With a second surprise announcement about the House leadership in less than a month (Boehner retires, McCarthy pulls out of race) the Congress may be heading for a real crisis. Congressman Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) had what was considered close relationships to many of the most conservative members of the House Republican caucus but that did not prevent a core group of 40 members from the “Freedom Caucus” from coming out against his selection as the next Speaker. As a result, it is not clear who will be able to unite the majority party and after that be able to negotiate a compromise on any number of issues.
By week’s end there were still hopes that Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WS) would take the role but he has said no. He may not want to both give up a powerful committee chairmanship as head of Ways and Means for a position that would raises serious challenges in uniting the caucus. Right now that job as Speaker, a position that has long been considered the second most powerful constitutional position in our system, is left open. There was talk of getting a retiring member to fill in for the remaining year but it is clear that unless they can get someone who can get at least 218 votes within the Republican ranks, Congress may be faced with some potential crises. John Boehner has said he will stay on past the end of the month if a Speaker has not been selected. It is possible Boehner could use the last weeks of his term to form what would be a coalition of Republicans and Democrats to deal with some of the potential crises:
The debt ceiling. The federal debt ceiling will be hit on November 5 or that week. Members of the Freedom Caucus have demanded what they call entitlement reform a part of that debt ceiling raising. President Obama has said he believes in a straight forward raising of the debt limit without conditions. But even if there is a negotiation it is not clear who can negotiate and deliver the House Majority.
The budget caps and FY 2016 funding. Just extended until December 11, federal government funding will run out on December 11. It was believed that the extension would or will allow a deal for the rest of this year and cover FY 2017. Again it is unclear who Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and President Obama will have as negotiating partners from the House Majority. Here too the Freedom Caucus has as part of their list of demands a separate approval of each of the 12 appropriations bills. Not an unusual demand but too late for this current year and a future year would require genuine compromise where each side gets and gives.
Highway funding. The current transportation law has had a series of extensions since the last decade. Gas taxes do not provide enough to keep the transportation trust fund full so Congress has been taking funding from general funds. The current authorization runs out at the end of October with enough funding into December. Congress doesn’t want to raise the gasoline tax (last time increased in 1993) so they looked at options such as selling oil from the emergency fuel reserve.
SSDI, the Supplemental Security Disability Insurance fund covers the disabled, including some children, the aged and survivors. It is a separate trust fund from the much larger OASI, traditional Social Security. Like Social Security, Congress has known the trust fund would run short since a 1994 trustees report. It is nearing that point and could result in cuts to beneficiaries of up to 20 percent for 11 million people. A quick fix is to move some funding from the bigger trust fund to this one.
Tax extenders or a package of growing tax credits and business breaks that are extended by Congress a few years or a year at a time. These actually expired after calendar year 2015 but Congress frequently plays with the fact that taxes do not have to be filed until April 15 and so they could retroactively extend them early next year.
There are also a number of other issues that are not must pass for this year but were hoped for because the Senate had made progress. They are probably not likely since a Senate passage may just get bogged down in the House:
ESEA. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act or No Child Left behind, is as close to a reauthorization as it has been in at least ten years but there is still a big difference between the bipartisan Senate bill, the partisan House bill and what the White House wants. This could go into next year, or even lame duck. JJDPA, the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevent Act passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in July. S 1169 was approved by voice vote with no objections to what has been a bipartisan effort. Its sponsorship is also bipartisan with Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) jointly introducing the bill earlier this year. The Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) is due for reauthorization this year. The CACFP is crucial to many child care programs which tend to be on very tight budgets. The program has to subsidize the coast of need meals in a child care setting. Senator Robert Casey (D-PA) introduced the Access to Healthy Food for Young Children Act to expand and strengthen CACFP so even more children have access to nutritious meals. That means less hunger, less obesity, and better eating habits. Through CACFP, more than 3.3 million children and 120,000 adults receive nutritious meals and snacks each day as part of the day care