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February 5, 2024

What to expect in Washington (February 5)

Senate negotiations on a bipartisan border security plan that could be appended to and help propel a Ukraine-Israel national security supplemental bill have been ongoing for several weeks and threatened by election-year politics, with former President Trump and House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) seeing the emerging proposal as likely insufficient. Now Speaker Johnson, who previously oversaw House passage of an Israel-only measure that included IRS funding rescissions — a nonstarter for Senate Democrats — is throwing a curve ball by putting a $17.6 billion Israel-only supplemental bill ($3.3 billion more than the $14.3 billion December bill) without a funding component up for a vote this week.

"During debate in the House and in numerous subsequent statements, Democrats made clear that their primary objection to the original House bill was with its offsets … The Senate will no longer have excuses, however misguided, against swift passage of this critical support for our ally," Speaker Johnson said.

The Washington Post: "By forcing the Senate to take up the bill without offsets, Johnson has put the onus on Democrats, including in the House, to vote against a measure many wishing to help Israel would probably support. It also puts House Republicans in a stronger position to telegraph their own messaging before senators blame them for inaction. Complicating matters for Johnson, however, is how the far-right flank of his conference will react. They celebrated Johnson's inaugural bill that sent aid to Israel and included cuts to the IRS … "

Senators released their supplemental bill last night. While the December Senate national security supplemental, with Ukraine and Israel funding, humanitarian assistance, and support for the Indo-Pacific, would have cost about $110.5 billion, a release by Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-WA) said the new $118.28 billion national security supplemental package includes:

  • $60.06 billion to support Ukraine.
  • $14.1 billion in security assistance for Israel.
  • $2.44 billion to support operations in the U.S. Central Command and address combat expenditures related to conflict in the Red Sea.
  • $10 billion in humanitarian assistance.
  • $4.83 billion to support key regional partners in the Indo-Pacific.
  • $2.33 billion to continue support for displaced Ukrainians.
  • The bipartisan border policy changes negotiated by Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT), Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ), and James Lankford (R-OK).
  • $20.23 billion to address existing operational needs and expand capabilities at US borders.
  • The Fentanyl Eradication and Narcotics Deterrence (FEND) Off Fentanyl Act.
  • $400 million for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program to help nonprofits and places of worship make security enhancements.

"The oldest game in town is to bring an important piece of legislation [up] right before a holiday or right before a break," Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said on Fox News Sunday. "So, process-wise, we're not going to deal with this next week. It's too important. Substance, I've been involved in the negotiations. What they have achieved, as far as I know — we haven't seen it yet — is a real change in asylum."

Tax — No word yet on how fast the House-passed $78 billion Tax Relief for American Families and Workers Act of 2024 (H.R. 7024) — addressing TCJA pre-cliffs, the Child Tax Credit, US-Taiwan double-tax relief and other issues — will come up in the Senate. Some Republicans want to amend the bill and others have reservations about it generally, making a Finance Committee markup or floor consideration as a standalone bill cumbersome. It may be held and attached to appropriations legislation required to meet March 1 and March 8 deadlines. It seems unlikely the dust would settle this week and consideration of the tax bill would occur as Congress is immersed in the politics and policy of the border and national security supplemental. After this week, the Senate is slated to be out for a two-week President's Day recess February 12-23.

The weekend Bloomberg Daily Tax Report (DTR) said on the tax issue, "Most Senate Democrats appear to be on board with the proposed bill, but Senate Republicans are less enthusiastic. Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) warned that not allowing for a process where GOP lawmakers get some amendments considered could lead to the party blocking it from getting consideration at all. To advance the bill, Senate Democrats will likely need to allow their counterparts to get votes on amendments, which could mean sending it back to the House for a second vote."

Punchbowl News observed last night: "We don't expect the Senate to devote time to the tax bill until at least late February, and then government funding deadlines will take up the most oxygen on Capitol Hill. That's a lot of time for the bill's political fortunes to rise or fall. Most Senate Republicans are maintaining a wait-and-see approach in a sign they aren't sure how the politics surrounding the bill will play out. 'It's just too early to say, other than it's not ready yet,' NRSC Chair Steve Daines said. 'There' discussions going on. I'd like to see … a bill pass related to provisions of the 2017 tax bill, but we're not quite there yet.'"

Bloomberg Government reported that President Biden will send his FY2025 budget proposal to Congress on March 11, following the State of the Union Address on March 7.

Congress — The House and Senate are in session this week. With Ways & Means member Rep. Brian Higgins (D-NY) resigning from Congress February 2, Republicans have a 219-212 majority and could lose three of their own votes and still approve a party-line bill 216-215. However, Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA) is on medical leave, effectively leaving only a two-vote margin, at least until the February 13 NY special election to replace George Santos (R-NY). Fox News reported that is unlikely Rep. Scalise will return this week, though Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) should return from recovering from a car accident. The February 13 special election is between Republican Mazi Pilip and Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY), who was a member of the Ways & Means Committee but left Congress for a 2022 gubernatorial bid. Suozzi holds a significant cash advantage, CNN reported.

The House is back at 2 p.m. today with votes postponed until 6:30 p.m. Legislation to be considered under suspension of the rules includes a series of bills from the Natural Resources Committee, including the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park Commission Extension Act sponsored by Rep. David Trone (D-MD). A release said the bill ensures the continued involvement of the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal National Historical Park Federal Advisory Commission in decisions that affect the administration and development of the park, which is "184.5 miles long and covers 20,000 acres winding north and west along the Potomac River from the heart of Washington D.C. to Cumberland, MD."

Also on the schedule is the Protecting Health Care for All Patients Act of 2023 (H.R. 485), an Energy and Commerce Committee bill. A CRS summary said, "This bill prohibits all federal health care programs, including the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, and federally funded state health care programs (e.g., Medicaid) from using prices that are based on quality-adjusted life years (i.e., measures that discount the value of a life based on disability) to determine relevant thresholds for coverage, reimbursements, or incentive programs." The House this week is also set to consider a resolution on "Impeaching Alejandro Nicholas Mayorkas, Secretary of Homeland Security."

The SALT Marriage Penalty Elimination Act (H.R. 7160) to provide a $20,000 SALT deduction cap for joint filers with adjusted gross income of less than $500,000 for 2023 cleared the Rules Committee last week but is not currently on the schedule for a House vote this week.

The Senate will convene at 3 p.m. today (Monday), February 5. At 5:30 p.m., the Senate will vote on confirmation of Joseph Albert Laroski, Jr. to be a Judge of the United States Court of International Trade.

On Tuesday, February 6 at 10:30 a.m., the House Energy & Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee will hold a hearing on "Protecting American Health Security: Oversight of Shortcomings in the FDA's Foreign Drug Inspection Program."

On Wednesday, February 7 at 9 a.m. is a Ways & Means "Trade Subcommittee Hearing on Advancing America's Interests at the World Trade Organization's 13th Ministerial Meeting."

On Thursday, February 8 at 10 a.m., the Senate Finance Committee will hold a hearing on "Artificial Intelligence and Health Care: Promise and Pitfalls."

Also on Thursday, February 8 at 10 a.m., the Senate HELP Committee will hold a hearing on "Why Does the United States Pay, by Far, the Highest Prices in the World for Prescription Drugs?"

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Washington Council Ernst & Young