Continuing resolution may be needed to buy time for appropriations work

Capitol dome under renovation, July 22, 2015

Lawmakers have not yet finished negotiations on an omnibus spending bill which would keep the government open.

Negotiations on the $1.1 trillion fiscal 2016 omnibus spending bill are ongoing, and lawmakers expect a continuing resolution will be needed to keep the government open and funded until an agreement is reached. 

House Speaker Paul Ryan, (R-Wisc.) said at a Dec. 8 press conference that a CR would be something lawmakers would consider -- but only as a short stopgap.

"That's something that the leaders along with our folks at the other side of the Capitol will look at," Ryan said, "but it will be a handful of days. We don't expect to do this for the long term. We need to get it right."

With just three days left before funding from the current CR runs out, however, Ryan stressed that it is more important to "get it right" on the omnibus than to get it done fast -- raising the question of how many days are in a "handful."

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) told FCW he is optimistic that an omnibus appropriation will be passed, but said he cannot predict when that will happen. "It's always a matter of negotiation and expressing views, making sure the interest in your states are taken into account in the federal legislative arena," Cochran said. "All those forces have come into play in an omnibus bill like this, so there are loose ends."

White House Spokesman Josh Earnest stated on Dec. 7 that the president would not sign a CR, and that the administration wants to stick to the Friday deadline for fully funding fiscal year 2016.

"A CR would be bad for America," Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told FCW on Tuesday. He said it would be a "tragedy" if the omnibus spending bill is not agreed to by the Friday deadline.

Others were more open to a short-term extension.  "If a CR is for a week so we can finish up our work, that's fine," Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.)  told FCW. "If it’s a CR through the rest of the year, no."

Among the sticking points is the fact that the omnibus, like most must-pass legislation, is an appealing vehicle for largely unrelated provisions. Some of the policy riders that have extended negotiations relate to the environment, immigration and foreign policy, including the Syrian refugee crisis. On Tuesday, the House passed H.R. 158, the Visa Waiver Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act -- a move that could influence what refugee-related provisions, if any, are ultimately included in the omnibus.

Schumer complained in a Tuesday press conference that "the omnibus shouldn’t be held hostage by Republicans so that they can try to pass legislation that wouldn’t ever pass the Senate if it was debated in the light of day." Cochran, however, said there is good cooperation between the two sides, and noted that the "Senate is a place where the rights of speaking are unlimited."

And at least one senator remains calmly optimistic.  "At the end of the day," Idaho Republican Jim Risch said, "everything works out."

About the Author

Aisha Chowdhry is a former staff writer for FCW.


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