The uncertainty about the House's approach to voting on the Iran nuclear deal is prompting warnings about the rest of the legislative branch's lengthy to-do list this fall.
"The House is again in disarray over there," said Senate Minority Leader Reid, D-Nev., referring to the unexpected House Republican debate Tuesday on how the chamber would go forward on disapproving of the international agreement regarding Iran's nuclear development. GOP disagreements stalled a vote on the House rule scheduled for Tuesday afternoon and headed to a hastily arranged conference meeting to hash out differences.
"They better start considering how they're going to fund the government. They can't just jam us with something because it just won't work," Reid said.
The Nevada Democrat estimated there were about 10 days of Senate work before the end of September, given the Jewish High Holy Days and visits by both Pope Francis and the president of China.
Reid: 'Perfect Storm Brewing' on Budget, Debt, Taxes
Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the no. 4 Democratic leader, warned that what is playing out looks to be a replay of the 2013 episode that led to a government shutdown, despite assertions from GOP leaders that it would not happen.
"Once again, we are just weeks away from an artificial crisis that could hurt our economy," Murray said. "What possible reason could they have for pushing the country to the brink of another Republican-driven crisis? And now, Sen. [Ted] Cruz and the tea party are once again pushing their leadership to cause another crisis. This time, they're focusing on women's health care."
That's a reference to the push by Cruz, the Republican presidential candidate from Texas, and other conservatives to leverage the need to fund the government to cut off federal funding to Planned Parenthood. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said the Senate simply does not have the votes to take that approach , saying that such an effort will need to wait until a Republican gets in the White House to really move forward.
But even if all goes well in the short term and lawmakers can craft a relatively hassle-free funding bill, the potential of a continuing resolution running into November or December could lead to a bigger standoff leading into either the Thanksgiving or Christmas breaks over an omnibus spending bill that also raises the debt limit.
"A perfect storm is out there brewing," Reid told reporters. "I talked to Jack Lew a week ago. He doesn't know how long the government has money left to continue paying its bills. It's not a real long time. He said after the receipts come in for September, he'll have a better idea, but that's a way's from now."
The most recent formal guidance from Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew indicated the government may exhaust extraordinary measures to extend borrowing as soon as October, though it is widely expected there's some more flexibility.
But some Republicans and Democrats are keen on marrying the deadlines. Reid said timing will be critical, also including a variety of expiring tax provisions in the basket.
"On any CR, we have to make sure it's at the right length. We know we're going to have to have a short CR, but it should be short enough that we don't have to keep coming back for debt ceiling, tax extenders. We should do it all at once," Reid said. "We need to make sure that there is something in the way of a negotiation. It's not going to happen just because they want it to happen."
On one hand, setting up a big package would reduce the number of difficult votes that lawmakers need to take, but it also would increase the likelihood of a conservative revolt causing issues, particularly in the House.
A Senate Republican appropriator said Wednesday there were preliminary discussions about a roughly 60-day continuing resolution, which would bring the timeline to the end of November. The date range has varied from a few weeks, which would dovetail with a deadline to extend spending authority on highway and transportation projects, with the highway bill, to something that runs through nearly the end of the calendar year.
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