Hill leaders may punt spending bills to next year
WASHINGTON—With the agenda for a postelection lame duck session of Congress already stacked high, congressional leaders are considering lightening the load by punting much of the remaining budget work of Congress to next year.
At issue are the annual spending bills funding the day-to-day operations of government. The Sept. 30 end of the budget year is rapidly approaching but the appropriations bills are far behind schedule.
GOP aides say House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio supports the idea of a six-month stopgap spending bill that would pile the stack of unfinished business into the lap of the next Congress and whoever wins the White House in November.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the top Democrat in Congress, said Thursday that he supports an approach that would keep the government running into next year.
"It would be my preference that we do something that would alleviate this being an issue that we have during the lame duck" session of Congress after the elections, or during the weeks before the elections, Reid said. He added that he's had "very productive" talks about the issue with Republicans.
The other option would be to pass a shorter-term measure and revisit the budget debate in a lame duck session. That would require assembling a foot-tall omnibus measure in December that's sure to be unpopular with tea party Republicans.
Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said the speaker has yet to decide a course of action and declined to confirm Boehner's preference for a longer-term stopgap measure. Members of the Appropriations Committee are generally against the idea after putting in such long hours drafting and debating the 12 annual spending bills.
The agenda for the lame duck session is already piling high. It includes dealing with expiring tax cuts and looming across-the-board cuts to the Pentagon and a variety of domestic programs.
"Why add to the pile-up in the lame duck?" said House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis. "That makes no sense to me."
"I don't know that that's been decided yet," said Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore. "But to me it makes sense. Because then you've got some certainty out there at least on that piece. We're going to have so many big issues that have been pushed off."
Republicans lay the blame on Reid for all of the unfinished spending bills, which traditionally have dominated the work of the House and Senate in the steamy summer months. Reid has not brought a single spending measure to the floor this year, however.
Democrats counter that tea party forces in the House have driven Boehner to abandon last summer's budget and debt accord, which set a $1.047 trillion limit for this year's round of spending bills. The House bills would instead cut $19 billion below last year's agreement and shifted $8 billion from domestic programs to the Pentagon in violation of the pact.
The stopgap measure is likely to keep the government running essentially at current levels, which is more generous than conservatives would like. But the alternative is to risk a partial government shutdown just weeks before Election Day.
House Democrats are also open to the idea. No. 2 House Democrat Steny Hoyer of Maryland told reporters Wednesday he could get behind such a plan.
"I would certainly not be opposed to a six-month" extension, Hoyer said.
Conservatives are among those supporting punting the spending bills. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, chairman of the conservative Republican Study Conference, said that an omnibus measure would be an inviting target for leaders and lawmakers to stack on additional, unrelated provisions. But he added that Republicans hope for a better outcome next year if Mitt Romney claims the White House and Republicans retake the Senate.
"I'd much rather have this come due on March 31st with a President Romney and a Republican Senate than I would in a lame duck still dealing with President Obama and Harry Reid," Jordan said.
The GOP aides required anonymity because they unauthorized to discuss internal deliberations.