Inside (the Beltway) Scoop

By | September 24, 2015

Congressional Leaders Strive to Avoid a Government Shutdown; President Urges Lawmakers to Raise the Spending Caps

Congressional leaders are racing against the clock to prevent another government shutdown and keep federal agencies open beyond September 30. The passage of a “continuing resolution” (CR), however, seemed more likely on Friday with the resignation announcement of the Speaker of the House, John Boehner (R-OH).

With less than a week until the end of fiscal year (FY) 2015, a group of House Republicans is still demanding that any bill to fund the government specifically cut support for Planned Parenthood, despite clear indications that such legislation would not pass the Senate or be acceptable to President Barack Obama.

The current dynamics are similar to 2013, when conservatives refused to support a CR because it included funding for the Affordable Care Act. However, unlike two years ago, Speaker Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) have agreed that they do not want to shut down the government, and need to pass a CR as quickly as possible.

As the House leaders continued to discuss their options, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran (R-MS) released a draft CR to extend current government funding through December 11 and block support for Planned Parenthood. An attempt to pass the Cochran CR failed late yesterday, prompting Senator McConnell to schedule a procedural vote on September 28 on a revised version that does not include the Planned Parenthood language. A final Senate vote on the “clean” CR will likely happen on September 29. It is expected to pass and then will be sent to the House.

The timing of House approval of the CR is unclear following Boehner’s announcement September 25 that he will resign his leadership post and retire from Congress. However, now that threats to his position as Speaker can no longer block progress, news outlets reported that Boehner told his colleagues during a meeting this morning that he will bring the “clean” CR up for consideration once it is passed by the Senate. Given that House Democrats said they will support the CR, there appear to be enough votes to send it President Obama in time to avert a government shutdown.

The hope is that once the CR has been approved, Congress will reach a bipartisan agreement to raise existing spending caps so that the unfinished FY 2016 appropriations bills can be combined into an omnibus package. President Obama reiterated several times over the past few weeks that he will veto spending legislation unless it includes increases for both defense and non-defense agencies. He also urged lawmakers to pass a budget that “makes smart investments in our military readiness, our infrastructure, our schools, public health, and research.”

Members of Congress are beginning to echo the President, a positive sign that a spending agreement might be reached by year’s end. House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-GA), who previously supported increases to defense spending only, is now in favor of fiscal relief for domestic programs as well.

In addition, a warning from McConnell to his Senate colleagues suggested that he planned to compromise with the Democrats. “We are inevitably going to end up in negotiations that will crack the Budget Control Act once again,” he said. “There’s a lot of pressure in Congress to spend more. The administration certainly wants to spend more, and the president, of course, is in a key position to determine whether any of these bills, should he get them, become laws.”

In preparation for the budget battle, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) released a new fact sheet on restoring funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). FASEB also joined 2,500 local, state, and national organizations in signing a letter urging Congress to increase the current limits on discretionary spending.

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