This week: Congress races shutdown clock amid Ukraine crisis
Lawmakers are racing to finalize and pass a massive government funding bill that would also greenlight billions in new aid tied to Ukraine.
Congress has to pass a sweeping bill, which would fund the government through the end of September, and President Biden has to sign it before the end of Friday in order to prevent a government shutdown.
Lawmakers and aides have also questioned if they could need a short-term continuing resolution (CR), which would fund the government at current levels, to buy themselves more time as they wrap up the sweeping bill.
“We’d have to make great strides between now and say Monday, Tuesday at the latest, to do this,” Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said late last week about how to avoid CR.
The government funding bill is tied to the status of roughly $10 billion in aid in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine because lawmakers are expected to attach the money to the larger legislation to help speed up its path through Congress and to Biden’s desk.
“The Biden Administration has requested $10 billion in humanitarian, military and economic support for Ukraine. The Congress intends to enact this emergency funding this week as part of our omnibus government funding legislation,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) wrote in a “Dear Colleague” letter on Sunday night.
The Biden administration’s request includes $4.8 billion for the Pentagon to support U.S. troop deployments to NATO countries and to provide additional military equipment to Ukraine. It is also asking for $5 billion for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development for security, economic and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine and allies on NATO’s eastern flank.
Lawmakers haven’t yet unveiled the government funding bill. The House is scheduled to leave town for the week after Wednesday, giving them just a matter of days to pass the yet-to-be-introduced legislation.
Key appropriators said late last week that they were making progress on some of the unresolved issues in the funding legislation, including how to deal with the U.S.-Mexico border wall and funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention beds.
“We’ve made progress in the last 24 hours. We were stuck for a little while, but we’ve been trading some constructive paper in the last 24 hours … I’m hopeful that we will not be the sticking point,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), the chairman of the Senate Appropriations’ Homeland Security Subcommittee.
Even if lawmakers are able to unveil a quick deal on the funding bill, they are close enough to the Friday night deadline that they’ll need cooperation from all 100 senators in order to speed up the legislation.
A group of conservatives are demanding a vote on defunding Biden’s vaccine mandates in exchange for speeding up any government funding legislation. The group made similar demands on the previous stopgap bills passed by Congress and were able to get amendment votes, which failed.
“We are writing to let you know that we will once again not consent to a time agreement that eases passage of a CR or Omnibus that funds these mandates,” the group, led by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), wrote.
“At the very least, we will require a roll call vote on an amendment that defunds the enforcement of these vaccine mandates for the spending period covered by the government funding measure,” they added.
Russian oil ban
Momentum is growing on Capitol Hill for legislation to ban the import of Russian oil in response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
The administration has been cool to the idea, though White House press secretary Jen Psaki said late last week that they were exploring ways to reduce Russian oil imports.
Part of the concern is that a ban would drive up prices for American consumers, who have already seen a bump in gas prices since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But banning the import of Russian oil has bipartisan, bicameral backing on Capitol Hill.
Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, signed on to legislation over the weekend from Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).
“The Ban Russian Energy Imports Act would declare a national emergency with respect to Russian aggression and immediately prohibit the import of Russian energy products. This bipartisan bill shows the U.S. Senate’s commitment to stand behind the brave Ukrainian people.”
Pelosi, in her “Dear Colleague” letter, said that the House is “exploring strong legislation that will further isolate Russia from the global economy.”
“Our bill would ban the import of Russian oil and energy products into the United States, repeal normal trade relations with Russia and Belarus, and take the first step to deny Russia access to the World Trade Organization. We would also empower the Executive branch to raise tariffs on Russian imports,” she added.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged lawmakers during a Zoom meeting over the weekend to stop buying Russian oil. He also asked for more military equipment and for the United States and NATO allies to implement a no-fly zone. Though the United States has been sending military equipment to Ukraine, the Biden administration and members of Congress in both parties have rejected calls to establish a no-fly zone.
A no-fly zone would prevent Russia from entering Ukrainian airspace. But to enforce it, U.S. or European forces would have to shoot down Russian planes, which members of Congress have warned would bring two nuclear countries into direct conflict and risk a wider war in Europe.
Supreme Court nomination
Biden’s Supreme Court nominee, Ketanji Brown Jackson, will keep meeting with key senators this week ahead of her appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee later this month.
Jackson met with several senators last week, including Schumer, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and key members of the Judiciary Committee.
She’s expected to meet Tuesday with Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a key swing vote. Collins was one of three GOP senators who voted for Jackson last year for her spot on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, viewed as the second most powerful court in the country behind the Supreme Court.
But Collins has warned that her previous “yes” vote doesn’t guarantee that she’ll vote for Jackson.
In addition to Collins, Jackson is scheduled to meet with members of the Judiciary Committee including Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii).
The Senate is expected to continue working on legislation to overhaul the United States Postal Service this week, after advancing the legislation after an initial hurdle last week.
The bill, which has already passed the House, eliminates a requirement that the Postal Service prepay future retirement health benefits and allows the Postal Service to provide non-postal services as part of an agreement with state and local governments. It also requires that the Postal Service make deliveries six days of the week.
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