Image for National Defense Bill Becomes Culture War Battlefield
Speaker Kevin McCarthy and House Republicans added culture war provisions to the National Defense Authorization Act, complicating an already divisive battle over cutting federal spending in appropriation bills.

Democrats and Republicans Split on Depth of 2024 Spending Cuts

Culture wars have become the latest battlefront for national defense as Congress struggles to approve appropriations bills before the 2024 fiscal year starts October 1.

A showdown looms over the National Defense Authorization Act after House Republicans stuffed their version with provisions relating to abortion, transgender health, diversity and equity programs and critical race theory in the U.S. military, which Senate Democrats are expected to oppose. The House defense bill passed with a mostly partisan 219-210 margin. Congresswoman Marie Gluesenkamp-Pérez was one of only four Democrats to vote for the bill.

The 12 appropriations bills Congress must pass will face simmering House conservative GOP anger over the debt ceiling deal struck by President Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Senate appropriators are working on a bipartisan basis to stay within the debt ceiling spending limits, though Senators Patty Murray and Susan Collins, the chair and ranking member of Senate Appropriations, agreed to a $13.7 billion side deal for supplemental aid to Ukraine.

Members of the House Freedom Caucus are demanding deeper spending cuts, calling to debt limit deal a “ceiling, not the floor”, forcing a McCarthy concession to move House appropriations at FY 2022 spending levels.

Reauthorizing the farm bill, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act also could become proxy battles for House GOP conservatives.

The House is slated to take up reauthorization of the FAA before the August break. There are 300 pending amendments that include increasing long-haul flights out of Reagan National Airport, a showdown between Delta and rival airlines. Senate consideration has stalled over pilot training requirements.

House Democrats anticipate battles on food stamps and climate change on farm bill reauthorization. House farm bills in 2014 and 2018 encountered trouble on the floor over Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program provisions.

Little progress will occur before senators and House members leave for their August recess, leaving final spending decisions for September before the 2024 fiscal year begins October 1. Congressional leaders most likely will seek a continuing resolution when they return to allow more time to reach agreement on appropriations.

If lawmakers fail to reach agreement by January 1, the debt ceiling deal will automatically trigger a 1 percent spending cut from current fiscal year levels. That would likely jeopardize congressional earmarks added by Republican and Democratic lawmakers.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has indicated remaining floor sessions before the break will be dominated by votes on nominations, leaving only time to take up its national defense authorization bill. The House schedule has room for just two more appropriations measures.

“We should reform the credit to focus on working- and middle-class families.”

Bipartisan Interest in Child Tax Credit
The 64-member Problem-Solvers Caucus is working on a bipartisan compromise to beef up the $2,000 per child tax credit due to expire in 2025. The tax credit’s future is in limbo after being left out of discussions to raise the national debt ceiling and impose spending limits.

The context for a compromise would be GOP-backed tax cut legislation that includes business tax breaks. President Biden and Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden have expressed tentative willingness to consider some business tax breaks such as the research and development tax credit as long as they are balanced with boosts in the social safety net.

The child tax credit, with a track record of reducing children living in poverty, could be the balancing factor. Problem-Solvers Caucus co-chair Brian Fitzpatrick, a Pennsylvania Republican representing a district carried by Biden in 2020, is leading the effort to find a viable child tax credit proposal.

“If we are serious about making this provision last, we should reform the credit to focus on working- and middle-class families and use the resulting savings to extend the benefit improvements further into the future,” Fitzpatrick says. The child tax credit is now available to households up to $400,000 in annual income.

Democrats have sought to make the child tax credit fully refundable for households with low or no federal tax liability. During the pandemic, Democrats boosted the child tax credit to $3,600 per child.

Tying the Record for Tie-Breaking Votes
When Vice President Kamala Harris recently cast a vote to break a Senate tie on the nomination of Kalpana Kotagal as a member of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, she tied a 191-year-old Senate record. It was her 31st tie-breaking vote since entering office with President Joe Biden two and a half years ago.

Harris equaled the record of Vice President John Calhoun during his eight years as vice president between 1825 and 1832 serving under Presidents John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. Two of Calhoun’s tie-breakers were in opposition to Jackson’s policy. Two of Harris’ tie-breakers ensured passage of Democratic COVID-19 relief measures and the fiscal 2022 reconciliation package.

Harris holds the record for the most tie-breaking votes in a single day – four on May 11, 2022 –and for most votes cast in the first year of a vice presidency, with 15. The next highest on the list is former Vice President Mike Pence, who cast seven tie-breakers.

The Constitution provides  that “The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided” (U.S. Constitution, Article I, section 3).

Harris and Pence are the only two vice presidents in the overall top 10 who served after 1873. Since 1789, there have been 299 tie-breaking votes by vice presidents.