Senate Should Finish NDAA This Week, House Has a Light Week, Debt Limit on the Agenda
By Jason Pye - Director, Rule of Law Initiatives
Point of Order is a (mostly) weekly preview of key congressional activity for those with more than a passing interest in federal policy.
This could be the last week of the first session: Obviously, things are a little iffy right now, but it’s possible this could be the last week of the first session of the 117th Congress. Unless things begin moving on the Build Back Better Act this week, it’s really hard to see how it’ll happen by the end of the year. If this is the last week of session, we won’t have another Point of Order until the week of January 10 unless one of the chambers comes back before the end of the year. From all of us here at Due Process Institute, we wish you happy holidays.
Nominees and NDAA in the Senate: The Senate returns today at 3:00 pm to resume consideration of the nomination of Samantha D. Elliott to serve as a judge on the U.S. District District Court for the District of New Hampshire. A roll call vote on the confirmation of Lucy Haeran Koh to serve as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit is expected to begin around 5:30 pm. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) also filed a cloture motion on the motion to concur with the House amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for FY 2022, which is now S. 1605. The cloture motions on the Elliott nomination and NDAA ripen tomorrow.
Waiting for action on the Build Back Better Act: Schumer has said for weeks that he wanted to put the Build Back Better Act, H.R. 5376, on the floor this week and have the bill passed by Christmas. As of December 6, Schumer wrote in a letter to Senate Democrats that eight of the 12 Senate committees that had reconciliation instructions had sent their reconciliation recommendations to the parliamentarian for the “Byrd bath” and the Congressional Budget Office for cost estimates. The two committees with the most costly parts of the package, the Finance Committee and the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, hadn’t sent their recommendations as of early last week. Still, Schumer wrote in the letter that “our goal in the Senate is to pass the legislation before Christmas and get it to the president’s desk.” There is a possibility that Schumer brings the bill to the floor without knowing where Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is on procedural votes and the vote for final passage, but that carries risks. That said, Manchin is meeting with President Biden today. Obviously, that meeting has implications for the Build Back Better Act.
CBO scores ten-year cost of Build Back Better: At the request of the ranking members of the House and Senate Budget Committees, Rep. Jason Smith (R-MO) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) produced a cost estimate of the House-passed version of the Build Back Better Act if certain provisions set to expire over the next ten years were made permanent. The CBO estimates that the Build Back Better Act would add $3.012 trillion to the budget deficit if the specified provisions were extended throughout the ten-year budgetary period. Democrats have shot back that the cost estimate doesn’t extend offsets that would lessen the impact on the deficit. Separately, the CBO is rolling out some cost estimates of the reconciliation recommendations from Senate committees. Those are available here.
About that new debt limit deal: Congress passed legislation last week to address the debt limit stalemate. Section 8 of the Protecting Medicare and American Farmers from Sequester Cuts Act, S. 610, provides expedited procedures to increase the debt limit by a specific dollar amount via a joint resolution. The expedited process, which is very similar to budget reconciliation or the Congressional Review Act, requires only a simple majority for passage of the joint resolution. The joint resolution must be introduced by December 31. The expedited process has an expiration date of January 15, 2022. Now, getting the legislation that provides the expedited process passed is another story. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) had to wrangle ten Republicans to vote for the bill. He was harshly criticized by some Republicans in October for facilitating a deal with Schumer and said he wouldn’t help on the debt limit again after Schumer blasted Republicans. The way McConnell has handled this technically keeps his pledge intact, but there are critics both inside and outside the Senate. That said, the strategy does force vulnerable Democrats to take a politically difficult vote on the debt limit. For those interested, the House roll call vote on S. 610 is here. The Senate roll call on the cloture motion is here and the final passage roll call is here.
Worth noting: It’s hard to know what to make of this, but Manchin is reportedly talking to some Republicans about potential changes to the Rules of the Senate to move legislation and amendments. Manchin, along with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), opposes eliminating the legislative filibuster, but rule changes that make it easier for the Senate to consider amendments and move legislation would potentially have bipartisan appeal.
