There are a few more days left in the current Continuing Resolution. The House and Senate have to come to some compromise between now and midnight Friday to avoid a government shutdown.
No worries, said Erik Wasson, staff writer for The Hill newspaper. “I think we can breathe easier, probably until April 8th.”
The proposed three week CR cuts $6 billion and has been “pre-negotiated with Senate Democrats,” Wasson told Federal News Radio. “In fact Harry Reid came out right away and endorsed it, so I think most people feel it will pass.”
But one interesting thing that’s happened is that conservatives on the far right are coming out against this bill. On Friday, the Family Research Council/Club for Growth came out and said that they would ‘key vote’ this bill, in other words any congressman who voted for it would get a negative mark in their scorecard. They said that they want to see the congress pass the 6 month, $61 billion dollars in cuts that the House passed in February. That bill contained riders that would de-fund Planned Parenthood over abortion, for example. Already one freshman from Kansas has come out and said he’ll vote against it, but my sources are telling me that because the defections are so small, leadership will be able to get this bill through on Tuesday.
Wasson said the prospects of a veto, especially for this CR, are few.
“Most of the things that have been identified in these short term bills are already either in Obama’s 2012 budget or in the Senate alternative CR, so they’re things that pretty much everybody agrees are wasteful spending. So if the President were to veto one of these short term measures, he’d basically be shutting down the government for things that everybody agrees are wasteful. So if it continues like this, I think it would be very hard for the Democrats to block, or for President Obama to veto a short term, but if the Planned Parenthood issue, for example, gets in there, the whole nature of the debate could change, some people are warning.”
The downside, as Wasson noted, is with CRs passing, the chances of funding the government through September seem to be waning.
“The stalemate on the longer term spending bill seems to be persisting. Vice President Biden was tapped as being the Administration’s negotiator. He held one really unproductive meeting with all sides and then he went off to Russia and Moldova. Of course the Administration said he was in constant contact, making phone calls, but it really kind of sent this vibe out there that the Administration wasn’t that serious about taking the lead, and then we saw people like Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) of West Virginia go on the Senate floor and actually denounce the President for failing to lead, which was, to many people, surprising for a freshman senator to do.”
Federal News Radio has been telling you how frustrated federal managers are trying to figure out how to manage under a series of continuing resolutions. The proposed, longer, three week CR isn’t Congress’s boosting morale. Wasson explained the House is scheduled to take a week’s recess starting next week. “That’s why, instead of doing a two week bill, they did a three week one.”
When Congress returns, Wasson told the Federal Drive, “there are other things on the horizon that are pretty scary. One is the debt ceiling limit which the Treasury Department says will be reached between April and May and yesterday Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, said Senate Republicans will not allow a raising of that limit to go forward unless something, quote, credible is done on the debt. He didn’t really specify what that is. Basically, if the debt ceiling isn’t raised, the Treasury Department’s warning that it risks a default on U.S. Treasury bonds.”
And as for the FY 2012 budget, Wasson said to keep an eye on Kent Conrad, the Senate Budget Committee chairman. “One way for it to play out is for each party to produce a very partisan budget resolution and then if that happens, probably there won’t be a budget this year and then that could lead to another appropriations situation like we have this year with continuing resolutions. I think Conrad is hoping that this gang of six Senators, of which he is a member, will produce sort of a comprehensive plan and perhaps that could be melded with a budget resolution, but it’s really, I think, too early to say at this point.”
While the prospect of no budget two years in a row is enough to send most federal employees reeling, Wasson offered one tiny glimmer of light.
“I think for your listeners, one of the most important hearing in the past week was this…House Oversight Committee hearing where Chairman Issa talked about making a quote-unquote real pay freeze. Republicans are unhappy with the Obama two year pay freeze that was enacted in December, they say, because it doesn’t include step increases within GS grades and they are looking to produce a bill within a matter of weeks, I don’t know how far it can go, that would also freeze step increases.”
Tom Temin is the host of The Federal Drive, which airs from 6-9 a.m. on 1500 AM in the Washington, DC region and online everywhere. Tom has 30 years experience in journalism, mostly in technology markets. Before coming to Federal News Radio, he was a long-serving editor-in-chief of Government Computer News and Washington Technology magazines.