CONGRESS HEADS INTO DECEMBER STRETCH WITH ITS HANDS FULL

By: Alex Cameron-Washington Bureau - December 1, 2023 6:11 am

U.S. Capitol Washington

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Congress returns from the Thanksgiving break Tuesday with a very full plate to get through before going home again for Christmas. There’s no government funding deadline at play, but still plenty of other major items, beginning with what is looking increasingly like the expulsion of Long Island Congressman George Santos (R-NY).

In a press event this past weekend, a defiant Rep. Santos acknowledged a motion to expel him, which could come to the floor by mid-week, appears to have the votes to pass. Numerous Republicans who helped defeat earlier motions to expel Santos say they have changed their position following the release of a scathing Ethics Committee report two weeks ago.

Among other things, the 5-page report concluded, “Representative Santos sought to fraudulently exploit every aspect of his House candidacy for his own personal financial profit.”

“We know George Santos — he’s our natural disaster,” said Rep. Anthony D’Esposito (R-NY), a member of the New York delegation. “We know it best. And we’ve been trying to get that point across for months now.”

Interestingly, the expulsion vote could be one of the more bipartisan moments in the next two weeks, at least in the House, where new Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) and his leadership team will again try to find enough consensus and support to push through some of the remaining full-year appropriations bills. The House has so far approved five of the 12 spending bills. The Senate has passed three, but appears to have broader bipartisan support for those still awaiting floor votes.

If Congress hopes to avoid another shutdown showdown in January, both chambers will have to make significant progress now so that there is time for House and Senate negotiators to try and reconcile the differences before the next funding deadlines.

Oklahoma Senator Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) says members know there is no chance of beating the January and February deadlines agreed to in the current continuing resolution, and the only hope of avoiding a full-year CR is to bundle the appropriations bills into a handful of legislative packages.

“Instead of just playing this charade game,” Mullin said in a recent interview, “let’s just put groups of three and four appropriation bills, and that way, we could possibly, maybe get it done in four months.”

It’s not clear at this point if Congress will be forced to pass a series of ‘minibuses,’ as Mullin suggests, but Republican members say at least this year there will be no Christmas Eve omnibus package, as has been the case the last two years.

The ultimate goal is not to have a Christmas omnibus,” said Rep. Stephanie Bice (R-OK5) in an interview, “and that is what’s happened over the last at least two years I’ve been a member…Jamming through these large Christmas omnibus bills on Christmas Eve and then sending everyone home really doesn’t allow us to dive into each appropriations bill and make the necessary adjustments.”

But it does look as if one recent tradition will continue: passage of the National Defense Authorization Act just before Christmas. Each chamber passed its respective version of the annual blueprint for defense spending in July, but it wasn’t until just over a week ago that a full slate of conferees was assigned to work out the differences so a final version can be approved and sent to the president.

Military support for Israel and Ukraine, however, remains up in the air. The House approved legislation to provide $14 billion in aid to Israel several weeks ago, but the funds were conditioned on cuts to the IRS, which Democrats strongly oppose. Further, the legislation contained no aid for Ukraine, another reason it was dead on arrival in the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer promises to bring a major supplemental funding bill to the floor during the next two weeks, but Republicans in the Senate have made it clear they will only support it if the bill also includes significant border security provisions. Oklahoma Senator James Lankford (R-OK) is part of a bipartisan working group reportedly trying to agree on what this border portion of the bill would contain.

Lankford is certainly not alone in wanting such a quid pro quo.

“Part of politics is political horse-trading,” said Congressman Tom Cole (R-OK4) in an interview. “If we’re going to spend money on Ukraine, which I support, I want to see us do something meaningful on our own southern border.”

 

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