Lawmakers Press to Find Spending Compromise Before Friday Deadline
- The lame duck Congress has cleared the Respect for Marriage Act and the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) advanced in the House, with work continuing on a Fiscal Year 2023 omnibus spending bill before a critical Friday deadline.
- House Democrats have selected a new generation of leaders behind Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, while Republican Kevin McCarthy still chases the GOP votes he needs to become House Speaker. Senator Chuck Schumer will remain Majority Leader and Washington Senator Patty Murray will be president pro tempore, which is third in line to become President behind the Vice President and House Speaker.
- The re-election of Georgia Democrat Raphael Warnock gave Senate Democrat a 51-49 cushion of control. However, Warnock’s victory was quickly followed by Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema’s defection from the Democratic Party. Sinema re-registered as an independent and signaled she will continue to caucus with Senate Democrats – along with fellow independents Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine.
- The January 6th Committee is deciding whether to make criminal referrals to the Department of Justice before publishing its full report December 21 and disbanding.
President Biden is expected to sign the Respect for Marriage Act, which passed with bipartisan support. It repeals the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act that prohibited federal recognition of same-sex marriages and also allowed states not to recognize them. Under the act, federal and state recognition would apply to same-sex and interracial marriages. The US Supreme Court could overrule its 2015 ruling that held same-sex marriages were constitutionally protected.
The House-passed NDAA, which embodies a bipartisan and bicameral compromise, includes a 4.6 percent pay raise for military personnel, eliminates the COVID vaccine requirement for military service and reforms to prevent and mitigate civilian harm from military operations. A ride on the bill will allow federal judges to scrub their personal information from websites as a personal security measure.
Lawmakers are scrambling to reach compromise on an omnibus spending bill. Negotiators remain split on domestic spending levels as jockeying increases for another short-term spending extension or punting the spending measure to the next Congress. In a bill that could total $1.7 trillion, Democrats seek around $26 billion more in spending than Republicans will accept. One point of disagreement is veteran health spending. There is agreement on defense spending at $858 billion. Other issues include environmental permitting provisions, continued financial support for Ukraine and revisions to presidential election certification. A practical challenge is preparing actual bill language after a compromise is reached for House and Senate floor votes by the Friday deadline.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer stepped down as leaders of the House Democratic caucus, clearing the path for the ascension of Jeffries and other more junior members who average 31 years younger than their outgoing peers. Jeffries is the first Black person to lead a political caucus in Congress.
McCarthy’s path to the Speakership that he has sought for years remains uncertain. He has one announced competitor and critics on the far right. Caucus moderates also are applying pressure, creating a challenging balancing act for McCarthy. Parry leader reassessment of the influence of former President Donald Trump adds complications. The House floor vote for Speaker occurs when the new Congress convenes. To become Speaker, McCarthy technically needs at least 218 votes. However, House rules only require a majority of House members present to win election.
Senator Murray will become Senate pro tempore in the next Congress, making her third in line of presidential succession behind the Vice President and House Speaker. She will be the first woman to hold the position.
In the current Congress, Murray is Assistant Democratic Leader, a position being eliminated in the new Congress. She was chosen as president pro tempore after California Senator Dianne Feinstein, the most senior member of the Democratic caucus, passed on the role. The position is held now by Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy who is retiring. After winning a sixth term in the November election, If the vice president is absent, The president pro tem can administer Senate oaths of office, sign legislation and preside with the House Speaker over joint sessions of Congress. Murray also is expected to replace Leahy as chair of Senate Appropriations in the next Congress, making her one of the most powerful lawmakers in Congress..
The re-election of Warnock was hailed by Democrats for giving them a 51-49 advantage and the ability to control Senate committees, especially important to move along Biden judiciary appointments. The jubilation was short-lived as Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema re-registered as an independent. Sinema’s announcement said she would continue to caucus with Democrats, which would preserve their advantage.
The January 6th Committee is moving toward its conclusion, with a subcommittee meeting over the weekend to make a recommendation on whether to make criminal referrals and, if so, for whom. The full committee report will be made public December 21. Whether or not criminal referrals are made by the committee, the Department of Justice has assigned a special prosecutor to recommend indictments associated with the assault on the US Capitol. In what could be a dress rehearsal for further charges, federal prosecutors are opening a second trial for Oath Keeper defendants on charges of seditious conspiracy. Oath Keeper founder Stewart Rhodes and his deputy were found guilty by a jury of seditious conspiracy regarding the Capitol attack.
Incoming House Republican leaders are reportedly split on how to react to the committee report and potential criminal referrals. Some conservative GOP members have called for an investigation of the committee. Former President Trump has railed on his social media site against the committee’s investigation.