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

Lawmakers concede they might have to pass a dreaded 'CR'
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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 ShelbyDavis: The Hall of Shame for GOP senators who remain silent on Donald Trump Wary GOP eyes Meadows shift from brick-thrower to dealmaker On The Money: Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire | Jobs report poised to light fire under COVID-19 talks | Tax preparers warn unemployment recipients could owe IRS 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 McConnellOn The Money: Pelosi, Mnuchin talk but make no progress on ending stalemate | Trump grabs 'third rail' of politics with payroll tax pause | Trump uses racist tropes to pitch fair housing repeal to 'suburban housewife' Pelosi, Mnuchin talk but make no progress on ending stalemate Democrats say White House isn't budging in coronavirus relief stalemate 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 TrumpNew Bob Woodward book will include details of 25 personal letters between Trump and Kim Jong Un On The Money: Pelosi, Mnuchin talk but make no progress on ending stalemate | Trump grabs 'third rail' of politics with payroll tax pause | Trump uses racist tropes to pitch fair housing repeal to 'suburban housewife' Biden commemorates anniversary of Charlottesville 'Unite the Right' rally: 'We are in a battle for the soul of our nation' 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 MnuchinOn The Money: Pelosi, Mnuchin talk but make no progress on ending stalemate | Trump grabs 'third rail' of politics with payroll tax pause | Trump uses racist tropes to pitch fair housing repeal to 'suburban housewife' US Chamber asks Treasury to clear up 'serious concerns' about payroll tax deferral Pelosi, Mnuchin talk but make no progress on ending stalemate 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 PelosiOn The Money: Pelosi, Mnuchin talk but make no progress on ending stalemate | Trump grabs 'third rail' of politics with payroll tax pause | Trump uses racist tropes to pitch fair housing repeal to 'suburban housewife' Bass on filling Harris's Senate spot: 'I'll keep all my options open' Win by QAnon believer creates new headaches for House GOP 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 ColeBottom line House approves .3 trillion spending package for 2021 Multiple lawmakers self-quarantine after exposure to Gohmert 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 GrahamRon Johnson signals some GOP senators concerned about his Obama-era probes Democrats ramp up warnings on Russian election meddling Hillicon Valley: Facebook removed over 22 million posts for hate speech in second quarter | Republicans introduce bill to defend universities against hackers targeting COVID-19 research | Facebook's Sandberg backs Harris as VP pick 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 FrankelMatt Gaetz, Roger Stone back far-right activist Laura Loomer in congressional bid Former cop Demings faces progressive pushback in veepstakes Gloves come off as Democrats fight for House seat in California 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 FleischmannDemocrats may bring DHS bill to House floor GOP-Trump fractures on masks open up Former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy says public health threat of loneliness compounded by COVID-19; Trump says task force will 'evolve' 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 EnziDavis: The Hall of Shame for GOP senators who remain silent on Donald Trump Chamber of Commerce endorses Ernst for reelection Republicans battle over COVID-19 package's big price tag 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.