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Federal Legislative Update - January 23, 2023

Both chambers are back in Washington, D.C., this week. The Senate returns today and the House on Tuesday. The first few weeks of the 118th session focused on procedural matters, and now lawmakers will begin working on legislative items – the debt limit as the most significant.

On Thursday, the U.S. reached the $31.4 trillion debt ceiling, forcing the beginning of “extraordinary measures,” according to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. House Republicans, led by Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif), are aiming for a debt limit deal that includes cuts to spending, while the White House has remained firm that it is unwilling to negotiate. President Joe Biden and Speaker McCarthy agreed to meet on the debt limit, but there is no date set. The “extraordinary measures” to avoid a credit default is said to expire as early as Memorial Day, near the 4th of July, and as late as August. Lawmakers have a history of fierce battles over the debt limit, leaving speculation around the timeline of a solution.

Senate Democrats will put nominations at the forefront of their legislative agenda. Today, the Senate will vote on Brendan Owens’ nomination as Assistant Secretary of Defense for Energy, Installations, and Environment. Through President Biden’s first two years in office, the Senate has confirmed 79% of the Biden Administration’s appointees (or 609) compared to 425 appointments during the same time under the Trump Administration. The Biden Administration’s pace, however, is slower than former Presidents Barack Obama and George Bush. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called nominations one of the top priorities for the Senate. One of the most contentious nominations is President Biden’s choice for administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Phil Washington. The pick has drawn criticism from Republicans cite his lack of aviation experience and that his name appeared in a search warrant investigating political corruption in Los Angeles. Given the recent challenges in airports nationwide, the Biden Administration sees the position as vital.

Congressional committee assignments are still an outstanding issue for the 118th Congress. House Republicans have come close to finalizing assignments for their caucus. At the same time, House Democrats will need approval for posts from the Speaker on several controversial members. In a letter to Speaker McCarthy, Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) called for Reps. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) to remain on the Intelligence Committee after McCarthy has vowed to remove them. While House assignments are nearly final, the Senate is a different story. The upper chamber still needs to decide on the total number of members on each committee before finalizing rosters. Some believe the Senate will complete committee rosters this week even as chairs for committees and subcommittees remain up in the air.