Kenneth Gold | October 30, 2014
Although the current continuing resolution (CR) expires in just six weeks, and Congress isn’t scheduled to return for another two weeks, no one is mentioning the “S word” (shutdown) this year. Instead, the question seems to be whether Congress will be able to pass an FY15 omnibus bill, or whether we’ll have to settle for yet another CR. In part, the answer will depend on which party wins a Senate majority on November 4.
The thinking is that if Republicans win back the chamber, they’ll be less likely to agree to either an omnibus or a year-long CR, and instead would opt to wait to pass something in the 114th, when they’d have the majority. If Democrats somehow manage to hold on to the majority, it’s more likely the parties would agree to at least a year-long CR, although an omnibus remains a possibility, albeit a distant one.
Except that there’s a good chance we won’t know which party will be in control on November 5. Although there’s a strong consensus among handicappers that Republicans will win back the chamber, two states, Louisiana and Georgia, require runoff elections if no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote. At this point, polls point to both states requiring runoffs to decide a winner.
In Louisiana, the runoff would be held on December 6; but in Georgia, the runoff election won’t take place until January 6, three days after the 114th Congress is scheduled to convene. Complicating matters even further is an independent candidate in Kansas who hasn’t made clear which party he’d align with if elected. And Maine independent Angus King, who caucused with Democrats in the 113th, recently said he’d consider switching allegiances in the 114th. So there’s a good chance that when Congress convenes for the lame duck session on November 12, they won’t know which party will have a Senate majority in the 114th, creating yet another level of uncertainty over what Congress will do with the spending bills.
At the macro level, there’s unlikely to be much difference between a CR and an omnibus, as the December 2013 Ryan-Murray budget agreement set discretionary caps for FY14 and FY15, as well as separate caps for defense and non-defense discretionary spending. There would, however, be real differences at the program level, with a CR placing major constraints on the ability of the departments and agencies to re-allocate resources to meet changing circumstances and objectives.
We’ll be looking at these and other critical issues in our upcoming New Congress programs. I hope to see many of you there.
Ken Gold, Director