Home Stretch: Stopgap, WRDA Lawmakers’ Last ‘Must-Dos’

By Nancy Ognanovich

Dec. 2 — House and Senate Republican leaders are gearing up to finalize both a must-pass government spending bill and water projects legislation by Dec. 9 in order to wrap up this year’s session and adjourn until January.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said the new continuing resolution (CR) to cover the government and the rewrite of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) are likely to be the last items passed by the 114th Congress, and action on those will essentially clear the decks for the new session that begins Jan. 3.

McCarthy said House Republicans’ goal is to get both bills through the chamber and on their way to the Senate by Dec. 8, one day before a current CR funding the government expires. He said lawmakers will stay longer if necessary to finish the job. The two bills now are linked because both are seen as critical to delivering promised funds to help deal with the drinking water crisis in Flint, Mich.

"[W]e will not leave until we get a continuing resolution done and get WRDA done and I believe we can,” McCarthy said. “The prior work that we have done working together, and knowing where both of them are right now, we can finish this up and be done on time.”

Passage of the CR is necessary because Congress managed to pass only one of the 11 regular appropriations bills for fiscal year 2017 that began Oct. 1. A current stopgap covering the government expires at midnight Dec. 9.

Passage of both by the deadline is not a certainty, with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) saying Democrats have had signals from Republicans that work could spill over into the week of Dec. 12. Pelosi told reporters that talks about the details of the two bills are ongoing.

“I think we are on alert that it could go another week,” Pelosi said.

CR to April 28

The CR that Pelosi said lawmakers want to finalize by Dec. 5 is said to provide another installment of government funding through April 28, rather than the March 31 date discussed earlier. While McCarthy declined to confirm the date, Senate Republicans said extending the funding out will give them more time to advance the priorities of the Trump administration, including confirming Cabinet secretaries and advancing the nomination of a new Supreme Court justice.

Appropriators from both parties have criticized the decision to fund the government for seven months through stopgaps. Meanwhile, the 11 bills they wrote and planned to roll into a year-end omnibus will remain on the shelf until next spring.

Lawmakers said the CR being written, like the stopgap passed in September, will reflect the $1.070 trillion discretionary spending cap set for FY 2017 in the bipartisan budget deal. However, the CR also is expected to include a number of so-called anomalies to adjust funding for different programs and possibly another across-the-board rescission.

The measure also is expected to provide at least $3 billion in disaster assistance, billions in supplemental funding for overseas operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and money for Flint. Ultimately, the must-pass bill could be a vehicle for other legislation, possibly even WRDA, lawmakers said.

Whatever the final details, aides said Republican leaders have plans to quickly move the CR once it is finalized. To expedite its consideration in the Senate, they said the CR won’t be an original bill but rather a House amendment to an already-passed Senate bill. The likely scenario, they said, is that the House will take up the Senate amendment to H.R. 2028, the House-passed Energy and Water bill for FY 2016 that the Senate used this May as the vehicle for its FY 2017 version of the bill.

‘Buy America' WRDA Dispute

Pelosi and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) both suggested a key holdup on the timing of the CR is the final resolution of the matter of Flint funding, said to be about $170 million. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) pledged to help deliver the money before Democrats agreed to support the last CR passed in September.

Pelosi told reporters it is possible the WRDA bill will carry the authorization for the Flint assistance and the CR will have the actual money.

"[O]ne way or another, we’re going to get the Flint money,” Pelosi told reporters. “I feel confident that the speaker will keep his promise to us in that regard. Now it’s a debate between the House and Senate about how things are paid for and the rest.”

But Pelosi also hinted at other issues.

“The WRDA bill, we’re almost all in agreement,” Pelosi said. But “Republicans want to drop the Buy America provision from the WRDA bill. That would be problematic for us. Of course, they have the votes so they can go forward if they wish. But we have a very big concern about that and that’s part of what was going on.”

McCarthy told Hoyer he is optimistic both bills will be finalized soon.

"[Ryan] feels very comfortable with where we are and with funding on that [and] as soon as we’re able to finish that up, I think everybody will be quite happy with the outcome,” he said.

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

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at phendrie@bna.com

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