Congress is preparing to pass its third continuing resolution for fiscal 2016, shrugging off continued warnings from the White House that such stop-gap measures are no way to fund the government.
In a voice vote early today, the House passed a CR extending government funding through Dec. 22. The Senate is expected to follow suit later Wednesday.
President Barack Obama first signed a three-month stopgap measure this fall to extend government funding until Dec. 11, saying it would give lawmakers time to craft a massive year-end appropriations bill at the levels of a bipartisan deal that raises defense and domestic spending caps. Pelosi Slams 'Immoral' Tax Breaks
Since then, White House officials have issued numerous threats — almost daily — that Obama would not sign another short-term continuing resolution. Last week, however, he signed a second one keeping the government's lights on through Wednesday night. As congressional leaders said Tuesday they'd need to move a third one to avert a shutdown this week, while omnibus talks wrap up, Obama’s chief spokesman signaled the president would sign it.
But White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest also warned there is a point at which Obama would withhold his signature from such a short-term measure.
"There is," Earnest said when asked about whether such a date exists, while also refusing to pinpoint that specific date. "Let's hope we don't reach it."
For several weeks, Earnest has told reporters Obama would withhold his signature from a short-term spending bill that would give lawmakers additional “weeks and months” to hammer out an omnibus agreement.
"This can be solved in advance of the deadline if Republicans abandon that strategy," Earnest said recently, referring to GOP members’ efforts to include in the omnibus policy riders opposed by congressional Democrats and the White House.
But lawmakers took their time on the negotiations and the final omnibus bill posted early Wednesday Tuesday included policy riders sought by both Republicans and Democrats. Throughout the process, no one on Capitol Hill seemed very concerned about the White House's warnings on the CR, perhaps because they weren't entering the "weeks or months" territory Earnest warned about.
"I do if it were six weeks," Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., said when asked if he took the White House's warnings seriously. "I don't think they're ever not going to not sign something when it's a matter of days."
Senate Banking Chairman Richard C. Shelby, a former Appropriations Committee ranking member, told Roll Call he and other GOP members no longer listen to such threats.
“I don’t think what’s come out of the White House, not just dealing with Congress but dealing with the world, has a lot of people’s respect,” Shelby said. “They say one thing and do another.
“Some threats they are serious about,” he added, “and some things are just gestures.”
A threat not to sign a clean bill to fund the government would seem more like a gesture.
"I don’t think any side wanted the government to shut down," Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., said, "and so to suggest that a short-term CR was not going to be signed while ongoing negotiations were going on is normally not a credible threat.”
The length of the spending season’s second CR, just a handful of days, raised some eyebrows among budget watchers.
“That was written that way because everyone felt, at that time, that was a reasonable amount of time for us to get a deal done,” Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said. “Now, obviously, that proved to not be the case and things slowed down.”
Asked if he believes the White House has been issuing empty threats, Kaine scrunched his face and said: “No. No.”
“He wouldn’t sign something unless he really felt like a deal is coming. We all have a feeling that we’re close to a significant deal,” he said. “If it was a matter of signing something to take us into January or February, probably not. If it’s just a matter of days, we all, and the president, knows what’s going on.”
Kaine expects Obama will sign the latest CR spanning enough days to allow the Senate to finish work on the omnibus “Friday or Saturday.”
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