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Mike Johnson

Why Congress is behind the 8 ball

News: There are two important moments that you need to be aware of this week.

First, Speaker Mike Johnson is meeting today with Senate Republicans during their Steering lunch in the Capitol.

Also: Johnson is meeting privately with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Here’s why these are critical. Johnson is at the fulcrum of a host of big decisions that need to be made in December. Yes, there’s no government shutdown deadline until mid-January.

But Johnson and the rest of the Big Four — McConnell, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries  have a hefty pile of vital legislation to pass. And they need to chart a path forward very quickly. If not, some or all of these bills could stall out.

2024 funding: We are 51 days until the federal government enters into a partial shutdown, with a full shutdown just two weeks later. Not only have the House and Senate not begun negotiations on the particulars of the 12 annual spending bills, congressional leaders haven’t even decided on a topline number yet. Nothing can happen until that’s done.

Aides to the Big Four have begun discussions over a topline number. The challenge here is that the White House, Senate Republicans, House Democrats and Senate Democrats are going to insist on the 2024 topline spending number from the Fiscal Responsibility Act — $1.586 trillion. Perhaps even a little higher.

But House Republicans have been conditioned by their own leadership to believe they’ll be able to convince the rest of Washington to cut spending significantly. However, they lack the political leverage to make this happen, especially after the last few months of dysfunction.

In a sign of just how far Hill leaders are from any deal, the topic of topline spending didn’t come up in Johnson’s leadership meeting late Tuesday afternoon. And neither chamber is moving appropriations bills this week.

New wrinkles on border security-Ukraine deal: Senate Republicans’ demands for border policy changes in exchange for Ukraine and Israel funding are starting to put real strains on Democrats — potentially complicating prospects for a bipartisan deal.

In a statement exclusively shared with us, nearly a dozen Democratic senators — led by Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and co-signed by Majority Whip Dick Durbin — are sounding the alarm over the direction of the talks. In particular, they’re taking aim at provisions that would make it harder for migrants to seek asylum, which would be the cornerstone of any agreement with Republicans.

“We are concerned about reports of harmful changes to our asylum system that will potentially deny lifesaving humanitarian protection for vulnerable people, including children, and fail to deliver any meaningful improvement to the situation at the border,” the statement reads in part.

Republican leaders are insisting the final agreement must address more than just asylum policies and should clamp down on the parole system too. That would further irk progressives, who have supported humanitarian parole expansions for migrants fleeing violence and persecution back home. Pro-immigration groups are warning Democrats not to blindly accept the GOP proposals.

But Senate Republicans have leverage here, and a healthy number of Democrats are generally OK with border policy changes. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), one of the negotiators, said any deal needs to have the support of at least half of Senate Republicans — and that means parole restrictions are a must.

“Asylum [reform] is not enough to get the number that we need, of Republicans, to send something to the House that has a high probability of being received well and passed,” Tillis warned. “The only thing we do have is 41 members who are willing to deny the motion to proceed on the supplemental funding. We need to maintain that.”

FAA: A potential deal is in the works over pilot-training requirements, a critical issue that has stalled FAA reauthorization for months. This legislation needs to pass by Dec. 31.

Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) told us Tuesday that she’s reviewing a potential compromise proposal. Cantwell and her aides cautioned that there’s no agreement yet, so this situation remains fluid. There’s been no decision on whether a committee vote will happen and if the FAA bill needs to be attached to another larger piece of legislation.

NDAA: The defense authorization bill will take a huge step forward this morning with the formal “passing of the gavel,” which tees up the release of legislative text later this week. The Senate could begin to process the bill as soon as next week, depending on whether there’s enough progress on the supplemental.

But already there are major disputes over some financial services provisions that could get dropped from the final bill. More on that below.

Another potential problem: Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) is vowing to throw up roadblocks for the NDAA if it doesn’t include compensation for nuclear contamination victims.

FISA: House Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) told us a panel markup on his FISA reform proposal is scheduled for Dec. 6. Jordan met with Johnson on Monday and plans to continue meeting with him this week.

Senior leadership aides tell us they believe there will be a clean short-term FISA extension into the beginning of next year.

Johnson World News: Eric Schmitz is joining the speaker’s team as director of coalitions. Schmitz is a policy adviser for House Majority Leader Steve Scalise. Schmitz will be in charge of Johnson’s relationship with K Street and outside groups.

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Editorial photos provided by Getty Images. Political ads courtesy of AdImpact.