Odds Are Against Another Government Shutdown, But…

Congress returns from its August recess next week, and is well positioned to conclude one of the least productive Congresses in modern history.  With less than a month before the next fiscal year begins, it would be reasonable to expect a flurry of activity surrounding last ditch efforts to pass at least some of the 12 appropriations bills.  The reality, however, is quite different.

When the Second Session of the 113th Congress convened in January, there was a good deal of speculation that for the first time in 20 years, lawmakers would pass many, or even all of the individual spending bills prior to the start of the next fiscal year.  The December 2013 Ryan-Murray budget agreement had set discretionary funding levels for FY15 so there was  no real need to pass a congressional budget resolution, which has been a major stumbling block  for years.

With little hope remaining of passing even a single appropriations bill before the end of this  month, Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) may still make one final effort at passing an omnibus spending bill, which would reportedly be attached to the FY15 Milcon/VA appropriations bill.  Most lawmakers, however, seem to have already conceded that anything other than a continuing resolution (CR) is unlikely at this point.

The House returns next week and is scheduled to meet for only five full days and two half days in September.  It will then meet for a day and a half in October, before recessing again for the November elections.  The chamber won’t return until after Veterans Day, leaving little time to debate the CR.  Most everyone expects that Congress will pass a CR before October 1 because neither party would be willing to risk a government shutdown only a year after the last one, especially in an election year.

Recently however, Congress seems to have failed to do a number of things that most everyone expected them to do: Background checks for gun buyers? Some small piece of immigration reform? Pass at least some of the appropriations bills?

Most speculate   that Congress will pass a CR that will run through early December.  The House is scheduled to be in session through December 12, so that seems to be the target date for passing an omnibus.  However, with little hope of passing anything other than a CR before the end of the fiscal year, lawmakers may well attempt to attach all manner of pet projects or policy riders to the bill, making passage anything but a done deal.

Party leaders on both sides of the aisle appear to favor passing a “clean” CR, or one with few specific spending increases, known as “anomalies.”  Likely candidates for proposed anomalies include programs related to border security (specifically, additional funding for child migrants), extension of the Export-Import Bank, and additional money for fighting wildfires.  The administration may also request supplemental spending for military action against the Islamic State.

I think the CR will pass on time, with the greater challenge coming in December, when Congress will need to either extend the CR, or pass an omnibus.  Much will depend on the outcome of the November elections.  Should Republicans regain the majority in the Senate, which most observers are now predicting, it will be less likely that they’ll agree to fund the government past January, when they would control both chambers, and have greater leverage.

Ken Gold is director of the Government Affairs Institute

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