In what has become a familiar scenario, the House and Senate have a full legislative plate and only until Jan. 18 to clean it, with a potential government shutdown on the line.
The current continuing resolution that keeps the government operational is set to expire Jan. 15, and appropriators announced on Friday that they would be seeking to approve a brief, three-day stopgap measure to avert a shutdown as they finalize the details of a massive omnibus spending package. The Senate as also so far failed to resolve partisan differences on offsets for an emergency extension of long-term jobless benefits that expired for 1.3 million Americans on Dec. 28.
House aides previously indicated their intent to bring a completed farm conference report to the floor before the Martin Luther King Jr. Day recess, but as of Friday, there was no deal to speak of. House Agriculture Chairman Frank D. Lucas, R-Okla., has been so frustrated over the state of affairs he grumbled to reporters that he wanted the conference “over with more than you can possibly imagine.”
Given lawmakers’ desire to leave town in a timely fashion for the recess, it appears the battle to keep the government open might be the only one Congress has time to fight before the break. Both the House and Senate will have to swiftly approve the three-day extension — and the Senate must keep any one lawmaker from blocking a time agreement to expedite its vote on the measure.
Republicans have so far indicated a strong reluctance to force another government shutdown, considering even the most conservative among their ranks were badly burned by the 16-day impasse in October. That politically perilous situation caused many GOP lawmakers to embrace the budget deal brokered by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., in December. And it’s why House Republican leadership aides are expressing confidence in their ability to move the first omnibus since 2011 through the normally fickle House.
But if House leaders have misjudged the mood of their members, the specter of a shutdown could be raised yet again.
Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., released a statement Friday on the need for a three-day continuing resolution, even as she expressed confidence that the spending package with a more than $1 trillion top line is close to completion.
“We’re making solid progress and I’m confident that next week we’ll have a bipartisan agreement that finds common ground. This very short extension is needed to prevent any funding gaps as the agreement moves through the House and Senate next week,” Mikulski said.
But any one senator could trip up the timing of the omnibus’s passage, which also could raise the threat of a shutdown.
The future of the long-term farm authorization and the unemployment extension is murky. The farm bill continues to be tied up by a variety of colloquial interests. Leaders had planned to hold an open hearing the first week back in January to let members air their grievances through amendment votes to finally wrap the legislation. But those plans were canceled after once-shrinking policy gaps on dairy pricing and product-labeling burst back open.
On the unemployment issue, Democrats and Republicans still cannot find a mutually acceptable offset to pay for the bill and both parties seem to keep moving their demands in ways unpalatable to the other side.