Work on Bills Winds Down but Leaders Mum on Stopgap

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By Nancy Ognanovich

June 23 — Work on the regular appropriations bills continues to wind down, with House and Senate Republican leaders increasingly under pressure to use the remaining days of the summer session to get a Zika supplemental spending package to President Barack Obama's desk.

Senate Republican leaders are discussing putting the Commerce-Justice-Science spending bill on hold in order to turn to the conference agreement containing $1.1 billion in Zika funds the week of June 27 and may not be able to consider other spending bills before the July 15 recess, Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said.

“I think we're going to have to come back to that at some other point. We'll see how the rest of the appropriations process tees up. I think the next appropriations bill we'd like to do is Defense but obviously we won't be able to get to that, I don't think,” Cornyn said when asked about next steps on C-J-S and other measures.

Besides Zika, Cornyn said the other priorities in the days that remain include passage of a House-passed bill addressing Puerto Rico's debt crisis. “There's some other things we'd like to stick in there, but there's a limited window there,” he said.

The bleak outlook for the bills is similar to what is seen in the House, where Republicans cancelled plans to consider the annual Financial Services appropriations bill amid an unprecedented sit-in by Democrats but managed to pass the Zika plan over their objections before departing for a 10-day break.

But neither Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) nor House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said they are willing to discuss the need for a new continuing resolution to prevent a funding lapse in September.

“I don’t want to get into how long a CR gets to, because I want to do as much as I can to get our job done,” Ryan told reporters. “I want to move as much appropriations product through the House floor as possible. And I don’t want to start talking about CRs because then that means we’re shortchanging the process we’re trying to get done.”

Zika Showdown Looms

Work on the C-J-S bill (H.R. 2578)—the fourth fiscal year 2017 appropriations bill brought to the Senate floor—bogged down amid an intense debate over whether lawmakers would vote on amendments to restrict gun sales to terror suspects—the same issue that initiated the House sit-in (See previous story, 06/23/16).

McConnell also refused to respond to growing speculation about a new CR (See previous story, 06/22/16). But he wrapped up a second week of work on C-J-S without announcing plans on how to advance a compromise offered by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) to limit gun sales to terror suspects. Instead, he filed cloture on the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs conference report (H.R. 2577) carrying Zika funding. The Senate now is expected to vote on the cloture motion June 28.

The deal that permits the House and Senate to consider a final Milcon-VA bill means at least one of the 12 regular bills has been approved by both chambers and finalized. But the package that is returning to the Senate is devoid of the annual Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development spending bill that McConnell combined with Milcon before it left the Senate as part of a “minibus” appropriations bill. The only other bill that the Senate has passed is the Energy and Water bill (H.R. 2028).

The $82.5 billion Milcon-VA bill represents a $2.6 billion increase, mostly for veterans' programs, and hasn't generated much controversy. But the overall package remains in jeopardy because Democrats oppose the details of the Zika supplemental, including “poison pill” riders dealing with women's reproductive rights, clean water rules and the Confederate flag.

“It became sort of a hard-right wish list not related to Zika to get it passed,” Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters.

Schumer said the measure will have to be renegotiated because it is “extremely likely” Obama would veto the current bill. “And there’s not enough to override the veto in the House. So if we’re going to get this done we ought to do things that can pass,” he said.

Ryan: ‘We'll See' on CR

House passage of the Financial Services bill (H.R. 5485) would have brought the number of 2017 bills passed by the House to four. However, Ryan didn't say whether Republican leaders will try to bring up that bill—or any others—when the House returns to work July 6.

House Democrats, who overwhelmingly opposed the Milcon-VA package because of the Zika add-ons, expressed little enthusiasm for completing the bills.

“They insist on putting poison pills in the appropriations bills, knowing that they are doomed, that the president will not sign them, and that we will sustain a veto,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters.

Still, Ryan refused to say the House will take up a new CR in September.

“We'll see,” Ryan said.

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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