Afghanistan and Ida, the two stories that eclipsed all the others this month in Washington
The month of March comes in like a lion and comes out like a lamb.
August 2021 at this rate.
This month blew like Cerberus and blew like the Minotaur.
Two stories eclipsed all others in Washington in late August. Hurricane Ida struck the Gulf Coast, then moved south. Staying on the post, Ida’s leftovers will end up soaking an already soggy Washington midweek.
Afghanistan is Afghanistan as the United States leaves.
So we’re taking a look at both of these issues and their resonance in the coming weeks on Capitol Hill.
Congress may ask for additional federal spending to cover the aftermath of Hurricane Ida if the damage is as severe as expected.
There is a short term and a long term equation here.
The first question involves an immediate need and whether FEMA’s coffers are filled with enough money to help.
The answer to the first question is yes.
For Ida’s early consequences, FEMA will withdraw money from the Disaster Relief Fund (DRF) or “Durf” in congressional parlance.
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Fox learns that as of August 26, the DRF had an uncommitted balance of $ 37.3 billion. The uncommitted DRF base is $ 4.2 billion. So there is a grand total of about $ 41 billion in the bank to meet what FEMA needs to meet the immediate need.
This has not always been the case at FEMA. In September 2011, FEMA assets declined as Hurricane Irene threatened the east coast. Because Congress had not given FEMA a tax boost, the agency sought loose federal change. A similar scenario occurred when Hurricane Katrina flattened New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in the summer of 2005. Lawmakers were away for the August Congressional recess when Katrina hit. FEMA funds have shrunk. The House and Senate both interrupted their respites for emergency midnight sessions in early September of the same year to approve additional dollars for FEMA.
But the DRF is in good shape now.
The second question is what may Congress need to do to deal with Ida’s long-term impacts.
Twelve annual spending bills fund the federal government. Congress regularly approves a 13th or 14th “supplementary” bill to deal with natural disasters or war. This could be the case this time around.
Keep in mind that there are three large legislative trains leaving Congress Station in September. Lawmakers must fund the government by September 30. It is likely that this will be a “continuous resolution”, known as “CR”. An RC is where lawmakers renew all old funding for a short period at the same spending levels as the previous year.
Lawmakers could lock in additional disaster funding on VC. In fact, the money to help Ida could help Congress grease the skates to approve an interim spending bill and, simultaneously, raise the debt ceiling. Democrats could denounce Republicans who oppose raising the debt ceiling – and also reject emergency funding to cover the damage caused by Ida if it impacts their states / districts.
It’s also possible that lawmakers are associating some of Ida’s money with the bipartisan infrastructure bill or the $ 3.5 trillion social spending bill. One could see calls for specific spending projects to cover dams, taxes and damaged bridges in the infrastructure package. Or, lawmakers could insert additional social policy provisions to address housing and health, related to the storm, into the $ 3.5 trillion bill.
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However, lawmakers are more likely to make the first down payment on the storm in the Czech Republic later in September. The region may need additional funds when Congress drafts an omnibus spending bill to avoid a government shutdown in November or December.
Now a move to Afghanistan. More specifically, the policy of the withdrawal of the United States from Afghanistan.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., Threatens to deploy a rarely effective parliamentary tool to force the House to consider legislation on Afghanistan.
The House of Representatives met on Tuesday for a brief pro forma session. This is where the body usually just comes in and out after a few seconds.
Still, Republicans were keen to speak up and called on Democrats to pass a bill developed by Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis. This would require the Pentagon to provide Congress with an account of the evacuees, those who remained in Afghanistan, and military materiel. The bill includes a provision that could urge the United States not to recognize the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan.
The chances of the House considering the bill were virtually nil. Such efforts during a pro forma session are sometimes essentially minority stunts to draw attention to a given issue. Democrats raised the cane with the GOP when they were in the majority, and Republicans declined to discuss some bills in pro forma sessions a few years ago. The same is true now. The majority control speech.
That said, Republicans are playing a bit longer here.
Republicans will try to pass the Gallagher bill in September, via another parliamentary gamble. The GOP drafts what is called a “discharge petition” for a “rule”. This would mandate the House to consider the Gallagher Bill under a number of terms, for example – the “rule”. A “rule” is essential in this case because it dictates how the House will consider the bill itself – if the Republicans are successful.
Petitions of discharge are a parliamentary device allowing members of Parliament to go above the leaders and introduce a bill. However, requests for discharge are seldom successful. The last one that worked came in 2015 on the renewal of the Export-Import Bank. Before that, we have to go back to the beginning of 2002.
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The trick to a discharge petition is that supporters of a given measure need 218 signatures to file it. It’s a tough 218, regardless of the size of the house. The membership of the House currently stands at 432 with three vacant positions. In addition, members must speak up and physically sign the discharge petition. This could be another hurdle to overcome since many members from both sides did not come to Washington and voted from a distance.
Republicans really can’t do anything about it right now. The House is out of session for legislative business until September 20. Fox learns that Republicans will begin signing the discharge petition on September 21. The current split is 220 Democrats for 212 Republicans. So the GOP will need the help of at least six Democrats if it is to meet its target of 218 signatures.
That said, if Republicans get the signatures they need, they are able to bypass the leadership and put Bill Gallagher on the ground. Fox is informed that the GOPers aim to sign on Tuesday, September 21. If and when Republicans collect enough signatures, they will have to wait two days until the discharge petition is ready on the floor. This would mean that the House could consider this bill no earlier than Thursday, September 23.
But, they have to get the signatures first.
Be careful, there is politics in this. Republicans will use the reluctance of some vulnerable Democrats who refuse to sign as a weapon against them in 2022.
Moreover, even though the Republicans passed the Afghanistan bill in the House, no one knows its fate in the Senate. Democrats control the process there. And it is likely that such a bill would face obstruction. Sixty votes are needed to overcome a senatorial obstruction.
August has been a difficult month in Congress.
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Ida and Afghanistan are far from over. Work on infrastructure, social spending, preventing a government shutdown and the debt ceiling is looming.
Cerberus and the Minotaur were two of the most feared beasts in Greek mythology. But they were nothing compared to Typhon, the “father of all monsters”. Typhoon was so fearsome that it often materialized with an accompanying thunderstorm.
If August came in as Cerberus and came out as the Minotaur, it is quite possible that September comes in and out as Typhon.