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Stephen Boyd: The Washington Brief

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

 

The January Schedule…

The Senate and the House of Representatives each return to legislative work this week following the holiday break. The Senate is in legislative session each week for the remainder of the month. The House follows suit with the exception of a short recess the week of January 22.

 

The Big Issue: Funding at Home, on the border and abroad

At Home

As Congress returns to action, much of its work in January will be dominated by legislative efforts to meet two upcoming funding deadlines necessary to avoid a looming government shutdown. You’re forgiven if that forecast sounds like a broken record from last year. 

In Washington these days, it’s wash, rinse and repeat. 

The federal government continues to operate on a two-part, or “laddered,” temporary Continuing Resolution (CR) approved in November that continued level funding into the current fiscal year. That funding expires on Jan. 19 for four areas of the government (Agriculture, Military Construction/Veterans Affairs, Energy & Water, and Transportation/Housing) and again the first week of February for the remaining departments and agencies (Commerce-Justice-Science, Defense, Financial Services & General Government, Homeland Security, Interior-Environment, Labor-HHS-Education, Legislative Branch, and State & Foreign Operations). 

Speaker Mike Johnson—the still relatively new Speaker of the House who is clearly no longer enjoying anything resembling a honeymoon period—is under considerable pressure to deliver a spending bill that imposes cuts sought by conservatives. Johnson burned up political capital when he agreed to the last CR—essentially the same legislative maneuver that cost his predecessor, Kevin McCarthy, the top job. In getting that CR over the finish line, Johnson promised that there would be no more short-term CR’s moving forward, a significant pledge akin to a football coach promising never to use a quarterback sneak on fourth-and-one because the play isn’t likely to immediately deliver fans a touchdown. We’ll see how that works out. 

But, for now, it appears a framework for a funding deal for the remaining months of Fiscal Year 2024 is in the works. According to news reports, the agreement—announced yesterday after negotiations with the Biden administration—trims about $16 billion in 2024 by moving up planned cuts to the IRS and clawing back some COVID-era funds. All told, the top line spending level is $1.659 trillion, with $886 billion for defense and $773 billion for non-defense domestic programs, which is largely consistent with the bipartisan deal McCarthy struck last year. (Of note, nothing in this discussion impacts the major sources of growing federal spending: entitlement programs like social security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc.) 

The outcome here—legislatively and politically—is far from clear. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer reportedly called the plan a good deal for “Democrats and the country.” But the initial response from the right was less positive, with the House Freedom Caucus posting on X (Twitter) that the spending deal is “even worse than we thought. Don’t believe the spin. … This is a total failure.” 

Be realistic. With announced retirements—some expected, others not—Johnson will soon be operating with just a two-seat Republican House majority, while the White House and the Senate are controlled by experienced Democrats. Is it reasonable to expect a fundamental shift in federal spending policy in that political landscape, especially when the legislation in question only impacts nine months of spending? 

Bottom line: while the agreement might receive considerable bipartisan support in the House if and when it’s brought to the floor for a vote, doing so will likely inflame growing tensions between Johnson the Right Wing—political support that he probably cannot afford to lose. 

With a short-term CR seemingly off the table, failure to approve the deal would result in either a partial or full government shutdown, (which doesn’t seem to be in anyone’s best political interest) or a longer “full year” Continuing Resolution. The latter outcome would be demoralizing for Members, stakeholders, local governments, research universities, and government contractors who have all worked for months to include funding provisions in the annual appropriations bills. A full year CR would scuttle those efforts. 

 

At the border and abroad 

The other big issue in January: an emergency (which usually means “off budget” or “direct-to-debt” spending) security package for Israel, Ukraine, and Taiwan, which is hung up on talks to also include significant border security provisions. 

While the outcome here is also unclear, rarely have national Democrats seemed as open to making a deal on border security as they do today. The crisis is real, and polling shows that legitimate concerns about the influx of immigrants at the southwestern border has crept from Republican corners to include many Independents and some Democrats. That spells election trouble, a fact that the Biden Administration appeared to recognize when it reversed course on a number of immigration policies last fall. 

Republicans leveraging their support for foreign security assistance to force a border security deal at home makes sense. But the Republican rank-and-file might be wise not to overplay its hand: getting two-thirds of what you want and making real progress on a national crisis that has become a kitchen table issue is no small thing. Hardline activists might not appreciate it, but the average American will. 

Not a bad thing in an election year—especially when legislating will only get more difficult as November draws near. 

 

Upcoming Political & Legislative Calendar… 

  • 1/10: Republican presidential primary debate in Iowa.
  • 1/15: Iowa Republican presidential caucuses (40 delegates).
  • 1/19: First government-funding deadline for 4 of 12 spending bills.
  • 1/23: New Hampshire presidential primary.
  • 1/31: FEC deadlines for presidential, Senate and House campaigns.
  • 2/2: Second government-funding deadline for 9 of 12 spending bills. 
  • 2/3: Democratic primary in South Carolina. 
  • 2/8: Nevada Republican presidential caucus.
  • 3/5: Primaries in Alabama.
  • 3/7: President Biden’s State of the Union Address (expected).
  • 3/8: Expiration of FAA Reauthorization extension. 

 

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

 

Editor’s Note: Starting this week, the WASHINGTON BRIEF will now publish on the first Monday that Congress is at work each month. The column will continue to take a close look at the key issues driving debate in Washington.

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