Government funding talks stall

Greg Nash

Negotiations over a stopgap measure to fund the government until Dec. 9 have stalled amid squabbling among Republicans over controversial riders related to Zika funding and the Export-Import Bank.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) on Tuesday said internal GOP discord is holding up work on the funding stopgap, the only must-pass legislation on the agenda before Congress can recess for the November elections.

{mosads}Reid voiced frustration to colleagues during a private lunch meeting Tuesday over having yet to receive a draft of the short-term continuing resolution (CR), which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has slated for floor action this week.

“At this stage of negotiations everyone should understand we’ve only had talk. Nothing in writing. Zero in writing. Discussions have gone on for a week. We don’t have an offer in writing,” Reid told reporters after the lunch.

He said Democrats expected an offer on Friday, but the proposal was delayed because of dissension within the Senate GOP conference over letting Planned Parenthood, a family-planning services group, have access to federal funds for fighting the Zika virus, which can cause severe birth defects.

“We thought we had something last Friday. What stood in the way? The old famous Planned Parenthood. They couldn’t move forward without doing something there that’s not positive,” Reid said, referring to Senate Republicans. 

Republicans reject assertions that they have purposefully targeted Planned Parenthood as a “poison pill” rider.

“What riders?” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said Tuesday, when asked about the fate of the Zika funding bill. 

Congress needs to approve the short-term funding measure by Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, to avoid a government shutdown. 

Despite his complaints, Reid said he is “cautiously optimistic” about reaching a deal on Zika funding in the next several days. 

One proposal floated would empower the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to disseminate Zika money in Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory hit especially hard by the epidemic. 

But conservative Republicans balked at the proposal, saying it lacks safeguards to stop taxpayer money from going to the Planned Parenthood clinic in Puerto Rico, Profamilia.

Many House Republicans are still playing hardball, saying they won’t back down because the women’s health provider should not receive any federal dollars in the Zika response.

“I think we’re going to hold our ground. If we don’t, I mean, it all gets blamed on [Speaker] Paul Ryan. I don’t think he wants to do that as we go into the fall,” Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) told The Hill. “I don’t think the CR gets passed if it funds Planned Parenthood.”

Republicans are now talking about cutting the funding for Puerto Rico out of the stopgap legislation altogether, although Democrats say they will not allow that to happen.

McConnell told reporters after meeting with his colleagues at the National Republican Senatorial Committee Tuesday that he expects to reach a deal to fund government.

“Nothing has been closed out yet but we hope to get to closure sometime very soon and move forward with that bill,” he said. 

He and Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) discussed a potential compromise with President Obama and Democratic congressional leaders at the White House on Monday.  

“I think we’re making good progress toward resolving all of the moving parts and ultimately we’ll move a CR that addresses Zika and other matters,” McConnell said.

Senate sources say the plan is to pass the continuing resolution by the end of next week and leave town for the elections, putting pressure on the House to approve it in the upper chamber’s absence.

“Some people are talking about leaving at the end of next week,” said a senator who requested anonymity to discuss strategy. “That’s the whole positioning on the CR, to do three months and leave and then the House has to come to grips with it.” 

House Republicans predict they’ll be forced to support a “clean” funding bill that runs through December.

“We’re going to get jammed. The senators want to get out, we’ve got seats to protect, they want to be out there campaigning. They don’t want to get hung up on some issue [like Planned Parenthood],” Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) told The Hill.

House conservatives want a continuing resolution that would not only block Zika funding for Planned Parenthood but also last until March. That would prevent lawmakers from holding negotiations over an expensive omnibus spending bill in the lame-duck session after the elections. 

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) said the push to pass a CR that lasts Past Novebmer is “exactly” the kind of tactic conservatives criticized from ousted Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) because it corrupts the legislative process. 

“Our leadership wants to do a CR and go home early. What’s going to happen is they’re going to come back in lame-duck session and increase spending.”   

Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) said some colleagues suggested eliminating the funding for Puerto Rico after a proposal to authorize the CDC to dispense funding met GOP opposition.

“I know there was some talk at one point about just knocking out that $80 million and then not dealing with that issue in this bill,” he said, “the $80 million that was directed to Puerto Rico, to the public health facilities. 

“You would just have that discussion at some other time,” he added.

Another holdup is a policy rider that would empower the Export-Import Bank to approve transactions exceeding $10 million without a three-person quorum from the five-member board.

Congress reauthorized the bank last year after a long and bitter fight, but Senate Banking Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) has tied the agency’s hands by holding up the nomination of Mark McWatters to serve as the third member of the board.

The board currently has only two members.

Republicans say legislative language to change the bank’s quorum rules is being pushed by Democrats.

“I think it’s a Democrat request,” Thune said. “Everybody’s got their gives and takes on this.”

A senior Democratic aide argued, however, that there is bipartisan support for adding a provision that would let the bank finance bigger deals, noting that Republicans such as Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) strongly back the agency. 

Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy (R), meanwhile, is pushing to add emergency funding to the stopgap for the flooding damage in his home state.

“I have not yet heard they’re not going to include it,” Cassidy told reporters. “We’re confident of funding, the question is when.

“The sooner the better. There are people making a decision about whether to stay in their home or leave,” he added. “Any encouragement you can give them that folks will have their back, will be positive.” 

But Democrats say if Republicans want to add emergency money for Louisiana, they would like to see money for the nation’s growing epidemic of opioid drug abuse. They criticized Republicans for passing the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act earlier this year without adequate funding.

Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn (Texas) said emergency funding for Louisiana would likely be included in the year-end omnibus spending package, rather than in the stopgap.

Tags Boehner Harry Reid John Boehner John Cornyn John Fleming John Thune Lindsey Graham Mitch McConnell Paul Ryan

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