Path for Agency Funding Unclear as Congress Begins Lame-Duck Session

The U.S. Capitol dome. The U.S. Capitol dome. Kent Weakley/Shutterstock.com

Lawmakers returned to Capitol Hill on Monday to finish out their lame-duck session with votes on health care bills and a full slate of hearings scheduled.

The top priority on the to-do list, however, remains keeping the government open past Dec. 9 when the current stopgap funding measure is set to expire. With Republicans holding on to both houses and a Republican president-elect, the majority party may be newly emboldened to seek a short-term deal and allow for a full-year approach when Donald Trump takes office.

Congressional appropriators are not yet ruling out any path forward. Prior to the election, lawmakers had discussed the possibility of a “minibus,” which would provide full-year funding for certain, but not all, agencies. Democrats deplored that strategy, saying they would only accept minibuses if they collectively added up to an omnibus to fund all of government through fiscal 2017. President Obama in September signed a law to appropriate full-year spending for military construction and the Veterans Affairs Department.

“Discussions are ongoing regarding a path forward for the remaining FY17 appropriations,” said a spokesman for Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran. With the current continuing resolution’s expiration looming, the spokesman said there is an “impetus for making a decision soon on how to proceed.”

Federal agencies have been on a spending status quo since Oct. 1. The prospects of a government shutdown have been deemed minimal, as a two-year budget deal struck in late 2015 set the top-line funding levels for fiscal years 2016 and 2017. Trump’s unexpected election, however, could reinvigorate a fight between Democrats, who want a full-year measure, and Republicans, who could look to empower the next administration as much as possible.

The minibus option calls to mind the CRomnibus bill signed by Obama in 2014, which threatened a shutdown of just the Homeland Security Department in February of 2015. If Congress pursues that route or continuing the CR across government, the length of that measure could cause additional debate. Conservative lawmakers have advocated aligning a potential CR’s expiration with the date in March in which the government will hit the debt ceiling, Reuters reported, while others have pushed for a February deadline to give the Trump administration more time to affect policy for the rest of the year.

The White House has not yet commented on what Obama would be willing to sign; the president has previously promised to issue vetoes when Congress has threatened to carry on a series of continuing resolutions. 

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