A squabble among Republicans over spending bills makes it increasingly likely that the House will finish its business by the end of next week, with the Senate shutting down operations soon after.
Given that GOP conservatives have prevented their colleagues on the House and Senate Appropriations panels from moving forward with plans to pass the nine remaining spending bills as an omnibus package, Republicans leaders are now expected to punt the issue to next year’s Democratic-led Congress rather than take the time to piece together major spending legislation.
“It could mean we would adjourn much earlier than most pundits think — certainly well before the Christmas deadline,” said one senior Senate GOP aide.
Indeed, passing a continuing resolution to keep the government running until February or March would allow Congress to avoid the time-consuming negotiations and last-minute spending fights that inevitably accompany omnibus appropriations bills.
That could make it more likely that the House would be able to close up shop by Dec. 8, with the Senate likely to stay in town for a few more days to consider the nomination of Robert Gates to be Defense secretary, several aides said.
Of course, that timeline is predicated on the easy enactment of CRs, which historically have been passed with relative ease. This year could be different, however, because appropriators have not yet abandoned plans to increase spending in some areas, such as veterans’ medical care. In the past, Republicans have crafted CRs that fund the government at the lowest level possible to keep spending down — a maneuver that sits better with conservatives.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) said “it’s inevitable” that Congress will pass a CR that lasts until next year, but he indicated that the formula for funding would not necessarily be the lowest possible.
“We’re going to have to try and make sure that whatever is included is justifiable and needed,” he said.
Cochran added, “Anything that’s in the public interest will be considered.”
One senior Senate GOP aide added that the length and breadth of the CR “relies on finding the sweet spot between appropriators, Senate Democrat leaders and conservatives, which will take some time.”
Meanwhile, Cochran said that he is “not ruling out passing additional appropriations bills if we can get agreement” with Democrats and conservatives before the end of the lame duck.
Discussions on the CR and on outstanding spending bills are ongoing and will continue this week, aides said. In addition, Jim Manley, spokesman for Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), said the soon-to-be Majority Leader currently is consulting with Democratic appropriators and his leadership team on what kind of CR will be acceptable to the Democratic Caucus.
Though GOP appropriators are resigned to passing a CR covering spending through next year, significant anger over the conservatives’ blockade of spending bills is still brewing.
“This is only the latest example of why the American people rejected this ‘do-nothing’ Congress,” Manley said. “Now, in a complete abdication of their responsibilities, they have decided that they can’t or won’t pass these bills ... that could benefit millions of Americans.”