The House departed last Wednesday, a few days early and a week before the Senate. As they left they sent the Senate a three-month extension of the transportation law as their only option on that issue. That issue, the appropriations for 2016, a debt ceiling increase and a few other must-pass items will all be front and center when Congress returns after Labor Day on September 7.
The Senate finished their six year transportation reauthorization with enough funding for the first three years. The House leadership does not like the Senate bill. As a result they passed an extension that is funded into mid-December but expires at the end of October. The Senate passed that transportation bill also. The two houses, now very far apart, will have to get to some deal at least by late this year. The must pass status of that law is because if Congress lets the trust fund run out, various highway and road projects would be shut down and others projects could not be planned.
In addition to the highway law, the Congress will have to pass a continuing resolution (CR) to provide funding on October 1. The Democrats have been holding out for a renegotiation of the budget caps but the Republican leadership has not made a move to open such talks. Some have anticipated a CR that will cover the first few months while a bigger deal is agreed to but that may have become more difficult this past week. A number of conservative members of Congress have been pushing for a defunding of Planned Parenthood as part of any funding extension. If that happens Congressional Democrats and the President would oppose the funding measure which could result in an October 1 shutdown.
In addition to transportation and appropriations at some point the debt ceiling will have to be raised. That deadline keeps getting pushed back as the deficit recedes. When it is raised it is usually a vehicle for demands on the Administration.
Finally is the issue of reconciliation which became a little clearer last week. There was a contentious debate within Senate Republican ranks revolving around whether or not to attach a repeal of the ACA to the transportation reauthorization. That didn’t happen but there was a public acknowledgement that the reconciliation was going to be used to repeal the health care law. The exact time for a vote has not been fixed and technically it could be delayed until next year. It is also uncertain what other provisions would be attached. The reconciliation bill is shaping up as a political message piece for the 2016 election and will likely include a number of other controversial topics but regardless it is sure to be vetoed by President Obama and will not accomplish the elements that will be included in it.
Several of these items along with some tax policy changes could all be wrapped into one significant bill. If that happens it could offer an opportunity for a child welfare bill, including one that has some money attached.
The Congress has only 12 business days scheduled in September before the end of the fiscal year.