “ambitious,” posing an “uphill battle on many fronts” in the closely divided chamber, where lawmakers return Monday afternoon. But he expressed hopefulness about finding a path forward with Senate Republicans – especially as the massive spending fight looms.
Under a condition of the debt ceiling deal meant to incentivize lawmakers, Congress must approve all 12 appropriations bills by the end of the fiscal year – which hasn’t been accomplished on time in decades – or face 1% cuts to defense and nondefense spending across the board. With only weeks to reach an agreement after the August recess before the new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1, those spending fights are expected to gain steam in the days ahead.
But complicating the path forward is an agreement brokered during the latest standoff with House conservatives, where House appropriators agreed to cap spending well below the limits outlined in the debt ceiling deal. At the same time, the Senate is marking up appropriations bills at the levels agreed to in the debt ceiling deal. And other dynamics, like some Senate Republicans’ disappointment with the defense spending caps and efforts from Democrats to safeguard Biden’s programs threaten to complicate the process further.
Also on the agenda for the coming weeks is approving the National Defense Authorization Act, the annual defense policy bill that is already proving to be riddled with culture war landmines. House Republicans have eyed clean energy policies and policies aimed at making the military more inclusive, set on eliminating “wokeness.” But Democrats fiercely oppose the possible changes, complicating the bill’s path to passage. The House is expected to take up the legislation this week.
Congress also faces a deadline to approve a massive food and nutrition spending package known as the farm bill, which is set to expire at the end of September unless it’s granted a short-term extension. And it may come to that, after the drafting process was delayed by the drawn out debt ceiling fight.
Indeed, getting anything done under divided government is a difficult lift. And adding to the usual contours is a fractured House increasingly under the control of a powerful minority.
Since he gained the gavel, going a bruising 15 rounds of voting amid opposition from members of the party’s right flank, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has walked a tightrope with his conference, beholden to that small group of detractors, sometimes to the dismay of the the bulk of his conference.
Underlining the tensions was the ouster of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia from the conservative House Freedom Caucus in recent days, after she has repeatedly sided with GOP leadership in recent fights despite her conservative firebrand status. And that dynamic and divide is expected to continue rearing its head in the upcoming legislative fights.
Realistically, outside of the debt ceiling deal, the lower chamber with a slim Republican majority has shown little ability to pass substantive legislation thus far, opting for a slew of messaging bills with virtually no prospects in the upper chamber, or otherwise orienting their focus on inquiries and talk of impeachment efforts.
Those efforts have most recently been geared toward the FBI and Justice Department, after Donald Trump’s indictment and Hunter Biden’s plea deal. While McCarthy recently floated the idea of impeaching Attorney General Merrick Garland, FBI Director Christopher Wray is expected to be the main subject of GOP ire this week – set to appear before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.
On the Senate side, progress has likewise been stymied by absences or holdups from some lawmakers, like Sen. Tommy Tuberville, Alabama Republican, who has blocked all Pentagon promotions in opposition to the Defense Department’s abortion policy – a sticking point that will likely rear its head in the upcoming NDAA fight. At the same time, Democrats’ slim majority is complicated by a group of moderate lawmakers up for reelection in hotly contested states looking to stay in their constituents’ good graces, and the year to date has been without substantial legislation in the upper chamber as well.
With the lengthy summer to-do list, both chambers will need to flex legislative muscles that have gone largely unused outside of the debt ceiling fight in the coming weeks – or face major consequences.
Source : USNEWS