By Maeve Sheehey, Kate Ackley, and Zach C. Cohen
November 28, 2023
House returns to consider pandemic loan fraud, other bills
Senate takes up Biden’s judicial, Labor Department nominees
No year-end spending deal means no obvious vehicle for lobbyists’ and lawmakers’ grab bag of legislative items. That’s left them sizing up alternatives, including the must-pass annual defense authorization, to fill in as their “Christmas tree” bill.
It is, after all, a season of wishful thinking.
The sweeping National Defense Authorization Act is a particularly attractive target for those eager to push their priorities through. Congress hasn’t failed to pass the reauthorization of military programs and personnel in more than six decades.
“In terms of moving vehicles, NDAA is always a favorite play,” Monument Advocacy founder Stewart Verdery said. “You’re always looking for a limb to hang an ornament on.”
Lawmakers and lobbyists pushing to extend tax breaks, renew a provision of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, rein in credit card interchange fees paid by merchants, target pharmacy benefit managers, and advance other matters see twinkling lights when they look at the defense bill.
Lobbyists working against such measures are worried NDAA could offer a ride, even if it’s a long shot. Senators already added a number of riders to their version of the bill dealing with a diverse array of policy areas from fuel production to agriculture.
One amendment from Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) would prevent the sale of farmland or agribusiness to foreign adversaries — a hot topic on both sides of the aisle.
A standalone FAA bill would provide Congress with another possible year-end “Christmas tree” for policy priorities. The House passed a bill to reauthorize the agency with broad bipartisan support over the summer.
The FAA’s authorities expire at the end of the year thanks to lawmakers’ passage of a three-month extension inside a government funding resolution in September. Members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee are pushing for an FAA reauthorization separate from NDAA this time, a committee source said. Senators could also resolve a disagreement over pilot training requirements, clearing the path for a long-term extension.
Tori Barnes, executive vice president of public affairs and policy at the US Travel Association, said she sees the potential for the FAA reauthorization if senators are able to break their logjam.
“I think we could see some kind of package of bills at the end of the year, but it’s too soon to tell,” Barnes said.
Other big items that could make it through this year and provide a vehicle for other items include aid for Israel and Ukraine and a border measure.
Lobbyist Mark Williams said his firm, Ferox Strategies, wants to move several items by year’s end and is eyeing the defense and FAA bills. But the path is unclear, he said.
“If there is a moving legislative vehicle, you try to figure out a way to get your priorities attached,” Williams said.
Given the uncertainty of the next month, lobbyists like Williams already have their gaze veering into next year.
“The last train of the year will be leaving the station. I think there will also be some other trains in the first quarter of next year,” Williams said.
NDAA negotiators are running into a potential roadblock: the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services panel refuses to back the transfer of attack submarines to Australia under a trilateral security pact until Congress approves $3.4 billion in emergency funding for the American submarine industrial base.
It’s not a new tactic for Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss) to use the AUKUS national security pact between Australia, the UK, and the US to boost funding for what he has called under-resourced submarine shipyards. Even so, his insistence that Congress first approve a national security supplemental package could jeopardize or slow down the passage of a compromise defense authorization bill. Roxana Tiron covers the latest holdup.
While the House and Senate Armed Services panels have ironed out most of the differences between the two versions of the bill, controversial culture war issues from the House version — such as the Pentagon’s abortion travel policy — will likely need to be resolved by congressional leaders. For more on the status of NDAA download the latest BGOV OnPoint: Defense Policy Bill Enters Final Stretch.
The New Mexico Supreme Court upheld the Democratic legislature’s congressional map, which helped Democrat Gabe Vasquez oust Republican Yvette Herrell in a close 2022 election in the state’s 2nd District, Greg Giroux reports. New Mexico’s high court rejected a Republican appeal and agreed with a state district judge’s ruling that the Democrats’ mapmaking didn’t entrench their party and wasn’t “egregious” enough to violate the state constitution.