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Stephen Boyd: THE MONDAY BRIEF | November 27, 2023

Stephen Boyd’s weekly Capitol Hill briefing for Alabama’s business, financial, defense and government affairs executives.


The Schedule…

In the run up to the Thanksgiving holiday, the House of Representatives unexpectedly stayed in session for ten tense weeks. The ouster of one Speaker, the eventual election of another, and a possible government shutdown raised the collective blood pressure of Capitol Hill.  

And the stress started to show. One Republican allegedly kidney punched another. A House chairman derisively called a member of his committee a “smurf.” A female representative referred to male colleague by a derogatory term that we’ll decline to reprint here. Across the Hill, a senator challenged a smarmy hearing witness to an actual fight in a hearing room before Sen. Bernie Sanders, of all people, intervened. 

Ten straight weeks is a lot. While eye roll-inducing complaints about having to go to work are best avoided by Members and staff, there is truth to the notion that politics is a people business. Sometimes when tensions are high and nerves are frayed its best for everyone to take a breather. Let’s hope the Thanksgiving break was a useful reset ahead of the final three weeks of legislating planned for 2023. There’s plenty to do and plenty of challenges ahead without ridiculous threats of violence. 

Here are five things to watch over the next few weeks:

1- Rightwing Angst Growing Against New Speaker. The honeymoon period for Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson didn’t last long. The little-known representative from Louisiana has predictably run into the same governing realities that his predecessors faced: a divided government in which the Democrat-run Senate and White House have a big say, the unfavorable consequences of shutdown politics, an unforgiving right wing of the Republican conference, and spending problems that simply can’t be fixed with short-term, partisan brinkmanship. In November, Johnson was forced to join with Democrats to pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) absent of the big spending cuts or immigration reforms demanded by some on the Right. That’s the same sort of bill that cost McCarthy his job. Aggrieved Republicans reacted by derailing a separate Republican-drafted spending bill—an act of protest against their new Speaker that only hinders Republican efforts to force Democrats to the table on discretionary spending. Bottom line: the same political dynamics that have plagued the conference all year seem likely to continue even with an unapologetic conservative now at the helm. But remember this: when a Republican in the House votes against the Republican leadership, he or she is voting with the Democrats. 


2- Funding Deadlines In 2024—More of the Same? As noted, Congress narrowly averted a shutdown earlier this month by passing a stop-gap CR. Good news: there’s no threat of a shutdown around Christmas. Bad news: the CR this time inexplicably creates two deadlines necessary to meet in order to avoid a shutdown in early 2024. Programs covered by the Agriculture, Energy-Water, Military Construction-VA, and Transportation-HUD bills are funded through January 19th. Programs provided for in the Commerce-Justice-Science, Defense, Financial Services-General Government, Homeland Security, Interior-Environment, Labor-HHS-Education, Legislative Branch, and State-Foreign Operations bills are funded at current levels through Feb 2nd. The question now: What will be so fundamentally different in January and early February compared to November that suddenly propels spending bills forward? At present, it’s difficult to point anything out. Worse, by February, a third of Fiscal Year 2024 will be over and work on the Fiscal Year 2025 cycle will be ramping up. Expect chatter of scrapping the Fiscal Year 2024 bills altogether, a huge loss for folks involved in the appropriations process.  Stakeholders are wise to at least contemplate what a “year-long” CR means for them.


3- Two Big Security Deadlines Loom—Both the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and FISA Sec. 702 are ripe for reauthorization before the end of the year, ideally prior to December 15th—the last scheduled day for votes this year. The NDAA appears on track for passage with conference activities planned this week and a final version of the legislation expected soon thereafter. The outlook for FISA Sec. 702—a legal authority that allows the U.S. government to conduct surveillance on non-U.S. persons reasonably believed to be on foreign soil—is less clear. The authority is critically important but faces challenges related to the government’s subsequent use of the collected data. As a political reality, any Sec. 702 reauthorization will carry significant reforms, but they must be crafted carefully to avoid gutting the underlying program. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Turner recently released a proposal and others are expected this week. A temporary extension may be in the cards.

Legislation Note: Tucked into the CR that passed earlier this month was a one-year extension of the 2018 Farm Bill, buying House and Senate agriculture committee leaders more time to work on a full reauthorization. The American Farm Bureau Federation applauded the move but urged Congress to keep its eye on the ball: “We are grateful Congress passed a farm bill extension to avoid serious program disruptions … However, we urge both the House and Senate to stay focused on a new, modernized farm bill that recognizes the many changes and challenges of the past five years.” Approving complicated agricultural legislation expected to top $1 trillion during a presidential election season will be a major challenge for lawmakers next year.


4- Security Funding Awaits Congressional Attention. In October, President Biden requested $106 billion in emergency funding for a set of security priorities largely focused on Ukraine and Israel. If and how Congress proceeds will be among the most consequential policy debates over the next three weeks. The request for aid has become entangled with a demand for stronger immigration measures for the U.S. Southwestern border, a highly divisive issue in Congress. Opposition to the foreign aid funding—or simply an inability to move a consensus bill through the legislative process in the House—would have huge global ramifications as two wars rage. 


5- House Looks Poised to Ditch Santos—Unless He Quiets First. Kicking a Member of Congress out is a rare step that has only occurred 20 times in American history—and several of those instances related to disloyalty at the outset of the Civil War. Rep. George Santos, the current Representative from New York that seemingly lied about just about everything during his campaign for Congress, is knocking on history’s door this week following a scathing 56-page report from the House ethics committee that found evidence that Santos broke federal law, stole money from his campaign, and deceived voters. Before the report, some Republicans were leery of expelling Santos. Those concerns seemed to have eroded in light of the findings. Santos has called a press conference for Thursday and he might resign. If not, it’s time for his colleagues to show him the exit. 

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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. Contact Stephen at [email protected] or via X at @SEBOYD79 or via LinkedIn

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