Lawmakers concede they might have to pass a dreaded 'CR'

Lawmakers concede they might have to pass a dreaded 'CR'

Lawmakers are conceding that Congress might have to pass a stopgap measure or continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government open this fall.

The House and Senate have made little to no progress on reaching a deal that would set ceilings for the next year, and they’re running out of time before the next fiscal year begins on Oct. 1.

“I don't see how you can avoid [it],” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyHillicon Valley: Zuckerberg courts critics on Capitol Hill | Amazon makes climate pledge | Senate panel approves 0M for state election security House votes to avert shutdown, fund government through November Senate committee approves 0 million for state election security efforts MORE (R-Ala.). 

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Lawmakers and government administrators alike despise CRs, which freeze spending limits in place, limit the ability of agencies to embark on new projects, throw sand in the gears of multiyear programs and create uncertainty about future spending. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPatagonia says to shut stores for a few hours during Global Climate Strike Overnight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — Pelosi unveils signature plan to lower drug prices | Trump says it's 'great to see' plan | Progressives pushing for changes On The Money: House votes to avert shutdown, fund government through November | Judge blocks California law requiring Trump tax returns | Senate panel approves three spending bills MORE (R-Ky.) has ruled out beginning the process of marking up and passing appropriations bills in the absence of a deal on spending caps. He says doing so would undermine President TrumpDonald John TrumpMarine unit in Florida reportedly pushing to hold annual ball at Trump property Giuliani clashes with CNN's Cuomo, calls him a 'sellout' and the 'enemy' Giuliani says 'of course' he asked Ukraine to look into Biden seconds after denying it MORE’s position in the budget talks.

That’s left the Senate stuck in place, and Shelby eyeing a CR.

Complicating matters further is the uncertain deadline for raising the nation’s borrowing limit, which could come as soon as September. Without legislative action, the Treasury could lose the ability to borrow in order to pay the government’s bills, which could lead to a default and set off a financial crisis.

Lawmakers want to handle the budget fight and the debt limit in one package, but that is becoming more difficult with estimates that the debt ceiling deadline will come earlier than anticipated.

Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinLawmakers run into major speed bumps on spending bills The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump, Graham clash over Iran policy Liz Cheney calls for 'proportional military response' against Iran MORE, who met Wednesday with GOP leaders to discuss the spending issue, has pleaded with Congress to address the debt ceiling before the August recess, but Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPatagonia says to shut stores for a few hours during Global Climate Strike Overnight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — Pelosi unveils signature plan to lower drug prices | Trump says it's 'great to see' plan | Progressives pushing for changes Progressives push for changes to Pelosi drug pricing plan MORE (D-Calif.) has said that spending caps should be dealt with first.

This has given Democrats some leverage in the stalled budget talks. 

“If I were a Democrat, I wouldn’t give up the leverage of the debt ceiling,” said Rep. Tom ColeThomas (Tom) Jeffrey ColeSenate spending talks go off the rails as soon as they begin Social determinants of health — health care isn't just bugs and bacteria Republicans suffer whiplash from Trump's erratic week MORE (R-Okla.), an appropriator. 

“They’re not checker players on the other side. They know what they’re doing, and they’re not going to give you a big victory like the debt ceiling unless they have something with it that they think is acceptable,” he added.

The White House and congressional Republicans haven’t been on the same page, Shelby noted, and are “negotiating with ourselves.”

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He said Republicans need to “be on board with ourselves” before caps talks could progress.

Cole says appropriators can generally turn around spending bills relatively quickly once party leaders agree on overall spending levels. 

“Once you get an amount, you can plug it in and move pretty fast,” he said.
 
But time is short. 

The August recess is just 10 legislative days away, and the Senate has not yet introduced a single appropriations bill. 

Passing even a fraction of the 12 bills through subcommittee, committee and on the Senate floor before working out differences with the House and getting President Trump’s approval would be a herculean task. 

“Even if we got a caps deal today, I don’t see how we would be able to come back in September and conference, unless the Senate cancels their recess,” said a House Democratic aide, noting that every part of the caps deal was still in the air. 

Lawmakers say every day without a deal raises the stakes.

“The longer they put it off, the harder it is to get appropriations bills done on time, the more chance there is we’ll make mistake, the greater risk there is that we’ll actually stumble into a shutdown or sequester or a CR,” said Cole. The government would shut down on Oct. 1 if a new funding deal or CR isn’t signed into law.

The sequester refers to automatic spending cuts that would go into place early next year without a new budget deal.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see us get to September and punt,” Cole said.

Shelby says Congress might only need a three- to five-week CR if lawmakers and the White House can agree to budget ceilings soon. That would allow Congress to use this fall to work on an appropriations agreement.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamHouse Armed Services panel gets classified briefing on Saudi attacks America's newest comedy troupe: House GOP GOP group hits Pence over Trump alleged business conflicts MORE (R-S.C.), an appropriator who says there is no chance of passing spending bills on time, says he would oppose a longer-term stopgap, an option floated by the White House.

“I’m not going to vote for a long CR,” he said.

While the GOP Senate is stuck, the Democratic House has passed 10 of their 12 spending bills.

“We did our part,” said appropriator Rep. Lois FrankelLois Jane FrankelDemocrats call on House committees to probe Epstein's 2008 'sweetheart deal,' suicide Democratic Women's Caucus calls for investigation into Epstein plea deal Epstein death sparks questions for federal government MORE (D-Fla.). “We did the work, we did it early. It’s up to Mitch McConnell to do something. That’s what I say, ask Mitch,” she said.

But Democrats have faced their own problems as well. A backlash over a provision to raise congressional pay prevented the legislative branch bill from moving forward. It has since been dropped. Internal dissent over hot-button issues such as immigration has kept the controversial homeland security bill from advancing. 

House Democrats have no plans to bring the remaining bills to the floor.

Still, Democrats point out that they successfully passed both bills out of committee and are ready to negotiate with Republicans once the Senate makes progress.

Despite the skepticism, some House members hold out hope that a quick caps deal could still allow them to finalize a handful of the more anodyne spending bills.

“Some of the bills are going to be more challenging than others, but on a lot of the bills I think we can get there,” said Rep. Chuck FleischmannCharles (Chuck) Joseph FleischmannTrump faces new hit on deficit Lawmakers concede they might have to pass a dreaded 'CR' GOP blasts Democrats for using 2014 'kids in cages' photo to promote migrant hearing MORE (R-Tenn.), the top Republican on the Appropriations Homeland Security subcommittee. 

“On the ones that we can’t, maybe something on the order of a cromnibus,” he said, using a term for combining several spending bills with a CR covering the rest.

Some, such as Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike EnziMichael (Mike) Bradley EnziHere are the lawmakers who aren't seeking reelection in 2020 Liz Cheney and Rand Paul extend war of words The Hill's Morning Report - 2020 Democrats set for Lone Star showdown MORE (R-Wyo.), argue that the regular reliance on continuing resolutions are the result of a broken budget system 

“Too often in Washington, we govern by crisis, waiting until the last minute to make the thorny decisions that everyone knows need to be made,” Enzi said last month at a hearing on reforming the spending process. 

“We must construct a better budget and spending process that focuses on the long-term fiscal health of the nation and is smarter about when and how we make budget decisions,” he added.

Last year, a bipartisan, bicameral committee to reform the budget process ended in failure.