Fiscal Negotiations — and the Shutdown — Mean a Light Schedule for Congress

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 13: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) leaves the Capitol building on October 13, 2013 in Washington, DC. Congress continues to struggle to find a solution to end the government shutdown, which is currently in its 13th day. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
National Journal
Billy House
Oct. 14, 2013, 4:52 p.m.

With law­makers fo­cused on last-minute ne­go­ti­ations on a fisc­al deal, most oth­er con­gres­sion­al ac­tion this week is pre­dict­ably tak­ing a sec­ond­ary role.

Thursday is the day Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials say the na­tion’s bor­row­ing au­thor­ity un­der an ex­ist­ing $16.7 tril­lion cap will be ex­hausted. What a fail­ure to lift that cap might mean for U.S. mar­kets, the eco­nomy, and tens of bil­lions of dol­lars in So­cial Se­cur­ity checks and oth­er be­ne­fits is a sub­ject of much un­cer­tainty.

Pres­id­ent Obama and le­gis­lat­ive lead­ers don’t want to test those wa­ters. But even if a bar­gain is con­cluded be­fore Thursday, the pro­cesses of put­ting an agree­ment in­to le­gis­lat­ive lan­guage and get­ting mem­bers in both cham­bers to ap­prove it will be a high-stakes race against the clock.

Ac­cord­ingly, law­makers — already slowed by the gov­ern­ment shut­down — have sched­uled an es­pe­cially light load this week. Among some of the high­lights:

  • A Sen­ate Small Busi­ness Com­mit­tee hear­ing set for Tues­day on the top­ic “Small Busi­ness Speak: Sur­viv­ing the Gov­ern­ment Shut­down.”
  • A joint House Over­sight and Gov­ern­ment Re­form and Nat­ur­al Re­sources com­mit­tee hear­ing set for Wed­nes­day on the Na­tion­al Park Ser­vice’s “Im­ple­ment­a­tion of the Gov­ern­ment Shut­down,” and the role of polit­ics in that de­cision-mak­ing pro­cess.
  • The Sen­ate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee will hold closed hear­ings on Tues­day and Thursday. No sub­ject mat­ter was an­nounced.
  • The Sen­ate Aging Com­mit­tee will hold a hear­ing Wed­nes­day on the fu­ture of long-term-care policy.

There also could be work this week on a fi­nal ver­sion of a long-delayed farm bill, but there was no cer­tainty. Both cham­bers have named their con­fer­ees. But find­ing a com­prom­ise on areas of sharp di­vi­sion among Sen­ate and House ma­jor­it­ies over a num­ber of is­sues will be dif­fi­cult.

One of the biggest gulfs in­volved pro­posed cuts to the Sup­ple­ment­al Nu­tri­tion As­sist­ance Pro­gram, known as food stamps. The Demo­crat­ic-led Sen­ate has ap­proved $4 bil­lion in cuts, while the GOP-led House has ap­proved $40 bil­lion. Even if the con­fer­ees don’t meet this week, the next steps in the pro­cess will likely be dis­cussed.

BUDGET AND FIN­ANCE

Con­fer­ence May Be Close

House and Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans are now join­ing Demo­crats in a push to set in mo­tion a two-cham­ber con­fer­ence on the budget for the re­mainder of the 2014 fisc­al year, a con­fer­ence that House Re­pub­lic­ans have re­fused to fa­cil­it­ate for nearly six months.

De­tails for these longer-range talks could be part of any debt-ceil­ing deal, and Re­pub­lic­ans fore­see it as a way to get some mod­est changes to en­ti­tle­ment pro­grams and tax re­forms.

But the big first hurdle to be re­solved by a con­fer­ence com­mit­tee is the status of the spend­ing caps un­der se­quest­ra­tion, in­sti­tuted un­der the 2011 Budget Con­trol Act. Sen­ate Demo­crats want to un­wind se­quest­ra­tion and use high­er spend­ing levels. Re­pub­lic­ans fa­vor lower num­bers that in­clude the se­quester cuts.

EN­ERGY

Ex­amin­ing Park Clos­ures

Na­tion­al parks have be­come a flash point of the shut­down de­bate, and both cham­bers of Con­gress are tak­ing up the case next week.

Along with the House com­mit­tees’ joint hear­ing, the Sen­ate En­ergy and Nat­ur­al Re­sources Com­mit­tee may also ex­plore the shut­down’s ef­fects on pub­lic lands, both in set­backs to en­ergy op­er­a­tions and, as Re­pub­lic­ans will likely make a fo­cus, the de­cision to close na­tion­al parks.

NA­TION­AL SE­CUR­ITY

Kerry and Kar­zai Talk­ing

In a late-break­ing ef­fort to seal a pact between Afgh­anistan and the United States to al­low Amer­ic­an troops to re­main in the coun­try past 2014, the dead­line for the with­draw­al of U.S. com­bat troops, Sec­ret­ary of State John Kerry flew un­an­nounced to Ka­bul, where he and Afghan Pres­id­ent Ham­id Kar­zai reached a par­tial deal on out­stand­ing is­sues over the week­end.

This sum­mer, Obama warned Kar­zai he would with­draw all U.S. troops from the coun­try by the end of 2014 if there was no agree­ment by Oct. 31 on the terms for a fol­low-on force, and that dead­line is ap­proach­ing quickly. Kar­zai on Sat­urday said all is­sues were re­solved ex­cept for im­munity for U.S. troops, which he will punt to a na­tion­al as­sembly of tri­bal eld­ers to con­vene with­in a month.

Watch for an­nounce­ments in the com­ing days.

WHITE HOUSE

Obama Stays Flex­ible

For the second week in a row, Obama’s sched­ule is be­ing put to­geth­er day by day, al­low­ing the White House to ad­just to de­vel­op­ments in the battle over the gov­ern­ment shut­down and the loom­ing crisis of the debt ceil­ing.

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