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Unfinished 2023 business dominates start of 2024 session

Fights ahead over domestic spending, military aid, immigration and impeachment

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer and Speaker Mike Johnson have to finish work left from last year before moving to this year’s agenda.
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer and Speaker Mike Johnson have to finish work left from last year before moving to this year’s agenda. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

As the calendar turns to a presidential election year with control of both chambers in play, Congress and the White House are facing a full slate of leftovers from 2023, headlined by a stalled emergency supplemental spending request and looming deadlines to keep the government open.

Sunday’s announcement of a topline agreement between House Republicans and Senate Democrats means that appropriators know the maximum amount they can spend to fund the government for the rest of this fiscal year. But they are still haggling on how to apportion that among 12 bills covering various departments and agencies, let alone navigate a thicket of contentious partisan policy riders.

“The bipartisan funding framework congressional leaders have reached moves us one step closer to preventing a needless government shutdown and protecting important national priorities,” President Joe Biden said in a statement supporting the deal, which would allow $886.3 billion for defense and $772.7 billion for nondefense programs.

The enactment of an unusual bifurcated continuing resolution in November set up multiple funding deadlines. Funding for departments and agencies covered by four appropriation bills was extended through Jan. 19, with the balance running through Feb. 2, or Groundhog Day. 

Ukraine aid, border security

The Biden administration has also said resources for aid to Ukraine’s effort to repel an invasion from Russia have largely run out.

Biden asked for $110.5 billion in supplemental funding for Ukraine, assistance to Israel, border security and other urgent needs, but the Democratic Senate took no action in December, deferring to off-the-floor bipartisan talks about overhauling immigration laws to deal with migrants seeking asylum.

Speaker Mike Johnson, who led more than 60 of his members to the U.S.-Mexico border at Eagle Pass, Texas, last week, said there was “deep resolve” on the part of House Republicans to hold out for border policy changes.

“Listen, this is a catastrophe down here,” Johnson, R-La., said in a CNN interview. “And what the White House is proposing is more money to process and allow more illegals into the country. We need to do the opposite of that.”

Biden’s response has been that the requested spending would pay for hiring extra Border Patrol officers and bolster efforts to fight fentanyl trafficking, and he’s said failing to stand by Ukraine could embolden Russia to attack NATO allies that U.S. forces are committed to defend.

Senate negotiators continued to work this weekend to try to find a path for an immigration agreement. Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., said on Fox News Sunday that the hope was to have text available for review by week’s end.

“When money has been sent to the White House, they’ve used that money to facilitate more people coming into the country rather than actually stopping the flow,” Lankford said. “So let’s deal with the policy issues on it.”

House Republicans argued that not setting a holiday deadline on spending deals last year prevented their members from getting jammed up in a negotiation with the Senate and the White House. And the schedule change provided the Capitol community a somewhat rare assurance of being able to spend Christmas with family.

But to avoid incessant jokes about Bill Murray’s weatherman character ahead of Feb. 2, congressional leadership will need to finish the process and get spending measures to the president’s desk.

There is plenty of other big-ticket legislation that will expire without further action during the year. That list is topped by the multiyear farm bill, which sets policy for agriculture and food assistance, and the reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration.

Congress also faces an April 19 deadline for further addressing reauthorization of foreign surveillance authorities. Section 702 was set to expire at the end of 2023, but Congress passed a short-term extension as part of the fiscal 2024 defense policy bill, which moved the deadline for reauthorization to April 19.  

Slimmer majority

The second session of the 118th Congress actually began last week, but both chambers held only pro forma sessions and members will not be back in their Hill offices until this week.

House Republicans remain in the majority, but only narrowly following the resignation of former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and the expulsion of Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y. In addition, Majority Leader Steve Scalise’s cancer treatment will keep him out of Washington until next month. 

There could be more members announcing plans to retire ahead, while the number of House vacancies will grow when Republican Rep. Bill Johnson of Ohio and Democratic Rep. Brian Higgins of New York step down in the coming weeks to pursue other jobs.

Impeachment inquiries and other probes aimed at Biden, his Cabinet and his family will be near the top of the agenda as the early presidential and congressional primary season gets underway and Johnson appeases more hard-line members who pushed McCarthy out of leadership.

The GOP-led House voted just before breaking for Christmas to formally launch an impeachment inquiry against Biden on a 221-212 party-line vote. The adopted resolution outlines the jurisdiction of three committees involved in the effort.

Among the questions asked by committees involved since then is whether the president knew in advance that his son Hunter Biden planned not to comply with a subpoena from the House Judiciary and Oversight and Accountability committees. Rather than testify behind closed doors, the younger Biden appeared outside the Capitol and read a statement, challenging lawmakers to question him at an open hearing.

The two House panels are scheduled to meet Wednesday on measures recommending holding the president’s son in contempt of Congress.

Separately, the House Homeland Security Committee has scheduled a hearing Wednesday to begin impeachment proceedings against Alejandro Mayorkas, the secretary of Homeland Security, over allegations related to the administration’s handling of border security. The committee’s chairman, Tennessee Republican Mark E. Green, announced that schedule just before the GOP House members’ visit to the border on Jan. 3.

The Senate is sure to continue work on nominations. With the presidential election and control of the Senate both very much in play, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., will be eager to work with the White House to get as many lifetime appointments to the federal judiciary confirmed as possible.

Campaign season

Schumer may face pressure, however, from vulnerable members hoping to spend as much time as possible on the campaign trail. 

Campaign season is already here, with Republicans holding their Iowa caucuses for president next Monday, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. New Hampshire holds its primary the following week, and a special election to fill Santos’ seat in New York, a race sure to be seen as a bellwether for November battles, will take place the day before Valentine’s Day.

Super Tuesday arrives on March 5, a mashup of presidential primaries in 14 states and congressional primaries in five. They include Texas and California, home to 90 House seats combined and a Senate primary for California’s open seat that pits three House Democrats — Barbara Lee, Katie Porter and Adam B. Schiff — against each other.

Perhaps even before knowing the results of all the Super Tuesday primaries, Biden will be in the House chamber to deliver the final State of the Union address of his first term on March 7. 

Aidan Quigley and Ryan Tarinelli contributed to this report.

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