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Mike Johnson

Congress gets good at being bad

There’s the infamous “Do-Nothing Congress” of the 1940s. And then there’s this year’s “Do-Nothingest Congress.” The “Less-Than-Nothing Congress.” The “Zero Congress.”

OK, we’re still workshopping this. But you get the idea.

There’s one week left until the House and Senate are scheduled to recess for the year, and the list of legislative items left undone, half done or in limbo is unusually long — and incredibly consequential.

In other words, Congress is getting very good at being very bad.

Yet Speaker Mike Johnson looks ready to let members go home at the end of next week. The Senate may not move on any other major legislation once it clears the defense authorization bill, which could be as soon as Wednesday. Lawmakers could potentially have only a few days left in session before they leave town until mid-January.

There are huge issues at stake: Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan, border security, government funding, FISA, FAA. It’s just that party leaders and the White House can’t seem to agree on anything, so little gets done.

Overall, the only thing the 118th Congress has achieved is avoiding a debt default or government shutdown. But that’s like paying your rent or taxes. You don’t get credit for doing what you should be doing anyway.

What has Congress accomplished this month? Not much. The House expelled a corrupt GOP lawmaker and censured a Democrat who improperly pulled a fire alarm.

House GOP leaders may authorize an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden even though they haven’t shown he did anything definitively improper and everyone knows he won’t be removed from office anyway. The Senate resolved — for the most part — a blockade of military promotions that almost everyone believes shouldn’t have happened in the first place.

Here’s what’s unfinished — and spoiler alert, it’s pretty alarming.

Border talks, immigration and foreign aid: The Senate’s bipartisan border security negotiations are back on for the moment. But if you consider the history of immigration and Congress, it’s unlikely there will be a deal.

Senators from both parties keep telling us that failure isn’t an option, and that aid for Ukraine and Israel is too important to let slide for another month or two.

At the same time, senators are telegraphing just how difficult it will be to find enough votes in both chambers from lawmakers who want to help Ukraine but are willing to accept restrictive border policies. If there’s no agreement by the time the NDAA wraps up next week, it’s hard to see the Senate staying in town. This would be a disaster for Ukraine funding, which already is in trouble in the GOP-run House.

There are foundational disagreements between the two parties over how to address the migrant crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border. Republicans want to implement policies that “dramatically” reduce border crossings. Basically a return to the Trump era. Democrats want to give DHS more resources to process migrants’ asylum claims at the border rather than paroling them inside the country.

It’s pretty remarkable to think that Israel — which both parties hold up as America’s staunchest ally in the Middle East — could get no additional U.S. help this year even as its forces are locked in a bloody battle against Hamas militants in Gaza.

FAA: The FAA’s authority lapses on Dec. 31. As of now, there’s no plan for extending it while the Senate haggles over a longer-term reauthorization bill. Aside from the NDAA, there aren’t any other must-pass bills that a temporary FAA extension could ride. The Senate could try to pass a short-term extension by unanimous consent, but all it takes is one senator to derail this. And the House would have just a few days to get it cleared.

NDAA: Call us overly skeptical, but we have a sneaking suspicion that the annual Pentagon policy bill is on shaky ground in the House. One senior GOP aide said it’s “not in a great spot.” Johnson is under fire from conservatives for including a four-month extension of FISA authority.

The Senate is going to pass the NDAA next week, giving House Republican leadership a chance to get it done. The NDAA is going to be considered under suspension, meaning it will need a two-thirds majority for House passage.

Military promotions: While Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) folded this week on his blanket blockade of military promotions, he’s still holding around a dozen military officers being promoted to the rank of 4-star general. Plus, Sen. Eric Schmitt (R-Mo.) is now holding a few others.

Without unanimous consent, it would take several days to approve all of them. Top Democrats say they’re willing to stay in session because these promotions would need to be sent back to the Armed Services Committee if they’re not approved by year’s end.

— Jake Sherman, Andrew Desiderio and John Bresnahan

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