Stephen Boyd’s weekly Capitol Hill briefing for Alabama’s business, financial, defense and government affairs executives.
Capitol Hill has fallen quiet as the traditional August recess is finally upon us. Make no mistake, Congressional offices remain open and work continues, but the pace slows considerably as members work in their home districts during the five-week break.
Looking down the road, the next votes in the Senate will be Sept. 5, and the House of Representatives reconvenes on Sept. 12. Until then, it’s town hall meetings, visits to local businesses, speeches to rotary clubs, and conversations with constituents in the local offices.
Fly Away Questions…
Let’s briefly break down a few questions on the minds of members and staff as they head out of town for the break. How these five issues play out will dictate much about what happens on Capitol Hill this fall.
1. Are we headed for a government shutdown? It seems increasingly likely—though maybe not on Oct. 1.
That’s the start of the new fiscal year and the de facto deadline for Congress to pass each of the twelve appropriations bills, a feat that seems exceedingly unlikely. If spending bills don’t pass, the Anti-Deficiency Act requires that most government operations cease.
The Senate has yet to approve a single appropriations bill; the House last week finally cleared its first (the relatively uncontroversial Military Construction and Veterans Affairs spending bill), but it failed to also approve the agriculture appropriations bill as planned. The House bogged down after conservatives demanded deeper spending cuts and objected to a rule governing how the abortion pill mifepristone is sold—a setback that foreshadows similar problems in the fall.
Moreover, the House and Senate are drafting bills at different spending levels, which will make merging the two that much more difficult. Obviously, neither chamber has started negotiations with the other on a product that could be passed and sent to the president for signature. That leaves a tremendous amount of work to do in a short period of time. Expect an interim stop-gap Continuing Resolution to pass prior to Oct. 1 to keep the government open. But when that temporary measure expires, what will have fundamentally changed? Not much—and that’s when a shutdown will loom large.
2. Will Congress find consensus on the NDAA? Probably so, but negotiations could drag on until the end of the year.
Congress has passed a defense authorization bill, which sets Pentagon priorities and authorizes funding on defense programs and personnel, each year for more than six decades. 2023 will be no different, but expect an unusual grind to the finish because the House- and Senate-passed bills are so different.
Last week, the Senate approved its version with a bipartisan vote of 86-11. That text is largely void of the controversial hot button cultural issues that the House added to its bill during debate on the floor. The House, which passed the legislation with only a 219-210 vote, inserted conservative amendments on the Department of Defense’s abortion leave policy, access to gender-affirming care, and “diversity, equity, and inclusion” initiatives at the Pentagon. Those are likely non-starters for Senate Democrats.
Reconciling the two versions will be tougher than usual, and neither side will quickly concede. That said, there remains a good chance that the bill comes out looking more like the straightforward defense authorization bill originally passed by Chairman Mike Rogers’s House Committee on Armed Services. If so, it’ll be signed into law by December, which will be good news for our nation’s defense.
3. Does Sen. McConnell’s health scare matter? Yes — a lot.
To be clear, all signs point to Mitch McConnell pressing on as Republican Leader in the Senate and, according to reports, he remains sharp. Publicly, Senate Republicans are expressing complete support for the Kentucky Senator.
But McConnell’s halting 20-second pause at the mic during last week’s press conference in the Senate—plus additional reports of recent accidents—has undeniably opened the door to talk in Washington about what’s next for Senate Republicans. Senators Cornyn (Texas), Thune (South Dakota), and Barrosso (Wyoming)—all widely respected—would all be in play for heightened responsibility.
The conversation goes beyond McConnell. In recent years several members have stayed in office well past the point of effectiveness, a scenario that effectively empowers unelected senior staff to make big decisions. Plus, the two men currently leading in their respective presidential primaries—President Biden and former President Trump—would have a combined age of 157 on Election Day. Meanwhile, business, politics, and technology move faster than ever. The issue of age in elected office seems to be coming up more or more.
4. Will a special master redraw Alabama’s Congressional maps? Likely yes — but then the real question becomes: How much will the court tinker with districts other than AL-01 (Carl), AL-02 (Moore), and AL-07 (Sewell), which is where many of the maps considered by the state Legislature focused.
