Obama, Congressional Leaders Close on Funding Resolution

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By Cheryl Bolen and Nancy Ognanovich

Sept. 12 — Negotiations on a short-term funding resolution to avoid a government shutdown are going well, officials said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) met President Barack Obama at the White House on Sept. 12 to talk about a funding measure, known as a continuing resolution (CR), to keep the federal government operating past the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year. Details have yet to be hammered out.

“Even though I know that we’re in the midst of a political season and everybody is thinking about elections, there’s still business to be done, and I was encouraged by some of the constructive work that’s being done right now,” Obama said following the meeting.

Ideological Riders Unwelcome

Obama wants a short-term CR relatively free of all “ideological” policy provisions known as riders, and he wants it to contain funding to combat the Zika virus and provide relief to flood victims in Louisiana, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said.

Obama said his first priority is to “make sure that the government stays open,” while his second is to adequately fund efforts to deal with the Zika outbreak, including coming up with diagnostic tools and vaccines.

The leaders also discussed disaster relief for Louisiana, areas affected by wildfires and the drinking water situation in Flint, Mich., Obama said.

“We talked about wrapping up the funding issue, and I think we’re all in a very good place to do that on a bipartisan basis pretty quickly,” McConnell told reporters when he returned to the Capitol.

McConnell Ready to Move

McConnell said he’s ready to push the must-pass stopgap through the Senate by week’s end, after which lawmakers might wrap up their September work period and return to the campaign trail, aides said.

Prior to the White House meeting, McConnell undertook procedural moves to make the annual Legislative Branch appropriations bill (H.R. 5325) the lead vehicle for the new CR.

“Members of both sides have been working toward an agreement to responsibly fund the government,” McConnell said after he filed cloture on a motion to proceed to the bill, setting up a vote as soon as Sept. 14. “We have made a lot of important progress already. I expect to move forward this week on a [CR] through Dec. 9 at last year’s enacted levels and include funds for Zika control and for our veterans.”

Objection to Omnibus

According to a Ryan aide, the leaders discussed their desire to reach a speedy resolution on a short-term spending bill, including funding for the Zika issue.

“The speaker talked about his desire to get the appropriations process working, and told the leaders he objected to doing an omnibus spending bill later in the year,” the aide said. “He also talked about the importance of taking care of our military through the appropriations process.”

An omnibus bill is typically a combination of several or even all of the 12 regular appropriations bills into one measure.

Some Items May Have to Wait

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), McConnell’s top deputy, said some legislative provisions also are taking a ride on the CR, including language to continue the EB-5 visa program despite the objections of some senators. He and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) are working together to ensure the program doesn’t expire, Cornyn said.

But Cornyn said other items will have to wait for the lame-duck session. In particular, he said, states including his own will have to wait for a year-end bill to get the disaster aid they want.

“I think we’re just about out of time to do that, but I do think it will be part of the lame-duck discussions,” Cornyn said when asked about the $2 billion Louisiana wants to address last month’s flooding and other funds that Texas and West Virginia want. “That would be a better time to take all those up.”

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) told Bloomberg BNA he was still waiting to hear the final outcome of the talks. “But it looks like its going to be $1.1 billion with no riders,” he said in reference to the amount to fight Zika.

To contact the reporters on this story: Cheryl Bolen in Washington at cbolen@bna.com ; Nancy Ognanovich in Washington at nognanov@bna.com

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

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