April 20, 2017
If you thought funding one government agency was tough, try funding 11! That's the colossal chore awaiting Congress when members touch down after a two-week recess next week. While a string of short-term resolutions have let leaders postpone the messy budget fight, the sand is running out of the hourglass on the latest deal. Leaders have until next Friday to keep the lights on in Washington -- no small feat with parties as far apart on spending priorities as these two. Still, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plan to beat the clock by bundling almost a dozen spending bills into one big omnibus bill.
For Congress, which isn't usually the most efficient, this is usually the preferable way to pass a lot of agencies' budgets in one fell swoop. But that doesn't mean that piecing together the final product is easy -- or tidy. Usually, the two parties are bickering over everything from spending levels to policy riders (and rarely coming to any agreement). With just four working days to tie a bow on the proposal, members will have to get in a cooperative mood faster than usual. Making matters even more interesting, the GOP will need a handful of Democrats to board the omnibus to even have a chance at passage. "The spending bill to fund the government through September 30 obviously is one that cannot be done by one party alone," McConnell told reporters before Easter. "It will require, as is the Senate's tradition, bipartisan involvement. And we are optimistic we'll be able to work all that out and meet the deadline at the end of the month."
Still stinging from the Neil Gorsuch confirmation, no one knows exactly how obliging Democrats will be. It's not uncommon for either party to play hardball with government funding to make a political statement, but neither party has the stomach for another shutdown. When Congress starts to barrel through the appropriations process on Tuesday, the biggest brawl may be over spending levels. To the Democrats' disgust, President Trump is requesting a $30 billion bump in defense dollars and another $3 billion for a border security and a Mexican wall -- a nonstarter for Minority Leaders Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). And while the White House is offering $18 billion in cuts to offset the hike, liberals are demanding the same amount in non-defense spending. So much for drama-free legislating!
Even without those snags, slogging through the thousands of pages of financial fine print will be tough enough. That's why some experts are predicting a familiar scene: another week-long budget patch to give members more time to work through their differences. If it comes to that, Congress would keep its 19-year procrastination streak intact. The last time members didn't need a continuing resolution to budget was 1996! And unfortunately, it doesn't get any easier from here. Believe it or not, the chambers are already behind on the FY 2018 appropriations. If they have any hope of getting Congress back on a schedule of routine governing, leaders will have to hit the ground running.
Meanwhile, there are plenty of other things creeping up on leadership next week -- including a possible second crack at Obamacare repeal. With members working through the recess on solutions, our friends on the Hill tell us the House is close to a deal that could finally topple President Obama's biggest mistake and replace it with a pro-life system that keeps health care costs down for families and defunds abortion groups like Planned Parenthood. Although the details aren't certain, one thing is: it's going to be a busy week in Washington!
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.