Director’s Desk

Kenneth Gold | July 14, 2016

Although appropriators have been diligently working on the individual FY17 spending bills in each chamber, as of today the House has managed to pass only four of the twelve bills, and the Senate only three.  None have been sent to the president, and it remains unlikely that more than two or three of the bills will be signed into law before the start of the next fiscal year, and none is a real possibility.

With Congress scheduled to begin their seven-week recess on Friday, House Republicans were scheduled to meet for the first time today to begin negotiations over how to fund the federal government after October 1.  Reaching agreement with recalcitrant members of his party in the House who oppose his spending plan would be the second major test of Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s ability to manage his own conference, since his failure to even bring the House budget resolution to the floor for a vote earlier this year.

Speaker Ryan again faces opposition from members of the House Freedom Caucus and other fiscally conservative Republicans over how to fund the federal government next year:  They oppose either an omnibus or a short-term continuing resolution (CR), which is the more likely of the two, but instead support a six-month CR that would run through March 2017. Appropriators and defense hawks oppose the long-term CR, which is also opposed by Senate Democrats, and even many Senate Republicans; so even if Ryan agreed to and was able to pass a long-term CR in the House, it wouldn’t pass in the Senate, and might well result in a government shutdown.

The fact that the scheduled Thursday Conference meeting was canceled is eerily reminiscent of what occurred with the House budget resolution in March, when the floor vote was canceled at the eleventh hour because of opposition from the Freedom Caucus. Barring a last minute agreement, Congress will begin its seven-week recess without a plan to resolve the budget impasse, which may reveal quite a lot as to what to expect not only over the next 11 weeks, but in the 115th Congress as well.  It strongly suggests that Speaker Ryan has still been unable to corral the ultra-conservatives in his own party; and raises the question of whether he, like former Speaker Boehner, will need to abandon the “Hastert Rule” and reach out to House Democrats to pass a FY17 spending vehicle.

It poses an interesting strategy dilemma for the Freedom Caucus as well.  Should their hardline opposition to a shorter CR result in a government shutdown five weeks before the elections, they would likely face considerable backlash from the less conservative elements in their own party; although whether they’d face backlash from their own constituents isn’t clear. On the other hand, they need to also consider how their influence might rise or fall in the 115th.

Current polling suggests that Republicans may lose 12–15 seats in the House in the upcoming elections, and that those losses would not likely come from members of the Freedom Caucus.  If that were to hold, ultra-conservatives would have even greater influence within a smaller Republican conference than they do in the 114th.  Those same polls, however, also project a likely Democratic majority in the Senate, and a Democrat in the White House. So while their intra-party influence might well rise, their ability to enact their agenda into law would fall markedly.  There’s little doubt that Speaker Ryan will be thinking about this as well.

Ken Gold is director of the Government Affairs Institute

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Categories: Director's Desk, Updates