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

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

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 ShelbyCBC 'unequivocally' endorses Shalanda Young for White House budget chief Black Caucus members lobby Biden to tap Shalanda Young for OMB head On The Money: Senate panels postpone Tanden meetings in negative sign | Biden signs supply chain order after 'positive' meeting with lawmakers MORE (R-Ala.). 


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 McConnellMcConnell makes failed bid to adjourn Senate after hours-long delay Paul Ryan to host fundraiser for Cheney amid GOP tensions Senate Democrats near deal to reduce jobless boost to 0 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 TrumpTrump announces new tranche of endorsements DeSantis, Pence tied in 2024 Republican poll Lawmakers demand changes after National Guard troops at Capitol sickened from tainted food 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 MnuchinBiden cautious in making Trump tax returns decision Biden brings back bipartisan meetings at the White House On The Money: Schumer urges Democrats to stick together on .9T bill | Collins rules out GOP support for Biden relief plan | Powell fights inflation fears 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 PelosiLawmakers demand changes after National Guard troops at Capitol sickened from tainted food Andrew Yang condemns attacks against Asian Americans Congress in lockdown: Will we just 'get used to it'? 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 ColeDemocratic women sound alarm on female unemployment House votes to kick Greene off committees over embrace of conspiracy theories LIVE COVERAGE: House debates removing Greene from committees 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.”


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 GrahamSenate holds longest vote in history as Democrats scramble to save relief bill Biden helps broker Senate deal on unemployment benefits Senate braces for 'God-awful,' 'stupid' session ahead of COVID-19 relief vote 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 FrankelBill introduced to create RBG monument on Capitol Hill How Congress dismissed women's empowerment Frankel defeats Loomer in Florida House race 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 FleischmannRep. Adriano Espaillat tests positive for COVID-19 Growing number of lawmakers test positive for COVID-19 after Capitol siege READ: The Republicans who voted to challenge election results 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 EnziLummis adopts 'laser eyes' meme touting Bitcoin Senate swears-in six new lawmakers as 117th Congress convenes With Senate at stake, Georgia is on all our minds 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.