Congress is delving deep into some nitty-gritty governmental issues

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From postal reform – yes, that one again – to revitalizing the federal workforce – yes, that one again – the House will be holding hearings and looking anew at some nagging topics. Here with what to expect for the week ahead in Congress, Bloomberg Government Editorial Director Loren Duggan spoke to  Federal Drive with Tom Temin.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin: And I guess they are getting back to some brass tacks types of things that they never seem to get over the line. But here’s a new run up the hill.

Loren Duggan: Absolutely. And both chambers are back this week, there’s a full slate of committee hearings in both sides of Capitol Hill, House and Senate, although many of them will have that virtual element that we’ve become so used to during the pandemic. But some of the ones you mentioned are going to be marquee hearings this week. Gerry Connolly is convening a hearing on the federal workforce. And then we’re also going to be watching this oversight and reform hearing on the postal service as lawmakers continue to contend with some of the changes that have been made recently and what they’d like to see done to that important function of government, quasi governmental function, I suppose. But something that’s very important to getting drugs and packages and cards and everything else to people around the country, which tends to motivate members of Congress to want to get involved.

Tom Temin: Yeah, and Gerry Connolly – of course, he has a big number of workforce members, federal workers in his district. So naturally, that’s going to be something he’s going to gravitate toward. Do we know what it is he needs to discuss at this point?

Loren Duggan: Well, I think he’s gonna bring in some union officials and others to talk about maybe some of the provisions of law that need to change to help federal workers. And you know, with Democrats in control of the House and the Senate and the White House, there may be a different approach taken in the next couple of years to legislation around federal workers than there might have been with a Republican White House, and Republicans still in control of the Senate. Now, obviously, you need 60 votes for most things to get through the Senate unless you can find provisions to go into reconciliation. But there’s a long list of things that federal workers have brought to their members of Congress, like Gerry Connolly, who you mentioned, and also, you know, some of the senators – Chris Van Hollen has done a lot of work on federal workers, both in the House and now in the Senate. So I could see this being a topic that comes up more, what to do for the federal workforce, and perhaps even how to help it evolve, given everything going on with the pandemic, and shifts to telework. There’s no end to some of the subjects that that could be looking into.

Tom Temin: And one of them is whether federal workers, federal employees should have a priority at getting vaccines, whether there should be special supplies of vaccines set aside for the federal workforce. And I guess that would have kind of a mixed reaction on the hill, that idea?

Loren Duggan: It would. There was a group of lawmakers who wrote to [the Office of Personnel Management] and others to ask to prioritize federal workers, given how important it is for them to get back to work. And for that to help revitalize the economy and in the region, because many of the downtown corridor offices have been fairly empty since the pandemic began last year. So they are looking into that, want to try and move the needle on that. But again, there’s a long list of priority people here, whether it’s by age or by health condition, or essential workers, many federal workers are essential and could be covered by that. But this is something where we might see more pressure from Capitol Hill to the administration, asking for some sort of augmentation to the schedule on them.

Tom Temin: All right. And the House Armed Services Committee – its Subcommittee on Readiness is looking into storms, which is an apropos time to do this because of what happened in Texas, and that did affect some military installations down there. Do we know what the outcome of that could be, whether they just want to air some grievances? Or do they expect legislation further emphasizing that idea of planning for what they consider climate change effects on military installations?

Loren Duggan: Well, climate change is another area that with Democrats in control the House, Senate and the White House, we’re going to be hearing a lot more about and I think we’re gonna see it and everything from the highway bill to the NDAA to other pieces of legislation that will be written over the next several months. And over the next two years. John Garamendi, who’s the chairman of that readiness subcommittee has said that he wants him to look into climate change. And certainly a lot of people are pointing to the weather in the middle part of the country and especially in Texas last week, as tied into climate change. And what do we do to make the electrical grid more resilient and in terms of the armed services to make sure that no bases and personnel aren’t adversely affected when incidents like this happen? A lot of times you think about the hurricanes that hit regions or extreme heat and how you deal with the grid there. But we’ve seen how extreme cold when a grid can’t handle that can be very disruptive and really shut down, frankly, society for a couple of days down there in Texas. So I think that we’re gonna hear a lot more about climate change in all different aspects of public policy as the Democrats really get to work in these committees and subcommittees.

