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Time is Running Out on 114th Congress

With national conventions, the August recess, additional campaigning and a lame duck session following the elections, time is quickly running out for the Congress to pass the spending bills that keep the government operating past September 30.

Along with the failure of Congress to pass these spending bills, Congress will not address much else for the remainder of the year. This time crunch forces Congress to divide its attention between trying to finish up the appropriations bills and craft a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government open past September 30 at current funding levels. 

Additionally, being so close to the election, neither party will want to be seen as obstructing the process but this situation also presents several challenges.  First, the fact that the appropriations bills do not get passed by Election Day eliminates the Republican’s claim to be able to govern by restoring “regular order” to the Congress. Also, since the Republicans have received the blame from the public for the government shutdowns of the past, the pressure is on them to pass the necessary funding as quickly as possible. This gives the Democrats the upper hand as they try to achieve several victories they have as yet been unable to achieve, such as funding for the Zika virus. This situation also provides the Democrats with more leverage to push for other spending in exchange for Republican calls for more defense spending for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Finally, considering the Republicans’ inability to regularly keep their majority from splintering and leaving them without 218 votes, the Democrats have essentially veto power over any legislation that would threaten their issues such as funding for Planned Parenthood or Obamacare. So, the question remains: Will the Republicans be able to – or not - muster sufficient votes in the House to pass a continuing resolution and punt everything else until after the election or even to next year depending on the duration of the CR?

Option Available For a Continuing Resolution

Republicans are considering a long term continuing resolution through March 2017 to give the next Congress a little breathing room as a new President is sworn into office in late January. A long term funding bill may also remove the threat of a lame duck session enacting legislation with low Member turnout as a number of Members of Congress will choose not to return after the elections. To make an important point, in general, legislation cannot be added to a continuing resolution. 

A long term extension, however, doesn’t preclude the possibility that one or more of the appropriations bills contained in a CR can be addressed in a lame duck session. If passed during a Lame Duck, those appropriations bills would override their counterpart language in the CR.  Or, the Congress can take all appropriations bills not passed separately during regular order and incorporate them into what is called an Omnibus Bill. However, generally an Omnibus Bill contains both appropriations bills and legislation – along with some riders that would not have passed during regular order. Democrats on the other hand have little interest in letting the Republicans pass some of these provisions that would halt some of the Obama Administration’s environmental priorities, among other issues. A showdown over such issues immediately could then occur either after the August recess or during a Lame Duck session of Congress and could have a significant impact on the 2017 elections especially if the electorate witnesses a Congressional meltdown. 

Scrap Policy & Advocacy News will contain a post-election analysis explaining the results and outlining the opportunities and challenges for the industry in the 115th Congress and with a new president.

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