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“Somehow the CR Will Pass”, But When?

August 14, 2020

In most years, the appropriations committees try to move funding bills forward, even knowing that on-time completion (before October 1) is very unlikely. There is a reason: no Member of Congress joins an appropriations committee unless they believe that allocating federal spending is an important responsibility.

During July, the House completed work on 10 of the 12 appropriations bills. Homeland Security and the Legislative Branch bills were approved by the full Committee, but were not brought before the full House.

Unfortunately, the Senate came to a standstill prior to subcommittee mark-ups.

Appropriations Chairman Shelby and Ranking Member Leahy could not reach an agreement to limit amendments (number and content). The primary reason is that six of the 16 Republicans on the Senate Appropriations Committee are up for re-election, two of whom are in toss-up races (Senators Collins and Daines). Shelby feared, legitimately, that Democrats would offer amendments that would not play well on the campaign trail for those six. Rather than risking that, he shut down consideration of funding bills.

Given those dynamics, the assumption is that a Continuing Resolution will pass in September and extend government funding from October 1 until sometime after the election. Hopefully, at that point, it will be safe for the Senate Appropriations Committee to act upon FY 21 funding bills.

Some gamesmanship is expected on the Continuing Resolution, but its passage seems assured. No one would benefit from a shutdown. Also, Senate Majority Leader McConnell is incentivized to reach a quick agreement on the CR so that he can send home the 20 Republican Senators who are up for re-election. To be noted, one of those Republican seats leans Democratic and 6 more are currently rated toss-ups.

If the FY 20 pandemic-related emergency supplemental bill negotiations are restarted, the CR will probably be tossed in, although House Speaker Pelosi has said she wants them kept separate. Otherwise, the easy-to-get CR scenario is no longer operative. Much of the negotiating that did not work in August will, almost surely, spill over into the CR negotiations.

In past years, when a CR was difficult to negotiate and a shutdown unthinkable, Congress would pass a series of short-term CRs while negotiations proceeded. Historically, the short-term CRs could stretch out until the second weekend of October or later. Minority Leader Schumer might welcome such a scenario if it means getting one of his priority items funded (such as enhanced unemployment benefits), but extending the time the Senate is in session cannot possibly be what Senator McConnell wants.

While the Senate is currently scheduled to be in session until October 9 before recessing for the election, the revised House calendar has the House in session only until October 2. The earlier date is probably closer to what McConnell would want.

Somehow the CR will pass, and Congress will try to address appropriations after the election. Conventional wisdom is that those who win the election will want a CR to extend into February or March so funding issues are decided when they will have control. Conversely, the losers want to cut post-election deals while they are still in control.

It could happen that way, but the dynamic is not necessarily “winners and losers.” For example, the winners could decide that it makes sense to cut a deal — on terms slightly favorable to themselves — for FY 21 funding and then concentrate next year on getting their policy priorities into FY 22 funding. And, of course, winners and losers will have a different (and unknown) set of dynamics if we continue to have divided government.

Editorial Note: The Analysis and Commentary section is written by Steven Grossman, Deputy Executive Director of the Alliance for a Stronger FDA.

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