4 min read

Congress’ to-do list

The issues facing lawmakers before the end of the year.
Congress’ to-do list
Mitch McConnell faces a tough decision on Ukraine aid. (Gage Skidmore)

Good morning! It’s Wednesday, December 6, 2023. The 2024 elections are 335 days away. The Iowa caucuses are 40 days away. If this newsletter was forwarded to you, subscribe here. If you want to contribute to support my work, donate here.

For the first time in almost a decade, members of Congress are not facing a year-end spending deadline.

The two-tiered continuing resolution passed last month punted the annual government funding battle until January 19, when the first round of federal agencies will run out of money. (Other agencies will see their funding expire on February 2.)

But that doesn’t mean lawmakers don’t have anything to fight over for the rest of the year: the final stretch of 2023 is still shaping up to be a busy 25-day sprint, even without the usual government funding deadline looming over it.

Here’s what’s coming up in Congress for the rest of the year:

Ukraine/Israel/border supplemental. The Senate is set to hold a procedural vote today on the National Security and Border Act, the $111 billion Democratic package that includes aid for Ukraine and Israel, as well as border security funding.

With Republicans nearly unified in opposition, the measure is not expected to receive the 60 votes it needs to advance. Congressional Republicans — including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), a leading proponent of Ukraine aid — have insisted that any foreign assistance package be linked to new border restrictions, which the Democratic package does not include.

Bipartisan negotiations over a Ukraine/border deal appear to have fallen apart, at least for now. Some on the Hill hope that today’s failed vote jumpstarts talks again, once Democrats see that McConnell and his conference are serious about blocking Ukraine aid until Democrats make serious concessions on the border.

The White House has warned that, without a new legislative package, the U.S. will run out of funds to send Ukraine by the end of the year. “We are out of money — and nearly out of time,” OMB director Shalanda Young wrote in a letter to lawmakers.

Defense policy package. Every year since 1961, Congress has passed the National Defense Authorization Act, which sets Pentagon policies and funding levels. This year, lawmakers have left it to the very last minute to pass the annual package, which has been mired in culture war fights over gender and abortion.

However, lawmakers are still hopeful that the NDAA will make it through just in time; a House-Senate conference committee to craft a joint package began meeting last week. “I’m optimistic we will find a reasonable compromise that both chambers can support,” House Armed Services Committee chairman Mike Rogers (R-AL) said at the conference committee meeting. “What everyone here needs to understand is, we will enact an NDAA this year.”

Surveillance authority. The Biden administration is also pushing lawmakers to renew Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a key authority that allows the government to gather foreigners’ communications — using a process that frequently sweeps in Americans’ emails and text messages as well.

Section 702 is set to expire at the end of the year, and some lawmakers are calling for the authority to be reformed before it’s extended. A “clean” extension was expected to be included in the NDAA, but House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) has reportedly called for the issue to be considered separately.

Military nominations. Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) ended the bulk of his months-long blockade against military nominations Tuesday, allowing 425 Pentagon promotions to be approved. Tuberville is continuing his hold on about eight four-star promotions, which the Senate will likely have to take up one by one.

More news to know.

Trump: I won’t be a dictator ‘except for day one’ / Politico

Biden tells donors he’s ‘not sure I’d be running’ in 2024 if Trump wasn’t in the race / CNN

Georgia prosecutors put Mike Pence on their witness list in 2020 election subversion case against Trump / CNN

Israeli forces battle Hamas in southern Gaza, humanitarian concerns grow / Reuters

Taylor Swift is named Time Magazine’s person of the year / AP

The day ahead.

White House: President Biden will hold a virtual meeting with G7 leader, deliver remarks at the White House Tribal Nations Summit, and participate in a campaign fundraiser.

Senate: The upper chamber is set to hold procedural votes to advance the Ukraine/Israel/border funding package and Nathalie Rayes’s nomination to be U.S. ambassador to Croatia.

House: The lower chamber will vote on the Choice in Automobile Retail Sales Act, which will block an EPA rule establishing new emission standards for vehicles, and the DETERRENT Act, which would impose new reporting requirements for colleges and universities receiving foreign gifts.

A vote is also possible on a resolution to censure Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) for falsely pulling a fire alarm in September.

Campaign trail: Four Republican presidential candidates — Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, Vivek Ramaswamy, and Chris Christie — will meet for the final GOP debate of the year. The debate, which will kick off at 8 p.m. ET in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, will feature the smallest stage of GOP contenders yet.

The debate will air on the cable station NewsNation, with moderators including the former Fox anchor Megyn Kelly.

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