Stopgap Negotiations Falter With Deadline One Week Away

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By Nancy Ognanovich

Sept. 22 — Congress is set to leave town for the weekend without an agreement on how to fund the federal government, increasing concerns that lawmakers are going to the brink again and risking a shutdown in one week's time.

Despite days of talks, Senate leaders in both parties said negotiations had broken down, and they had no deal on the details of a continuing resolution they want to pass early the week of Sept. 26 and send to the House for quick follow-on action before government funds lapse at midnight Sept. 30.

Minus any bipartisan deal, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) filed what was seen as a Republican plan to fund the government through Dec. 9 and undertook procedural moves to put it to a vote when lawmakers return. Besides extending current funding, that CR provides $1.1 billion to combat the Zika virus and $500 million in assistance for storm-ravaged states.

The CR is needed to prevent any funding lapse because none of the regular fiscal year 2017 appropriations bills have been completed and signed into law by President Barack Obama. The stopgap would buy lawmakers time to finish those bills in a post-election, lame-duck session.

But Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) won't support the legislation because it contains no funding to help Flint, Mich., deal with its contaminated drinking water crisis and would keep in place provisions blocking the Securities and Exchange Commission's rulemaking that requires firms to report on their campaign contributions.

“I talked to [Pelosi] and she’s not going to agree to it, the president’s not going to agree to it,” Reid said.

Flint Aid Important Issue

Instead of a consensus plan, the CR was seen by some as Republicans’ “last, best counteroffer” to Democrats' most recent proposal.

McConnell filed a substitute amendment to the House-passed legislative branch appropriations bill (H.R. 5325) that struck the contents of the bill and replaced it with a package containing the CR, Zika funding and the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs bill. But he also then filled the so-called amendment tree to prevent any other lawmakers from offering changes. He also immediately filed cloture on the substitute amendment to shut off debate and set up a vote for the evening of Sept. 26.

Democrats then quickly signaled that they won't give McConnell any of the 60 votes he needs to invoke cloture.

“How is Mitch going to resolve this if he wants to get this off the floor?” Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said when asked how the impasse will be resolved.

“It was not a bill that was worked out with Democrats,” Murray, a member of Reid's leadership team, told reporters. “We're not there.”

Senate Appropriations Committee ranking member Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) also said Democrats can't support McConnell's CR but signaled talks may start up again during the weekend.

“I urge my colleagues to kind of be on standby,” Mikulski said.

The CR McConnell filed provides $500 million in Community Development Block Grant monies for storm-ravaged states to share. The states said likely to be eligible for CDBG funds are Louisiana, Maryland, Texas and West Virginia.

“We have been hearing from some of our Republican colleagues of the urgency in their states, and I certainly understand their urgency, and I certainly hope they understand the urgency is just as great in Flint,” Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) told reporters.

Late in the day, McConnell bought more time for those talks when he moved the cloture vote from late Sept. 26 to the afternoon of Sept. 27.

Kernel of Deal?

Despite criticism from Democrats, McConnell's CR did carry some good news for the minority, aides said. The CR extends funding to December as Democrats want and continues funding consistent with the Budget Control Act caps. The funding is subject to an across-the-board cut of 0.549 percent to reconcile changes in budget scoring since enactment of the FY 2016 omnibus.

While far less than the $1.9 billion Obama wanted, the $1.1 billion for Zika also reflects the plan the Senate previously endorsed. The bill has $400 million in rescissions to help pay for the aid.

Significantly, the measure carries no ban on Planned Parenthood from receiving those funds but leaves it to local government to reimburse health-care providers.

Reid sharply criticized the provisions affecting the SEC rule, but language that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) wanted to block the transfer of oversight of internet domains at month's end wasn't included in the CR (see related story in this issue).

But even if negotiators reach a deal over the weekend, hurdles remain. If cloture is invoked on the substitute in the Senate, lawmakers still can demand 30 hours of post-cloture debate or delay action on H.R. 5325 itself.

For their part, House Republican leaders set in motion an expedited procedure that will allow the House to vote on the CR on the same day the Senate passes it, as long as that happens by the close of business on Sept. 27.

“We’re working through the process, and I’m really not that worried because our members know that we’re going to have a no-drama moment here,” House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told reporters.

To contact the reporter on this story: 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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