House GOP Prepares Fallback Plan for Budget Deadlines

They’re considering a short-term continuing resolution that would fund the government through April 15 and buy negotiators more time.

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 18: Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) speaks to the media during at his weekly news conference on Capitol Hill April 18, 2013 in Washington DC. Speaker Boehner briefly spoke about the Boston Marathon bombing and current issues before the House of Representatives. 
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Billy House, Sarah Mimms and Tim Alberta
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Billy House Sarah Mimms and Tim Alberta
Nov. 21, 2013, 12:38 p.m.

As the budget con­fer­ence com­mit­tee con­tin­ues to work to­ward an agree­ment that would set spend­ing levels for the re­mainder of this fisc­al year and fisc­al 2015, House Re­pub­lic­ans are con­tem­plat­ing a fall­back plan: a short-term con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion that would fund the gov­ern­ment through April 15 and buy budget ne­go­ti­at­ors more time to strike a long-term deal.

Ac­cord­ing to mul­tiple law­makers fa­mil­i­ar with the situ­ation, budget ne­go­ti­at­ors in both parties are hope­ful that the found­a­tion for a long-term deal could be laid in Decem­ber. But the de­tails al­most cer­tainly won’t be so­lid­i­fied be­fore Dec. 13, the dead­line for the con­fer­ence com­mit­tee to re­port an agree­ment — and the day law­makers leave town for the hol­i­day re­cess.

At the same time, the cur­rent gov­ern­ment-fund­ing bill ex­pires Jan. 15, and House mem­bers don’t re­turn to Wash­ing­ton un­til Jan. 7.

To elim­in­ate the threat of an­oth­er gov­ern­ment shut­down, and to ease the pres­sure on the con­fer­ence com­mit­tee, House Re­pub­lic­ans ex­pect to pass a three-month CR be­fore leav­ing town on Dec. 13.

“You will see a 90-day CR hap­pen,” said one Re­pub­lic­an law­maker, who asked not to be iden­ti­fied so he could speak frankly about strategy.

Mean­while, House Speak­er John Boehner and oth­er top law­makers in­sisted they re­mained op­tim­ist­ic that the pan­el, led by House Budget Chair­man Paul Ry­an, R-Wis., and Sen­ate Budget Chair­wo­man Patty Mur­ray, D-Wash., can come to some agree­ment. Yet Boehner also said that if the con­fer­ees do not reach a deal by then, “the House will be pre­pared to move a CR.”

He did not spe­cify the length of time such a new tem­por­ary spend­ing pack­age would cov­er, or wheth­er it might con­tain so-called “se­quester re­lief” — more fund­ing to soften the sched­uled cuts — and where that money might come from.

Budget ne­go­ti­at­ors in­sist they’re still aim­ing to meet next month’s dead­line. But Re­pub­lic­ans on the com­mit­tee, wary of Demo­crat­ic ac­cus­a­tions that they’re set­ting up an­oth­er gov­ern­ment shut­down, ac­know­ledge the wis­dom of craft­ing con­tin­gency plans in the event ne­go­ti­ations fall through.

“We haven’t giv­en up on Dec. 13,” Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., a mem­ber of the con­fer­ence com­mit­tee, said Thursday be­fore leav­ing Wash­ing­ton. Cole ad­ded: “But the later we go [without reach­ing an agree­ment], the more likely we are to pass a short-term CR.”

Re­pub­lic­ans say any such tem­por­ary fund­ing bill would be based on spend­ing levels set out in the 2011 Budget Con­trol Act.

That’s a prob­lem for some law­makers on both sides of the aisle. Un­less cur­rent law is changed, the act’s sched­uled across-the-board new cuts to mil­it­ary and do­mest­ic pro­grams will deep­en to $109 bil­lion from $85 bil­lion, as fed­er­al dis­cre­tion­ary spend­ing over­all will be re­duced from a level of $988 bil­lion to $967 bil­lion. The De­part­ment of De­fense would ab­sorb $20 bil­lion more in fisc­al 2014 cuts than it did in fisc­al 2013.

That is something that many law­makers in both parties say would be dev­ast­at­ing, wheth­er their re­spect­ive con­cerns lean more heav­ily to­ward mil­it­ary or do­mest­ic pro­grams.

In­creas­ingly, though, Re­pub­lic­ans are show­ing an open­ness to leav­ing the se­quest­ra­tion cuts in place if Ry­an and Mur­ray are un­able to reach a deal. Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell urged House Re­pub­lic­ans to hold the line on se­quest­ra­tion in a meet­ing this week, and Ry­an has said that if he can’t get a good deal by mid-Decem­ber, he would like to up­hold the cuts as well. “The law is the law,” he said at an event this week.

That rep­res­ents a shift in on­go­ing dis­cus­sions in­side the budget con­fer­ence com­mit­tee. Ac­cord­ing to Mur­ray, Sen. Chuck Grass­ley, R-Iowa, was the only Re­pub­lic­an to sig­nal his sat­is­fac­tion with main­tain­ing the se­quester cuts.

“A num­ber of Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans I know are very, very con­cerned about get­ting se­quest­ra­tion re­placed. … I was struck by [Grass­ley’s] com­ments be­cause no one else that I’ve talked to shares that view,” she told Na­tion­al Journ­al Daily last week.

House Ap­pro­pri­ations Com­mit­tee Chair­man Har­old Ro­gers, R-Ky., said Thursday he is hope­ful that con­gres­sion­al ne­go­ti­at­ors are work­ing to de­vise a budget frame­work last­ing through fisc­al 2015 that will also con­tain a two-year delay in sched­uled se­quest­ra­tion spend­ing cuts.

Ro­gers, stand­ing out­side the House cham­ber dur­ing Boehner’s news con­fer­ence Thursday, did not deny that there is talk of an­oth­er CR already be­ing planned by Re­pub­lic­ans for a vote as soon as Decem­ber, right be­fore the Christ­mas break. He said that is one of “a num­ber of things you hear be­ing talked about.”

But he says he’s hope­ful that will not be the path ahead.

“Look, I’m not in­to dis­cuss­ing a short- or long-term CR. I’m for an om­ni­bus ap­pro­pri­ations bill that puts in­to law what the Con­sti­tu­tion re­quires of the Con­gress and the Ap­pro­pri­ations Com­mit­tee. And that is to over­see the ex­pendit­ure of all fed­er­al funds,” he said.

Ro­gers re­it­er­ated that he and Sen­ate Ap­pro­pri­ations Com­mit­tee Chair­wo­man Bar­bara Mikul­ski, D-Md., are “out to get an om­ni­bus ap­pro­pri­ations bill [done] be­fore Jan. 15 to avoid a shut­down.”

And he said that’s why he and Mikul­ski have pressed to get the budget topline num­ber soon — as early as this week, if pos­sible — from the ne­go­ti­at­ors. He and Mikul­ski and their com­mit­tees will then take that num­ber, he said, and di­vide it in 12 sep­ar­ate al­loc­a­tions for the ap­pro­pri­ations sub­com­mit­tees to fi­nal­ize their 12 an­nu­al spend­ing bills.

If an­oth­er CR is in­stead ne­ces­sary, Ro­gers spec­u­lated there would be some “se­quester re­lief,” but did not elab­or­ate on how that would hap­pen.

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