The Republican-controlled House and Senate Wednesday overwhelmingly approved a stop-gap budget that funds the federal government through Dec. 9, confirming the breakdown of regular order and putting the next budget crisis inside Congress’ lame duck session.
Capitol Hill conservatives have always protested deciding important matters in a lame duck session, when retiring and defeated members of Congress have the incentive to vote in a way that helps their transition to private life, rather than for the good of the country.
The bill first passed the Senate, 72-to-26, with 11 Republicans voting Nay, including three 2016 presidential candidates, Kentucky’s Sen. Rand Paul, Texas’ Sen. Ted Cruz and South Carolina’s Sen. Lindsey Graham. The two AWOL members were Vermont’s Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, who ran as a Democrat for the White House, and Virginia’s Sen. Tim Kaine, now the Democratic nominee for vice president.
After the upper chamber approved the bill, the House then quickly approved the bill 342-to-85. Seventy-five Republicans voted against the bill. Joining the opposition was Rep. Bill Flores (R.-Texas), the chairman of the Republican Study Committee (RSC), which presents itself as the conservative bloc in the House. A quick calculation concludes that most of the 170 members of the “conservative” RSC deserted their leader during Wednesday’s vote.
Flores filed his own version of the continuing resolution (CR) on Sept. 20, which would have ended funding for Planned Parenthood, spending increases, the Export-Import Bank and so-called green energy subsidies, as well as blocking the transfer of the Internet from the control of the United States to an international consortium and President Barack Obama’s plan to bring in more Syrian refugees. But, the bill did not make it to the House floor.
Constitutionally, all spending and tax legislation must originate in the House, giving the people’s chamber the advantage of initiative.
But, the Republican House and Senate leadership schemed to hot wire the Regular Order of the legislative process, by taking a bill that passed the House in June to fund legislative operations, HR 5325, and treating it as a shell for funding the federal government through Dec. 9.
Instead of objecting to this ruse to supplant the House as the unmoved mover, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) consented to his Senate counterpart, with Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R.-Ky.) negotiating with retiring Minority Leader Harry Reid (D.-Nev.) to produce a CR that included all of the president’s programs that Republicans have objected to, plus additional funding for Planned Parenthood as part of the $1.1 billion program to combat the Zika virus, $500 million for assistance to flooding victims in Louisiana and other states and $170 million to help the lead-contaminated water crisis in Flint, Michigan.
In McConnell bill, there were none of the conservative policy riders, such as were proposed in the Sept. 20 Flores bill.
Tuesday, Reid and the Senate Democrats prevented McConnell from reaching the 60-vote threshold to end debate and force a floor vote because his measure did not include the money for Flint. But, after this shot across his bow, the Republican Senate leader gave Reid everything he wanted.
In the House of Representatives, members were given a copy of the McConnell-sponsored, but Reid-crafted, bill six hours before they were told to vote, according to a Capitol Hill source familiar with the process before the vote.
With the government shutdown averted until Dec. 9, the members of the House and Senate have left the Capital. The House meets again Sept. 30 before leaving Washington until Nov. 14, the day before the Senate is scheduled to return to session.
While the Dec. 9 deadline may seem far away with plenty of time for Congress to pass a new budget for fiscal year 2017, Congress is out of session for the fourth week of November. Once they return for the two weeks after Thanksgiving, that bring us to the CR’s expiration date.