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With Senate Action Stalled, Continuing Resolution Looks Likely for Fall

With the Senate’s regular appropriations work all but dead and an unexpected supplemental spending request for child migrants consuming time and energy on Capitol Hill, a government-wide continuing resolution now appears to be a near certainty for the fall.

The politics of a rancorous midterm election season have seeped into Congress’ summer workload, ending most bipartisan optimism that lawmakers could pass and conference at least some of their regular spending bills before the Oct. 1 start of the fiscal year.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid put a fork in the appropriations season when he conspicuously omitted fiscal 2015 spending bills from his agenda for the July work period when he spoke to reporters earlier this month. The Nevada Democrat had previously promised to set aside two weeks in July for the consideration of spending bills on the floor.

Reid in recent weeks has offered little hope that he would revive the three-bill, $126.2 billion spending package he pulled from the floor in June after an amendment standoff with his Republican counterpart, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Election year flash-point issues, such as Environmental Protection Agency climate change regulations and the 2010 health care law, have had an effect on committee-level business, prompting Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski to put off markups for several non-defense fiscal 2015 spending bills.

That leaves a dim prospect for any substantive appropriations work — aside from the child migrant supplemental — until after the November elections, or perhaps later.

‘Tough Politics’

Many senior appropriators say they now see a 12-bill continuing resolution as a near inevitability, as the legislative calendar ahead of the August recess dwindles.

“A month ago I thought we would have maybe passed two or three bills, but we haven’t and the prospects don’t look good at the moment,” said Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, ranking Republican on Senate Appropriations. “Things could change — they change on a dime up here, quickly. But it’s an election year and this is tough politics. You can’t divorce the politics from the procedure and the process.”

Even Mikulski recently acknowledged for the first time that she is beginning to eye an omnibus as a possibility to wrap up fiscal 2015 work, even as she continues to pursue other ways forward on individual spending bills ahead of Oct. 1. But the Maryland Democrat said that effort is also being “coupled with laying the groundwork for an omnibus, while the president wants us to move a supplemental.”

“I’ve got a full plate and a wallet that’s more like a Lean Cuisine,” Mikulski said earlier this month.

Appropriations staff members from both parties have long acknowledged quietly that a CR would likely be needed for the more contentious fiscal 2015 spending bills and that a wrap-up omnibus in the lame-duck session would likely be the best scenario during a fiercely partisan midterm election year.

Budget Deal Optimism Dashed

The gridlock in the Senate has swiftly clipped any leftover sense of optimism that appropriators could, through passing at least some spending bills on time, prompt a return to a more regularized process of legislating on Capitol Hill.

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