The Senate concludes the year by postponing the most difficult issues until 2024

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The Senate quietly closed its year on Wednesday leaving many of its toughest issues until 2024. It failed to deliver aid to Ukraine. He could not agree on a border policy plan. And a government shutdown is on the horizon.

Failure across the finish line guarantees that Congress will be caught in political and fiscal battles as lawmakers fight for control of the House and Senate in November elections.

The main disappointment for leaders of both parties was failing to reach an agreement on providing more military aid to Ukraine in its conflict with Russia after the assistance became tied to Republican demands for strict new border controls.

It was a setback for Democrats, who had hoped that by keeping the Senate in Washington this week, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the majority leader, could force a vote on a measure that would rush tens of billions to Ukraine. and would address pressure from Republicans. for changes in immigration policy. But no breakthrough materialized.

Schumer, in an interview, said he was hopeful a deal would be ready for a quick vote when the Senate returns next month. He cited greater participation in the talks by the Biden administration and recognition by Republicans that Democrats are willing to make serious concessions to stem the flow across the southern border.

“I think Republicans have seen that we are serious about the border and that we are willing to do some things that maybe they thought we wouldn't do,” he said.

Schumer said the main question for Republicans was whether opposition from Donald J. Trump, the GOP presidential front-runner, would deter them from reaching a deal, even though most Republicans acknowledged that helping Ukraine was the best approach to confront Russia and avoid a broader conflict.

“They have the looming specter of Donald Trump, who deep down they know has been not only irrational but nasty on this issue, trying to use it to appeal to people's worst political instincts,” Schumer said. He added that Republicans would face a choice between Trump and the “specter of history that looks down on them” if the United States left Ukraine.

The lack of resolution was not a surprise to Republicans, some of whom booed Schumer for thinking he could overtake them in just a few days on an issue as vital to his base as border security, particularly given that the party led by The House GOP left town last week for the holidays.

But Schumer and Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the minority leader, issued a joint statement saying they were “committed to addressing needs at the southern border and helping allies and partners confront serious threats in Israel, Ukraine and India”. Peaceful.”

McConnell also acknowledged the Democratic movement on border policy, saying Wednesday that “there is no longer any disagreement that the situation at the southern border is unsustainable and requires the Senate to act.”

After a flurry of legislation in the previous two years with Congress under Democratic control, productivity in Congress declined sharply in 2023 under divided government. The Democratic-led Senate was spared the internal power struggles that paralyzed the Republican-led House on multiple occasions, but major legislation was scarce.

“I don't think the Senate has been as productive as it could have been,” McConnell told reporters Tuesday.

Schumer said Democrats deserved credit for preventing Republicans in Congress from undoing their gains of the previous two years and avoiding fiscal chaos by forcing the GOP to accept compromise deals on raising the debt limit and temporary funding. of the government.

“We stopped them from doing the worst things,” he said.

But Congress only postponed what is shaping up to be a complicated showdown over spending by passing a stopgap bill in mid-November. Almost immediately after returning next month, the House and Senate will face two staggered deadlines for funding the government: January 19 and February 2.

With increased attention on Ukraine, little progress has been made on annual spending bills and lawmakers from both parties are increasingly sounding the alarm about the dangers of cuts that would occur if agreement cannot be reached. an agreement. But President Mike Johnson, who took office after Kevin McCarthy's ouster in October, has indicated that he might be willing to accept the cuts, a prospect that Schumer warned could spark a backlash in an election year.

“We have Senate Democrats, House Democrats and Senate Republicans more or less aligned,” he said. “Johnson will learn that he has to be bipartisan.”

It is unclear whether the threat of back-to-back government shutdown deadlines will give the necessary impetus to talks on the national security package. Lawmakers will have just 10 days once they return to Washington to resolve a series of critical differences, including the most basic question of what the size of the rest of the government's fiscal 2024 budget should be. Congress also started next year contentious disputes over federal aviation security policy and the renewal of an anti-terrorism surveillance policy.

A sweeping Pentagon policy bill was a rare bright spot for Congress this year. Both the House and Senate passed the bill in December, despite objections from conservative lawmakers that it omitted a series of measures they had sought to restrict Pentagon programs that provide access to abortion, health care for people transgender and diversity training. Passage of the legislation continued Congress' more than 60-year streak of authorizing spending for the military.

The Senate also managed in its final hours to overcome a nearly year-long protest by Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Alabama, that had blocked the promotions of hundreds of top military officers. Tuberville had demanded that the Pentagon repeal a policy that ensured that service members who had to travel long distances to obtain abortions or other forms of reproductive health care would receive time off and be reimbursed for their travel expenses.

On Tuesday, Tuberville allowed the last of the delayed promotions to go ahead, Schumer said, getting “a portion of what he asked for: just a lot of pain for military families.”



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