After a historically unproductive year in Congress, numerous policy issues need addressing in the first half of 2024. As is the norm in most election years, almost all legislating will conclude in August while members focus on their respective campaigns, leaving just a matter of months to pass a slate of stated priorities.
This report will give an overview of top Congressional matters and the current state of their progress.
Months after the original September 30 deadline for 2024 appropriations, the split House and Senate have yet to finalize a single Department’s annual funding bill. Instead, Congress has passed two continuing resolutions, keeping the government running at 2023 funding levels but budging out needed time for other legislation. The most recent stopgap, which House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) once stated would be the “last,” funds the Departments of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, Energy, Veterans Affairs, and Agriculture until January 19. Programs under the eight remaining bills are maintained until February 2.
In the early weeks of January, however, odds of passing the needed spending bills before these deadlines appeared ever more unlikely. Speaker Johnson and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) came to an agreement on the total topline for government discretionary spending on January 7, but the GOP-controlled House and Democratic Senate still need to hash out differences on 302b allocations for each spending bill. Because the overall discretionary funding shares must be allocated to each department, edits to bills are yet unfinished with only a handful of days before a partial shutdown on the 19th. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said another stopgap continuing resolution would "obviously" be necessary. The Senate took the first step to advance that CR Tuesday night on a unanimous consent agreement that would push funding deadlines to March 1 and 8, respectively.
The appropriations process is further disrupted by so-called “poison pill” policy riders House legislators added to Departments’ budget packages. Such provisions, including measures to block funding for the Green Climate Fund; EV charging station installations; high-speed rail construction; and low-income college grants, mean the House-passed budget bills will not survive Senate votes. Hanging over all negotiations is a 1% cut coming to all Agencies’ budgets on April 30, which was agreed to in June 2023 as part of the debt limit suspension agreement, though Congress has completed the appropriations processes before that date for decades.
Foreign Aid and Border Package:
Since Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine in February 2022, the U.S. has spent approximately $75 billion in supplemental appropriations for defense and humanitarian support. This funding has been split among the Presidential Drawdown Authority to replenish Department of Defense weapons arsenals, DOD’s Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, the Economic Support Fund, and DOD’s Foreign Military Financing program. In October 2023, the Biden White House submitted a $106 billion emergency foreign aid supplemental request to Congress, which included requests for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan defense, and border security provisions. Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-WA) introduced a Senate bill on December 5, during abrief window when resolving disputes on the foreign aid package was not superseded by 2024 budget negotiations.
In the weeks between the Thanksgiving and end-of-year recesses, meetings on the allocation and overall top lineled by Senators James Lankford (R-OK), Christopher Murphy (D-CT), Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ), and Thom Tillis (R-NC) stalled over border policy, as did a December 6 vote motion to limit debate on proceeding Murray’s bill. According to Politico defense reporter Connor O’Brien, negotiators will likely significantly lower the overall funding totals for Ukraine assistance, as well.
Talks amongst this group continued on January 8 while House leadership visited the southern border. Reports remain mixed on the timeline for potential agreement, as language and allocations were expected in early January. Republicans, both in Congress and on the campaign trail, have stated reservations for more Ukraine funding, and are intent on rolling potential international defense support with a bill including immigration reform policies. As Speaker Johnson said at a January visit to Eagle Pass, Texas, “If President Biden wants a supplemental spending bill focused on national security, it better begin with defending America’s national security. We want to get the border closed and secured first."
In December, the U.S. Census Bureau reported the number of immigrants to the U.S. jumped to the highest level in two decades in 2023. Congressional Republicans have heaped criticism on President Biden’s CBP policies and DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. The House Homeland Security Committee began the impeachment process against Mayorkas on January 18thon party-line votes.
Though Democrats on the committee have dismissed these probes asbeing “without basis,” the Biden Administration’s immigration policy carries a definite political toll going into the 2024 election cycle. On one side, the higher number of migrants in 2023 caused apolitical stir in New York City, where a reported 66% of residents are concerned with migrant housing programs; Texas, where Governor Greg Abbott’s (R) Operation Lone Star continues to push for more border security, and many states in between. On the other, Biden also faced criticism from the political left for continuing some “Trump-era” policies into 2023, including continued construction of border barriers and taking appeals on restrictive asylum policies to the Supreme Court after being overruled in a San Francisco federal court. Democratic candidates, all the way to the top of the ticket, will face opposition campaign attacks on the high number of border crossings.
On Capitol Hill, President Biden’s requested foreign assistance supplemental package will only progress with immigration policy reforms. Republicans have made clear the President’s foreign policy priorities in Europe and Asia will only be realized if he makes changes to asylum rules and delivers more resources to law enforcement in border states. In bipartisan Senate negotiations, the overall supplemental package’s main sticking point remains over a policy that would restrict presidential parole authority, which allows certain migrants to remain in the U.S. before their case hearing (which often comes months or years after their initial asylum claim).GOP Senators see this supplemental package as a prime opportunity to get stricter border provisions passed on a bipartisan vote, though analysts question if Senate-negotiated provisions will pass a more conservative House. Other GOP Congressional leaders have made cases for even more restrictive policies’ inclusion in a potential package; Speaker Johnson has held that provisions in House-passed H.R.2be included, which would make an alien ineligible to apply for asylum if DHS determines the alien can be removed to a “safe third country” or if the alien attempted to enter the U.S. after transiting through a third country. Senator John Thune (R-SD) also floated an idea for a refugee ‘cap.’
Several other legislative priorities also require Congressional action this year. These include reauthorization of the Farm Bill, which expired in 2023 but has been backlogged by negotiations for USDA overall spending; another debt limit agreement before suspension under the Fiscal Responsibility Act expires January 1, 2025; potential artificial intelligence safeguard legislation slowly progressing through Committees; and healthcare reform packages currently being conferenced between Senate Finance and House Energy and Commerce Committee staff.