Nearly a month in the new fiscal year the fate of the FY 2017 budget is anything but certain. When the Congress returns on November 14, they must act on 11 of the 12 appropriations bills. Military Construction, separate from defense appropriations, is the only appropriations bill signed into law.
Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WS) has spoken about his desire to pass a series of “mini-bus” bills that would bundle 3 or 4 appropriations into 3 or 4 packages. This would be in lieu of one omnibus bill. It is anything but clear that there is a consensus on this choice. In fact, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has said that Democrats are not interested in such a strategy. Democrats are concerned that such an approach could leave limited funding for the last bills voted on, namely the Labor-HHS-Education bill.
The choices are: 1) minibus, several legislative packages that bundle appropriations, 2) an omnibus that bundles all 11 remaining bills, 3) a continuing resolution that would extend funding into the new year and next Congress/Administration probably into March, 4) CR-Omnibus, a new concept of an omnibus for several appropriations that would complete FY 2017 and a CR of the more controversial bills like Labor-HHS, 5) CR that extends throughout the rest of the appropriations and freezes funding levels.
The final decision be will be driven by the election outcome. If there is a change in either or both houses as far as control and there are several defeated or lame-duck members, there will be a great desire to get out of town quickly and within days. Congress will be back on November 14 for a week just before Thanksgiving and then they will return for a two-week stretch after Thanksgiving leading up to the December 9 expiration of current funding. The period starting on the 14th is intended to address leadership elections for the next Congress. There may be a delay here too if the House undergoes significant changes.
If control stays the same, then the various five choices offer advantages and disadvantage. The argument against an omnibus vs “mini-bus” is that members would not want to vote for one unpopular big bill that would include various unpopular choices. Others may feel that mini-buses would require several unpopular votes. There are also some members who want an increase in defense spending but that likely won’t happen if Labor-HHS is kept under the same budget constraints.
At the end of the day, three election facts will greatly determine the choice: who wins the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives.