7 major questions the Senate must answer this September
From funding the government to advancing the AI policy debate to tamping down health concerns, the upper chamber returns to Washington with a full plate.
The Senate will return to Washington this afternoon with a mile-long to-do list to complete by month’s end that will require cooperation from an unruly House Republican majority led by conservative rabble-rousers uninterested in compromise.
And while there’s a ton of political intrigue for those of us who cover Congress for a living. But the outcomes of the upcoming weeks will also impact your daily lives in obvious and obscure ways—so it’s worth paying attention even if you’re frustrated or confused about the legislative process.
And since these evolving dynamics can be overwhelming to keep up, let’s break them down into a septenary of questions that the upper chamber will need to answer by the end of the month to keep the legislative train on track as we hurtle towards the end of the year.
(1) Can senators stave off a House conservative rebellion to keep the government open?
This is the most pressing issue since the government will shut down on Oct. 1 if Congress fails to pass a funding bill this month. The Senate is in session 17 days this month, including today. The House is in for just 11 days once they gavel back in next Tuesday.
Let’s reflect on how we got here: President JOE BIDEN and Speaker KEVIN McCARTHY reached a deal in late May that set funding levels for the upcoming fiscal year and raised the debt limit. Weeks later, McCarthy allowed House GOP appropriators to mark up the funding bills billions of dollars below the levels he and the president agreed to. The House bills also attached poison-pill riders on policies against abortion rights, LGBTQ rights, and diversity and inclusion that rally the base but have no chance of passing the Democratic-controlled Senate and White House.
Despite their deep policy differences, Senate Majority Leader CHUCK SCHUMER (D-N.Y.) and Senate Minority Leader MITCH McCONNELL both agree the 12 bills that fund the government should be marked up to the levels set in the Biden-McCarthy agreement. In a reflection of the differences between the two chambers, Senate appropriators reported the bills out of committee with overwhelming bipartisan votes while the House Appropriations Committee was mostly split along party lines.
How this gets resolved: Lawmakers left town for August recess with the House passing just one of the 12 funding bills and the Senate zero. Congressional leaders want to pass a short-term funding bill, known as a continuing resolution. This would keep the government open at current funding levels to give both chambers more time to pass their bills and reconcile their differences. The Senate leaders want a CR through the end of the year. House conservatives are fundamentally against CRs in general so McCarthy would prefer to pass one with a shorter deadline.
“Because of what we accomplished last year, our economy is gaining momentum,” Schumer said in a letter to Senate Democrats last Friday. “We cannot afford to jeopardize that progress because MAGA Republicans want to play political games. The only way to avoid a shutdown is through bipartisanship.”
(2) How will McConnell handle the fallout from his second public freeze?
The moment instantly went viral on social media and had armchair physicians offering instant medical analysis: Leader McConnell at an event last week in his home state Kentucky, frozen on camera for half a minute and unresponsive to a reporter who’d just asked about his plans for public service beyond 2026—the end of his current Senate term.
It was the second such episode in a little more than a month: During a press conference at the Capitol in July, McConnell froze again, this time for 20 seconds. In both instances, his staff told reporters they were due to lightheadedness and dehydration, lingering symptoms from a concussion he suffered after a fall earlier this year.
Health is a delicate subject among members of Congress and this is especially true for McConnell, the longest-serving Senate party leader in US history. But the politics of age have shifted in recent years as voters attribute the dysfunction in Washington to self-serving older adults who are out of touch with mainstream desires and recoil at the reality that the top two presidential frontrunners from each party—Biden and former President DONALD TRUMP—are 80 and 77, respectively.
All eyes will be on the Senate floor this afternoon to see if and how McConnell delivers his customary daily floor remarks. And he can expect intense scrutiny from reporters at his weekly press conference after lunch with his members. What not to expect: Senate Democrats to officially weigh in—they have their own fragile members to worry about as Sen. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-Calif.) continues to recover from a bout with shingles earlier this year.
(3) Will lawmakers move any closer to legislative action on AI?
After a series of all-senators briefings on artificial intelligence before the August recess, Schumer will host the top AI experts at the Capitol next week for the first insight forum on the subject.
The goal, according to the majority leader, is to develop a new and unique approach to drafting and passing AI legislation.
Schumer added that the forums will give senators a chance to learn and expand their knowledge of the rapidly growing technology. But it’s still uncertain if, how, and when they’ll translate all this newfound know-how into policy that threads the needle between protecting creators and consumers from exploitation without stifling innovation.
“This is not going to be easy,” Schumer wrote in his letter to his caucus. “But in the twenty-first century, we cannot behave like ostriches in the sand when it comes to AI.”
(4) Can Senate Democrats maintain momentum on judicial confirmations?
Beyond government funding, Schumer told Senate Democrats that judicial confirmations would be a top priority for his slim majority.
By the numbers: There are 31 nominations waiting for Senate action: four for the court of appeals, 25 for the district courts, and two for the US Court of International Trade.
The Biden administration has seven vacancies to fill on the courts of appeals, 61 at the district-court level, with 24 more set to occur before the end of the president’s first term.