Senate committee schedule: Below are some Senate committee hearings that may be of interest. The full Senate committee schedule for the week is here.
Combating Gun Trafficking and Reducing Violence in Chicago (Judiciary, Monday at 9:00 am)
Nominations Hearing (Foreign Relations, Tuesday at 10:00 am)
Nominations Hearing (Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions; Tuesday at 10:00 am)
Stablecoins: How Do They Work, How Are They Used, and What Are Their Risks? (Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs; Tuesday at 10:00 am)
Nominations Hearing (Foreign Relations, Tuesday at 2:30 pm)
Business Meeting (Foreign Relations, Wednesday at 10:00 am)
Nominations Hearing (Judiciary, Wednesday at 10:00 am)
Disaster Recovery Assistance - Authorization of the Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery Program (Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs; Wednesday at 10:00 am)
Executive Session (Commerce, Science, and Transporation; Wednesday at 10:00 am)
Business Meeting (Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Wednesday at 11:30 am)
The Impact of Consolidation and Monopoly Power on American Innovation (Judiciary Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights; Wednesday at 2:30 pm)
Business Meeting (Foreign Relations, Wednesday at 3:30 pm)
Oversight of the U.S. Airline Industry (Commerce, Science, and Transporation; Wednesday at 2:30 pm)
Executive Business Meeting (Judiciary, Thursday at 9:00 am)
Nominations Hearing (Commerce, Science, and Transporation; Thursday at 10:00 am)
If you’re interested in watching any of these hearings online, you can find committee websites here.
It’s a light week in the House: The House returns tomorrow at 12:00 pm for legislative business. Votes could happen as early as when the House is scheduled to meet. The House may also be in session on Wednesday, but not Thursday and Friday. There are not any bills expected to come to the floor under the suspension of the rules. There are, however, at least three rule bills that are expected on the floor.
About the rule bills: The House Rules Committee has not noticed a meeting to consider the rule governing consideration of the legislation on the floor this week. As of now, we expect that the bills on the floor this week will be the Combating International Islamophobia Act, H.R. 5665; legislation related to the debt limit; and a resolution finding former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows in contempt of Congress for his refusal to comply with a subpoena issued by the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol. The Combating International Islamophobia Act would create an office inside the Department of State to monitor and combat Islamophobia around the world and require the Department of State to include information about these acts in its annual reports. The legislation related to the debt limit will increase the statutory debt limit by a specific dollar amount. (Rumors of a $2 trillion increase are out there.) The resolution holding Meadows in contempt would refer him to the Department of Justice for prosecution, once again testing the limits of executive privilege.
Nunes plans to resign: Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) will leave Congress at the end of the year to serve as the CEO of a media company owned by former President Trump. Nunes has served in the House since 2003 and currently serves as the ranking member on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI). His tenure as the Republican leader of the committee has been marked by controversy. He also filed lawsuits against the owner of a parody Twitter account and a political consultant, Liz Mair, for defamation. The lawsuit against Mair was dismissed in August. When he served as the chairman of HPSCI, Nunes was also one of the most notable apologists of the surveillance state and a constant roadblock to reform.
House committee schedule: Below are some House committee hearings that may be of interest. The full House committee schedule for the week can be found here.
Meeting: Business Meeting on a Report Recommending that the House of Representatives Cite Mark Randall Meadows for Criminal Contempt of Congress (January 6th Select Committee, Monday at 7:00 pm)
A Global Crisis Needs a Global Solution: The Urgent Need to Accelerate Vaccinations Around the World (Coronavirus Crisis, Tuesday at 2:00 pm)
Oversight of the Smithsonian Institution: Protecting Smithsonian Facilities and Collections Against Climate Change (House Administration, Thursday at 12:00 pm)
Member Day (House Administration Subcommittee on Elections, Friday at 9:00 am)
If you’re interested in watching any of these hearings online, you can find committee websites here.
And just one more reminder: If this is the last week of session before the end of the year, we’ll see you on January 10, unless one of the chambers comes back sooner.