Political Report: 9/5/2018

 In Political Report

Main Story: Supreme Court Hearings to Get Headlines, but Funding Deadline Looms

Most of the attention this week will be rightfully focused on the Senate Judiciary Committee, where Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh will be grilled by Republicans and Democrats. However, absent some type of spectacular gaffe or shocking revelation, the math is straight-forward. He will be approved by the Committee and then by the full Senate, likely by a narrow margin. However, there is much more uncertainty regarding government funding, as the fiscal year ends on September 30, just eleven House-session days away. Complicating matters further is that House Republicans will almost certainly want to get out of town and back on the campaign trail to try to protect their vulnerable majority. All of these combined makes government funding a much more interesting proposition than the seemingly pre-ordained confirmation of Justice Kavanaugh.

As we have discussed before, Congress appears relatively well-positioned to get at least some of the appropriations bills signed into law before the end of the fiscal year. The Senate has passed nine bills, including the Labor-HHS appropriations, normally one of the most hotly contested pieces of legislation. The House has only passed five, but there is considerable overlap with the Senate bills (see chart below). Of particular concern to this report is the Defense appropriations bill. The House and Senate have both passed their respective versions of this bill. The Senate defense appropriation is paired with the Labor-HHS appropriations, in a move designed to generate support from Democrats. However, despite all of this positioning, there is no guarantee that Congress will move to get some of these bills passed prior to the end of September. GOP leaders are currently working behind the scenes to try to make sure that there is no threat of a shutdown before the election.

Here are some of the key questions they need to resolve:

  1. Will House Republicans accept clean bills? House Republicans have so far passed appropriations legislation that contains partisan policy riders. The Senate has eschewed this approach to expedite passage. Should the House be unwilling to remove these riders, it will be much harder to pass appropriations.
  2. How long will the House stay in session? Moving appropriations through both chambers will likely be a time-consuming process. Given the need for the Senate to allocate floor time to Justice Kavanaugh’s nomination, the House may need to wait on the Senate to pass various amended bills. With vulnerable House Republicans (and vulnerable Senate Democrats) chomping at the bit to get back out campaigning, a continuing resolution may look more and more appealing as time drags on.
  3. Finally, but most importantly, what will the White House do? Congressional leaders can make all the plans that they would like, but without the White House getting on-board it is all academic. Recent reports indicate that the President has not finalized what his position will be on a potential end of year funding deal. Some of his aides appear to support holding non-DHS funding up to guarantee funding for the Southern border wall. Other aides recognize the difficult position this might put Congressional Republicans in and would prefer to hold off on any such showdown until after the election. In all likelihood, it will only be made clear at the very end of the Congressional process which way the White House will choose to go, which could throw the existing plans into disarray.

Key Dates & Appropriations Update:

  • September 30th – End of Fiscal Year 2018
  • November 6th – Election Day
  • December 13th – Last scheduled session day in 2018
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House Activity

The House is in session this week and the focus will primarily be on appropriations. On Tuesday, the House was scheduled to send instructions to begin a committee of conference on the Defense appropriations bill. Later in the week, time may be set aside to consider conference committee reports on other, less controversial appropriations bills.

Senate Activity

The Senate will continue to work through a variety of nominations based on an agreement negotiated last week. In addition there may be legislative action on a variety of non-controversial measures such as an FAA reauthorization and opioid legislation.

Congressional Defense Activity

  • HPSCI
    • No hearings this week
  • SSCI
    • 9/5 ‘Open Hearing: Foreign Influence Operations’ Use of Social Media Platforms’, G50 Dirksen, 930am
  • HFAC
    • 9/6 ‘Tackling Fentanyl: Holding China Accountable’, Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations Hearing, 2200 Rayburn, 2pm
    • 9/6 ‘U.S. Policy Toward Cuba’, Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, 217 Rayburn, 2pm
  • SFRC
    • 9/5 ‘Assessing the Value of the NATO Alliance’, Full Committee Hearing, SD-419 Dirksen, 10am
    • 9/5 ‘The China Challenge, Part 2: Security and Military Developments’, Subcommittee on East Asia, The Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy, SD-419 Dirksen, 230pm
    • 9/6 ‘Business Meeting’, Full Committee Meeting, S-116 The Capitol, 10am
  •  SASC
    • No hearings this week
  • HASC
    • No hearings this week
  • SAC-D
    • No hearings this week
  • HAC-D
    • No hearings this week

Government Activity Round-up

Nothing new at the GAO or CBO this week. However, Dr. Dominik Kimla, one of our analysts operating out of Poland, has put together a very in-depth look at defense spending trends in Central and Eastern Europe heading into MSPO (Poland’s International Defence Industry Exhibition). Using data from Avascent Analytics and his deep understanding of the region, Dr. Kimla lays out a full analysis of trends in these growing markets. For the full report, go here.

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