July 30, 2015 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Spending Bills Could Stall Out Until 2011

Douglas Graham/Roll Call
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin acknowledged last week that the appropriations bills may have to wait until after the November elections.

“We need to change course. We need to rein in spending,” Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), an Appropriations member, said Thursday. “And, as appropriators, we should lead by example. Supporting this bipartisan approach is a reasonable, initial step to curb spending.”

While it is not uncommon for Congress to blow past its Sept. 30 statutory deadline for funding federal agencies, House and Senate appropriators seem to have gotten a later start than usual this year. None of the 12 annual spending bills has passed the House yet. Those bills are usually passed during the months of June and July. And the full House Appropriations Committee has not marked up any so far, even though all but three have passed through subcommittee.

Though the House still has plenty of time to complete its work on the bills, making progress in the Senate will be much trickier. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) does not plan to take up any spending measures before the monthlong August recess. When Members return in September, they will likely have no more than four to five weeks for legislating before heading home to campaign for re-election, Senators acknowledged.

“They can get hung up for lengthy periods of time on the floor, and we don’t have a lot of time,” said Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), an Appropriations member.

Election years have also increased the likelihood of appropriations work being pushed off to a new Congress and a new year. If Republicans gain seats in both chambers — as expected — they will have even less incentive to agree to Democratic demands during this Congress, sources acknowledged.

In past years, Members have found it politically unpalatable to leave town to campaign without at least passing funding for the Defense and Homeland Security departments, and those two bills are the most likely contenders for passage by both chambers before the midterms. The rest of the government would have to make do with a continuing resolution, on which Republicans could try to force further spending reductions — a situation that could raise the specter of a government shutdown.

Sen. Patty Murray, however, was optimistic last week that the work would get done in a timely manner. “I think it’s really good progress that we’re beginning to put the bills together so we have a solid framework of what we can do as soon as we’re done with the election season,” said the Washington state lawmaker, an appropriator and secretary of the Democratic Conference.

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