With limited action last week beyond the Pope’s visit to Washington and Congress, the status of a government shutdown looked less clear until Speaker John Boehner’s (R-OH) surprise announcement that he will be leaving both his position and Congress at the end of October. Signals coming from the House are that the more conservative elements in the House Republican caucus will hold their fire on trying to shut down the government now that the speakership is open. Even if they don’t Speaker Boehner could patch together votes from Democrats without fear of repercussions.
The Senate has already started a two-step process. On Thursday, September 24, the Senate took the first step in trying to keep the government open beyond Wednesday September 30 by taking up a continuing resolution. This first CR would have provided funding through December 11, 2015. It would ban any federal funds from Planned Parenthood and provide a short term increase in defense spending of $11 billion while funding the rest of government at 2015 levels. It was rejected and it was designed by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to demonstrate to some of his own caucus and some House Republicans that they cannot get their desired CR through and that it would result in a government shutdown. McConnell will now move a “clean” CR that will also extend funding through December 11.
The House response, still not certain, but they will likely accept that CR that does little different but fund the government into December. It removes the government shutdown scenario until December.
A final short term CR through December 11 would extend funding for all programs at the 2015 while giving time for a Congressional-Administration negotiation. Such a deal would likely cover both the rest of FY 2016 and all of FY 2017 to carry that budget past next year’s election thus preempting a politically damaging shut down next October. A deal would require some agreement on increases for both domestic and defense spending.
There was a temporary reprieve from the budget caps in 2014 but that restored the reduced 2013 spending level. Under the current budget caps and sequestration non-defense discretionary spending will increase by two-tenths of a percent next year. That is slightly more than a $1 billion increase. Congressional Republicans want a $38 billion increase in the Defense Department budget. They provide this through appropriations bills that circumvent the budget caps by calling the increase “emergency spending” and off budget. The President has proposed a $38 billion increase in defense spending but only if it is accompanied by an equal $38 billion domestic spending increase.
The other issue for a long term negotiation would be various policy riders, especially one dealing with Planned Parenthood. But if it becomes clear that Congress cannot enact restrictions through a CR, such policies won’t happen as part of a two-year agreement.