by Arjun Singh
Both houses of Congress have adjourned for two weeks until after Thanksgiving even as major legislative work that must be completed before the year ends remains unfinished.
The Senate and House of Representatives passed a continuing resolution to avoid a government shutdown scheduled for Nov. 17 on Wednesday and Tuesday, respectively, the second such resolution since Sept. 30 amid efforts to pass appropriations bills for the upcoming fiscal year. Afterward, both houses adjourned until Nov. 27 and 28, even though they have not considered the following major legislative items, such as the Farm Bill and National Defense Authorization Act, which need to be passed before the end of the year.
Passing all 12 appropriations bills
As of writing, Congress has not completely passed all 12 of the appropriations bills needed to fund the government for the 2024 fiscal year. Of that number, the House has passed seven while the Senate has only passed three, with these being different from the House’s versions and requiring a conference process to proceed.
The House had previously attempted to pass appropriations bills regarding financial services, the Departments of Transportation, Labor and Health and Human Services, but these were withdrawn from the floor amid a lack of support from House Republicans. Some moderate Republicans have opposed spending cuts to certain programs, joining Democrats, while more conservative Republicans have insisted on greater cuts, which are separately opposed by Senate Democrats and the Biden Administration — whose support is required to enact them into law.
Congressional Republicans have adamantly opposed combining all appropriations bills into a single piece of legislation, known as an “omnibus,” arguing that it leads to runaway government spending with little accountability. Both Houses must pass at least four appropriations bills to prevent a partial government shutdown by Jan. 19 and the remainder by Feb. 2, after which a full shutdown will occur.
Passing the National Defense Authorization Act
The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is annual legislation that authorizes funding for the U.S. military, being one of the most expensive bills passed by Congress every year. It also establishes rules for the armed forces, the military healthcare system and decides where new military construction projects will be located, which are often a large source of local employment.
The NDAA is considered a “must-pass” legislation and has been enacted every year for the last 62 years. “If Congress fails to pass the necessary authorizations and appropriations, then the federal agencies…[will lack] funding needed for the annual military pay raise, along with essential improvements to health care and other quality of life programs and benefits necessary for an all-volunteer force,” wrote the Military Officers Association of America.
The House and the Senate have both passed different versions of the NDAA and must negotiate a compromise bill through a “conference” process before passing that bill through both houses by the end of the year. In order to accelerate that process, Republican Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, briefly placed a hold on the continuing resolution on Wednesday night until Senate Democrats agreed to pass a motion to begin conference proceedings.
Reauthorizing Section 702
Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) is a provision of U.S. law that permits the government to spy on foreign nationals who are outside of the United States by accessing their U.S.-based email accounts, social media messages and cloud storage systems. The program has been hailed by Congressional leaders and the Biden administration as critical to national security but has been criticized by some House Republicans, who argue that FISA warrants support the “weaponization” of government against political opponents.
“[I’ve heard] nothing but EXCUSES. Nothing but EMPTY PROMISES. And the time for those excuses is OVER.”
MUST WATCH🔥 pic.twitter.com/Zeq9UY2qfP
— Rep. Chip Roy Press Office (@RepChipRoy) November 16, 2023
“There’s no way we’re going to be for reauthorizing that in its current form — no possible way,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, according to The New York Times. Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, meanwhile, introduced a resolution that called for Congress to let Section 702 expire.
“Section 702 has been used to identify and protect against national security threats to the United States and its allies, to include both conventional and cyber threats posed by the People’s Republic of China, Russia, Iran, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” wrote Attorney General Merrick Garland and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines to congressional leaders in February, adding that “[i]t has also become clear that there is no way to replicate Section 702’s speed, reliability, specificity, and insight.”
Section 702 is set to expire on Dec. 31 and a bill to reauthorize it has not yet been introduced.
Reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration
A bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was passed by the House on July 20 but has been held up in the Senate, amid disagreements over a rule that requires a commercial flight’s two pilots to have at least 1,500 hours of experience, as well a proposal to raise the pilot retirement age from 65 to 67. Opponents believe that both are unnecessary and hurt efforts to curb an airline pilot shortage, while pilots’ unions argue they are necessary for safety.
The FAA is the agency that regulates all civil and commercial aviation in the United States. Its authorization expired on Sept. 30, but was extended by the continuing resolution passed that day for three months.
Both houses of Congress must pass an FAA reauthorization bill by Dec. 31, or else the agency will be temporarily defunded and shut down several of its programs. “If the FAA’s authorization expires, the agency could miss out on $50 million a day in tax revenue to facilitate smooth and safe air travel experiences. Air traffic controller hiring and training process would also be disrupted, further slowing air traffic,” wrote Democratic Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine of Virginia in a statement.
Passing a Farm Bill
The “Farm Bill” refers to legislation considered every five years that authorizes several agricultural policies to support U.S. food production. These include critical subsidies for farmers to produce grains and foodstuffs, compete in international markets, obtain credit to scale their businesses as well as fund the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which provides food to low-income households.
“If the farm bill were to expire without a new bill in place or if programs were not granted an extension by Congress, all of the programs would return to the 1949 bill,” wrote Shelby Myers, an economist with the American Farm Bureau Federation, which would raise the price of food for consumers, according to the Congressional Research Service.
In the continuing resolution passed on Wednesday, Congress extended the authorization of the existing Farm Bill, passed in 2018, by one year, with its provisions now due to expire in 2024. However, several interest groups have indicated that a new bill is required to account for changes in agricultural markets and the broader economy, such as inflation.
“[M]uch has changed in agricultural markets and the broader economy. Inflation has made it harder for farmers and ranchers to maintain coverage of products and keep their products at an affordable and competitive price,” wrote the National Governors Association in a letter to Congress. “A new Farm Bill should reflect these new realities.
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Arjun Singh is a reporter at Daily Caller News Foundation.