Adam S. Olsen- Washington, D.C.
November 29, 2021

The Senate returns to Washington today and the House returns tomorrow, staring down a critical pre-Christmas to-do list. Priorities include increasing the nation’s borrowing authority by December 15th, averting a government shutdown by funding the government; and resolving the fate of the Democrats’ House passed Build Back Better agenda through the Senate.  For lawmakers, their most immediate charge is to prevent a government shutdown as a short-term measure that funds federal agencies is set to expire Friday, meaning the House and the Senate need to act swiftly to adopt another spending fix or risk a major disruption.  In recent days, Democratic leaders have eyed late January as a potential end date for a new spending arrangement however, negotiations are still in flux. Once a date is settled, Democratic leadership hopes to pass the stopgap in time for the December 3rd deadline, though some House Republicans in recent days have tried to instigate a political feud and encourage a government shutdown.  While the CR is being worked on in the House, Senate Democrats and Republicans this week hope to finalize a roughly $768 billion annual measure to authorize key defense programs.  The NDAA, an annual defense policy bill, has passed Congress every year for the past six decades and is facing a relatively straightforward path, there are no veto threats on the horizon, for one, but Congress still needs to get back on track after a snag regarding Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D-New York) attempt to link the NDAA with a bill to counter China’s technological and defense gains.  That bill, the US Innovation and Competition Act, or USICA, passed the House earlier this year and would provide $250 billion in funding for research and development, as well as “to boost the U.S. semiconductor industry.”  Its inclusion with the NDAA proved controversial, however, and the two measures were unlinked earlier this month ahead of a successful procedural vote in the Senate to advance the NDAA process.  That vote ended several months of stalling after the Senate Armed Services Committee approved a version of the bill more than three months ago, and after the House passed its version in September.  But while the ball is now rolling on the NDAA, major policy debates remain before it reaches President Joe Biden’s desk.  A number of proposed inclusions could have a big impact on US defense policy going forward.  Among those changes is a version of the Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act which would take prosecution of military sex crimes out of the chain of command, and a provision that would include women in the draft for the first time.  All told, there are also more than 1,000 amendments filed, including one to repeal the 1991 Gulf War and 2002 Iraq War authorizations.

The Senate will reconvene at 3:00 P.M. today and will resume consideration of H.R.4350, the National Defense Authorization Act.  On Friday, November 19th, cloture was filed on substitute amendment #3867 as modified and the underlying bill H.R.4350.  At 5:30pm, the Senate will vote on the motion to invoke cloture on substitute amendment #3867 as modified. If cloture is invoked, there would be up to 30 hours of post-cloture debate. If cloture is not invoked, unless further agreement is reached, there would be a roll call vote on cloture on the underlying bill H.R.4350.

Earlier today, President Biden sought to reassure the nation about the worrisome new Omicron variant of the coronavirus, telling Americans that his administration is already working with vaccine manufacturers to modify vaccines and booster shots, should that prove necessary.  The World Health Organization warned on Monday that global risks posed by the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus were “very high,” despite significant questions about the variant itself. Still, countries around the world rushed to defend against its spread, with a cascade of border closures and travel restrictions that recalled the earliest days of the pandemic.  President Biden urged Americans to get vaccinated including booster shots as he seeks to quell concerns Monday over the new COVID-19 variant omicron, but he won’t immediately push for more restrictions to stop its spread.

Adam S. Olsen, Washington, D.C.