The GOP-controlled Congress looks to be on track to pass legislation that would fund the government for a few more months. What will happen then is anyone’s guess.
The Senate is expected to approve a “clean” $1.02 trillion continuing resolution within the next day that keeps the government open until December 11. The bill will go to the House where, barring some unforeseen catastrophe, it will pass with considerable Democratic support.
But after President Obama signs the stopgap funding measure and Washington successfully avoids a shutdown on Oct. 1, all bets are off about how lawmakers will deal with the new holiday season deadline.
Senate Armed Services Committee chair John McCain (R-AZ) said, “I think it’s unknown what happens between now and December. Some of my House friends tell me it depends on the brand of leadership” that a new House speaker, likely Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), puts forward and if he and his team can bring together a fractious GOP conference.
December “could be uglier because I think we could come closer to a government shutdown,” he added.
“It’s difficult to tell, it depends on what do between now and then,” said Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC). “We may have a surprising fall” with “lots of activity.”
Another deadline “probably won’t be any harder than it’s been in the past. You can’t predict what will happen but I figure that between now and December … we’ll fund the government,” according to Senate Banking Committee chair Richard Shelby (R-AL).
Rosy predictions aren’t worth much in the face of reality and the political landscape for December looks downright treacherous, regardless of a change in House leadership.
Part of what drove the government to the brink this time around is outrage among hardline conservatives over sting videos showing Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of fetal tissue. The far right wanted the government shuttered in a dispute over $500 million in federal funds for the health organization.
On Friday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) shocked Washington when he announced he would resign on October 30. The move seems to have appeased conservatives for now, but they could feel emboldened to force another showdown in December,.
“There are some who would have you believe that what we’re doing with the continuing resolution is the end of the pro-life agenda ... that’s not the case,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) said Tuesday during a press conference.
Another factor that could influence the way forward is possible budget talks between GOP leaders and the administration.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said he and Boehner will begin talks with the president “very soon” that might cover spending levels for fiscal years 2016 and 2017.
“We’d like to settle the top line (spending level) for both years so that next year we can have a regular appropriations process,” McConnell told reporters. “The president and Speaker Boehner and I spoke about getting started in the discussions last week and I would expect them to start very soon.”
Should a budget deal keeps spending caps in place for the Defense Department, McConnell could see a revolt among defense hawks. Some, like McCain, have long argued the spending levels for the military must be raised to reverse years of underfunding. If their wishes are not met, they could vote against a long-term spending bill or bottle it up.
Meanwhile, Senate Democrats have double-downed on their calls for the GOP to come to the negotiating table to work out a budget blueprint that increases both DOD and domestic spending.
Until those talks start, they intend to rake Republicans over the coals for setting up another spending showdown two weeks before Christmas.
“It’s a holiday gift for America; the prospect of shutting down the government again,” said Senate Minority Whip Richard Durbin (D-IL).