farm bill

GOP Faces Unexpected Complications in Lame Duck Session

GOP congressional leaders were already struggling to meet a Friday deadline on a spending bill to avoid a partial federal government shutdown. The death of President George H.W. Bush, who will lie in state at the Capitol until a memorial service Wednesday, may extend negotiations a week or more.

GOP congressional leaders were already struggling to meet a Friday deadline on a spending bill to avoid a partial federal government shutdown. The death of President George H.W. Bush, who will lie in state at the Capitol until a memorial service Wednesday, may extend negotiations a week or more.

Congressional lawmakers have important work left to do before they head home for the holidays later this month, most notably completing the Fiscal Year 2019 spending legislation needed to avoid a government shutdown. 

Congress faces a Friday deadline to resolve disputes that include border wall funding in a spending package, but that date might be extended following the passing of former President George H.W. Bush. 

Bush 41 will lie in state at the Capitol before a memorial service is held Wednesday at the National Cathedral, complicating any efforts to hammer out a large-scale funding deal before Friday. GOP leaders, who remain in control of the lame duck session, are considering extending government funding for a week or two.

President Trump has said he is open to a short-term extension of spending talks if congressional leaders request one. But nevertheless, leaders will still need to reach an agreement to avoid a partial government shutdown of the agencies funded under seven out of 12 spending bills that haven’t been finalized.

Back in September, Congress approved five bills providing funding for defense, energy and water, labor, health and human services, the legislative branch and veterans affairs. Trump signed those measures, marking the first time in more than 20 years that Congress has passed a labor/health/human services funding bill prior to the end of the fiscal year, and the first time in more than 10 years it has passed a defense funding bill prior to the end of the fiscal year 

But Congress punted on the seven other spending bills with passage of a Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the remaining federal government sectors open until December 7. Those bills include funding for the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Homeland Security, Interior, State, Transportation and Housing and Urban Development, as well as several smaller agencies. If Congress is unable to avoid a government shutdown this month, those are the departments and agencies that would be affected.

The main issue at hand is whether or not to include $5 billion in border wall funding requested by Trump. House Republicans have backed Trump's call for $5 billion – the House Appropriations Committee approved the spending in July, but the Senate’s bill earmarked only $1.6 billion for the wall with bipartisan support.

Democrats have signaled that they’re not budging, arguing they already have reached bipartisan agreement in the Senate’s bill. But Trump has ratcheted up shutdown talk indicating he would “totally be willing” to shut down the federal government if Congress does not approve the full $5 billion for construction of a U.S.-Mexico border wall. In response, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has blamed Trump for intransigence on the issue.

Meanwhile, Republicans are also looking to pass another tax package before they cede power to Democrats in January when the next Congress convenes. Last week, House Republicans offered a bill that would combine corrections to their 2017 tax bill along with extensions of more than two dozen expired tax breaks and a revamp of the IRS.

Republican leaders had planned a vote on the tax bill last week, but pulled it to shore up support within the Republican caucus after hearing concerns over some provisions within the bill and its overall price tag. Getting the measure through the House now appears to be in question. And Senate Republicans have been lukewarm at best toward the measure, with some suggesting it may need to get scaled back. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has not yet named a tax bill as part of his year-end agenda. 

Congressional leaders also are working to wrap up work on a “Farm Bill,” which authorizes various Department of Agriculture programs including welfare (SNAP and WIC), crop insurance and federal forest management policies that House leaders have been trying to expand.

Senate and House leaders reportedly reached an agreement last week, several months after authority expired at the end of September. No text or details have been released yet, but indications are that it will largely pare back additional work requirements for receiving food benefits and forest management reforms that House Republicans had pushed in their version of the bill.

Full Plate Greets Returning Congress

After five weeks back home, Congress returns to what shapes up as an issue-busting fall, starting with a charged debate over U.S. military action in Syria. But not far behind are titanic battles over the federal debt ceiling, a Continuing Resolution, immigration reform and the farm bill.

Even before President Obama lobbed his political grenade over military action in Syrian into the halls of Congress, the House and Senate faced a daunting schedule, including an effort by some conservative Republicans to stage a final showdown over funding for Obamacare. 

The political fireworks start Tuesday when Obama addresses the nation to make his case for targeted military strikes in retaliation for the use of chemical weapons by Bashar al-Assad's Syrian regime. It will take every ounce of communication wizardry by Obama to convince a war-weary nation and a skeptical Congress to authorize use of military force. He may have the necessary votes in the Senate, but not in the House, where both liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans may combine to block a majority.

Key votes on Syria are expected this week. It is unclear whether Obama will blast away with or without congressional approval. But it also is possible that new developments could occur. For example, Russia said it would push Syria to turn over control of its chemical weapons to international authorities.

One positive from the divisiveness over Syria is that House GOP leaders have soured on the idea of a contentious fight over a Continuing Resolution, at least right now while the nation's attention is diverted. This could lead to a short-term extension of federal spending authority until later in the fall when Republican strategists believe they will have more political leverage.

Even though the House and Senate Appropriations committees have acted on nearly all spending measures, the Senate hasn't passed any of them and the House has only passed four. That could lead to an omnibus appropriations measure or measures to catch up. 

Political Merry-Go-Round Keeps Spinning

What's a circus without a merry-go-round? Washington is becoming more like a three-ring circus with conflicting political agendas.

Washington, DC is a fascinating place. Just consider the last 24 hours.

President Obama, America's first black chief executive, mounts a podium in front of the Lincoln Memorial to commemorate Martin Luther King's historic "I Have a Dream" speech. Obama praises King for words that "belong to the ages," chides those who dismiss racial gains since the 1963 speech and points out unfinished work to curb growing income inequality in America.

At a fundraiser in Idaho, House Speaker John Boehner tees up a battle with Obama over raising the federal debt ceiling this fall. Despite a warning from the Treasury Secretary Jack Lew that the nation will run out of cash in mid-October, Boehner promises a "whale of a battle," including a possible shutdown of the federal government.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry warns that those responsible for the toxic gas attack in Syria will be held accountable and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says U.S. warships are ready to obey a presidential order to launch cruise missiles at military targets in the war-torn country. Senator John McCain, who has advocated U.S. military intervention for months, calls leaks about pending missile strikes "crazy."

Spanking Congress for Doing Nothing

Ordinarily we would be writing now about what Congress was hustling to get done before leaving town. This year Congress left town before doing very much.

The Seattle Times ticked off what departing federal lawmakers left dangling:

  • A farm bill with provisions to aid farmers damaged by severe drought;
  • A long-term transportation bill;
  • Domestic violence legislation;
  • Student aid; and
  • Budget and tax measures to avoid plunging off the so-called fiscal cliff.

And that doesn't include anything that might qualify as job-creating legislation to speed economic recovery.

Instead, the 112th Congress has earned the epithet of a "do-nothing Congress." It could just as easily be the "blame the other guy" Congress.

So, the country is left to twiddle its thumbs — or wring its hands — for the next six weeks until the general election is over. Then congressional leaders say they will return to town and take up all the major issues it left undone.

A close presidential vote and continued split control of the U.S. House and Senate may not seem like much of a flash of light that illuminates how to unsnarl congressional gridlock. Perhaps, lawmakers have known all along what compromise would look like, but didn't want to tell anyone before they voted.