Twenty-one days. That is all that remains in the Senate’s legislative year before the
apocalypse election on November 8. Twenty-one days to solve a whole host of issues from fighting Zika to funding the government. So what can you expect to happen? Basically nothing, and here is why.
As Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell is stuck between two not-so-equal and opposite forces. On one hand, his Senate majority is dangling from an increasingly frayed rope and on the other hand, the hard right is becoming increasingly frustrated at the lack of conservative victories he has secured.
Government funding runs out on September 30. One way or another McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan will hammer out some sort of funding measure, whether it is a Continuing Resolution (CR) or an omnibus package because there is no way in hell they will let a shutdown happen. The Republicans know that when the dust settled following a shutdown, they would find Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton measuring the drapes for their new offices.
With that in mind, McConnell has three options remaining, none of which make everyone happy, and only one of which keeps his hopes alive of remaining Majority Leader.
The Senate has only passed two of the twelve appropriations bills, so in order to fund the government through fiscal year 2017, McConnell and Ryan would have a quickly package up an omnibus and moved it through Congress in roughly three weeks. During that process, both parties would offer a host of messaging amendments and McConnell is too smart to force any of his vulnerable members to go on record voting to kill puppies or deport cancer patients.
In addition, with Senators Portman, Johnson, Ayotte, McCain, Toomey, and Kirk all in fights for their lives, McConnell doesn’t want them in DC for even a second longer than they have to be. All politics is local, and Capitol Hill ain’t local to anywhere. Any time they spend on the Senate floor is time that they could be shaking hands, kissing babies, and take hay rides at the county fair
The second option would be to pass a CR through the fall and into next Congress, most likely ending in March. Federal agencies loathe this option as it would force them to operate on a partial year budget with no reasonable expectation of their future funding levels. Sadly, their practical concerns matter not. Hard right Republicans favor this option for two reasons.
1) With wishful thinking, they envision holding onto the Senate and thus being able to sabotage President Clinton’s first few months in office with a bruising budget battle that would distract from her “First 100 Days” agenda.
2) Conservative organizations like the Heritage Foundation believe that lame duck votes tend to yield liberal results. They understand that without accountability to the party machinery, moderate Republicans and those who are retiring are less likely to fight for anti-abortion language in a Zika funding bill.
While that option is ideal for the conservation wing of the spectrum, Obama has said it is a non-starter and he would veto it. As I mentioned earlier, Republican’s can’t risk a shutdown and won’t dare ask Obama to play one more hand before he cashes in.
What this leaves us with is the boring inevitability of a two month CR probably passed on September 29th with the promise of an omnibus funding package on the horizon for early December.
Despite all the hooting and hollering McConnell did about how he’d govern differently as Majority Leader and how he’d get the appropriations process back on track, it looks like this fall will be business as usual. Expect McConnell to begin consideration of a CR through early December within the next week and for all the drama to be left to CNN.
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