Sept. 21 — Delays in nailing down the details of a must-pass plan to fund the federal government appear to be setting the stage for a last-minute scramble in the House and Senate to pass the measure and get it to President Barack Obama's desk before current funds run out.
After days of talks, congressional negotiators said they still were trying to resolve issues ranging from disaster aid to budget offsets, and said votes on the continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government now are likely to spill into the week of Sept. 26. The developments mean lawmakers likely will have less than five days to get it through both chambers and the White House by the Sept. 30 deadline.
“I'll be safe by saying we'll be here next week and probably well into next week,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) a member of the Senate Republican leadership team and the Appropriations panel that is crafting the details of the $1.1 billion Zika funding package that will be attached to the CR. Budget cuts to cover that funding have yet to be agreed upon, he said.
Republican leaders in both chambers are anxious to take up and pass the new stopgap to prevent a new fiscal crisis when current funds expire at midnight Sept. 30. Action on the CR is needed because none of the 12 regular appropriations bills to fund the government have been finalized and sent to Obama's desk.
Amid delays, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) declined to say when the package will be seen and put to a vote, only saying that the Senate will “eventually pass” the CR and send it to the House. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) also said he can't predict when the House will take up the stopgap.
“It's not there yet,” Ryan told reporters as negotiators met behind closed doors to hammer out the details. “I think this will get done this week. When the vote occurs, we'll have to see because we have a three-day rule.”
McConnell credited members of both parties for approving his motion to move on to the measure (H.R. 5325) he plans to use as the vehicle for the CR and otherwise prepare for action when the actual text of the stopgap is made available (See previous story, 09/21/16).
But a day of follow-on talks didn't yield a final deal that could be quickly put into text and prepared for the floor. Blunt blamed Democrats for the delays that have plagued their plan to move the CR quickly through the Senate this month.
“I don't know why we ever thought we wouldn't be here next week,” Blunt continued. “I mean, [Democrats] have absolutely nobody who needs to get home. It would be almost malpractice not to keep us here.”
Similar comments were made by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), McConnell's top deputy, who told reporters there was “a lot of back and forth” about outstanding issues but no real progress.
“I just don't think they're in any hurry to do this because they'd like to keep all of our 2016-ers here and not back home campaigning” for reelection, Cornyn said.
But Cornyn said Senate leaders have no interest in allowing House Republicans to start moving a CR first. The previous day, the House Republican Study Committee introduced a CR that would prevent the White House from transferring authority over internet domains and reviving the Export-Import Bank. The latter is the subject of current negotiations.
“If we thought they could initiate something, we would have let them. We would have encouraged them to do that, and then we'd take it up,” Cornyn said of the House. “I think our best strategy is for us to send them something and have them pass it next week.”
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) also told reporters that negotiators have yet to settle on a package of offsets for some of the Zika funding. “But I don't think that's the biggest problem,” he said.
Instead, Schumer said the two sides are arguing over whether there is money to address drinking water contamination in Flint, Mich.
“The question is, they want to put Louisiana [aid] in, and we said you can't put Louisiana in unless you put Flint in,” Schumer said.
Meanwhile, other lawmakers said Democrats are still fighting McConnell's effort to use the CR to block a Securities and Exchange Commission rulemaking aimed at requiring firms to report their campaign contributions.
They also said Democrats are opposed to Republican efforts to block the transfer of oversight of internet domains until the CR runs out in December. The language sought by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) recently won the endorsement of Republican president nominee Donald Trump (see related story in this section).
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