With scores of amendments outstanding on a six-month spending measure, House GOP leaders acknowledged late Thursday that they would need at least another day to wrap up the bill before starting the Presidents Day recess.
Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) had hoped to send lawmakers home by 3 p.m. Thursday. But lawmakers were still slowly working late that night through hundreds of amendments to the continuing resolution, which would fund the government between March 4 and the end of the fiscal year. The GOP proposal would cut the budget by $100 billion below President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2011 request.
Shortly after midnight Thursday, Democratic and Republican leaders agreed to a unanimous consent agreement setting votes for more than 120 amendments to the bill. The deal ensures the House will wrap up work on the legislation before breaking for the recess.
The House has largely completed work on the substantive portions of the bill by adding significant spending cuts or shifting money to other programs. For instance, Democrats and moderate Republicans were able to increase funding for local police and firefighter programs to $810 million Wednesday. The same day, liberals and conservatives killed an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter engine project that was backed by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and a number of other top Republicans. It would have provided $450 million for an alternative engine for the fighter planes.
Although detailed changes to the bill had been wrapped up Thursday, the chamber was still facing debates and votes on more than 100 largely political amendments. Because of how Republicans structured debate on the bill, these amendments — including numerous GOP proposals to restrict funding for Obama’s signature health care overhaul law — were put off to the end.
Given the political importance of these amendments, Members have been reluctant to drop them, resulting in a logjam that is threatening to drag the session into the weekend.
The way forward remained somewhat cloudy. The House was expected to continue work throughout the day Friday, and aides said a series of stacked votes would occur Friday morning and afternoon.
Republicans are hoping to avoid a Saturday session, but aides cautioned it could occur. Cantor, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Rules Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) had taken a number of steps to curb the length of the debate, including making increases in spending out of order and encouraging Members to consolidate duplicative amendments. But those efforts made only a dent in the number of amendments offered by Democrats and Republicans, which has led to a much longer floor debate than had been anticipated.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.