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THE MONDAY BRIEF | September 18, 2023

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

Congress Looks to Rebound After Critical Week that Produced Little 

A week ago—with just 11 voting days left in September—the Monday Brief outlined a set of deadlines looming at the end of the month. Most importantly, to avoid a government shutdown, Congress must either pass the 12 annual appropriations bills or, more realistically, a stop-gap Continuing Resolution. We also noted some unique challenges to getting that done: the limited calendar, the lack of coordination on spending levels between the chambers, and the rough-and-tumble politics of the narrow Republican majority in the House. 

Last Monday’s Brief said: “the House will start debate on the defense appropriations bill this week. … In the House, progress—or lack thereof—on defense spending will be seen as a bellwether for the rest of the month.”

Seven days later, we can report that the defensebill bellwether strongly indicates… trouble ahead. Indeed, some of Speaker McCarthy’s Republican flock have wandered astray.

Bottom line: Republican infighting on the $826 billion defense appropriations bill forced House leaders to abandon plans to vote on the legislation as leaders lacked the support to clear even a routine procedural hurdle. With just a four-seat margin of error, a handful of right-wing Republicans sought to leverage their support for pledges of deeper spending cuts in other areas. Democrats are in no hurry to help—they’re wary of “culture war” provisions added to the bill that attack the Pentagon’s abortion travel policy and diversity initiatives.

Now, with eight voting days remaining, the House seems poised to try again.

  • There are reports of a deal on a CR that would keep the government open for 30 days while adding conservative provisions on border security. Nonetheless, some Republicans have already signaled their opposition, and the border language is a non-starter with Democrats.
  • Should the defense bill make it to the House floor later this week, it’s subject to up to 184 amendments. That will be a robust debate in which efforts to block additional support for Ukraine will be front-and-center just as Ukrainian President Zelensky visits Capitol Hill.  

On the other side of the dome, senators had appeared ready to swiftly consider a package of three spending bills (Military Construction & Veterans Affairs; Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development; Agriculture & FDA) before Sen. Ron Johnson objected. The Wisconsin conservative seeks individual votes on the measures, which is reasonable given the package’s $279 billion price tag. However, other objections exist, including an effort by Sen. Roger Marshall to secure a vote on legislation to limit the interchange fees that credit card companies charge retailers. 

So, during a critical week in the run up to a possible government shutdown, Congress accomplished little. At a reception in Washington Wednesday night, a senior House staffer summed it up to me: “It seems like the Senate can’t do anything but confirm judges. And in the House… well, we can’t really do anything at all.” 

Maybe this week will be more productive. Hope springs eternal. 

For Your Situational Awareness… 

  • A (Very) Brief History of Recent Government Shutdowns. There is no chance that Congress can pass all the spending bills by the end of this month, and even passing a CR looks tough. If Congress fails to act, the government shuts down Oct. 1. Shutdowns in recent memory: five days in November 1995; 21 days in December 1995—January 1996; 16 days in October 2013; two days in January 2018; and 34 days in December 2018—January 2019.


  • Impeachment Process Starts—But It’s Missing a Few Things. Under pressure from right-wing critics, Speaker McCarthy has directed three committees to begin an impeachment inquiry of President Joe Biden. Notably, a few things were missing from the launch. First, despite lengthy investigations, no actual evidence of a “high crime or misdemeanor” by the president has yet been made public. (There is plenty to say about the president’s son, but he’s not the one being impeached.) Second, the House is moving forward without an authorization vote—a required step according to the Department of Justice during the Trump Administration. The DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel then opined that, “the Constitution vests the ‘sole Power of Impeachment’ in the House of Representatives … For precisely that reason, the House itself must authorize an impeachment inquiry … no committee may undertake the momentous move from legislative oversight to impeachment without a delegation by the full House of such authority.” Look for Biden’s lawyers to use that legal position as a shield against incoming subpoenas. Third, if McCarthy had the broad support to pass an impeachment resolution, he’d do that. Instead, the current approach hints of dissension in the ranks, likely including those 18 House Republicans who represent districts that Biden won—and who are chiefly responsible for the current Republican majority. 


  • It’s Bigger than that Balloon Incident. The New York Times Sunday Edition takes a 2,700 word deep-dive into an escalation of espionage activities between the U.S. and China. According to the report, U.S. officials see the spy conflict with China as even more expansive than the one that played out during the Cold War. “The fact is that compared to the (Chinese government), we’re vastly outnumbered on the ground, but it’s on us to defend the American people here at home,” FBI Director Chris Wray said. “I view this as the challenge of our generation.” Both countries are racing to develop their artificial intelligence technology, which they believe is critical to maintaining an edge. Speaking of…


  • Tech Industry Eyes AI Regulation. At a private meeting on Capitol Hill facilitated by Senate Leader Chuck Schumer, the nation’s top tech executives reportedly endorsed the general idea of the government playing a role in the regulation of artificial intelligence. Among those present were Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk, Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg, former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates, and Google CEO Sundar Pichai. It’s hard to see a path for immediate action on AI legislation, but bills are in the works. The bigger picture: the fact that industry is coming to Washington to endorse the idea of new regulation—its nearly always the opposite—speaks to the grave concerns about the consequences of this powerful technology. 


  • Farm Bill Extension. Another end-of-September deadline looms: the reauthorization of the 2018 Farm Bill. It’s looking increasingly likely that the current bill will be extended to buy more time for Congress to act. Neither House nor Senate has made much public process, though work continues behind the scenes. Areas of concern: spending on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), safety net provisions for farmers, and the bill’s title relating to commodity farming, which in recent years has been subject to steep cost increases for inputs like fertilizer and fuel. House agriculture leaders are hesitant to move forward until valuable floor time is scheduled. In the Senate, Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow has reportedly floated a three-month extension. Don’t be surprised if that turns into a full year. 


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

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