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The Questions — and the Answers — Continue!

February 8, 2019

Q: If House and Senate conferees get a deal in place, what happens next?

A: Virtually all Members of Congress detest shutdowns, including, notably, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.  No matter how a shutdown comes to be, they believe that the American people perceive an institutional failure on Congress’ part. So, there is a lot of leadership and “rank and file” pressure on appropriators to find a compromise and avert another shutdown. The conferees gave themselves a February 8 deadline, leaving a week to get a bill drafted, pass both Houses and get a bill to the President. If he vetoes it, they will want to know if will he sign another short-term Continuing Resolution to avert a shutdown. Politico reported on Thursday night that a deal was more likely late in the weekend or on Monday, rather than on the target deadline of this Friday. Also, Politico said that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will enforce the new House rule that bills — once finished — need to be available for 3 days for review before they can be voted on. So, the timing could be tight for a deal to become law by the deadline, next Friday, February 15.

Q: If House and Senate conferees don’t get a deal in place by early next week, does that mean there will definitely be a shutdown?

A:  No. There are a number of scenarios under which there would be no shutdown, primarily because no one benefits from a shutdown. Also, no one gains from a year-long CR — no wall, no expanded funding of homeland security, and no disaster relief, among other things. Congress really has little choice but to continue negotiating. Arguably, the real deadline is not midnight on February 15, but rather early morning on Tuesday, February 19. The federal workforce is greatly diminished on Saturday and Sunday. Monday, February 18 is President’s Day, which is a federal holiday. This scenario has occurred before and while such brinksmanship is undesirable, the long-term impact is small. Another possibility would be to pass another short-term CR to allow Congress more time to break the impasse. Finally, if a deal is in place, but the process (e.g., the 3-day rule) is not completed, the President has the ability to delay the start of the shutdown until the bill reaches his desk. This may have only occurred once. I am sure I have not enumerated all the possibilities for avoiding a shutdown. It still could happen and the lack of an agreement would be ominous, but Congress may use any of these tactics to give themselves more time.

Q: Is it unusual that the FY 20 process has started before the FY 19 appropriations are finished?

A: Actually, such overlap has become common over the last decade. If Congress were able to achieve “regular order” appropriations, then all  bills would be completed and signed into law by September 30. No overlap. Sometime in December or very early January, it becomes too late for the President’s budget request (in this case for FY 20) to include numbers or programs that were in the appropriations bill (in this case, FY 19). Finally, as is the case this year, if appropriations bills linger into February or March, Congress will have  already started hearings on the upcoming year.

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