Leaders Battle to Brink of Shutdown With No Deal in Sight

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By Nancy Ognanovich and Jonathan Nicholson

Sept. 26 — Congressional leaders reported no progress in reaching a deal on a stopgap government spending plan, setting the stage for a possible showdown at week's end when current funding is set to lapse.

Talks aimed at negotiating a compromise didn't take place over the weekend as planned, and a Sept. 27 vote on a Republican plan to provide 10 weeks of funding now will likely determine the next steps, senators said.

The Senate is scheduled to vote after midday caucus meetings on whether to proceed with a continuing resolution (CR) that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) filed Sept. 23 after talks with Democrats stalled. That CR would fund the government through Dec. 9 and also carry $1.1 billion in funds to combat Zika and $500 million in aid for storm-ravaged states.

A CR is needed to prevent any funding lapse since none of the regular fiscal year 2017 appropriations bills have been enacted. Unless Congress acts, government funds will expire at midnight Sept. 30.

McConnell criticized Democrats for opposing the CR because it doesn't include funds to help Flint, Mich., deal with its drinking water crisis and continues a ban on a rulemaking that would require publicly traded corporations to disclose their campaign spending.

“They're trying to take our country to the brink, not based on something that's in this bill but something that isn't,” McConnell said.

Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) made it clear he's not likely to give McConnell many of the 60 votes he needs to advance that CR. He said he doesn't find credible Republican assurances that Flint will be taken care of in the Water Resources Development Act reauthorization legislation, which is expected to be conferenced in December.

“House Republicans have made it clear they have no intentions of including funding for Flint in that bill,” Reid said.

‘Partisan Food Fight.'

McConnell filed the continuing resolution Sept. 22, after talks with Democrats stalled. The measure he offered as a substitute to a House-passed Legislative Branch bill (H.R. 5325) included the CR, Zika funding and the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs spending bill (See previous story, 09/23/16).

McConnell said Democrats should feel pressure to vote for the CR as it includes the Zika funding previously passed by the Senate without controversial riders the House pushed last summer.

“Some in the Democratic leadership would like to turn this simple 10-week funding bill into some unnecessary partisan food fight,” McConnell said. “They think it's a good election year politics, but they're struggling to explain how they might even justify a vote against it.”

McConnell said he expects Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) to support cloture on the CR, and a few other Democrats also may vote in favor. But Democrats said McConnell may lose some Republicans—including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas)—who oppose funding tied to the bipartisan budget agreement and his decision to file a bill that doesn't block the White House from transferring oversight of internet domains.

Reid reiterated strong opposition to the lack of Flint aid as well as the plan to continue the ban on a Securities and Exchange Commission rule requiring disclosure of corporate political contributions. But at the same time, Reid suggested an opening for a deal.

“Still the people of Flint wait for assistance,” Reid said. “I've heard all the happy talk. Well, the Republicans are going to take care of this. Call and tell me they're going to take care of it. Give me some assurances we're going to take care of it.”

Spending, Water Bills Linked

Late in the day, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) told the Rules Committee he still believes the state of Michigan and local government should “take the lead” in covering Flint's water problems. But he said he wouldn't oppose an effort in a House-Senate conference to provide assistance to Flint.

It remains to be seen whether Republican leaders will allow a vote on the matter before the WRDA bill (H.R. 5303) advances in the House the week of Sept. 26. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said he believes WRDA is the best place to deal with Flint.

“We moved WRDA up in our commitment to try to get this all done and get into conference as soon as we can,” McCarthy said. “So I think you’re dealing with both issues, and both will get done with this year.”

McCarthy predicted a shutdown will be averted but didn't outline any specific strategy for avoiding it.

“Knowing where the political nature of who’s up and who’s not in the Senate, it seems to me as though Democratic leadership wants to hold this out all the way to the last day and keep members here,” McCarthy said. “They have the right to do that, but I don’t think they have the right to play with getting the continuing resolution done or not.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Nancy Ognanovich in Washington at nognanov@bna.com ; Jonathan Nicholson in Washington at jnicholson@bna.com .

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bna.com

For More Information

A summary of the Senate Republican continuing resolution is available at http://src.bna.com/iSc.

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