Election Uncertainty Complicates Budget Decisions

With Republicans thinking they have a good shot at winning the Senate, some want all 2015 spending issues to be pushed into the next Congress.

WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 10: In this handout image provided by NASA, a perigree full moon or supermoon is seen behind clouds over the United States Capitol on August 10, 2014 in Washington, DC. Tonight's supermoon, or perigee moon referring to its closest point to earth, is the second one of the summer. According to NASA, the moon appears 30 percent brighter and 14 percent bigger than normal. Another supermoon will appear September 9. (Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA via Getty Images)
National Journal
Billy House
Aug. 20, 2014, 2:38 p.m.

Un­ex­pec­ted drama is emer­ging over a bill that Con­gress must pass to keep the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment fun­ded bey­ond the Oct. 1 start of its new fisc­al year, and it could throw a wrench in­to what is in­ten­ded to be only a brief re­turn to Wash­ing­ton for law­makers next month amid their reelec­tion cam­paigns.

This fight isn’t about the ne­ces­sity of do­ing such a con­tinu­ing budget res­ol­u­tion to avoid an­oth­er gov­ern­ment shut­down, or even how much spend­ing it should con­tain.

Rather, this battle is over how long such a tem­por­ary spend­ing bill should last””and it is be­ing fueled by un­cer­tainty over wheth­er Demo­crats will main­tain con­trol of the Sen­ate after the Nov. 4 elec­tions.

Some House Re­pub­lic­ans””hope­ful their party will take over the Sen­ate ma­jor­ity””are now privately hedging on wheth­er they should go along in Septem­ber with pas­sage of a con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion that would ex­pire in Decem­ber, rather than some later date in 2015. If pushed in­to next year, the GOP then might con­trol both cham­bers and Demo­crats would have less lever­age in passing a new budget bill.

“This could lead in­to a real stan­doff,” said one seni­or House GOP lead­er­ship aide, adding that Demo­crats are un­likely to go along with ex­tend­ing the CR in­to next year, and a new Con­gress.

The House is sched­uled to re­turn to ses­sion on Sept. 8 for 10 days of le­gis­lat­ive work next month and two days in Oc­to­ber, when they then break for good un­til after the elec­tion. Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id has said sen­at­ors will be in ses­sion through Sept. 23, but will also be work­ing on the week­ends.

It has be­come clear that Con­gress will have to pass some type of stop­gap spend­ing bill to keep gov­ern­ment open past Oct. 1, and the CR will most likely ex­tend cur­rent fund­ing levels. None of the 12 an­nu­al ap­pro­pri­ations bills for fed­er­al agen­cies has yet passed in ver­sions agreed upon by both cham­bers. In fact, the Sen­ate has yet to pass even one of those bills.

Be­fore the cur­rent re­cess, many law­makers on both sides of the aisle were pre­dict­ing that a CR would likely be passed in Septem­ber, and most said it would ex­tend fund­ing through Dec. 15. Even House Speak­er John Boehner told re­port­ers dur­ing a news con­fer­ence in late Ju­ly that a stop­gap bill would prob­ably be writ­ten to ex­pire in early Decem­ber, when Con­gress is ex­pec­ted to be back for its lame-duck ses­sion.

A spokes­man for Boehner did not re­spond on Wed­nes­day when asked wheth­er the speak­er and oth­er House Re­pub­lic­ans are now con­sid­er­ing wheth­er to push for an ex­pir­a­tion date in 2015. Like­wise a Re­id spokes­man did not com­ment on wheth­er Sen­ate Demo­crats would de­mand an ex­pir­a­tion date be­fore the new Con­gress takes of­fice.

But oth­er aides con­firm that some Re­pub­lic­ans are now fo­cus­ing on the fact that a Dec. 15 ex­pir­a­tion date would provide the cur­rent Sen­ate Demo­crat­ic ma­jor­ity one more op­por­tun­ity to block Re­pub­lic­ans from amend­ing the spend­ing bill for fisc­al 2015.

All of this hand-wringing, of course, comes des­pite earli­er hopes for budget comity that had been raised after a two-year deal was craf­ted by GOP Rep. Paul Ry­an and Demo­crat­ic Sen. Patty Mur­ray last year. The deal that Con­gress en­acted es­tab­lished spend­ing levels””a usu­al source of much of the House and Sen­ate fisc­al fric­tion””for 2015.

The two-year ac­cord sets the budget at $1.014 tril­lion for fisc­al 2015, up from $1.012 tril­lion this year. (Those fig­ures do not in­clude man­dated spend­ing on en­ti­tle­ment pro­grams.) The as­sump­tion was that those agree­ments would kick-start House and Sen­ate ac­tion in passing the 12 an­nu­al spend­ing bills. But that has not happened. As a res­ult, a CR is un­der de­vel­op­ment, though de­tails of what it con­tains have not been pub­licly re­leased.

A House Re­pub­lic­an aide said Wed­nes­day there is a good chance at least two un­re­lated items will be at­tached to what oth­er­wise would be a “clean” CR.

One of those items would be a tem­por­ary re­new­al of the Ex­port-Im­port Bank that will see its ex­ist­ing au­thor­iz­a­tion ex­pire on Sept. 30. Al­though many con­ser­vat­ives cri­ti­cize the bank that provides loans to sup­port U.S. ex­port sales as med­dling in the mar­ket and a risk to tax­pay­ers, a de­cision to ex­tend its au­thor­ity for six months, or some oth­er short term, would al­low law­makers to con­tin­ue hash­ing that out after the elec­tion.

Tem­por­ary re­new­al of the fed­er­al back­stop for ter­ror­ism in­sur­ance””due to ex­pire at the end of the year””is an­oth­er item that may be at­tached to a stop­gap spend­ing bill. That would al­low more time for dif­fer­ences between a Sen­ate bill and the de­mands for changes by House con­ser­vat­ives to be ironed out.

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