December 19, 2022
13 days remain in 2022… six days until Christmas… only five days of legislative activity left in Washington—assuming things go to plan.
The Schedule: The Senate is in Monday through Thursday. The House will be in pro forma session Tuesday, with Representatives returning for legislative business on Wednesday. (The continuation of COVID-era “proxy voting” rules means that some representatives will decline to make the trip back to Washington right before Christmas.)
THE FINAL FRONTIER
Expect a final decision on U.S. Space Command’s (SPACECOM) new headquarters “shortly.” The major announcement—which may confirm Huntsville as the new home to the combatant command—could happen any day. The eagerly awaited decision would come after three years of site evaluations, congressional inquiries, and independent investigations. And, if Huntsville lands the HQ, it’ll mean about 1,400 military personnel—and even more prestige—coming to the Rocket City.
What is it? SPACECOM was established as the 11th Unified Combatant Command on August 29, 2019. It’s temporary home is in Colorado. SPACECOM’s mission is to conduct “operations in, from, and to space to deter conflict, and if necessary, defeat aggression” and deliver “space combat power.”
Be Smart: SPACECOM and Space Force are not the same. Space Force was established as the Sixth Branch of the Armed Services, and it’s within the Air Force—like the Marines are part of the Navy. Its mission is to organize, train, and equip.
Background: The Air Force led a process to determine where to locate SPACECOM’s permanent headquarters, initially considering 66 communities in 26 states. An eight-month evaluation was conducted that considered 21 factors. The Air Force announced on January 13, 2021, that “Huntsville compared favorably across more of these factors than any other community,” and was the Air Force’s “preferred location” for the HQ.
But politics and protests slowed progress…
- Other states protested, claiming that Trump intervened. (In fairness, Trump said that, too.)
- Two independent reviews followed. Reports from both the Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office were favorable to the process that resulted in Huntsville’s selection.
- Also, an important environmental study came up clean.
Looking ahead: Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall—who served at U.S. Army Ballistic Missile Defense Command in Huntsville for four years in the 1980s—will make the final decision. Late last month Gen. James H. Dickinson, the commander of SPACECOM, said he expected a decision “shortly.” . . . If the Air Force sticks with its process and prior selection, Congress will get to work appropriating the military construction and other funds necessary to jumpstart the transition. But, if the Air Force waivers, expect a pause while the armed services committees investigate why the Air Force went against its own selection process at the last minute.
NDAA IS DONE
In a rare act of bipartisanship, Congress approved the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) last week. This year’s legislation authorizes $858 billion in defense spending, 10 percent more than last year. The legislation is chock-full of provisions important to industry stakeholders and military facilities around the country—the biggest pay raise (4.6%) for military personnel in 20 years, 69 new F-35 aircraft, and 21 new Navy ships, for starters.
The legislation rescinds a Department of Defense (DOD) requirement that military personnel receive COVID-19 vaccinations. But an amendment was defeated that would have forced DOD to reinstate troops previously discharged for refusing the vaccination. (Estimates vary, but reportedly about 8,000 were discharged at a time when the military is struggling to meet its recruiting goals.)
The Vote: The NDAA cleared the Senate 83-11. Sens. Shelby and Tuberville voted yes. President Biden is expected to sign the bill into law.
CRUNCH TIME ON THE OMNIBUS
Congress, recognizing that it would fail to meet the December 16 deadline to approve government funding, passed a short extension that pushed the deadline to this Friday. A lot has to happen this week to meet that pre-Christmas deadline.
Looking Ahead: Expect the text of the 3,000-page bill to come out later today and for the Senate to move first. Conservatives might try to stall the omnibus until the House Republican majority is in place next year to influence spending decisions. But the bill probably only needs about 10 Republican votes in the Senate and there are 15 Republican members of the appropriations committee who have a vested interest in the legislation as it stands. In the House, Speaker Pelosi will need to line up the votes for passage right before Christmas, a task made easier by those “proxy voting” rules.
What to look for:
- The bill may include extra money for Ukraine, funding that Republican leaders seem disinclined to support next year.
- Appropriators are looking at adding resources to better manage the crisis on America’s southwestern border. The White House asked for an extra $3.5 billion.
- Congress might classify some newly authorized VA spending as mandatory, not discretionary. Doing so would effectively free up funds for other discretionary spending. Arguably, that move would be good for vets, but bad for debt.
- The Electoral Count Reform Act—a reform of the arcane law that some of former President Trump’s supporters cited as a way to throw out the 2020 election results—may be included. The current law is notoriously difficult to understand; perhaps its most important sentence has 225 words, 21 commas, and 2 semi-colons. The reform would clarify that the Vice President’s role in certifying the election results is purely ceremonial.
- Cannabis investors and banking interests are rooting for inclusion of the SAFE Act, which would improve access to financing for marijuana companies. Marijuana remains a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act.
- The House committee investigating the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capital will hold its final meeting today. Its full report will come out December 21. Expect the committee to vote to refer the former president to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution, a symbolic but noteworthy moment in American history. Separately, the House Ways and Means Committee will meet to consider whether to release Donald Trump’s tax records to the public. The Committee gained access to the records after a long legal battle that ended in the Supreme Court last month.
- The House passed legislation to allow Puerto Rico to vote on a binding referendum to become the 51st state or to gain its independence. The Senate is not expected to act.
- Folks on Capitol Hill will focus more on the energy and national security policy implications rather than the science behind an apparent breakthrough in nuclear-fusion at a government lab in California. The potential impact on energy production is immense.
Read: This New York Times look at Putin’s catastrophic war in Ukraine is incredible.
Listen: Harry Connick Jr.’s Christmas playlist. (Apple Music).
Stephen E. Boyd is a Partner at Horizons Global Solutions. Previously, he served as a Senate-confirmed Assistant Attorney General at the U.S. Department of Justice, Chief of Staff for Alabama members in both the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives, and as a Communications Director of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary. He resides in the Washington, D.C. area. Opinions expressed herein are his own. This news report is not intended to influence or persuade. Email Stephen at [email protected].