Tom Temin: We’re speaking with Bloomberg Government Editorial Director Loren Duggan. And what about more stimulus bills? Is any of that going to happen this week?

Loren Duggan: That’s going to be the the big action on the House side of the Hill this week. The budget committee meets today to consider the reconciliation bill that pulls together the work that other committees have done. Twelve committees were asked to write portions of this legislation totaling $1.9 trillion that will be added to the deficit over the next decade. And so the budget committee will sign off on the work that’s been done and pull that together, send it to the Rules Committee, which will set the terms for floor debate. And we should see a vote on that later this week in the House. Now, from there, it heads to the Senate where there could be some important changes to it that will modifications, things pulled out, maybe a few things added in. So this bill has a ways to go yet but this week will be a big milestone and getting this large aid package across the finish line.

Tom Temin: And what about in the Senate, what’s happening on the confirmation front? Cuz they were out for a week and so that all sort of stopped?

Loren Duggan: Right, things stopped, first by the trial that went on for about a week –

Tom Temin: Oh, yeah, that too!

Loren Duggan: That too, so that they didn’t confirm anyone during that period. And then, obviously, they were gone last week. So we have two votes locked in on the floor this week: One on Linda Thomas-Greenfield to be ambassador to the United Nations, and then Tom Vilsack to be Agriculture Secretary. There’s a number of hearings and mark-ups also lined up in committee to process more people there. So we’ll see folks like Merrick Garland to lead the Justice Department get a hearing this week, some votes scheduled for Neera Tanden at [the Office of Management and Budget], also the [Small Business Administration] administrator. So we’ll see more churn here as people get approved by committee and get ready for floor action. I think we’ll see a lot of processing of those nominations as the Senate waits for this reconciliation bill to do its part on the big stimulus package.

Tom Temin: Yeah and looking at Merrick Garland for attorney general, that one looks like it’s going to have pretty clear sailing, because I think a lot of Republicans, the last time when he was nominated for Supreme Court, wasn’t him personally – they just had a longer range strategy focused on the 2016 election that they were focusing on, but they didn’t think he was a horrible radical or anything like that.

Loren Duggan: No, that certainly doesn’t seem to be the case. I mean, Merrick Garland was nominated by President Obama in 2016. For the Supreme Court. That nomination wasn’t taken up because Mitch McConnell said at the time, they wanted to wait to see what happens in the presidential election, a Republican won. And so when 2017 hit and President Trump nominated somebody he went through. So I don’t think that had anything to do with Merrick Garland the man. I mean, we don’t know what that vote would have been had it been held. But we’ll see how he performs in this confirmation hearing a couple days worth of hearings in the judiciary committee with a lot of ground to cover, given all the things that Justice Department touches, so he could go through pretty easily and, you only need 50 votes on the floor, even if it was only Democrats who backed him, he would be able to get through, it’s just how much time will it take.

Tom Temin: And do we have any insight on Vilsack at Agriculture, what the feeling is there? I mean, he was confirmed once before.

Loren Duggan: Right that seems to be going through. He did face some questions and his hearing and then I’m sure there will be some statements on the floor, but that one was able to get scheduled without much incident and members seem prepared to go forward and vote on that one on Tuesday – tomorrow. And you know, we’ll see where it goes from there. There are more controversial ones. OMB director Tanden had some tough questions when she met with lawmakers who questioned her tweets and questioned her policy priorities. So, you know, different members bring different things to these questions, whether it’s in hearings or when they vote for confirmation, but still a lot of work to do and a lot of jobs left to fill.

Tom Temin: Loren Duggan is editorial director at Bloomberg Government. Thanks so much.

Loren Duggan: Thank you.

Tom Temin: We’ll post this interview at FederalNewsNetwork.com/FederalDrive. Subscribe to the Federal Drive at Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your shows.

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