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If You’re Booking Travel Plans for Late September …

August 22, 2014

Congressional Quarterly’s Roll Call interviewed the House Budget Committee Chairman this week and headlined the story, “Paul Ryan rules out another government shutdown.” Congressional leadership is saying the same thing.

The conventional wisdom is that Congress will return from recess on September 8 and go straight to work on a broadly acceptable (if not totally clean) Continuing Resolution. The CR will fund the federal government from October 1 until after the election, probably until December 11. Having accomplished that, Congress will adjourn by September 24 (maybe earlier) and go home to campaign.

The conventional wisdom is probably right, but not guaranteed — despite broad bipartisan support. What could go wrong?

First, the Republicans have their vision of where they want to be as they head into October campaigning. They want to look responsible by not shutting the government down, but there are issues they may feel compelled to address. They would prefer not to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank or deal with any Democratic priorities. They would like to claim that the CR is on terms that actively cuts government. And most of all: if President Obama tries to address the immigration situation through executive action, they may find it difficult to support a CR that doesn’t cut off funding or otherwise forbid implementation of the President’s program.

There is some sentiment — hard to tell how widely shared — that House Republicans should pass a relatively clean CR that nonetheless covers some of their critical issues (such as immigration) … then send it to the Senate. If the Senate doesn’t accept it, the Republicans can claim that the Democrat-controlled Senate is responsible for the impasse and the possible government shutdown. Perhaps one thing that would make this less likely: it would be a blatant admission that closing the government wasn’t the problem last year; it was that Republicans took the blame. Not saying this scenario plays out that way, but it can’t be ruled out.

Second, is the mirror image, focusing on the Democrats’ vision of where they want to be heading into October. Importantly, they want to appear fiscally responsible, while not letting the NIH, food stamps or some other large priority programs be cut further.  There is some sentiment — hard to tell how widely shared — that Senate Democrats should pass a relatively clean CR first with a few Democratic goodies, then let the Republicans take the blame if the House won’t act. However, this scenario is even more remote than others because Majority Lead Reid cannot get such a bill through the Senate without Republicans. Minority Leader McConnell is not going to permit a bill that tilts toward Democrats.

The third possibility that might upset the conventional wisdom: leadership in both houses and both parties are agreed on a non-controversial CR, but Senator Ted Cruz once again walks over to the House and tells the most conservative members that they can gain leveraging by agreeing only to week-long CRs. The goal would be to get some conservative issues addressed in the CR by threatening to force Congress to stay in DC into late September and October. With slight modifications, this would repeat the tactics used in late July on the emergency supplemental funding bill on the border crisis situation.

We should all assume that none of this will happen and the conventional wisdom will be correct. But if you have late September plans, you might want to be sure you have refundable tickets.

Note: This week’s Analysis and Commentary was written by Steven Grossman, the deputy executive director of the Alliance for a Stronger FDA

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