Negotiations Stall on Continuing Resolution; Funding Proposal Offered by Senate Republicans Angers Democrats; Next Steps Uncertain As Government Shutdown Looms
Any hope members of Congress had about quickly returning to the campaign trail evaporated on Monday as discussions of a “continuing resolution” (CR) to keep federal agencies operating beyond September 30 entered their third week. Although House and Senate leaders and President Obama support a CR funding the government through December 9, finalizing the details of the agreement has proved to be far more difficult. Negotiators are still trying to resolve a variety of issues including a lingering dispute over language concerning Planned Parenthood, requests for funding to combat the Zika virus, appeals from the Louisiana congressional delegation for money to repair damage from recent floods in Baton Rouge, and expectations for resources to clean up the contaminated water supply in Flint, Michigan.
Late on Tuesday, September 20, the Senate voted 89-7 in favor of beginning debate on the fiscal year 2017 legislative branch appropriations bill (HR 5325), the vehicle that is expected to include the text of the CR once an agreement is reached. The Senate vote along with encouraging comments from congressional leaders involved in the negotiations were seen as positive developments.
However, tempers flared on Thursday, September 22, after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) released a draft CR that continued spending at half a percent below current levels until December 9 with additional funding to address Zika, opioid abuse treatment, and flood damage in Louisiana, West Virginia, and Maryland. Notably absent from the McConnell proposal was any money for Flint.
Democrats immediately attacked the McConnell draft as unacceptable. Appropriations Committee ranking member Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) said it was a “Republican-only bill that fails to help the people of Flint, Michigan. We Democrats cannot vote for that substitute and urge others to vote against it.” A similar statement came from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) who added, “So far, I have not seen anything that our Democrats in the House would vote for.”
Given that fiscal conservatives are likely to object to any additional spending, the McConnell CR has little chance of passing the House without support from a significant number of Democrats. Senate approval is also in danger unless funds for Flint are included in the final package.
Members of Congress left Washington for the weekend without a clear path forward and only eight days to reach an agreement that will avoid a government shutdown at the end of the month. Senator McConnell announced that a procedural vote on the draft CR will take place on September 27. The timing of the House vote is uncertain pending additional action in the Senate.
The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) supports a three-month CR because it will give Congress time to finalize the budget for the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and other research agencies later this fall. An e-action alert issued by FASEB advocating for a short-term CR generated 7,000 emails to Capitol Hill, reaching every Senator and nearly all House members.