Five big fights facing Congress in 2024

WASHINGTON — From confrontations over government funding and foreign aid to Republican threats to impeach President Joe Biden despite the lack of an impeachable offense, a divided Congress is entering the new year facing a slew of big fights.

And it will do so against the backdrop of an election year, with the White House and Congress up for grabs in November. One question mark hanging over these fights is the still-nascent speakership of Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., who is trying to navigate a wafer-thin majority and familiar pressures from conservative hard-liners who overthrew his predecessor.

Here are five big fights that await Congress in 2024.

Immigration and Ukraine funding

A high-stakes clash over immigration policy caused Congress to punt Biden’s national security package into next year, with Senate Republicans demanding tougher immigration laws as the price of winning their votes for additional U.S. aid to Ukraine and Israel.

Senators insist they’re making progress, and Democrats have offered serious concessions on raising the standards for asylum-seekers and expanding the president’s power to quickly remove migrants who cross the border. But thorny issues remain in a debate that has bedeviled Congress for decades.

And Ukraine will struggle to hold off Russia without U.S. help.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., the party’s top negotiator, has said the “fate of the world” is at stake in the talks. He issued a Christmas Day plea to Republicans not to let Vladimir Putin conquer Ukraine.

Even if the Democratic-led Senate reaches a deal, secures the requisite 60 votes and passes a bill, there’s no guarantee it’ll get through the Republican-led House. Some of Johnson’s hard-liners say he should kill a compromise that falls short of their goals to close the border. He has not revealed where he’ll draw the line.

Preventing a government shutdown

Having passed a couple of short-term bills to keep the lights on, Congress now faces a two-part deadline of Jan. 19 and Feb. 2 to prevent a government shutdown. But this time, Johnson has indicated he doesn’t support another stopgap bill — and he’s said that if Congress fails to reach a deal, he will support a full-year continuing resolution.

That has been met with heavy pushback from Democrats as well as Senate Republicans, in part because it would impose significant cuts to domestic and military funding compared to levels Congress and Biden agreed to in mid-2023, meeting the needs of prior years, not this one. They say the House GOP must stick to their agreement.

“You don’t get to negotiate how much of your word you’re going to keep. This is the very basics of lawmaking,” said Senate Appropriations Chair Patty Murray, D-Wash. “So to avoid a shutdown come Jan. 19, we need to push House Republicans to get serious about the deal they pushed for in the first place.”

Unlike Johnson, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said a stopgap bill “is simply unacceptable for a year.”

When the House returns, it will have just eight legislative days before the first deadline and another four before the second. And there’s still no agreement on how much to spend, much less how to allocate that funding across the federal government.

That leaves a lot to resolve in little time.

A Biden impeachment battle

House Republicans closed out 2023 by voting unanimously to formalize their impeachment inquiry into Biden, giving them power to enforce their subpoenas. In 2024, they’ll have to decide whether to actually impeach him or back off.

But it continues to be an inquiry in search of an impeachable offense, as many Republicans admit they still don’t have direct evidence that connects transgressions by Hunter Biden to his father. The White House and Democrats have torched the inquiry as a partisan stunt by a GOP majority that has nothing meaningful to offer voters and is seeking retribution on behalf of Donald Trump.

A key group will be the vulnerable GOP lawmakers fighting to keep their seats next fall, including 17 of them who represent districts Biden won in 2020. Will they be prepared to cast a vote that could backfire politically if they’re seen as overreaching?

Surveillance powers

Congress temporarily extended warrantless surveillance authorities under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act until next April. But there’s still a core dispute to resolve on the parameters of the government’s spying power between security hawks and civil libertarians that has scrambled the partisan divide.

FBI Director Christopher Wray has urged Congress to renew the powers, describing them as “key” to combating foreign terrorism and containing threats from Iran and China. His belief that letting the authorities lapse would amount to a “form of unilateral disarmament” is shared by various lawmakers in both parties.

But in a case of strange bedfellows, progressive Democrats and conservative Republicans are demanding changes to the law, including new privacy protections that require law enforcement to secure a warrant to search for collected data on Americans and people in the U.S.

FAA and farm bill deadlines

Lawmakers punted a reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration until March 8 after failing to resolve some disagreements about a full extension before leaving for the holidays.

And they’ll have to pass a farm bill — a collection of agriculture subsidies and nutrition programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, previously known as food stamps. The current legislation was slated to expire last fall, but Congress extended it through next September to buy more time.

Both reauthorizations come up every five years and will need to be addressed in 2024.

“We’ve got an FAA reauthorization, we’ve got an ag bill. We’ve got a continuing resolution right now that cannot continue on,” said Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D. “And all of this is going to come due in January. … So we’ve got our work cut out for us and a limited amount of time to do it. We’re gonna have to cut through the stuff and actually get some things done in fairly short order.”

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