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House leaves for the year with critical battles still on horizon

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It’s going to be a busy first half of 2024 for the U.S. House of Representatives, with leaders punting several critical battles into the new year before leaving Washington.

The Senate is expected to stay an extra week to hash out a deal on border policy and foreign aid. But even if a deal is struck, the House will likely reckon with it when they return.

Lawmakers left Capitol Hill for the end-of-year holiday recess on Thursday after passing the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a must-pass annual bill that lays out Pentagon policy for the next fiscal year.

Included in this year’s NDAA is a short-term extension of a key provision of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) known as Section 702. The tool allows the intelligence community to spy on foreign nationals outside the U.S. without a warrant, even if the person on the other side of their communications is an American citizen.

The NDAA punted the FISA debate into April, and it’s expected to be tricky. Opponents of Section 702, mainly hardliners on the right and left, are seeking to vastly restrict the measure; they’re arguing it impedes the civil rights of private U.S. citizens. 

Others have lauded the tool as critical to preventing terror attacks. 

Ahead of that, House lawmakers have given themselves until March to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), another key U.S. program set to expire this year but given a short extension. The Senate is expected to take that up next week.

And the yet-unsolved government funding fight will be one of Congress’s most immediate problems, with a stopgap federal spending bill known as a continuing resolution (CR) forcing lawmakers to fund some agencies by Jan. 19 and the rest by Feb. 2. 

The House has passed five of 12 single-subject appropriations bills they have promised to finish, while the Senate passed three in a combined ‘minibus.’

But there’s still a long road ahead – negotiators in the House and Senate are still at odds on a topline number they’ll ultimately have to compromise on.

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