Congress returns to Washington this week after a six-week hiatus for the election. Since the end of July, we have only met for a few weeks, and the work we need to complete has piled up. This Congress ends at noon on Sunday, January 3 when the new Congress will be sworn in and start all over again as any bills pending from the old Congress die. Let’s look at what needs to be done between now and then.
Every year since the Kennedy administration, Congress passes a National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, which authorizes the operations of the U.S. military and our national defense, an obligation of Congress under Article One of the Constitution. This year’s bill passed out of the House Armed Services Committee on which I sit by a unanimous vote and out of the full House by a huge bipartisan vote. A Conference Committee will iron out our differences with the Senate bill, and I hope we will vote on the Committee’s report in the next few weeks. The NDAA is one of the few examples this Congress when we have come together to meet our constitutional duties.
I also anticipate that we will vote on the Water Resources Development Act, another bill we regularly pass and which authorizes much of what the Corps of Engineers does for navigation, flood protection and the like.
But the big two are the funding of the government and a new COVID bill.
Back in September, Congress passed a bill continuing government spending for the fiscal year that began on October 1 but using the numbers from the previous year. I wasn’t present for the vote on the bill as I was in the district working on our response to Hurricane Sally. Had I been there, I would have voted against it because these continuing resolutions are punts as we fail to meet our constitutional requirement to fund the government. That bill only runs through December 11, however, and there will be substantial pressure to pass something funding the government beyond that date.
This has been a source of failure in the past. You may remember it happened at the end of 2017. Will we produce an actual appropriations bill or will we pass another continuing resolution taking us into 2021 and the new Congress? Or, will we have a shutdown? The appropriations process, like virtually every other legislative endeavor this Congress, is badly broken because Speaker Pelosi refuses to let it work. There is little effort to work across the aisle or the Capitol, despite good people on both sides and both houses being involved, as the speaker insists on calling the shots and bypassing the capable leadership on the Appropriations Committee.
I am pessimistic that we can get a true appropriations bill this Congress and anticipate another continuing resolution will be proposed on or shortly before December 11. The question is whether that will pass and whether President Trump would sign it if it does. It’s likely to go down to the wire that week.
And the outlook for another COVID response bill this Congress looks even worse. You would think that with the elections out of the way, and having suffered significant election losses among her membership, the speaker would settle into serious negotiations. Not so. In fact, after pushing a $2 trillion bill this summer and fall even as the Senate told her that figure was far too high, she has now come back post-election with a bill for spending over $3 trillion. She is effectively expecting Senator McConnell and the Republican Senate, which seems to be retaining their majority, to bid against themselves. I don’t know what about Senator McConnell’s leadership of the Senate these last six years would give anyone the thought he would cave into that.
Indeed, the speaker’s COVID proposal is really just her way of postponing the discussion until after Inauguration Day when she expects to have a President Biden to help her instead of President Trump. Once again, her goal is less about helping the American people and more about her own power. Here we are at the beginning of the worst part of the year for viral diseases and she is punting the passage of a much-needed bill for at least two more months.
I hope I’m wrong about the speaker’s posture on these bills, but her performance as speaker so far has been depressingly consistent. When the choice is between the needs of the country and her own power, she always chooses the latter.
We have much to do this Congress and not much time to do it. I wish we’d break the mold of this Congress, learn from the election results and actually do the jobs we are required to do under the Constitution. It just doesn’t look like the speaker wants us to fulfill our responsibilities under the Constitution.
U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.