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The Slower Pace of the Senate

This year, the Senate has operated at a snail’s pace due partisanship, absences, and other distractions have thwarted substantial floor action.  The chamber’s business has so far largely been confined to confirming President Biden’s nominees and dispensing with Republican-led challenges to administration regulation. While the Senate has always been the more deliberative chamber by design, the current sluggish pace underscores the difficulty in making laws with a recently divided Congress. Protracted negotiations over government spending during the debt limit stand-off stalled the appropriations process, and Republican objections to even routine nominations have prompted Democrats to expend more floor time considering judiciary and executive agency nominations. Democrats, who hold a slim majority, also face the challenge of garnering votes due to illness and other absences.

Currently, the Senate’s pace could become more productive over the final six months of the year as committees are working on rewrites of agriculture, aviation, and defense policy that otherwise expire in months. Spending measures that stand the best chance of becoming law are also starting to move.  Some of these measures include:

  • Appropriations: With the debt limit lifted and spending caps set, the Senate Appropriations Committee is meeting to determine top-line numbers for the 12 annual spending bills. Those agreements need to be passed by September 30th to avoid a shutdown. It’s not clear how the Senate’s totals, in line with the debt ceiling agreement, can match the more austere funding plans coming from the House. Members of Congress have a strong incentive to finish by the end of the calendar year or face an automatic 1% spending cut.
  • Banking: The collapse of multiple mid-sized banks was too big for Congress to ignore. Sens. Brown (D-OH) and Scott (R-SC) made common cause on legislation clawing back pay for executives of failed financial institutions.
  • Armed Services: The Senate Armed Services Committee is marking up its version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the annual military policy bill that Congress considers a must-pass item. They’ve passed one every year for more than six decades. The NDAA sets troop pay as well as weapons and geostrategic policy, along with procurement policy.