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Stephen Boyd: The Monday Brief

By Stephen Boyd

A note to readers: 

Every office on Capitol Hill is different, but most have this in common: Each week, the senior staff pile into the Member’s office to update the boss on the week ahead. I’ve led that meeting hundreds of times in the House and the Senate. Members return, and time is short. You can’t cover everything. In-depth conversations have to wait. On Monday morning, what the boss really needs to know are the big issues driving the conversation on the Hill, plus the news of the day that might come up in hallway conversations with the omnipresent Capitol Hill press corp. 

Just as staff will brief Members of Congress in Washington today, that’s the format for “The Monday Brief” here at Alabama Daily News. Thanks for reading. 

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

Monday, December 5

The House and Senate are in Monday through Thursday of this week and next, and will remain on standby for potential work right up to Christmas Eve. 

 

ALL EYES ON GEORGIA, AND IT’S NOT ABOUT FOOTBALL. 

Even as Congress gets down to business during the post-election “lame duck” session, Capitol Hill is preoccupied by Tuesday’s runoff between Georgia’s Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Hershel Walker. 

Background: Democrats already solidified control of the Senate in the 118th Congress with a better-than-expected showing in the midterms. 

Insight: But margins still matter. A Warnock victory takes pressure off Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to keep the most moderate member of the Democratic caucus, Sen. Joe Machin (WV), on board with top liberal priorities. To be sure, Manchin will remain an animating force in the Senate, but he may not have quite the sway in a 51-49 majority that he did in an evenly divided chamber. For the last two years, it felt like Manchin had close to veto power over progressive legislation. On the other hand, a Walker victory would mean committee assignments would likely continue to be split evenly between Republicans and Democrats. And it would put Senate Republicans at an advantage heading into 2024, when the map is more favorable to the GOP.

Looking ahead: Don’t make too much of reports that Walker’s five-day Thanksgiving break from campaigning was hugely detrimental, but don’t look past the massive amount of advertising—much of it extremely negative—in the race. Television ad buys during the four-week campaign have reportedly exceeded $80 million. Polling in a special election is notoriously difficult, but most recent surveys show Warnock up slightly. Of course, the only poll that matters is the one on Election Day. 

 

GOVERNMENT FUNDING: HOW MANY ZEROS IN A TRILLION? 

With a deadline looming, approving government funding—and, potentially, lots of it—will be on the front burner throughout December. 

Background: Congress faces a December 16 deadline to approve spending to keep the government open. Leaders have 4 options: pass a short-term continuing resolution (CR) to maintain current funding into the new year when a new, but narrow, Republican House majority will be in charge… pass a full-year CR… pass an omnibus package of appropriations bills that were prepared over the past year but aren’t yet approved, or… pass a short CR to buy a few days to get that omnibus in tip-top shape. There are pitfalls with each, but most leaders want to avoid negotiating next year with a new but slim Republican majority in the House that has no ownership of the appropriations work done to date. Expect a short-term CR followed by an omnibus, but that path is far from certain.

Insight: From a governing perspective, an omnibus is much better than a CR. Because of inflation, a CR represents a budget cut for federal managers. More importantly, a CR prevents departments and agencies from adjusting to evolving priorities. In a statement last week, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said that a failure to reach an agreement on an omnibus would hurt military families and also “significantly impact the programs, the technologies and the initiatives we are trying to undertake to ensure we remain the most capable military in the world.” He specifically cited cyber, artificial intelligence, and hypersonics programs.

Many Members hate taking—and, later, defending—a single vote on more than a trillion dollars of spending. There are always surprises tucked inside a bill that will likely exceed one thousand pages, and you can expect the conservative wing of the Republican party to balk at the process, if not the price tag. Also, some might seek to punt the funding debate into the new year when Republicans will have the House majority. (That happened in 2010, which had the unintended consequence of creating a messy intra-party dispute in early 2011 that ultimately swamped the new majority’s launch of its reform agenda.) 

Looking ahead: Though the looming deadline will create headlines, most Members have long since weighed in for increases in programmatic funding and, in some cases, earmarks. For many, this is now s game of “hurry up and wait.” The ball is in the court of leadership and senior appropriators, and talks are centering around nearly $1.7 trillion in discretionary funding. Sticking points may include the breakdown between defense and non-defense spending, additional funding for Ukraine, and more money for Covid relief. Things appear to be moving slowly, but staff will work feverishly to hash out the details once a deal in principle is reached. Though House politics are different, Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby and Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy are at the table on the Senate side. Both are retiring at the end of the year and have every incentive to strike a deal that likely includes huge wins for their home states. With more than 90 years of congressional experience between them, they ought to be able to do it. 

Look for this process to drag on through December, possibly wrapping up in the days before Christmas. 

 

A DEFENSE BILL, FINALLY. 

Congress has reliably passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 61 consecutive years—a rare example of enduring bipartisan cooperation. It will likely do so again this year—though it’ll be cutting it close. 

The text of the bill, which represents a compromise between the House and Senate brokered largely behind the scenes, is expected out today. 

Background: The NDAA doesn’t appropriate money but it does authorize key Pentagon programs and establish defense priorities. This year’s bill is the product of an unusual process that included Senate committee action but so far has not been considered by the full Senate. The House moved separately months ago. Expectations are that the NDAA will top out at around $858 billion, or $45 billion higher than the original request from the White House. 

Speaking at a defense forum in Washington over the weekend, Sen. Roger Wicker, the likely top Republican on the Senate Committee on Armed Services next year, reportedly said that “I think most of us agree, we need to get our work done for this year and get that done. And of course, we need to pass the [FY24] NDAA really before the end of summer next year.” That’ll be well received in defense circles.

Looking ahead: Expect the legislation, once released, to move quickly through both chambers over the next couple of weeks. 

 

Hallway Conversations…

  • Looking to next year, incoming Republican Majority Leader Steve Scalise released the 2023 House calendar. The Senate’s version is expected soon.
  • The Department of Justice scored a major victory when it won a conviction on seditious conspiracy charges for two-members of the Oath Keepers, a far-right militia, for their role in the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Those charges are rarely brought; expect an appeal. 
  • House Republicans opposed a moratorium on earmarks in their majority next year. Earmarks don’t increase overall spending, but “anti-earmarkers” argue that their existence is a way for leadership to buy votes on big spending bills. 
  • Kevin McCarthy continues to look for 218 votes for Speaker of the House. Five Republicans—none from Alabama—have pledged not to support the Republican leader, but weeks remain before the vote on the House floor. (We’ll look at this more next week.)

 

Media

PodCast: “What US midterms tell us about the state of US democracy,” GZERO WORLD with Ian Bremmer (Nov. 19, 2022)

What I listened to when I wrote this: “I Won’t Back Down,” Live at the Fillmore (1997), Tom Petty. 

 

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].



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