Congress aims to move spending plan this week, then campaign

Source: George Cahlink, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, September 19, 2016

Congress will try this week to hammer out an agreement on short-term spending that would allow lawmakers to head home to campaign for re-election by week’s end.

The Senate is set to vote at 5:30 this evening on a procedural motion to call up the stopgap legislation, also known as a continuing resolution. A vote had been set for last week but was scrapped to give lawmakers more time to reach a deal.

“I think we can be on our way by Monday. I am really working toward that,” said Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), the ranking member on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Asked about the CR last week, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told reporters, “I wouldn’t say ‘bogged down’ is the way I would describe it. They’re just taking time because it’s painstaking. It’s complicated, and I think they’re just going to continue on.”

The Senate is expected to move first on the CR before adjourning until after the Nov. 8 general election and then leave it to the House to accept or reject the package. House Republicans have not ruled out moving first if the Senate does not have an accord early in the week.

Already, there’s bipartisan agreement that the CR will stretch about three months until Dec. 9 to give lawmakers a chance to hammer out final fiscal 2017 spending in a post-election, lame-duck session. Additionally, both parties largely support including $1.1 billion to help combat the Zika virus.

Consensus has been elusive, though, on whether the Zika funding should be offset by cuts elsewhere in the federal budget. Republicans want about two-thirds of the Zika aid paid for by cuts in other public health funding, while Democrats are resisting that move.

The White House is also requesting $2.6 billion in flood relief for hard-hit Louisiana.

House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), who met with Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) last week, said he’s open to the flood aid but doubts there will be enough time to attach much of it to the CR. He said it’s more likely to move as part of a year-end spending package.

Additionally, several policy provisions could ride on the CR, including ones that would temporarily waive U.S. EPA environmental requirements for mosquito spraying and another that could allow the Export-Import Bank of the United States to resume operations. Democrats argue the EPA provision is not being sought by the administration and is the latest GOP bid to roll back EPA regulations; Republicans counter the waiver would make it easier to spray for mosquitoes that carry Zika.

“The big issue here is Zika and the CR; anything else is nice but not necessary,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a senior appropriator, who said he expects the Senate to pass the measure by midweek and then the House to do so by the end of the week or, at the latest, early in the next week.

Mikulski said Democrats are eager to avoid a “Christmas tree,” a term for a bill filled with a variety of add-on funding and riders. But, she added, “one side gets a limb, we want a limb.”

Lawmakers are being forced to pass a CR because they’ve failed to send the president any of the 12 spending bills for fiscal 2017. Without a stopgap in place, a government shutdown would occur when the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

Neither party expects Congress to move any other significant legislation before the election once the CR is passed.

“I think the need to do anything requires a high level of cooperation, which probably between now and Nov. 8 isn’t going to exist around here,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the No. 3 GOP senator.