Congress is mostly back from its 17-day observance of July 4th. The Senate returns to work Monday afternoon while the House returns on Tuesday, with just 12 legislative days before the scheduled August recess. That means 12 days to set the stage for preventing a government shutdown at the end of September. In both chambers, Republicans are choosing to continue policy fights over abortion. In the House, the threat of total chaos remains constant. The prospects for a successful July are thus looking pretty bad.
Nonetheless, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer set out an ambitious July agenda in a letter to Democratic colleagues released Sunday. He’s got spending bills and a raft of policy items he wants to work through this month, along with a raft of President Joe Biden’s executive and judicial nominees. There are bipartisan bills on rail safety, and allowing legal cannabis sellers access to regular banking services is on the docket, as well as individual department funding bills.
Additionally, the Senate Judiciary Committee is going to push out a bill to impose an ethics code on the Supreme Court. That could come to the floor this month as well, where it will almost certainly be blocked by Republicans. Because of the political salience of the bill, Schumer might choose to hold it back and have the vote at a time when it won’t be competing with so many other issues—like funding the government.
Key to Congress moving ahead this month and getting the government funded is passing the National Defense Authorization Act. The bill lays out how appropriations will be used. Normally, the NDAA is the most bipartisan of efforts. This time around, though, it’s going to be about abortion and the stubbornness of one Republican senator, Tommy Tuberville, who remains insistent that not a single defense appointment will go through—and there are a couple hundred of them stacked up—as long as the Pentagon is facilitating abortion services for members of the military. Even Tuberville’s fellow Republicans are increasingly pissed at him over this, and the fight is going to spill over into the NDAA as they try to find ways to appease him by injecting abortion into it.
The House is also supposed to be taking up the NDAA this week, and House Republicans are expected to take the Tuberville abortion fight up a notch. There are more than 1,400 amendments filed for the bill so far, and about half a dozen deal with abortion, including one that would block the federal government from considering state abortion policies when choosing sites to build or lease for military installations or any other federal building. There’s also a Tuberville-like amendment forcing the Pentagon to end the policy of giving service members time off and travel support to obtain abortion or other reproductive health care.
That will happen against the backdrop of ongoing chaos from the Freedom Caucus, the group that can make or break all current legislation. The group is splintering apart, leaving any one of them willing to freelance. It only takes four or five members to grind everything to a halt in the House, and with so many factions fighting both each other and leadership, progress is going to be hard to come by. The caucus has, however, united behind totally unreasonable demands for cutting government funding, which means appropriators are at an impasse with them right now, and aren’t even trying to take up funding bills this week.
Given the House is only scheduled to work for 12 days in September, the outlook for having the government fully funded before Oct. 1 is dim—and getting dimmer. That adds up to only 24 total working days in which a bunch of nihilists will be putting their personal political agendas ahead of governance, vying for those coveted Fox News appearances instead of getting the people’s work done.
July is looking to be ugly, and, unfortunately, September will likely be worse. On the one hand, that is going to suck for the entire country. On the other, Republicans have apparently decided that abortion is going to be the central issue in the squabbles. As polling shows, that’s likely to give Democrats a boost because the public is overwhelmingly in support of safe and legal abortion access.
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