Congress is now back at work after the Thanksgiving recess and has a lot of work to accomplish before Christmas. Maine Public's Mal Leary spoke with Maine Sen. Angus King about the major issues to be hammered out in the next month, including a final agreement on the federal budget.
SEN. ANGUS KING: We reached an agreement between Richard Shelby, who's the Republican chair of Appropriations in the Senate, and Nita Lowery, who's the Democratic chair of Appropriations in the House. They reached an agreement on what's called the 302 B's. And those are the allocations - last summer there was a negotiated agreement, including the White House, of what they call the top line - that is, the overall spending for both defense and non-defense. And then the 302 B's is getting a little more detail. That's the allocation as among all the various departments, whether it's agriculture or federal agencies, justice, or whatever, plus defense. So they reached agreement on that. And now the question is, in the next, I think we have 15 session days before December 20, to try to get the twelve Appropriations bills done. The Senate has already passed four of them. They're in conference with the House. So, everybody is saying this is possible. It's going to be tight, but I certainly hope that we can do it because the alternative is what they call a continuing resolution, which really is - it doesn't do anybody any good. It keeps the government open but it it doesn't - it keeps going programs that are outdated and it doesn't allow the starting of new programs. So, hopefully, that's the big task in the next 30 days now.
MAL LEARY: But the budget has 12 parts to it - the 12 different bills. Is there concern that one or two or three may end up in a battle with the White House?
Well, the the looming omnipresence, if you will, is the wall. There are a few other subsidiary issues, but the wall, and what the president insists upon and what he demands - there's not much funding for the wall in the House bill. There's $5 billion, I think, in the Senate bill. That reflects the fact that Republicans control the Senate, Democrats control the House. So that's going to be a matter of discussion. And the real - you know, at the end, it will be whether the president, to what extent he intervenes and makes demands about the wall that the Congress can't meet. I think if it were left just to the Congress, they could reach a compromise and get it done. And I'm not even sure they've spent the money that was allocated. Well, I don't think they spent the money that was allocated last year, let alone the money that the president took out of the military construction fund - in my opinion, and that of a district judge in Texas, illegally, where he ignored what the Congress actually did on a bipartisan basis and dipped in - called it an emergency and dipped into military construction funds, canceled projects all over the world. And so the question is, where are we going to be on that fight again this winter?
I've read that there's a real problem, though, with the impeachment inquiry running at the same time. You know, it's like trying to get major discussions on the budget done at the same time that a lot of House members are going to be tied up in an impeachment inquiry.
And the House has actually been incredibly productive this year. There's something like 350 bills that the House has passed and sent to the Senate. The real slow down in congressional activity is not impeachment. It's not time being spent on impeachment. It's Mitch McConnell's decision in the Senate to not bring bills to the floor for a vote. The House has passed a lot of bills and they're just sitting there. And all we're doing in the Senate is approving judges, many of which I don't think are qualified and I voted against. I mean - it's, you know, everybody watching TV - you think the only thing any of us are doing is impeachment. The Senate is doing nothing on impeachment. And the House has two committees that are working on it. But the House itself - the other committees are working on a lot of different issues. You know, in the last couple of weeks, I've worked on funding National Parks - the Land and Water Conservation Fund, cyber security, just a whole lot of different issues having nothing to do with impeachment.
Thank you very much, senator. We'll be talking again, I'm sure, before the month's over.
Absolutely. Thanks, Mal.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.