Background: A three-judge panel blocked Alabama’s current congressional district map and said any new map should include two districts where “Black voters either comprise a voting-age majority” or something close. The state Legislature passed a map that maintained one-majority Black district and boosted AL-02’s black population to 39.9% from 30%. Is that “something close?” Many observers think not.
Here’s the view from Capitol Hill: House members and staff work very hard to know and understand the people they represent, visiting every nook and cranny in their district to build relationships over time. Similarly, campaigns spend considerable sums of money to identify and communicate with specific voters. Altering the playing field even slightly is a shock to the system, and a complete overhaul by the special master would cause chaos. The possibility of a member-on-member race in the next election has raised eyebrows. Generally, the fewer changes to the current lines necessary to meet the court’s standard, the better. All eyes will be on an Aug. 14 federal court hearing and the inevitable appeals that follow.
5. Will there be more money for Ukraine in the fall? 50/50—but chances go up if it’s paired dollar-for-dollar with emergency spending in other areas.
The current military aid package for Ukraine should last through September, but the Biden Administration is likely to ask for additional assistance for Kiev in the fall. Defense hawks will see that as an opportunity to also augment defense spending back at home. Others will see the chance to tack on spending for other priorities such as replenishing FEMA’s disaster assistance accounts, boosting border security, and funding a host of domestic programs. That adds up to a hefty price tag, but sometimes that’s how support is cobbled together.
Some conservatives have grown wary about spending so much money on a foreign fight, and there are legitimate concerns about the drawdown of weapons from U.S. stockpiles. The best way for Ukraine to sideline those fears is to make progress in its counter-offensive against Russia’s invading forces. Crass as it sounds, its politically easier to provide support when there is a path to victory.
ABC Group Forms in Washington…
A new group has formed in Washington that is squarely focused on promoting economic growth in Alabama. The non-profit Alabama Business Coalition is comprised of a “who’s who” of DC-focused government affairs professionals long associated with Alabama’s policy, political and business communities.
Formed last month, ABC is already meeting regularly with members and key staff to discuss issues that impact Alabama businesses, residents, and stakeholders. Last Wednesday, the group heard from House Committee on Armed Services Chairman Mike Rogers (AL-03) about the recently passed National Defense Authorization Act and its impact on the defense-heavy state. Representatives Dale Strong (Al-05), Jerry Carl (AL-01), and Barry Moore (AL-02) and a host of top congressional staff have also attended the group’s monthly meetings. Others, including both of Alabama’s senators, are scheduled to meet with the group after the August break.
Compared to many states, communication within the Alabama delegation across the aisle and between the House and Senate has long been a strong suit. Lacking, however, has been a forum to bring individuals with institutional knowledge about Washington together in a coordinated way to help solve problems and advance policies that promote Alabama’s economic interests. ABC will bridge that gap.
The group’s Board of Directors includes Mary Pat Lawrence (Protective Life Insurance Company), Bill Bailey (Radiance Technologies), Tyler Lowe (Vulcan Material Company), Freddy Padilla (Alabama Power), and Larry Ryder (Austal USA). Gina Rigby (Aflac), known in Washington for her deep political ties throughout the Southeast, is serving as board advisor.
“We are excited about the opportunity to bring Alabama businesses together, along with our Congressional delegation, on a regular basis to discuss ways to collectively move our state forward,” Lawrence said this week. “Alabama is extremely fortunate to have one of the strongest delegations in Congress, and the Alabama Business Coalition looks forward to continuing these important discussions about growing and maintaining a strong business environment in Alabama.”
Chad Carlough, chief of staff for Carl, has taken a leadership role as ABC’s congressional liaison, coordinating member and staff participation with the group. According to Carlough, “The members and staff of the delegation are always eager to meet with the business community and find ways to streamline federal wins for Alabama. ABC is an excellent forum for this interaction to regularly occur in D.C.”
E.P. Daylight Savings Time Update…
A Note to Readers…
With the August break upon us, THE MONDAY BRIEF will next publish on Monday, September 11, 2023. In the meantime, please don’t hesitate to reach out with comments, suggestions, newsy items or questions. Until then, enjoy the rest of summer.
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].