The Political Report 12/1/20

 In Political Report

Main Story: Appropriations Negotiations Progress, but Policy Obstacles Remain

Since our last Political Report in September, quite a lot has changed. Following an election that continues to be contested, though one where the popular vote winner has never been in doubt, Joe Biden has become the president-elect. Avascent has announced the sale of its GPS product line and team (and this author) to Janes, to be effective on January 1, 2021. Much of Europe entered into a second round of lockdowns to combat COVID-19 while cases in the United States have soared to heretofore unheard of levels. Amidst all of this novelty and uncertainty, it’s calming to return to something that can be relied upon: a divided Congress that still does not have a path forward on either funding legislation or the FY2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Now, with both the House and Senate preparing to recess on December 11, time is running out for both pieces of legislation. While appropriations could easily be punted until 2021, failure to act on the NDAA would represent the first time Congress has failed to pass the defense policy bill. This would break an incredible fifty-nine year streak of the legislation being signed into law each year.

On the appropriations front, progress was made just before Thanksgiving when it was announced that negotiators had come to an agreement on the distribution of spending across the various appropriation bills. This is a key prerequisite to any eventual bill, but only serves to highlight that the obstacles to passage are much more about policy than spending levels. The two main points of contention seem to be an attempt to move funding for the VA Choice Act out of discretionary caps and whether to fund the wall along the US-Mexico border. The latter seems likely to be the most difficult point and one that could prompt a veto from the White House.

On the National Defense Authorization Act, the issue is similar. Most of the differences between the House and Senate legislation appear to have been resolved, but a major policy obstacle remains. In the case of the NDAA, it’s language in both the House and Senate bills that would remove the names of Confederate leaders from US Army bases. While both bills passed their respective chambers with sizeable majorities and the language, the White House has since announced its opposition and threatened to veto the bill. Further complicating matters are the decision by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-OK) to announce his support for removing the provision, despite it being in both pieces of legislation, and the news last week that the White House might drop its objections in exchange for reforms to internet liability regulations. All of this has made the passage of the bill before December 11 seem increasingly doubtful. Barring some significant shift in positions, it seems like the NDAA will become the latest victim of Washington’s increasingly dysfunctional system.

House Activity

The House will attempt to take up legislation decriminalizing marijuana, after having failed to do so earlier in the year.

Senate Activity

The Senate will confirm several Presidential nominations and will swear in Mark Kelly as the new Senator from Arizona following his victory in November’s special election.

Congressional Defense Activity

  •  HFAC
    • 12/2 “Advancing the Rights of Women and Girls in the Middle East: An Analysis of Current Trends and U.S. Policy,” Subcommittee on Middle East, North Africa, and International Terrorism Hearing, WebEx, 2pm
    • 12/3 “The Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission: Charting a New Path Forward,” Full Committee Hearing, 2172 Rayburn/WebEx, 10am
    • 12/3 “The Unfolding Crisis in Ethiopia,” Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations Hearing, WebEx, 2pm
  • SFRC
    • 11/30 “CLOSED/TS/SCI: UAE Arms Sales,” Full Committee Hearing, SVC-217 Capitol Visitor Center, 6pm
  • SASC
    • 12/2 “Navy and Marine Corps Readiness,” Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support Hearing, SD-G50 Dirksen, 915am
  •  HASC
    • 12/3 “Review of the Findings and Recommendations of the National Commission on Military Aviation Safety,” Subcommittee on Readiness Hearing, 2118 Rayburn & WebEx, 1pm
  •  SAC-D
    • No hearings for this week
  •  HAC-D
    • No hearings for this week
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