Lawmakers return to Capitol Hill with ticking clock and hefty to-do list

The U.S. Capitol is seen, Wednesday, Aug 30, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib) Mariam Zuhaib/AP

Lawmakers return to Capitol Hill with ticking clock and hefty to-do list

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As lawmakers begin to return from their annual August recess, both chambers of Congress face a laundry list of legislation that must be passed before the end of the month. But finding a path forward is easier said than done.

The Senate reconvenes on Tuesday, one week earlier than the House, which will come back in session on Sept. 12. That gives the upper chamber a handful more working days than the 11 the House has to pass all 12 appropriations bills to fund the government through the next fiscal year.


But the appropriations bills are not the only legislation on their plate. They will need to tackle other must-pass measures, such as the farm bill.

Here’s a breakdown of what Congress needs to pass or punt by the end of the month and what demands are grinding the process to a halt.

Annual spending bills

Congress must pass its annual budget before the new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1, or else lawmakers risk a government shutdown. Budget disagreements are typical as both parties fight over spending priorities, with a final deal often not being made until the eleventh hour after a marathon voting session.

The budget consists of 12 bills that must pass through both chambers before being sent to the president’s desk. In recent years, these bills have been combined into just one piece of legislation known as an omnibus, allowing Congress to advance its entire budget with just one vote.

However, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), facing pressure from his right flank due to Republicans’ narrow House majority, has committed to getting the chamber back to regular order.

The House managed to pass just one of the 12 bills, funding military construction, before adjourning for its six-week recess, while other bills either failed to make it to the floor for a vote, such as the agriculture bill, or are still being finalized in committee.

Meanwhile, the Senate Appropriations Committee, which under new leadership has also committed to a bottoms-up appropriations process, has approved all 12 bills, but lawmakers have not yet advanced the legislation to the floor for a vote.

House and Senate on collision course over spending levels

As the House and Senate work to advance their separate versions of the 12 appropriations bill, the two chambers are at odds over what top-line numbers to set spending at.

The Senate advanced caps matching those laid out in the debt limit agreement negotiated between McCarthy and President Joe Biden. However, conservatives, angry that the deal did not cut spending further, have strong-armed the speaker into lower top lines that Democrats refuse to pass.

Both sides are digging their heels in as the Sept. 30 deadline nears, raising the prospect of a government shutdown.

“The only way to avoid a shutdown is through bipartisanship, so I have urged House Republican leadership to follow the Senate’s lead and pass bipartisan appropriations bills,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) wrote in a “Dear Colleague” letter on Friday.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has also urged his GOP colleagues in the House to adhere to the debt ceiling agreement.

“The speaker and the president reached an agreement, which I supported, in connection with raising the debt ceiling, to set the spending levels for next year,” McConnell told reporters in Kentucky. “The House then turned around and passed spending levels that were below that level. … That’s not going to be replicated in the Senate.”

House Republicans lay out other demands in spending fight

Even as House Republicans push for lower spending levels, some hard-line conservatives are going so far as to threaten withholding their support if additional demands aren’t met.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) drew her own red line during a constituent town hall meeting on Thursday, telling voters she would not vote to fund the government unless the following demands were met: an impeachment inquiry into Biden, the defunding of the federal government’s “weaponization” against conservatives, the elimination of all COVID-19 vaccine mandates, and the end of military funding to Ukraine.

“I’m not going to continue to fund the Biden regime’s weaponized government,” Greene said. “I will be happy to work with all of my colleagues. I will work with the speaker of the House. I will work with everyone. But I will not fund those things, and I thought it was most important for me to tell you all first because I work for you.”

If Congress can’t pass all 12 of its bills before the end of the month, lawmakers will typically agree to a continuing resolution that allows the government to operate at the same spending levels until a new agreement is made. However, some hard-line conservatives are already ruling that process out, noting they aren’t afraid of enforcing a government shutdown to get the budget passed.

House Republicans in the Freedom Caucus similarly laid out their list of demands last month, outlining three conditions that must be met in order for their support on a short-term continuing resolution, including a vote on the border security bill that passed the House earlier this year and a commitment to “address the unprecedented weaponization of the Justice Department and FBI.”

Caucus members also say they would oppose any continuing resolution that does not “end the Left’s cancerous woke policies in the Pentagon.”

Other priorities

Meanwhile, Schumer laid out a number of other priorities the Senate will focus on throughout September, including legislation on artificial intelligence and rail safety, the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization, and drug pricing reforms.


Schumer also vowed to continue providing support and military aid to Ukraine, which could put the upper chamber in a standoff with a group of House Republicans who want to revoke funding altogether.

“Finding compromise is never easy, but our efforts to do precisely that have led to significant accomplishments under this majority,” Schumer wrote on Friday. “I thank all of you for your diligent work so far on such a wide range of issues and for taking our message of lowering costs and economic prosperity for the middle class to the American people. We must keep working in good faith to achieve even more.”

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