Congress approved a continuing resolution (CR/ H.R. 719) last week with relative ease and now they need to raise the debt ceiling by November 5. On Wednesday the Senate approved a short term CR by a vote of 78 to 20, later in the afternoon the House followed with a vote of 277 to 151. All no votes in the Senate were Republicans with presidential candidates Rubio (R-FL) and Graham (R-SC) not voting while Senators Cruz (R-TX) and Paul (R-KY) voted no. On the House side all 151 no votes were cast by Republican members. The final vote passed with 186 Democrats and 91 Republicans voting yes. The CR continues funding through Friday, December 11 at funding levels frozen at the FY 2015 levels. In a press conference on Friday, October 2, President Obama said he would not sign another short term appropriations and called for a replacement of the current budget caps.
A day after the Senate and House acted on temporary appropriations they were presented with a new deadline. On Thursday, the Secretary of Treasury Jack Lew informed Congress that they will need to increase the debt ceiling by November 5. Without lifting the ceiling the government would default on paying its bills including various checks to individuals and payments to states. In 2011 the government was so close to the deadline the government’s bond rating was lowered. With a deadline of early November it figures to be either one the last big actions by Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) or the first test for the new Speaker.
At the same press conference the President said that he wouldn’t negotiate over the debt ceiling saying that the ceiling and raising it is about the government paying its debts.
The next steps in regard to the debt ceiling on November 5 and the appropriations deadline on December 11 are unclear and may be heavily influenced by the House leadership elections. Congressman Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) appears to be the next Speaker but that is not certain with at least two challengers now in the race and because McCarthy is the current Majority Leader his elevation or running will set in motion a series of leadership openings including the selection of a new Majority Leader and House Whip. If a new budget deal is not reached by the end of October and the debt ceiling increased when John Boehner retires then any deal will be the responsibility of the new leadership team. This task could also be complicated by the demand of some members within the Republican caucus to limit the power of Republican leadership from Speaker down to various committee chairs. There is a separate Republican workgroup set up to make those recommendations. The House leadership elections (Republicans only) are likely to be held on October 8.
Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY) has suggested a three-way negotiation involving just the President, the Majority Leader and Speaker Boehner but it is unlikely that Congressional Democrats and the incoming House leadership would agree to such a framework. It is however the first time the Republican leadership has been open to a renegotiation of the current budget caps. Some of the remarks by Senator McConnell is that the talks would focus on the overall budget caps for the next two years (2016 and 2017). Under such a two year agreement it is likely a government shutdown would be avoided just before next year’s election.
One of the challenges of a deal will be how to satisfy conservative House members who want to make another effort at cutting off funding to Planned Parenthood. The requirement of an increase in the debt ceiling may also be an opportunity for opponents of Planned Parenthood funding after that the next opportunity would likely come when this new CR runs out on December 11.
There has been some speculation or perhaps hopes that John Boehner as a last action would push through agreements on the budget but that wish list of actions by Boehner includes the budget deal, the debt ceiling, the expiring transportation authorization and the controversial Export-Import Bank. Any such action by Speaker Boehner would require him to rely on significant numbers of Democrats and assumes that McConnell can move such deals through the Senate.
All of this may become clearer after Thursday’s leadership election.