November 27, 2023
What to expect in Washington (November 27)
Congress returns from the Thanksgiving recess this week and, unusually, doesn't face a year-end deadline on government funding, which was extended through a two-step continuing resolution (CR) through January 19 for some spending and February 2 for the remainder. Still, appropriations work awaits, efforts continue on finding a deal to address tax and other items, and there is other year-end business, including:
The Senate reconvenes today (Monday, November 27) at 3 p.m., with a procedural vote related to a judicial nomination at 5:30 p.m. On Tuesday, November 28, the Finance Committee will hold an Open Executive Session to consider the nomination of former Maryland Governor (and Baltimore Mayor and presidential candidate) Martin O'Malley to be Commissioner of Social Security. In a November 26 Dear Colleague letter on the schedule, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) cited the national security supplemental and NDAA as business before the chamber and said, "Senators should be prepared to stay in Washington until we finish our work … Senators should expect long days and nights, and potentially weekends in December."
The House is back in session on Tuesday at 2 p.m. for legislative business, with votes postponed until 6:30 p.m. Republicans have gained a seat with the November 21 Utah special election victory of Celeste Maloy, making the ratio 222-213 and allowing them to lose four votes on any party-line bill.
Bills to be considered under the suspension calendar include a pair of pandemic-related measures from the Small Business Committee: H.R. 4666, to require the Small Business Administration IG to submit a quarterly report on fraud relating to COVID-19 loans, and the RECLAIM Taxpayer Funds Act (H.R. 4667), to require the SBA to issue guidance within 30 days after enactment to PPP borrowers and lenders on how to return unused loan amounts. Other legislation for consideration this week includes the Protecting our Communities from Failure to Secure the Border Act (H.R. 5283), a bill by Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-NY) to prohibit the use of Federal funds to provide certain immigration-related housing.
The Ways & Means Work & Welfare and Oversight subcommittees will hold a joint hearing on "Strengthening the Child Support Enforcement Program for States and Tribes" on Wednesday, November 29 at 2 p.m.
Supplemental — Leader Schumer's letter said: "One of the most important tasks we must finish is taking up and passing a funding bill to ensure we as well as our friends and partners in Ukraine, Israel, and the Indo-Pacific region have the necessary military capabilities to confront and deter our adversaries and competitors … These national security priorities are interrelated and demand bipartisan Congressional action. That's why I intend to bring the President's national security supplemental package to the floor as soon as the week of December 4th."
The House has passed an Israel-only national security supplemental measure with $14.5 billion in aid and an equal amount in IRS funding rescissions. Senators of both parties support including Ukraine funding in the bill. Republicans have demanded border security measures that were initially met with resistance from Democratic leaders, though that issue has apparently been the subject of some bipartisan negotiation. "Negotiations between Democrats and Republicans have continued through the Thanksgiving holiday," Senator Schumer said.
On CBS News' Face the Nation November 26, Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) said, "We've got to get the Ukraine funding done as part of this package. We've got to get the Israel funding done, humanitarian funding done, and the funding for Southeast Asia as well. There are some Republicans who have said that in order to do that, in order to have that vote, they want to see something done on the border. And I think we have had good conversations over the last several days, and before that, trying to see if we can get to some sort of solution."
FAA — The House has passed its FAA bill, but the Senate FAA bill was grounded during a June Commerce Committee markup because of a dispute over language regarding pilot training. Politico reported November 22 that "there's been little movement on the issue since" and "lawmakers from both parties and aviation industry representatives say another extension into 2024 is likely." Some lawmakers have cited an FAA bill as a possible vehicle for a tax package.
Appropriations — House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) has vowed that Congress will not rely on another continuing resolution (CR) when funding runs out in January and February. The House has approved seven of the 12 annual appropriations bills. Prior to the Thanksgiving break, conservatives helped scuttle floor consideration of two regular-order appropriations bills, Commerce-Justice-Science and Labor-HHS-Education, in protest of the mid-November CR. Several Freedom Caucus members voted against the Commerce-Justice-Science rule November 15, joined by some Republicans from New York swing districts who opposed health restrictions and law enforcement spending cuts in the bill.
The Labor-HHS bill was not put to a vote before the break, as leaders acknowledged that spending cuts made it difficult to advance the bill. At the behest of conservatives, House appropriations bills seek to drop spending to FY2022 levels ($1.47 trillion) and include controversial policy riders, making it difficult for Republicans in Biden-won swing states to support them.
"Intraparty differences will make the [appropriations] process incredibly difficult. Republicans believe three of the five remaining bills may be able to pass once changes are made, but proposals funding the Agriculture Department — usually the least controversial bill — and Labor and Health and Human Services are riddled with provisions that vulnerable Republicans representing swing districts could never support," said a report in the November 20 Washington Post. The story said Speaker Johnson has, at the request of House appropriators, requested clarity on whether the $1.59 trillion number will be adhered to despite Senate bills exceeding that, perhaps in recognition that the House may need to come up from $1.47 trillion.
The Senate has passed three of the dozen spending bills as a single minibus that required lengthy consideration. Senators of both parties want FY2024 spending to be held to FY2023 levels of $1.59 trillion as prescribed by the Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA), though that level is exceeded in some cases. Senate Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Susan Collins (R-ME) has discussed combining four bills in the next package: Labor-HHS, Defense, Energy & Water, and Commerce-Justice-Science.
"Johnson's decision to debate, amend and pass each individual appropriation bill pleased conservatives by avoiding the end-of-year megadeals that Congress has typically used to jam through spending packages favored by party leaders just before Christmas. Republicans say the approach gives them a chance to properly scrutinize each bill under the path that Congress hasn't taken for more than a decade," the Wall Street Journal reported. "But it also means the speaker must now corral his conference multiple times by early next year, and the deep internal divisions haunting the GOP allow for little agreement over how best to pass many of the measures."
Below is a table on the status of the appropriations bills.
Another deadline is the FRA provision under which there will be temporary caps at 99% of current funding levels (FY2023) if all 12 appropriations bills are not passed by January 1 of either 2024 or 2025, respectively, though the technical sequester enforcement mechanism related to the funding reduction doesn't take effect until April 30. A Congressional Research Service report updated November 8 said a sequester order would be issued on April 30 and the FRA "states that the revised limits would revert to the original FRA limits if full-year appropriations were enacted before April 30."