Washington Update

Inside (the Beltway) Scoop

By: Ellen Kuo
Wednesday, January 10, 2024
Congress Has a Full Plate 

The Senate and House returned for the second session of the 118th Congress this week. The political environment continues to become more complex as another Republican, Bill Johnson (R-OH), announced he will resign on January 21 for a new position instead of finishing his term. His departure will leave the House with 219 Republicans and 213 Democrats. House Republicans lost Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and George Santos (R-NY) in December.

The two-step continuing resolution (CR) solution that was put in place before the holiday means the House must find a way to finalize government funding for fiscal year (FY) 2024. The first four appropriations bills of Military Construction-VA, Agriculture, Energy and Water and Transportation-HUD have an end date of January 19 and the remaining eight of February 2. Funding for the agencies and programs in these bills will lapse if Congress cannot finalize them by the January 19 and February 2 dates. Speaker Mike Johnson has pledged that there will be no more short-term continuing resolutions (CRs). Breaking this pledge would just increase resentment by his party. House Republicans need to be seen as being able to govern and are suffering setbacks in future elections in November due to court orders on congressional redistricting in New York and New Mexico that could result in loss of Republican seats in those states for the 119th Congress. The House flipping back to Democrat control with Hakeem Jefferies as Speaker in 2025 is a potential outcome. Democrats need five seats to claim the majority.

Under the Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA), discretionary spending limits for FY 2024 were capped for non-defense spending of $703.6 billion and $886.3 billion for defense. On Sunday, Speaker Mike Johnson and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jefferies announced a bipartisan top line spending deal. The defense figure would be the same as the FRA requires of $886.3 billion. For non-defense the amount is $772.7 billion, which is more than under the FRA by $69 billion for a total of $1.6 trillion for defense and non-defense. This extra $69 billion comes from both offsets and budgetary accounting. 

However, Johnson said in his letter to colleagues that the topline constitutes $1.590 trillion with $886 billion for defense and $704 billion for nondefense. As soon as the bipartisan agreement on the topline was announced, House Freedom Caucus members said they did not think this agreement was a good deal and do not accept the $1.590 trillion in actual programmatic spending. Additionally, another stumbling block is that there is no deal yet on controversial policy riders. Therefore, these will need to be settled before a final appropriations package can be put together.

In light of Congress’ return to work to complete the FY 2024 spending bills, on January 7, NDD United circulated a letter to House and Senate leaders asking Congress to reject a full-year CR, and instead finish the FY 2024 appropriations process with the bipartisan Senate funding bills as a starting point for negotiations. More than 1,100 organizations signed the letter including FASEB and several of its member societies. In a letter to House Budget Committee leaders, Congressional Budget Office states that the "sequester" provision in the FRA triggering automatic cuts for FY 2024 could result in 9 percent across-the-board reductions to domestic and foreign aid accounts.

All this is taking place as the FY 2025 budget and appropriations season begins with the president’s budget scheduled to be released on the first Monday of February. However, the likelihood of seeing the president’s budget by then is slim and many are expecting it could be delayed.