Congressional Vacation Set to Create Another Fiscal Crisis

House preparing a three-month funding bill as budget negotiators look likely to miss a deadline for a bigger deal.

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 13: U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) (L) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) (R) listen as Congressional Budget Office (CBO) Director Doug Elmendorf (C) testifies during a Conference on the FY2014 Budget Resolution meeting November 13, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Elmendorf briefed the conferees on CBO's budget and economic outlook.
National Journal
Tim Alberta
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Tim Alberta
Nov. 25, 2013, 2:15 p.m.

Con­gress will soon be forced to de­bate yet an­oth­er short-term, stop­gap bill to keep the gov­ern­ment open, not be­cause a budget deal can’t be reached, but be­cause law­makers haven’t left enough time to reach one.

The House and Sen­ate have already left town for Thanks­giv­ing. And once they re­turn, both cham­bers are in ses­sion con­cur­rently for just four days — Dec. 10 through Dec. 13 — be­fore Con­gress ad­journs again for the hol­i­day re­cess.

Simply put, there won’t be enough time for budget ne­go­ti­at­ors to so­lid­i­fy the de­tails of an agree­ment that sets spend­ing levels for the rest of fisc­al 2014 and fisc­al 2015 — much less sell it to their re­spect­ive caucuses — be­fore a Dec. 13 dead­line.

But that’s not the only dead­line be­ing threatened by Con­gress’s va­ca­tion sched­ule. Fund­ing for the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment ex­pires Jan. 15. So if House Budget Chair­man Paul Ry­an, R-Wis., and Sen­ate Budget Chair­wo­man Patty Mur­ray, D-Wash., fail, as ex­pec­ted, to reach agree­ment by Dec. 13, law­makers will re­turn to Wash­ing­ton the week of Jan. 6 star­ing down an­oth­er gov­ern­ment shut­down, with only about a week to do something about it.

All told, the two cham­bers of Con­gress have sched­uled just 10 days in ses­sion to­geth­er between Nov. 22 and Jan. 15, out of a pos­sible 51 days, not count­ing Thanks­giv­ing, Christ­mas, and New Year’s Day.

That’s why House Re­pub­lic­ans, be­fore leav­ing town for Thanks­giv­ing, began plot­ting to pass a con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion to keep the gov­ern­ment fun­ded past Jan. 15, when the cur­rent CR is set to ex­pire.

The like­li­hood of passing a short-term CR is high, ac­cord­ing to a House lead­er­ship aide. “But no de­cision has been made as to wheth­er we do it be­fore we leave [on Dec. 13] or when we get back [on Jan. 7],” the aide said.

Re­gard­less of tim­ing, law­makers say the most likely scen­ario is the House passing a three-month CR that funds the gov­ern­ment through April 15. “You will see a 90-day CR hap­pen,” one House Re­pub­lic­an, who asked not to be iden­ti­fied so he could speak frankly about strategy, said last week.

The pref­er­ence among GOP law­makers is to pass the short-term CR pri­or to leav­ing town on Dec. 13. That way, if talk of an­oth­er gov­ern­ment shut­down arises over re­cess, the House GOP could ar­gue it ac­ted pree­mpt­ively to keep the gov­ern­ment open be­fore head­ing home for the hol­i­days.

There’s no guar­an­tee that Con­gress would ap­prove any such short-term fund­ing bill, be­cause it would likely lock in a second round of se­quester cuts that mem­bers of both parties are hop­ing to avoid.

If ap­proved, however, the CR could buy Ry­an and Mur­ray more time to iron out the de­tails of a long-term budget deal that re­places those se­quester cuts with a mix of rev­en­ues and tar­geted spend­ing cuts.

Re­gard­less of wheth­er a budget agree­ment is reached, it’s un­clear why Con­gress, in end­ing Oc­to­ber’s 16-day gov­ern­ment shut­down, set two dead­lines that were threatened by its hol­i­day va­ca­tion sched­ule.

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