A Year-End Sprint for Congress

A Year-End Sprint for Congress

With the Senate in session Monday and the House scheduled to return Tuesday, the 117th Congress has now entered its final stretch.  

In a letter to colleagues Sunday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) reminded lawmakers that they have a lot to do before the year ends. “Whether it's strengthening our economy, improving our immigration system, protecting our national security, or safeguarding democracy around the world, we have important work ahead of us in December,” he wrote. “We must take full advantage of the coming weeks to deliver results for the people.”

Here are the issues Congress is expected to address before time runs out:

* Government funding: Lawmakers need to pass a funding bill by December 16, when the current stop-gap agreement expires. Ideally, lawmakers agree on a full-year spending bill for the 2023 fiscal year, which began in October. Along the way, however, they may need to pass another continuing resolution to ensure that the government does not shut down, perhaps for just a week as they hammer out the final details on an omnibus bill that could pass just before Christmas. But there’s always a chance that they won’t complete their work on time, forcing lawmakers to pass a continuing resolution that maintains government funding into next year, and perhaps all the way to the end of the fiscal year.

* Defense policy bill: The annual National Defense Authorization Act, which sets recommended spending levels, has passed on a bipartisan basis for 60 years in a row. Military leaders are begging Congress to avoid the use of a continuing resolution for fiscal year 2023 defense funding, since a CR cannot increase funding levels or make adjustments for inflation (see more on that below).

* Same-sex marriage: The Senate is expected to vote this week on the Respect for Marriage Act, which would provide federal protections for same-sex and interracial marriages. The bill is expected to pass, though it may take time to forge a final version of the legislation.

* Electoral reform: Lawmakers from both parties hope to pass the Presidential Election Reform Act, which takes aim at the legal strategy former president Donald Trump attempted to use to overturn the 2020 election. But it’s not clear if enough Republicans will get on board.

* Ukraine aid and Covid funding: Democrats hope to fulfill the White House request for $38 billion in additional funding for Ukraine, as well as $10 billion to beef up the U.S. response to Covid-19 and other infectious diseases. But Republicans have rejected additional Covid funding and are growing skeptical about billions more in Ukraine aid.  

* Debt ceiling: Democrats are still talking about raising the federal debt limit, so to deny Republicans the ability to use it as a bargaining chip in 2023. But Republicans have made it clear they will oppose any such effort, making it a long shot for the current Congress.

The bottom line: With December arriving in just a few days, lawmakers’ to-do list is looking pretty daunting. “All told, the lame duck is trending longer than many expected,” Punchbowl News said Monday. “Much of the action seems to be weighted toward mid to late December. Everything in this Congress takes longer than it should.”