To date, the Senate has confirmed 140 federal judges nominated by Biden, including KETANJI BROWN JACKSON, the first Black woman to sit on the Supreme Court. Biden had the most judicial nominees confirmed during a president’s first term since RONALD REAGAN in 1981. But he’s fallen behind Trump, who had 144 judges confirmed by the end of July of his third year.
(5) Will Schumer have any political capital left for the rest of his agenda?
Funding the government, confirming judges, taking action on AI—that’s a full plate by most assessments.
But Schumer also wants to pass legislation to cap the price of insulin and other prescription drugs, reform cannabis banking, strengthen online privacy for kids and teens, claw back executive compensation for failed banks, and improve rail safety after the East Palestine derailment earlier this year.
“Our committees have done excellent work to move these along,” Schumer wrote. “But we are under no illusion that we can make progress on the Senate floor unless we get bipartisan cooperation.”
How September plays out will determine how much floor time remains for the rest of these legislative priorities.
(6) When will the Senate take up Biden’s supplemental funding request?
The White House last Friday said it would seek an additional $4 billion for FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund to respond to recent extreme weather events in Hawaii, Louisiana, Vermont, and Florida.
“The president has been clear that we’re going to stand with communities across the nation as they recover from disasters for as long as it takes,” a spokesperson for the Office of Management and Budget said in a statement. “The administration is committed to working with Congress to ensure funding for the DRF is sufficient for recovery needs.
The additional DRF funding request is on top of the recent supplemental request from the White House for $12 billion for the fund. The request also included asks for $24 billion in military, economic, and humanitarian aid for Ukraine. The same request called for $4 billion for border management operations.
The good news is the top two Senate leaders have expressed public support for the supplemental. The not-so-good news: Some congressional Republicans have indicated a preference to decouple disaster aid from Ukraine funding. (FWIW: 70 House Republicans voted to end Ukraine funding in their version of the defense policy bill they passed in July.)
But that may not fly with Senate Democrats. Sen. TAMMY DUCKWORTH (D-Ill.) said she will object if Sen. RICK SCOTT (R-Fla.) attempts to pass disaster aid on its own without the rest of the White House’s supplemental request.
“I would,” Duckworth, who serves on the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees, said. “I think it’s important to include Ukraine funding.”
(7) What about the other must-pass bills?
Sept. 30 isn’t just the deadline for government funding. The current farm bill and aviation reauthorization bill are also set to expire by the end of the month.
Congress is expected to miss the deadline on the farm bill, which sets food and agriculture policy and prevents critical programs like nutrition assistance from lapsing. Senate Agriculture Chair DEBBIE STABENOW (D-Mich.) has set a December deadline to pass the farm bill.
“We are continuing to work on a bipartisan farm bill,” a spokesperson for the Senate Agriculture Committee said in a statement to Supercreator News last Friday.
The House passed a bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration this summer, but the Senate Commerce Committee hasn’t even marked up its version of the bill. A spokesperson for the committee told Supercreator News there was no guidance to provide on the status of the legislation.
And though not due until the end of the year, the House and Senate will also need to square their separate versions of the annual defense policy and programs bill and reauthorize a government surveillance law the White House says it needs on the books to intercept fentanyl traffickers, keep the West united against Russia’s war in Ukraine, and respond to threats posed by China.
“This authority has and continues to prove an essential intelligence tool,” National Security Council spokesperson JOHN KIRBY said to reporters last Friday. “So, again, we look forward to continuing to work with Congress to ensure reauthorization.”
👋🏾 HI, HEY, HELLO! Good Tuesday morning. It’s September 5, 2023. I’m counting the days until the Dallas Cowboys are back on the field to run up my blood pressure for three hours every Sunday until January. Thank you for reading Supercreator Daily, the premier guide to the politicians, power brokers, and policies shaping the American creator experience. Get in touch: email@example.com.
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1:40 a.m. Vice President Harris arrived in Japan for a refueling stop en route to Jakarta, Indonesia to attend the US-ASEAN and East Asia summits and meet with Indo-Pacific leaders.
3:10 a.m. The vice president departed Japan en route to Jakarta where she will arrive at 8:55 a.m. and attend an official welcome ceremony.
11 a.m. The House will meet in a pro forma session. President Biden will receive his daily intelligence briefing in the Oval Office.
3 p.m. The Senate is in with a vote scheduled at 5:30 p.m. to advance PHILIP JEFFERSON’s nomination as vice chair of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve.
3:30 p.m. The president will award the Medal of Honor to Army captain LARRY TAYLOR in the East Room.
Biden’s week ahead:
Thursday: President Biden will travel to New Delhi, India to attend the G20 Leaders’ Summit.
Friday: President Biden will meet with Prime Minister NARENDRA MODI of India.
Saturday: The president will participate in the G20 and discuss a range of issues with partners, including climate change, the war in Ukraine, and global banking.
Sunday: President Biden will travel to Hanoi, Vietnam and meet with General Secretary NGUYEN PHU TRONG and other leaders to discuss how to deepen cooperation between the two countries.
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