Congress’ legislative slate is packed ahead of 2024
As the calendar runs out in 2023, Congress has a daunting list of to-dos. Here’s a look at the stakes and challenges of each major task—and what could happen if Congress fails to deliver.
What’s at stake: The government needs funding through 2024. If Congress does not pass appropriations bills, some parts of the government will shut down by Jan. 19, while others will close on Feb. 2. For now, the federal government is operating off a temporary funding resolution proposed by House Speaker Mike Johnson and passed with the help of Democrats to avoid a shutdown that otherwise would have started last Friday. In the meantime, House Republicans struggle to find consensus on their spending priorities for 2024. The House has passed eight spending bills accounting for roughly 70 percent of the year’s funding. The Senate has only passed one of these bills, and President Joe Biden has yet to sign any of them into law.
Challenges: Johnson’s short-term solution last week came with a high political cost. Many of the most conservative members in the House see an extension of current spending levels as a failure on his part. Republicans could call for Johnson’s job if he does not find some way of cutting the budget—and getting the Democratic-controlled Senate and White House to agree to it.
What’s at stake: An ethics committee report put out last week unequivocally condemned Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., for repeatedly defrauding donors and misusing campaign funds in the lead-up to his 2022 election. Before the report’s release, Santos survived two votes to remove him from office because many members of Congress were reluctant to unseat one of their peers without some sort of due process. The ethics report changes things. A motion to remove Santos has already been submitted but won’t be considered until the House reconvenes after Thanksgiving break. Back home in New York, Santos faces 23 criminal charges, to which he has pleaded not guilty.
Challenges: Removing Santos might reinforce standards for lawmakers’ conduct, but it would make virtually everything else harder for Republicans in the House. The GOP has 222 seats in a chamber where it takes 218 to make a majority. If Republicans oust Santos, that brings down their advantage to just three votes. With a growing need for compromise ahead, building consensus in the party could become an even bigger headache for Johnson.
Senate Rules and Tuberville’s blockade
What’s at stake: Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., has frustrated his colleagues by continuing to protest pro-abortion policies at the Pentagon by slowing down military promotions that require Senate approval. Without Tuberville’s buy-in, the Senate cannot complete the confirmation in bulk and must vote on each nominee individually. Tuberville’s critics say the slowdown has negatively affected U.S. military readiness.
Challenges: Breaking Tuberville’s blockade may require a temporary circumvention of one of the Senate’s most hallowed rules: the threshold for cloture. Cloture means ending debate on a legislative matter and taking a vote, which brings an end to a filibuster. The Senate introduced a bill earlier this month that would temporarily drop the threshold for breaking a filibuster from 60 votes to a simple majority to allow speedier approval of military confirmation. A few Republicans including Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., have said they would support the measure. A change to the rule—even a temporary one—would represent a significant departure from the Senate’s past hesitancy to modify rules on cloture.
FISA Section 702
What’s at stake: By Dec. 31, one of the most powerful tools in the arsenal of the intelligence community is set to expire. Experts interviewed by WORLD have estimated that the intelligence collected through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act’s Section 702 makes up more than half of the president’s daily intelligence briefings. The act allows for surveillance of international communications that pose a credible threat to the security of the United States without a traditional warrant. Section 702 became law in 2008 and has been renewed twice since then. Congress sets new expiration date for the act each time it is reauthorized.
Challenges: Over the past few years, reports from the FISA court have made it clear that the policy has been misused against U.S. citizens, campaign employees, protesters, and more. The court reported 278,000 cases of FISA misuse in 2021. Over the past year, Congress has evaluated what changes it should implement before renewing the law’s power.